I'm sure I've told my Naim story on here before but if not...
I started going to hi-fi shows when I was 13 with my father and I remember Naim from those early days. I think the first setup I heard was a full Linn/Naim six pack system which I recall as being quite impressive, and so I generally found myself wandering into Naim demos from then on. Some were very good; some less so - for example the first time I heard the DBLs at the Bristol Show, I thought they had lovely midrange but I genuinely thought they’d forgotten to connect the bass driver and tweeter. The next time I heard them, they went straight into my all-time favourite loudspeaker top ten and are still there. However, ignoring the audio politics aspect, I never could quite understand why Naim inspired such strongly polarised opinions from most quarters.
Anyway, fast forward to 2006 and I found myself working for Hi-Fi World magazine. When I joined, there was a huge backlog of review gear and amongst it was the Naim NAC122XS/NAP150XS/Flatcap XS and this unfortunately kept getting side-lined, at least until the day a funny pair of speakers came in. They had gone straight to the reviewer, who had sent his copy in and given them a glowing report. They measured well but did present a difficult load to the amplifier. However, on having a second opinion listen in the World listening room (something which Noel, David or I always did to everything that was featured in the magazine) they sounded flat and lifeless. We tried them with various valve amplifiers in the system at the time, plus a couple of transistor designs that we had kicking around with no change. We were almost on the verge of ringing the reviewer to inform him that his ears needed syringing, when Noel said to me “Give them one last go through the Naim”. I duly dug out the amps, fired them up and suddenly there were the dynamics and the soundstaging that the reviewer had praised! The speakers genuinely sounded totally different and this became the start of a long period where any slightly awkward loudspeakers that passed through our hands always went on the Naim. Yes, there were other amps that subsequently turned out to be as capable, but none were quite as consistent as that setup.
Move on a little while and, just before Christmas 2007, I found myself without music as my beloved Quantum Electronics amplifiers had thrown a wobbly and were not well. The Naim Supernait had just been reviewed by David Price and it was sitting in the office, boxed and ready to go back to Naim in the New Year. I remember being incredibly impressed by it, so I borrowed it for the Christmas holidays so I wouldn’t be without music. To cut a long story short, it never went back – I wrote Naim a cheque for it instead. Whilst I have other amplifiers, and I’m sure many others will continue to come and go, the Supernait is a keeper – it’s my reviewing standard as it is reliable, sturdy, will drive pretty much anything, has all the features I require and most importantly, I really like its sound.
And finally, there is one other important area that I would like to offer a few thoughts on, namely the power supply upgrades that you “have to buy”. It may actually astonish everyone to know that, actually, no – you don’t have to buy them. There is no team of Naim ‘heavies’ that will come round to your house and force you, nor will your amp stop working if you don’t add a Hi-Cap to it within six months. My experience of the PSU upgrades suggests that they always make a difference, but it’s not always one I have liked. Personally, I think the Supernait sounds better without a Hi-Cap and the 122XS/150XS sounded different with the Flatcap XS but I’d be hard pushed to say which version I actually preferred. On the other hand, I found that same Flatcap XS to really add a new dimension to the performance of the CD5XS CD player and still have it connected today.
So there you are – as far as I’m concerned, Naim are just like any other manufacturer of high quality equipment. I like a lot of their gear, even though there are one or two bits that haven’t floated my boat. I admit that I also like the fact that it’s made in England, about 30 miles from me. Most importantly, I like the sound it makes. Of course, you may not like it and that’s fine, too – no one is forcing anyone else to buy it. But the common method of painting it as some sort of insidious cult is, frankly, bizarre.