The Dawn of a New Naim
The New Classic series takes Naim to the next generation of customer
Naim recently demonstrated a stack of their new 300 Series products for us in-store.
'Where's the green?" asked one of our longtime Naim fans as he sat in front of the new 300 Series system one recent morning in our demo room.
Tom Graham, trainer & product specialist at Focal Naim America, laughed and said that the lighting color for the front panel logo of the New Classic series had been a lengthy discussion at Naim. Gone is the phosphorescent green glow, replaced by a futuristic, almost heavenly white light.
"What do you think?" asked Tom.
"If you'd told me they'd replaced the green, I'd have been horrified," said our Naim fan. "But looking at the new color, it looks really good."
This is how Naim does it. The Salisbury-based company steadfastly refuses to change until it does. And when it does, it's hard to argue... in spite of holding onto DIN connectors for so long that entire generations of listeners don't even know what they are, Naim was among the first companies to get into streaming audio, making a set of extremely well-built and thoughtfully designed products (the original Uniti range) that work even today.
Long notorious for giving no quarter, Naim has been softening over the years, and yet still doubling down on its commitment to great sound. In the new series, Naim continues to reluctantly let go of its DIN connectors only because it is finally happy with the performance it can eke from XLR. (This being Naim, the last DINs are still there and recommended when you're doing an all-Naim setup, as they offer a common signal ground for all the connected components.)
Tom visited Upscale Audio recently to tell us all about the New Classic and demonstrate a stack of the 300 Series that's "nipping on the heels of the 500 Series," with the highly capable 200 Series below it at about half the price. The demo system comprised the NSS333 streaming DAC going into an NAC332 preamp and then into a pair of NAP 350 power amps. Appropriately, and to Tom's delight, the stack powered our demo Focal Scala Utopia EVO loudspeakers.
"I couldn't have picked a better pairing," said Tom.
The NSS333 Streaming DAC
Long before the system was played, the quality of the 5.5" color display on the front of the NSS33 was especially noticeable, and even the "no display" audiophiles on the team were envious of how beautifully it presented album art.
Tired of supply issues due to fires and shipping problems, Naim has developed a bespoke, discrete DAC design with proprietary oversampling to 705.6 kHz/ 768 kHz, resulting in utterly grain-free digital. While oversampling cannot put back information that wasn't there in the first place, it has the advantage of moving digital filters far above the audio band and giving them plenty of room to be as gentle as possible without artifacts and harmonics reaching down to where they can be heard. And 768 kHz is a long way up; that's a lot of breathing room.
The NAC332 Preamplifier
With their lines of DIN connectors, Naim preamps have always been daunting pieces of audio equipment, but now, when you peer at the back, you'll see a focus on more familiar RCA and XLR connections. There are still some mystery Naim connectors, which are for the power supply upgrades, long a baffling but gratifying aspect of owning Naim. The power supply options have been simplified in the New Classic without losing the multiple upgrade paths from the basic units.
The NAC332 uses the same "digitally controlled analog" volume known from the Statement, which has been deployed to significant effect on many products right down to the Atom and Mu-so.
You can be sure the headphone output is no afterthought and features a dedicated class-A amp.
The NAP 350 Power Amp
The NAP 350 is the first Naim monoblock since the NAP 135, which was famous for being deployed in "six packs" to power Naim's high-end three-way speakers in fully active setups.
At 175 W, the NAP 350 is Naim's most powerful amp below Statement, and as we've said many times in this space, do not be fooled by Naim's seemingly low wattage levels. Those high-current, high-velocity power supplies combine with Naim's very British understatement to deliver a sound you'd expect to hear from amps whose output power in watts is closer to the NAP's model number.
|Naim NSS 333 Streamer
|Naim NAC 332 Preamplifier
|Naim NAP 350 Monoblock Power Amplifier
In 2019, to celebrate ten years of the Focal Naim partnership, the two companies came out with a very special, extremely limited edition system in a tin finish.
The bundle gets you a streamer, pre/power, PSU upgrades, speaker cable, and speakers. The Naim NDX 2 streaming DAC feeds the NAC 282 pre and NAP 250 DR power combo, complete with power-supply upgrades featuring NAPSC and HiCap-DR. The electronics drive a pair of Focal Sopra No.2 via Super Lumina speaker cables. All other necessary cables are included.
The Sopra No.2's side panels are in a concrete finish and the front panel sports that special metallic tin color. Naim's signature black boxes have also been given the tin treatment, offering a matching and very classy metal finish that's hard to truly discern in the photos.
This bundle offers huge savings over buying separately, and our last one in stock is priced even lower to move.
Feeling Even More Nostalgic?
Going back from tin all the way to chrome, the original black Naim boxes with the front edge of raw metal were known informally as the "chrome bumper" series.
The chrome bumpers are known to be the most unapologetically Naim, speedy, forward, pacey electronics that don't even attempt to soundstage in an effort to present the energy of the music.
For Naim's 50th anniversary this year, the company presented a modernized re-issue of Naim's first, famous, iconic integrated amp, the Nait 1.
The Nait 1, rated at just 13 W, was the product that popularized the notion of "Naim watts." Naim's focus on big power supplies and high-current, fast transient capabilities was unusual at the time, and their amps always surprised with the amount of slam and presence they delivered.
At 25 W, the Nait 50 is quite a bit more powerful than the original and improves it whilst preserving its DNA. One notable new feature on this anniversary edition is a 1/4” jack headphone output. There is a discrete transistor MM phonostage on board and two other line inputs, and yes these are DIN plugs.
Like all Naim products, the Nait 50 is handcrafted in Salisbury, England, and the front panel is a delightful throwback to one of the most famous hi-fi products of all time.
Berkeley Audio Updates the Alpha USB
USB connections are on everything these days and can transmit the highest resolutions of the day. However, it was developed as a data connection and is noisy and not well suited to high-end audio.
However, many people use laptops or other computers as streamers, and there are many USB-only DACs out there, with extensive work done to make USB input as quiet and jitter-free as possible.
But what if you have set up a dedicated computer-based music server/streamer and don't have a USB DAC? Or, you have a DAC with a USB input that you would rather not use, preferring the high-quality SPDIF and AES inputs?
The Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Series 2 is a noise-isolating reclocking USB interface that lets you fearlessly run a laptop, Mac Mini, or Intel NUC streamer into your high-end DAC. It's a simple but highly engineered component with just one input (USB-B) and two outputs, SPDIF or AES via digital coax or XLR, respectively.
Berkeley Audio Design has rolled out an update to the Alpha USB, with, as they say, "input software optimized for modern high-speed, low latency USB 2.0 drivers, resulting in significantly improved audio quality."
We have sent out our entire inventory, even open stock, of the Alpha USB to be updated, and they're back and ready to go.
The Hi-Fi Use for Alpha USB
Our digital nerds have been playing around with various ways to reclock signals, and they assure us you get huge sonic returns by introducing re-clockers into your signal path, whether an external clock or a USB interface like the Alpha DAC.
Even if you use a dedicated streamer, sending a SPDIF or AES signal into your DAC, you just might find (if your streamer has a USB output) that the Alpha USB functions as an upgrade. In many cases, you are very likely to prefer the USB output from your streamer into the Alpha DAC and then into your DAC's SPDIF or AES versus going straight from the streamer's SPDIF or AES. Try it!
You've tried, and now swear by, power cables, power conditioners, equipment supports, linear PSUs, Ethernet cables... what's the next frontier? Reclocking! As nobody says, "Don't knock it till you clock it."
Grover Reviews the Chord Hugo TT 2 DAC
Grover Neville, our technical advisor, finds a certain richness and depth of imaging to Chord DACs that is hard to find anywhere else. Here, he goes into the build and sound of the Chord Hugo TT 2 DAC, a highly regarded and powerful headphone amp.