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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 3
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naim

Nait 5.0 integrated and Stageline phono-section

as reviewed by Steve Lefkowicz, Larry Cox, Victor Chavira, and Francisco Duran

 

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(this review ran in the 2001 Issue 14 of audioMUSINGS)

 

 

 

STEVE LEFKOWICZ'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Sound Dynamics 300ti, the Loth X Ion-1, and Linn Kans (original version).

ELECTRONICS
PS Audio 4H preamplifier and B&K ST-140 (105-watt version), and the Antique Sound Labs AV-8 Wave and MG-SI-15DT-S amplifiers.

SOURCE
Linn LP12, Ittok tonearm and Dynavector 19A Mk.II. AMC CD8 CD player.

CABLES
All interconnects and speaker cables are Nordost Solar Winds.

ACCESSORIES
Sound Organization stands and shelves, Monster Power HTS2000 power line conditioner, Beyerdynamic DT770Pro Headphones and Headroom "Little" headphone amp, and Solid Tech "Feet of Silence" isolation feet (under the AMC CD player).

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)I was quite intrigued by the new Nait 5.0. I have been a long-time fan of Naim amplifiers, having spent many hours listening to a NAP250, a pair of NAP135s, and the original Nait while acting as the technical assistant for another equipment reviewer back in the 1980s. I understand that Naim amps aren't everyone's cup of tea. Naim traditionally puts far more emphasis on pace, rhythm, and timing than on audiophile concerns like imaging and soundstaging. This is fine with me. Naim amps are also prime examples of a company not getting caught up in the silliness of specifications and (especially) power ratings. They consistently produce a tremendous sense of power and dynamics that belies their conservative power ratings.

The Nait 5 follows in the Naim tradition. I have had spent time with several integrated amps in the past two years, ranging from the beautiful 15-watt tubed Antique Sound Labs MG-SI15DT-S to the excellent-sounding 80-watt solid state Simaudio Celeste I-5080. Driving my Sound Dynamics 300ti speakers, the little 30-watt Naim was the most dynamic, powerful-sounding amp I've used when played at my normal listening levels. It had no trouble producing a deep, controlled, and highly musical bass line, which can be difficult with these speakers. This sense of power and control extended from the deep bass through the highest of treble frequencies. My amp, a 105-watt B&K ST-140, will play louder, but not more dynamically, at similar loudness levels.

With the Nait, musical lines never got jumbled. The beginnings and endings of notes were reproduced with the proper attack or decay, whether the sharp transient of a snare drum or a long sustained piano note. Furthermore, no matter how complex a musical passage became, it was easy to follow any single part. This is more than detail, as audiophiles tend to use the term, because an amp has to get all the harmonic and pitch relationships correct to properly reproduce this level of musical detail.

Playing CDs or LPs (using Naim's little Stageline phono section, a bargain at $350), music was a joy to listen to, regardless of genre or style. Katherine Whalen's Jazz Squad CD was gorgeous, her voice oozing with sexy confidence. On David Johansen and the Harry Smiths CD, James Alley Blues, listen to how each verse builds in both volume and tension, not by playing louder, but by filling in the sound with subtle (well, maybe not so subtle) changes. Genesis' Nursery Cryme is a masterpiece of "progressive rock," and the great new Classic Records LP reissue will test any system with its combination of dynamics, bass, and beautiful musical subtleties. The Nait 5 sailed through this, and reminded me why this album has been a favorite of mine for over twenty-five years.

Those of you who place imaging and soundstage recreation high on your list of priorities, rest assured that the Nait 5 handles them exceptionally well. There was a very well-defined and large soundstage, with individual instruments placed precisely within that stage both side-to-side and front-to-back. If the recording allowed, the sense of space around instruments was also very clear. Those who prefer tube amps may be put off by the Nait's somewhat sterile sound. I think that the Nait 5 is a little more harmonically rich than earlier Naim amps, but it is undeniably a solid state amp. You will want to try it with your speakers before deciding if it works well for you.

Some may be put off by Naim's insistence on using their cables with these amps, but I'm fine with this. It eliminates an entire area of concern that too often becomes an irrational obsession. If you consider buying a Naim amp, expect to buy the Naim cables, too. One last point. Be prepared to leave this amp on all the time. Naim recommends several days warmup before use. Believe them. I can think of no other nits to pick with this amp. It is one of the best integrated amps I have ever used. Steve Lefkowicz

 

 

 

LARRY COX'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
ATC SCM 20.

ELECTRONICS
Majeel Labs Pristine S-10 amplifier and E.A.R 802 preamplifier.

SOURCE
Audio Note CD3 CD player.
Oracle turntable, AudioQuest PT6, Koetsu Rosewood cartridge.

CABLES
Ensemble Dynaflux and Calrad balanced interconnects. Speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire & IXOS 6003a.

ACCESSORIES
API Power Pack. BDR cones.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)There are a few brand names that are considered classics in audio: Linn for turntables, Koetsu for phono cartridges, Spendor for speakers, and Naim for low-powered integrated amplifiers. The latest iteration of Naim's Nait integrated is the Nait 5. Unlike its predecessors, this amp is remote controlled. Perhaps because my preamp requires getting off my butt to change volume or source, I'm fascinated by having a remote-controlled system. Given my predilection for analog, I'm happy to report that we also got Naim's Stageline phono section for review.

Naim is known to be iconoclastic, using DIN connectors instead of the ubiquitous RCAs. Until the 5 series, Naim's products had a utilitarian look, to be generous. Dark faceplates with squarish, industrial-looking pushbuttons gave their products a more "scientific instrument" look than most audiophile stuff. But Naim also has a reputation for serving the music lover. Many an audiophile who has discovered Naim has disappeared from the audio wars to spend time at home listening to music instead of gear!

Since the Nait 5.0 is only 30 watts into 8 ohms, I fired it up with the Soliloquy 5.0 mini-monitors. The Soliloquys are wonderful speakers. They image like crazy, seducing you into thinking you are hearing a more resolving sound than you are. They can sound a little lean, however, and I was concerned what they would be like with all solid state amplification after having lived with the richer ATCs and my E.A.R. 802 tube preamp. After a few days of warm-up, my concerns dissolved. The Nait character is full, slightly rich, resolving, and a little distant, an excellent match for the Soliloquys. Images, while not as palpable as with tubed electronics, were solid, and as easily distinguishable as those produced by amplifiers costing twice the price. Bass was full, taut, and fast. The top end did not announce its character-no steely harps or obnoxious bells ringing in my ears. Female vocals were acceptable, though without the "magic" of my much more expensive reference system-mostly sweet, but with an ever-so-slight hardness. Male vocals had the appropriate growl and chestiness.

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With the Stageline phono section, a whole new vista opened up. I first tried the Stageline with the Basis 1400/Rega RB300/Benz Glider combo here for review, as I felt it was more appropriately priced than my reference analog setup. The presentation was ruler flat from the bottom end to the top. No frequency aberrations, no suck-out, no errors of commission. The Basis setup was an excellent match. Image specificity was way up there, matching what in my experience required three to four thousand dollars worth of amplification to get. Bass was tight, fast, and as full as the Soliloquys could manage. Female vocals were sweet when called for, strident when so recorded, and very, very seductive. The Stageline was a wonderful addition to the Nait. I found myself listening in a nearly "bolt upright" position to analog. An image popped up in my head that I was listening attentively to a captivating conversation. Sometimes what occurs with analog (or a system that isn't resolving, or has colorations that are seductive) is that you melt in your chair like you do during a massage, and you lose a sense of performers playing music. The Basis/Nait system doesn't allow this. It is clear, precise, informative, and "just the facts," though I did find myself wanting to hear more than "the facts." Substituting my reference Oracle/AudioQuest PT6/Koetsu Rosewood front end gave me what I wanted. What came through with the reference system was more emotion, more bottom end, and less of a sense of the rigidity of the Basis/Rega/Benz setup. This was a system I could relax into more, and get a sense of the hearing live performers instead of a recording. In my estimation, the Stageline easily exceeds the performance of the Creek phono stage. it is more resolving, easier to listen into, and has a tauter bottom end. However, it was not a match for the built-in phono section of my way more costly E.A.R. 802 preamp.

In fact, the 802's phono section also considerably betters the more "famous" E.A.R. 834P stand-alone phono section. Sometimes (but not always), more is more, better is better. The Naim/Stageline system could take you out of the pursuit of the audio holy grail, and quickly. I began to think that if finances compelled the choice, I could live with the Nait, the smaller Soliloquy 5.0s, and my inexpensive Pioneer DV 525, at least until I hooked the Nait up to my ATC SCM20s. It is unlikely that someone would partner a $4100 speaker with a $1600 integrated amplifier, especially since the Nait's power output is 20 watts below ATC's recommended minimum, but I did it on the suggestion of Naim USA's Chris Koster. Surprisingly, the Nait produced the illusion that I was hearing the music and nothing but the music. Partnered with the ATCs and the Pioneer DVD player, the Nait system took another step up. The experience was much like listening to the ATC 50a powered speakers and SCA-2 preamp. It was obvious where the sound of the recording machinery intruded into the sound-no sweetening, little or no added grain or etching. That the recording process was evident was not a problem. It was simply part of the experience, like hearing the hum of guitar amplifiers at a live concert. I experienced completely unobjectionable sound.

"Unobjectionable" hardly sounds flattering, except that it was unobjectionable in comparison to an amplification system three times the cost of the Naim/Stageline. If you are in the market for an high performance but inexpensive integrated amlifier, the Naim Nait 5 should be on your list. Larry Cox

 

 

 

VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar 1.6 and B&W DM 302.

ELECTRONICS
Kora Explorer integrated and the Anthem Amp 1 amplifier.

SOURCE
NAD T541 CD/DVD player.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Blue Heaven speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Monster Cables HTS 1000 AC center. Vibrapods, Lovan Trisolator, and Echo Busters.

 

three.jpg (8484 bytes)Naim is a company that needs no introduction. The Nait 5 is the company's latest integrated amplifier. The amp's slim, black, rectangular shape isn't much to look at, but inside, it contains a wealth of sophisticated electronics. Features include a separate preamplifier section, a discrete resistor ladder volume control, double regulated power supplies, and circuitry based on Naim's flagship NAP 500. Like all Naim products, the Nait 5 is up-gradable with the addition of an external power supply. The amp came with dedicated speaker cables. I found these stiff black cables cumbersome, as the rear of the unit has to be set even with rear edge of your table in order to make a clean connection with the 90-degree connectors. The Nait 5 produces 57 watts into my 4-ohm Maggies. Again, this is close to the minimum of the 1.6s' power requirements. Nevertheless, the Five gave no indication of being overmatched. All of the music I listened to was reproduced with convincing authority. The Nait propelled the music on the rousing tune "El Paso de Encarnacion," by Cubanismo. The bass locked into a solid groove while horns horns blared with broad brassy overtones. The Nait was easily the most revealing and explicit of the three integrated amps. It produced clean crisp lines and images that drew me into the compositions, and did not annoy me with excessive and meaningless details. Togethering, by Kenny Burrell and the late Grover Washington Jr., is a bluesy and melodious disc. The Nait reproduced Jack DeJohnette's cymbals with delicacy and sheen. Ron Carter's bass sounded sturdy and full. Grover's soprano sang with reediness and air.

Another strong aspect of the the 5 was its continuity across the frequency range. From the bottom to the extreme top octave, the 5 distributed its power with an even hand. My Amp1 has a fond preference for the sound of woodwinds over that of the brass section. The most respectable aspect of the 5, however, was its ability to dissolve into the background and just let the music play. Throughout my session with the Naim, I found myself paying more attention to the music than to the gear. From Mozart to Mambo, the Naim Nait 5 reproduced music honestly.

A final comment must be made about Naim's use of non-standard interconnects and speaker cables. The Naim does not accept RCA plugs, so the user must purchase Naim-style cables. As I've already mentioned, I found the cable too stiff and cumbersome. Furthermore, since the cables were a mandatory part of the system, I was not able to assess their effect on the overall sound. Victor Chavira

 

 

 

FRANCISCO DURAN'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
ProAc Response 2 with Osiris 24" stands.

ELECTRONICS
Monarchy SM-70 (ran as monoblocks), Antique Sound Labs MG-SPM25DT monoblocks, Canary CA-301Mk-II amplifier, and Reference Line Preeminence lA passive and Canary CA-601Mk-II preamplifiers.

SOURCE
NAD T531 and Antique Electronic Supply CD-1 (temporary) CD players, and a Taddeo Digital Antidote Two.

CABLES
Superconductor+ and FX interconnects, a double run of JPS Ultraconductor speaker cables, and Monarchy and various DIY AC cords.

ACCESSORIES
Balanced Power Technologies BPT 4SE, Brick Wall Series Mode Surge Suppressor, Audio Prisim Quiet Lines and Noise Sniffer, Vibrapods, Black Diamond Racing Boards and cones, Final Labs Daruma-3II Isolation Bearings, various ferrite rings, Target rack, Yamaha KX-380 cassette deck, custom made wooden cable lifters by Mr. Clark senior, and all the NOS tubes I can afford!

 

four.jpg (6893 bytes)I would like to put my two cents in about the Naim Nait 5 and the Kora Explorer integrated amps, although I was not scheduled to review either. There has always been a mystique around Naim gear, what with its DIN connectors and its, shall we say, "utilitarian" styling. With the new line of electronics, the styling has definitely improved. The little Nait also delivered the sonic goods. The most obvious part of its performance was-you guessed it-its rhythmic capabilities. You hear about it, you read about it, but when you actually hear it, you realize how lacking many amps are in this area. The Nait 5 had very good dynamics for a mere 30 watter, and drove my speakers very well.

Microdynamics were impressive. Small details in the music were clearly heard without etch or brightness, and without my resorting to cranking up the volume. Vocals were easy to follow and guitars sounded articulate and fast. Check out the Pat Metheney Group's song "Third Wind," on The Road To You CD, for a display of speedy guitar and percussion.

With all its speed, though, the little Nait could only deliver so much. The dynamic peaks of the horns on the two recent Gatemouth Brown CDs sounded kind of squeezed. The Nait displayed pretty neutral timbre, but it was not as sweet or full as my amps, or as the Kora Explorer. The sound was a tad thin, although it was not too cold. Timbres were very well reproduced, but the sound was just a tad closed-in. I wished for the music to float further out into the room and be more open. I did feel that the amp had just the right balance of detail and smoothness. The Nait is a case of small but mighty. It is well balanced and very dynamic within its power limitations. Its real strength lies in the way it handles the timing and dynamics of music.

If I felt that that the Naim was a bit tonally thin, this was partially because it had some very stiff competition in that department from the Kora Explorer (www.positive-feedback.com/Issue3/explorer.htm). When I ran into Francois Philbert and Jeff Starrs of Kora Electronic Concept at the 2001 C.E.S., I asked them, "Do you guys make cars or computers?" They looked at me as if I was nuts and politely said no, after which I replied, "Because if you did, I would buy one!" I have great respect for Kora's designs. They sing, and the new intergrated is no exception. I broke this one in before passing it on to the other guys, and I didn't want to let it go. The Explorer is sweet, detailed, dynamic, and above all musical. This is one of those amps that just draws you into the music. Instruments sounded sweet, rounded, and appropriately textured, and dynamics are neither slow nor compressed. There is excellent pace to the music, and I heard no slurring of instruments. The soundstage displayed very good dimensions, and images were nicely placed.

I felt the tonal balance was pretty even, with nothing that obviously stuck out. The top end is smooth and detailed without being rolled off. The midrange seemed to have just the right amount of fullness and body. The bass is satisfactory, good to very good as opposed to absolutely slamming. This is, after all, only an $800, 60-watt-per-channel amp. However, it gets the job done well enough. I didn't feel that I was missing a whole lot in this area. Is this amp as transparent as the best and most expensive? No, but it is not far behind for such an inexpensive unit. This amp is detailed and articulate, and it plays music. This is one plug-and-play amp if I've ever heard one. I can see why Victor C. has purchased it as his reference. It has all the audiophile qualities a gearhead could want, but with a dollop of pure musical pleasure built into its soul. Congratulations, Mr. Philbert and crew, you did it again! Francisco Duran

 

 

 

Nait 5.0
Retail: $1500

Stageline
Retail: $350

Naim
TEL: 011. 44. 1722. 332266
web address: www.naim-audio.com

Naim USA
TEL: 773. 338. 6262
web address: www.naimusa.com
email address: supercap@naimusa.com

 

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