I should mention right away that I have had a high regard for Naim products from my earliest involvement with proper HiFi (late seventies) but I have never got around to owning any myself. Assuming a pre/power combo and an LP12 or these days a Naim CD player the expected system cost of $10000+ could be assumed to slow most customers down so in an attempt to put my money where it was most likely to generate a sale I never stocked Naim when I was retailing from a storefront either.
In the last few years though I have had opportunities to hear Naim gear in a few Spendor customers homes and have always been very impressed, but without my own music and acoustic space to make comparison against what I am used to at home I could never really judge how good the gear was. I have also had quite a few customers tell me how amazing their Naim systems are, further causing me to think I must revisit the simple looking black boxes from the UK.
This Naim combo retails for less than $5000. Naim seems to look like better value throughout the range compared with the old days actually. They have a pre/power combo for as little as $4900. Upon finding out how affordable the new range seemed on paper I entered a note in my to do list to ring Mr Naim.
With Warren Stolmack's (the Australia authorised importer) positive and helpful attitude coupled with the previously mentioned positive feedback I placed an order and in double quick time the two pieces which are the subject of these notes landed on my doorstep. In even quicker time I had them set up and going with the hope that the break in period would not be as long as many folk on the web suggest (up to a year!).
The Nait integrated has been around for twenty years but right or wrong has had a reputation for being a little touchy on system matching and somewhat gutless. This model is relatively new and has twice the power of the older designs. The CD player has also recently benifited from a trickle down of Naim's CD technology from more expensive players including the rather bizarre disc draw arrangement.
Ignoring running in issues I stuck a disc on the CD mech's spindle (the complete mechanism is in the draw) and fitted the easily placed magnetic puck. Even though completely factory fresh out of the box it was obvious that this quite affordable combo ($4696) was going to alter my expectations of what 'high fidelity' is or can be. I have had a few experiences like this before. Everyone interested in audio has. Your first listen to any decent HiFi is what probably got you here. Then there may have been some big steps up in fidelity along the way that have impacted on your expectations. For me a few of them would be the LP12, LS3/5a, Martin Logans, Alon 4's, a Meridian CD player years ago and now this Naim combo.
Even in the first hour the precision of the sound it output to the S6e's was obvious. Upon further auditioning over the next few days I became aware of this combo's incredible detail retrieval capabilities but at the same time the overall sound was very natural. Definitely no tizz or exaggeration of the upper mid. I also noticed how I was receiving the most palpable stereo image I had heard in this room ever. Placement was very stable and precise. The bass was as tight and as rhythmic as all Naim equipment reviews suggest it is which is seemingly a notch up on just about any other brand. At this stage (4 or 5 days since setting up) I was a little concerned about a very subtle coldness and perhaps subtle graininess, more obvious with some discs than others. At this stage I decided to just leave the whole system on repeat ( I had not actually switched it off yet since setting it up as Naim don't give you a front panel power switch) in the hope of speeding up the generally excepted rather long run in period.
I came back to the system 4 or 5 days later with the task of running in a pair of fresh S5e's for a demo the next day (yeah I know I left it a bit late!). This was going to be interesting as many of my Spendor clients who also own Naim seem to have S5e's and they just love the combination. Now I can understand why. Can you please explain to me how a fresh pair of S5e's can sound better than I have ever heard a fully run in pair on my normal amp/cd combo sound. I was quite stunned at the warm, lifelike, detailed, very fast and precise sound that was forthcoming. More amazing than that though was the bass! Bass like I have not heard from S5e's. Convincing in proportion and very quick. Naturally by midday the next day upon my customers arrival the sound was now more balanced and sweeter as the S5e's started coming more on song and opening up somewhat.
In the last week I have been running my well run in pair of S9e's on the pairing and now hearing a system where both the front end and the speakers are loosened up I am convinced that Naim really offers up astounding performance for this kind of money. The volume that the Naims could achieve through the big S9e's was impressive. The control and detail were at another level above what I have previously heard through the big Spendors. The previous concerns I had with the slightly closed in sound, a maybe slightly cold tone that could occur occasionally seemed to have gone, presumably as part of the nearly three week long running in period where the amp and CD were powered up the whole time and played for half of that time.
I tried the amp with a few different CD players as lets face it $2500 for just a CD player is not how everyone would spend that amount of money. I still obtained a lot of what was on offer with the Naim pairing by slipping in a different disc spinner, but the bass definitely went a touch full and slow and the imaging seemingly collapsed a bit. The obvious improvement in detail over other systems I have used in this room was also less, well, obvious! Overall I would say the CD5i is perhaps 40% of the equation when paired with the Nait. I can certainly highly recommend buying both but only on the basis that you already have a pair of speakers at least the quality of S5e's or better. I had saved $2000 by changing out the Naim CD for a tweaked up Pioneer but the CD5i is definitely the icing on the Naim/Spendor cake. Damn!
I was impressed with the way the Naims didn't pull recordings apart. Even mediocre recordings sounded together and enjoyable.
In regard to the looks and build quality I personally love the simplistic, no bull approach. If you like HiFi jewellry you are going to need to look elsewhere. This equipment is about performance and nothing else except perhaps incredible reliabilty. At least it looks and feels like it should last a lifetime.
Naim is not for everyone as the sound may not be as in the face as some would like and probably not coloured as many would like, but if you want the truth presented to you in a very listenable and lifelike way this is the stuff for you. I love it!
Notes: I used the Din connection (supplied) when listening to the pair and a Merlin Chopin interconnect when trying the Pioneer and Audio Refinement CD players. I had the components stacked and side by side during the listening. The amp doesn't seem to even get warm so having the CD on top as shown in the pics above shouldn't present a problem.