| Δευ, 09 Νοε 2020
Hi-fi enthusiasts, music lovers and of course regular readers can forego the pleasantries when it comes to British audio firm, Naim – the company's bulging cabinet of accolades is recognition enough. Then again, it is British Hi-Fi Week and all; let's give the Wiltshire outfit a little fanfare.
Naim Audio was founded on 4th June 1973. Its headquarters are still to be found in the medieval cathedral city of Salisbury, UK, despite a merger with French firm Focal in 2011.
Naim founder Julian Vereker MBE (1945 - 2000) was an avid racing car driver, self-taught engineer, and entrepreneur. Like most in the game, he also held music in particularly high regard.
Julian switched from building his own cars to building his own amplifiers and loudspeakers in the 1960s, eventually winning a contract in 1972 to supply audio equipment to the then start-up radio station, Capital Radio. His successful design was a compact version of an early Naim power amp combined with speaker drive units in one cabinet – the NAM 502.
Fast-forward through a string of triumphs, including the 1974 NAC 12 preamp and 1983 NAIT integrated amplifier, as well as some exceptional 1980s marketing slogans ("You're a nobody without a Naim" is a personal highlight) and Naim's product list is stronger than ever, boasting some of the best hi-fi components in the business.
The exceptional Naim Uniti Atom streamer has scooped up a coveted What Hi-Fi? Award for the past three consecutive years – and it hasn't even made it onto this list! Intrigued? Good. For our pick of the 9 best Naim products of all time, read on.
This particular piece of Naim wizardry came in three parts: the 32 pre-amp, its accompanying power supply and the now legendary 250 stereo power amplifier.
It was a popular combination that became the beating heart of many hi-fi users' systems. It was capable of delivering drive, dynamic punch and powers of organisation that few could match.
The system enjoyed enviable and admirable success, with the 250 in particular proving so popular that it received several makeovers, getting better with each iteration.
Nait 1 was Naim Audio's first integrated amplifier and it remains one of the firm's most iconic products. Over 36 years later, the brand's still building on it. Capitalising on the reputation of its celebrated amp is the latest in the Nait range, the Supernait 3 and Nait XS 3. They both received coveted five star reviews from this publication in 2019 (no easy task), but without that 1983 blueprint, these new iterations could never have come to fruition.
Naim has said of the range, "The term Nait doesn’t just describe a product range, it defines a philosophy; a way of thinking born with the original Nait 1. It places the highest value on simplicity and focus. It demands that we attend to every detail in design; it’s the only way we can give you the best possible sound."
If it means products like this, we're all for it.
Naim hasn't launched many tonearms in its history: the inaugural ARO was followed up with an arm-lifted device, the Aromatic, in 1991 (see what they did there?) but when Naim set about engineering this tonearm, it got it right.
The ARO features a unique, unipivot design, with the entire 'bearing' comprising a spike sitting in a cup atop the pillar. It uses an extremely rigid arm-tube (its name is taken from the precision aluminum-alloy tubing of which the main tube is made) and for a long time showroom visitors were offered the challenge: "if you can bend the tube with your hands, we'll give you an ARO". It remained in the Naim catalogue for over 20 years, quickly becoming the preferred audiophile tonearm for partnering with esteemed turntables such as the Linn Sondek LP12, with Linn Troika cartridges.
Now, the Aro is the preserve of specialist dealerships of course, but it was an easy shoe-in for this list.
We know. We've only gone and mentioned a product from the past decade, haven't we? Naim launched this CD player in September 2012, with an asking price of £995.
Essentially an update on the firm's 2007 CD5i player, the CD5si featured a new transport mechanism and the Burr-Brown PCM 1793 DAC.
Under intense review that same year, we commented, "The CD5si bends over backwards to deliver an exuberant and enjoyable performance, and it was its unmatched enthusiasm and concrete drive that we took to instantly. The What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision team listened to this player for hours, and we still enjoyed sitting back to a wholehearted rendition of Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ By The Way. In terms of musicality and cohesion, it’s spot on."
Such was the CD5si's success – stealing the crown from our long-reigning favourite Audiolab 8200CD, scooping not only a five-star review from this publication but also our Product of the Year gong in 2013 – that Naim hasn't felt the need to do anything to it since.
This combination features the ND 555 music streamer and 555 PS DR power unit. The former is the first of Naim’s streaming products to gain 500 series status – meaning, in Naim speak, that it’s the very best it makes right now.
And Naim is right to be proud. The ND 555 focuses on the firm's traditional, evolutionary approach rather than trying to reinvent anything – building on the 2012 NDS network player. If you assume that spending £13k on a music steamer means it'll work straight from the box, however, you'd be wrong. The ND 555 doesn’t have a built-in power supply, so you need to add at least one of the company’s 555 PS DR outboard power units, and another £7k to your budget.
What this combination really means, in layman's terms, is a £20,000 music streamer. And you know what? We have loved it from the moment we first heard it. A cursory glance at our Naim ND555/555 PS DR review proves it too.
In the year that Phantom of the Opera premiered in London's West End and Richard Branson broke the world record for the fastest boat crossing of the Altantic, Naim released its first in-house
designed and built floorstanding speakers, made expressly for people to bring into their homes (rather than for Capital Radio).
A two-way, two driver loudspeaker system with a claimed frequency of 30Hz to 20kHz, 75W power handling and 885 x 266 x 270mm dimensions, its sloping looks are perhaps more reminiscent of a Victorian writing desk.
With its unique three-box design, some users – even seasoned reviewers – struggled to assemble it and get it sounding right. But when it sounded right, driven by a full-house Naim system, it was (and still is) something truly special.
"If you’re looking for an entertaining yet informative integrated amplifier, the Supernait 3 is a brilliant choice" – that's what we said in our Supernait 3 review, leaving us with little choice but to hand over a prized What Hi-Fi? 2019 Award not long after.
As is Naim’s way, this third generation Supernait may not exude a luxury aura, but it is a quality product born of a rich heritage of quality products. Honestly, we can’t currently think of a more capable alternative when it comes to rhythmic drive and precision for your system. The Supernait 3 conveys the changing momentum of music brilliantly, capturing various mood changes between tracks with conviction.
Essentially, there are just two things you need to know about the Naim NAC-N 272:
it’s a fully featured streaming preamp and it sounds utterly lovely.
OK, there's hardly a shortage of music streamers out there that also have a volume control, but he NAC-N 272 isn’t like most of them. It uses a fully analogue preamp section, so performance through the analogue inputs – one DIN and two RCAs – always had the potential to be really good. But this is also a forward-thinking unit, so there are digital inputs as well as optical and coax connections, and also aptX Bluetooth.
Naim being Naim, a great deal of engineering was undertaken to avoid features like wireless connectivity spoiling the sound. The digital and analogue sections communicate through optical isolation chips to minimise any interference.
The Naim NAC-N 272 could have easily turned out to be too much of a compromise; a poor relation to the company’s long established line of dedicated separates. It simply isn’t though – and it deserves its place in this list.
On 10th January, 2014, Naim used CES in Las Vegas to launch a true piece of statement engineering, the $200,000 Naim Statement. As we said at the time, "Naim products have long-since been associated with dynamic performance, but the Statement combination looks to be in a different league altogether."
The idea for an entirely new kind of amplifier, the kind that could set a new reference standard in high-end audio reproduction, was three whole years in the making at Naim. But granted, it is still an awful lot of money.
The Naim Statement's dark, dramatic, flashy aesthetic also marked a radically different approach for the company. It may seem like an odd departure from Naim Audio tradition, but the organic, wave-like flow of the heat sinks in Naim's Statement project paved the way for subsequent triumphs like the Mu-so Qb and Mu-so, now both into their second iterations and revelling in the five-star reviews.
Yes, it's (as we write) £169,997. But it's so bizarre, surprising and special that it just has to finish off our list.