Naim NAIT XSNaim NAIT XS

 

The latest in Naim's long-running entry-level amplifier range is the best yet.

From the May 2009 issue of Gramophone.

Naim Audio has been in business for over 30 years, and for most of that time it's had NAIT integrated amplifiers alongside its pre-amplifier/ power amplifier combinations. The NAIT (the acronym stands for Naim Amplifier InTegrated, which is only slightly tortuous) models have long been the entry-point for those wanting to get on the Naim ladder, and in recent times have formed potent combinations with the company's junior CD players. Right now one can get into the Naim ownership experience for £1625: £875 for the company's latest CD player and £750 for the NAIT Amplifier. Add speakers and you have a purist music-playing system of quite remarkable ability.

As well as a number of performance-enhancing upgrades over the years and a switch to 500-series inspired styling when the NAIT 3 was replaced by the NAIT 5, the basic design has also kept on the pace in terms of facilities and the requirements of current users. From a basic volume pot, input selector and power amp design way back when, the amp has grown to the point where it now has remote control, a bypass/unity gain setting useful when it's connected in tandem with a surround sound processor or receiver and even a 3.5mm stereo input on the front panel for use with portable players.

And while some Naim purists shuddered at the time, it also gained conventional pairs of RCA phono inputs along the way, available as an alternative to the locking DIN rocketry Naim has used from the off. Yes, the company still thinks the DIN sockets sound better, but it acknowledges that some buyers will want to use RCA phono interconnects without worrying about adapters or having special leads made up.

You can even use "normal" speaker cables with the latest NAITs, Naim having dropped — or at least softened — its insistence that buyers stick to its own NAC AS speaker wire. The amps still come with the familiar two-pin speaker plugs, heavyweight integrated with

Here, launched just before the turn of the year, we have the very latest NAIT derivative, the XS. With an eye to the company's association with Bentley Motors, in the design of the Naim for Bentley audio system, this new amplifier was originally developed under the designation NAIT Speed, the idea being one of a standard model optimised for all-out performance.

The 12513 NAIT XS is, therefore, effectively the "engine room" of the SuperNAIT in the slimmer casework of the Series S. There's no digital-to-analogue conversion, true, but this is a 60W-per-channel amplifier — quoted, of course, on Naim's usual conservative terms — with six inputs, remote control and a unity-gain option for use in home cinema systems.

Four inputs are on a choice of RCA phonos or DIN, the 3.5mm stereo input on the front-panel has auto-switching when a plug is inserted, and a final powered input is designed to be used with one of Naim's offboard phono pre-amplifiers, thus allowing the connection of a turntable.

You can also split the pre-amplifier and power amplifier sections — well, electrically, at least; there's a stereo output for use with a subwoofer; and the XS can be programmed so that sending the remote control "play" command to a CD player will cause the amp to select the appropriate input. There's also the option of an RS232 interface for use in custom installations.

Upgrade potential is provided in the form of a shorting plug on the rear panel: remove this and the amplifier can be used with Naim's FlatCap, HiCap or SuperCap power supplies. Not that Naim has exactly cut corners with the standard power provision: the 380VA transformer has separate secondary windings for the pre-amplifier, the display illumination, the relay switching and each of the power amplifier channels.

Switching is kept minimal; the controllers sleep when not in use to avoid affecting the sound; signal paths, wiring and circuit tracks are kept as short as possible; and the main board floats on a newly developed "bayonet" mount to keep vibration away from it. In fact, even the volume control is hard-wired rather than mounted on the PCB to avoid microphony. The heatsink has a "castellated" profile to improve heat dispersion, and the four output devices, derived from the NAP200 power amp in a circuit from the 5i, are attached directly to it with precisely torqued fixings Naim says that, as with so many aspects of the design, listening determined the torque settings, as it did the choice of components from the large — such as the transformer — to the smallest. It's very much the Naim way of doing things

Performance

There are two downsides to the "Naimness" of the NAIT XS. One will only affect those who go in for conspicuous consumption, in that the XS looks exactly like the 5i, so even aficionados will struggle to spot that you chose the "sports" version. The other point is that this isn't an amplifier for the impatient.

In common with other Naim electronics, and despite the protests of those who believe "running-in" of a component is a matter of selfdelusion, this amplifier gets better over time. I'm writing this the better part of four weeks after receiving and plugging it in, and over that period the sound has unmistakably "come together".

Naim provides a power switch but it's to the rear of the unit and designed to stay on. To run the amp in while waiting for some serious listening to begin, I both played music through it and also ran in bypass mode from the front channels of my surround receiver, so it was in use for a good period of each day. Fresh from the box, the XS sounded — not to put too fine a point on it — rough as old boot, with a brash edge to the sound and a marked lack of body; given a few weeks of normal to heavy use, the sound is unrecognisable as coming from the same product.

Having reviewed and enjoyed both the 5i and the SuperNAIT, I'd place the XS as sounding like a much more free-breathing version of the former — not exactly a dull listen in its own right — and really quite close to the latter in terms of control, power and composure.

Those who'd believe "size isn't everything" would certainly find proof here: this slim, unassuming amplifier is capable of fine resolution and real fire-breathing power in equal measure, and deploys its abilities to quite scintillating effect across a wide variety of musical styles.

It's as capable with intimate, closely recorded music as it is with works on the grand scale. What's more, that impression of a conservative power rating is reinforced when one asks it to drive large speakers to good levels: it delivers plenty of excitement without ever sounding like it's about to lose control.

True, there are amplifiers around, at this and other price levels, capable of delivering a more luxurious, warmer tone, but most of them do that at some cost to detail, definition and ambience; the NAIT XS, however, manages natural body and richness without ever becoming soft or muzzy, and as a result is all the more satisfying — and totally rewarding. I have to admit to some concern when first I heard about the NAIT XS, thinking that it could be asking a lot to expect consumers to pay almost twice as much for a "hotrodded" NAIT 5i, and that it could fall between the two stools of the 5i and the SuperNAIT. Now, having spent an extended period with the new amplifier, circumstances during the review period allowing me to spend more time than usual listening, I really think I "get" what the Naim engineers were aiming for and appreciate how fully their aims have been achieved.The NAIT XS is so much more than its unassuming outward appearance suggests. 

NAIM NAIT XS type: Integrated stereo amplifier. Price £1250. Output 60W per channel into 8 ohms, 90W per channel into 4 ohms Inputs 6 — 4 line in on stereo RCA phonos/DIN sockets, one powered input for use with external phono stage, front panel 3.5mm stereo input. Outputs: Speakers, stereo subwoofer out. Other connections: Pre-amplifier output/power amplifier input, also allowing connection of external power supplies, remote control input, optional RS232 control connection accessories supplied Remote control handset. Dimensions (WxHxD) 43.2x7x40.1cm. Made by Naim Audio Ltd, Southampton Road, Salisbury, England, SP1 2LN. Tel + 44 (0)1722 426600 www.naimaudio.com

Andrew Everard

 

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