as reviewed by Dave Clark, Victor Chavira, Larry Cox, and Sherman Hong
There are couple of old sayings, the first being "Dont judge a book by its cover" and the second "Big things come in small packages," that I couldnt help thinking of when auditioning the smallish Ovation loudspeakers from Nova. This was a somewhat difficult review to write, not because I found the Ovations lacking in what I want from loudspeakerswarmth and richness, with lightning quick dynamics and deep, powerful bass. Not because they reveal the limitations of small speakerssmallish soundfield, with cartoon-sized images. And not because they have colorations and sonic anomalies that scream to the listener, "Hey I may be small, but look what I can do!"
No, this review was hard to write because the Ovations do so little wrong. In my experience, small speakers usually produce a soundfield thats like watching a small television instead of a big screen TV. The Ovations, though, are capable of reproducing an unbelievably large soundstage that is populated with tangible images of life-like proportions. On top of this, they literally disappear, and lack any obvious resonances that let you know there are two wooden boxes sitting at the other end of the room making music. Nice woodwork, too!
The soundfield was a close second to that produced by the Apogees, and exceeded that produced by the Chario 2000s, at similar cost. The Charios, like the Ovations, produce a large soundfield, are dynamic, and offer deep, full bass that belies their size. On the other hand, the Charios fall to the warmer, darker side of neutrality, and have a touch of grain in the upper mids and lower treble, along with a tendency to harden or congeal music when pushed. And while the Charios cabinets are not nearly as inert as those of the Ovations, their finish, size, and heft are comparable.
The Ovations go just as deep, and do so with just as much authority, but with greater articulation and texture. No port chuff or puff, just rumble and wham. Bass is amazingly deep and clean, as is the mid-bass, and on up the frequency curve. The bass does constrict somewhat as things go loud, but this is a small speaker, and it took more volume than I care to hear to get this to happen. The woofers didnt bottom out, or make scary noises as things went south. The bass just rolled off in a most natural way, as if saying, "Sorry, but thats all I can do."
The tonal character of the Ovations is neutral and dry. These are not warm or rich sounding speakers. They are probably best described as "honest," in that they add very little to the music. There is a degree of grain to the upper-mids and lower treble, but this is a $2000 speaker, so you get what you pay for. The grain is fairly unobtrusive, and can easily be misconstrued as added detail or texture.
Also impressive was the dynamics, both micro- and macro-, allowing an abundance of detail and texture to come through. This detail, when compared to the Charios, is no doubt a result of the Ovations more neutral frequency response. Do not infer that the Ovations were upfront, bright, or spotlit in any way. The Charios produce a warm, dark sound that is more forgiving of bright or hard-sounding CDs To the Ovations advantage, they were able to reproduce the same CDs with detail and texture which seemed more "honest" and natural. Never fatiguing, just fun!
So what can I say? The Ovation is a dynamic speaker that offers the music lover an honest portrayal of the music it is fed. It does this with more than satisfying bass, relatively clean treble and mids, and a lifesize soundfield. I certainly enjoyed my time with them, and look forward to auditioning some of their bigger siblings. Dave Clark
The Novas top end is open and extended, but doesnt call attention to itself. I really dont want to notice treble extension, or sense that the top end is closed in. I didnt with the Ovations, and that tickled my fancy. The Gallo Nucleus has a more open top end than either the ATCs or the Nova Ovations, but overall, Id prefer the Ovations. The top end seems to fit with the rest of the presentation, in an organic or complete way. The Novas top end is good enough to be satisfying. What the ATCs and other more expensive speakers deliver is a slightly more life-like quality, one that doesnt easily lend itself to articulation.
The Nova Ovation mini-monitors are what Id call a good value. They are small, and dont take over the room. Theyre lightweight, and can be easily moved out of the way when youre not listening (if you do that kind of thing). Moreover, they perform well. The Novas bass was surprisingly extended for small speakers, and they readily disappear, given proper set up and ancillary equipment. They stand up to more expensive offerings without looking awkward. Specifically, they stood up to my ATCs, which are nearly twice their price. I played the Novas for Francisco Duran when they first arrived, and when we switched back and forth between the two pairs of speakers, we decided that there wasnt a large difference. However, there were differences that showed up over time.
Whereas the Classe CA100 is not enough amplifier for my ATCs, it is an embarrassment of riches with the Ovations, allowing the speakers bottom end to reach deep into the 40Hz region. This means that fun and silly music like Oh, Yeah! From Yellos One Second album pressurizes the room in a way that it doesnt with the ATCs, except with really big amplifiers like the Kora Titans ($7500) or the Chord SPM1200B ($5900). Thats a sign of good value. The bottom end conveys a good sense of the drama and excitement of a big dance band filling a big room on the Gene Harris All-Star Bands Tribute to Count Basie. Each instrument has its place in space, with its unique sound and timbre intact. Bass is also good on rock and roll, delivering that pressurized sound that makes a kick drum sound like a kick drum. The bass region into which the Ovations reach gives music a fullness that the ATCs only hint at with the Classe, yet with a big, powerful amplifier, the ATCs are tight, full, and fast in a way that the Ovations are not. The Novas, by comparison, are a bit chuffy-sounding. Chuffy? Id never noticed this character until Id lived with the sealed-box ATCs, but now I can hear it. I still dont think that the ported Novas sound problematic. Its just that they arent quite as fast or "right" as the ATCs, when well and properly driven.
The Ovations reproduce tone so well that each instrument receives its unique sonic portrait. They pull vocals out and away from the surrounding instruments. This presentation is a bit bolder and more "present" than the ATCs. Audiophile favorites like Mary Black were well treated. The Ovations made her nearly a living presence in the room, with all of her majesty in place. The growling and gravely vocals on Tom Waits Bone Machine album were also easier to understand. Waits chief value is as a story-teller, and the Novas supported that effort. However, it was with Bone Machine that the main shortcoming of the Novas came to the fore. They have a slight sandpapery quality, so that Waits vocals have an extra hint of dryness that shows up in the midrange as a slightly scratchy sound. With the ATCs, Fiona Apples voice was wispy but human, whereas with the Ovations, the wispiness was exaggerated, with that same sandpapery quality. That pulled this listener out of the performance, and made the presentation appear a bit too analytical.
The ATCs are hardly night-and-day different, but they are just a bit richer, delivering Tom Waits voice with an increased sense that hes 98% water by content. This might not be the sort of thing that a listener spending $2000 on a pair of speakers would care about, or even notice, but I hear it. Again, though, it was mostly in comparison to the ATCs that the Novas suffered. If you dont make a similar comparison, you may not notice what Ive mentioned.
I could and
did like the Novas, I just didnt love them. The "wet"ness of the ATCs, for
me, is essential to being emotionally engaged. How do you do a cost analysis on emotional
engagement? Those analyses arent done on paper, but in the heart. Follow yours. How
much is enough to spend, and how much is too much? Its hard to answer for anyone
else. You pay for what you can afford. The Nova Ovations let you drink from the high-end
cup, and without demanding expensive ancillaries, so you can drink well for less
I am not a fan of the mini-monitor experience. Whenever I listen to small two-ways, I must do without virtues that I take for granted with my Maggies, such as speed, openness, air, and transparency. In exchange, however, I get things like greater sensitivity, precise imaging, and dynamics. During the past year I have listened to, though not necessarily reviewed, the following small speakers: Silverline SR 12s, Chario Hyper 1000s, Odeon No.17s, and Infinity Overture 1s. Now, add the Nova Ovations to the list. The Ovations are stand-mounted two ways, with 7" composite carbon fiber mid/woofers and 1" soft dome tweeters in high quality trapezoidal ported cabinets. Our samples were finished in a lustrous natural cherry veneer. The speakers were set on sand-filled 24" Target stands of the single-steel-column variety.
The first thing I realized about the Ovations was how well they mated with my Anthem Amp1. The Novas 88 dB per watt sensitivity produced a robust, room filling sound with ease. Earlier in the week I had purchased the Yellowjackets latest CD, Club Nocturne. Their music is complementary to the sound of my system. With the Ovations in place, the bottom end was well filled out but not emphasized. Fretless bass sounded commanding and true. In fact, with eyes closed, the small Ovations could easily pass for a pair of larger floorstanders in this respect. The Novas could also define the fine details of a drum kit. I could easliy distinguish the wood of the stick against the metal and skin of a snare drum, or the complex patterns of a ride cymbal. My initial impression of the Ovations was good.
However, as I explored further, I became aware of their limitations. My experience is that soft dome tweeters and smallish ported enclosures have undeniable, characteristic sounds. With the Ovations, this reveals itself as a very fine fabric laid over the top octave. Depending on your system, this may be interpreted as a relief or as a lack of air and extension. Im used to the chimes sounding more shimmery at the intro to the theme from A River Runs Through It, as played by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra on Telarc. The low whistle carried less presence. Also, the Ovations dont bloom as well as the Magneplanars when the full orchestra enters the score. Sound pressure builds up in the box and struggles to get out, while the planar design activates a wall of sound. To their credit, the Ovations stacked up well on all other accounts with orchestral music. I kept thinking that they were real meat-and-potatoes speakersnot too fancy, but satisfying nonetheless.
For the next course, I tried out some Latin Jazz. Chucho Valdés Live on RMM Records features explosive piano playing and tight ensemble interplay, culled from a benefit concert in Bronx, New York. Through my reference speakers, the upright baby bass has a sharp percussive attack that is the essence of Tumbao. The Ovations gave a different rendition of the bass players touch. The notes werent as staccato. They had plenty of impact, but wasnt as quick as Im used to. On Dave Samuels excellent tribute to Cal Tjader, Tjaderized, the bass yielded similar results. Midbass was firm, but not as agile. Congas sounded somewhat closed in, as if played with a heavier hand.
Next I cued up Danza Latina by clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. Here, the Novas performed admirably, with the sound coming from a plane behind the speakers. This is a difficult feat for many dynamic designs at this price. However, in order to achieve this pleasant effect with the Ovations, the listeners ears must be on axis with the tweeters, and on axis is not where you might think it is. Remember, the Ovations have a sloping front baffle. This angle tilts the tweeters up, so if you put yourself eye level with the tweeters, as is common practice, your ears will be below their optimal axis. I found that sitting on a couple of cushions dramatically opened up the soundstage and added coherence to the musical images.
In order to gain a different point of reference I paid partner Frank a visit to listen to his ProAc Response Twos, arguably a classic in the mini-monitor genre. Franks system is quite a contrast from mine. His sound is very clean, detailed, dynamic, and without a trace of euphony. Just for fun, we quickly exchanged his R2s for the Ovations. Immediately we noticed many remarkable similarities between the two, which speaks highly for the Novas, since a new pair of R2s will set you back $3200. The Ovations had a fuller bottom end, while the ProAcs sounded more precise in the upper mids and above.
All in all,
the Nova Ovations are a satisfying speaker. They matched well with my equipment and played
bigger than their size lead me to expect. They had the ability to disappear when I
listened on axis. The crossover was appreciably absent from the musical conversation.
Nevertheless, listening to the Novas did not make me forget about my ol 5s. If I
were a monitor man, Id give the Odeon No. 17s (Issue 3) serious consideration. For
$600 more than the Ovations, you get a cabinet beautiful enough to be a conversation
piece, biwire capability, a horn-loaded tweeter, and good sound. I dont envy you
guys out there with two grand and an eye for a pair of monitors.
I was unfamiliar with the offerings of speaker company Nova prior to my encounter with the Ovation, a two-way ported design enclosed in an elegant sloped cabinet. Craftsmanship is splendid, with seamless joinery and a lustrous satin lacquer. Attention to details is evident from binding posts to packaging. The Ovation gave an excellent first impression.
With small speakers, placement is of great importance. Tradeoffs must be made. The further a speaker is from the back wall, the lighter the bass presentation and deeper the soundstage, and vice versa. I found that the Ovations reached their best compromise at 45 inches from the back wall and eight feet apart. Minimal toe-in delivered the best image fill, and a tonal balance that I liked. By comparison, my ProAcs are 67 inches from the back wall and about eight feet apart, with about a 30 degree toe-in, so that only the face of the speaker is visible from the listening seat.
From the outset, the Ovations proved to be delightful performers. While I knocked around the house, their rich sweetness drew me from what I was doing to listen to what they were doing. Bass output is impressive, albeit not in the subterranean range. The Ovations manifest a firm, substantial and buoyant bass that is phenomenal for a speaker this size. Lots of bass isnt my desire, its the right kind of bass that I want. By "right" I mean coherent and fast with weight and extension. The Ovations produce momentous bass to a point, then give up, which is the right way to go. Forty-two seconds into Watermark by Enya, a synthesizer rumbles with authority. Despite having a few octaves less response than my reference, the bass presence was reasonable. Drums, however, did not have the coherence and speed they do with my ProAc 3.5s. On Mo Better Blues, kick drums felt less together. While a bouncy tautness was evident, it also seemed a bit off pace.
The reverberations on the Holly Cole track "I Told Him that My Dog Wouldnt Run" were similar to my ProAcs, but the Ovations missed some of the small details of her phrasing. Athough the overall sound was a little less vivid than usual, the squealing, howling sound of Joshua Redmonds sax was palpably placed between the speakers. The ringing horn section was conveyed with precise imaging and speed, and a good amount of sensuousness. The Ovations have a seductive presentation reminiscent of my old LS 3/5as.
The Ovations treble slightly tarnishes their luster. The highs are fast and detailed, yet lack the extension and lightness than Im used to. The cymbal on "Wind Beneath My Wings" in The Oxnard Sessions was suave and steady but a bit chaotic, and transients were less clear and sharp. With Claptons Unplugged, his guitar was forward. The click of the chords was well reproduced, but the decay was less well threshed out.
With only 45 inches between the wall and the back of the speakers, a valid sense of depth and three dimensionality presented an airiness to the sound. Images were miniaturized, as they usually are with small speakers, and were rock steady, but their miniaturization images undid some of the soul of music. Left and right boundaries were about a foot narrower than with my ProAcs. The Ovations are a relatively laid back speaker, perhaps a mid-hall sound.
Ovations combine musicality and excellent build quality, and are exceptional contenders in
their price range. In conjunction with their marvelous bass and midrange, the
Ovations easygoing treble is an asset rather than a liability, even though Id
prefer a bit more extension. On the whole, I place these speakers in the class of
Nova Ovation Loudspeakers
Nova Audio, Inc.