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George 47

What's in a Naim?

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Welcome to the Naim owners club. After seeing some interest in Naim products and that there was not an owners club I have decided to start one.

Obviously, I welcome people's thoughts on why they have bought Naim products and what they have liked and disliked about Naim products and the company.

Let me start with a few questions as I know Naim owners are a very bright lot (crawler!!). 

Naim amplifiers use Class B circuits for their amps. Why do they not suffer badly from crossover distortion? Or do they and the excitment heard is just crossover distortion.?

Why do they use a case that looks nice but rings when you tap it? They go to great lengths to isolate the boards and components and then put it into a case that rings.

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Naim have always been idiosyncratic when it comes to design and build of their products but always existing with a positive intent.  When I had my own Naim System about 14 years ago their own speaker cables were a monster to connect and place on the floor.  Everything about the cable was difficult to manage; it was so stiff to handle and strong enough to lift components...!  But then I was awarded with wonderful propulsive sound which I found was great with band orientated music but not so great with Orchestra orientated music.  Naim puts the 'pep' into music and I would imagine the sound improves in all HiFi apects as one goes further up the Naim ladder (eg Soundstage and depth).

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Where do I start? If I said I disliked Naim with a passion it would be hypocritical, given I've owned a CD5i and Naim is possibly, other than Arcam, the brand I've demoed the most over the years.

However, they do have a certain flavour and not always that sweet. However, get the speaker match right and they can sound sensational. 

Only owned the CD5i for a few months, an ex-dem deal with Infidelity. In those few months had to send it back to have the transport looked at, and credit to Naim they repaired it FOC... eventually.

Can understand the attraction of the brand - Clare Newsome would be happy - but not really my bag for long-term listening.

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Enjoyed my time with a sn1 , good points were it's muscular sound and holographics. Nice remote . Fussy with partnering equipment though . Wouldn't mind trying the sn3 sometime

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What a great day yesterday. A REAL Naim day.


Firstly, thanks to Mike and Mr Underhill (Martin) to let me hear two very different but great sounding Naim systems. I arrived at Martin's abode after being delayed by an accident where a BMW driver managed to destroy his BMW. Fortunately, he was walking around so was not injured, except in his pocket.
We went over to Mike's abode and were made welcome. Mike had just upgraded his system with a brand new Naim 500DR. And very nice it looked to with its accompanying power supply. This top-notch system consisted of a Naim CD555 and power supply, a NAC 552 and PSU, a Naim 500DR and PSU with a set of Focal 1038Be speakers. All cabling by Naim and some very nice stands. The Naim 500DR was run in and had been on for many hours as was the rest of the system.


On goes Suzanne Vega.....forget all the negative thoughts you may have this was a well-tuned system in a great room. The voice was natural and the frequency response very even. No emphases I could detect, possible slightly warm. Yes, a Naim/Focal system that was was possibly slightly warm. Suzanne's voice was very clear, present and full of emotion. It was transfixing. The guitar was real but not hyper-real or etched and the whole musical picture was well integrated. The timing, as you may expect, was immaculate. What I thought was a straight forward guitar tune was more complex with different emphases on the timing which built and released the tension in the song. We then went through a few of Mike's favourites that demonstrated what this system could do and after a track or two, I got out of reviewer mode and just enjoyed the system and the music it played. Pink Floyd's money showed that although the frequency balance was even the cymbals shimmered and sounded like real metallic instruments. I hear this with good systems but here there was a huge amount of information about how the cymbal was being played, without any pushing forward of the top end. I liked the warm powerful bass with a shimmering cymbal.


Of course, I had brought a couple of CDs and the first was a very well recorded (Chesky) but simple piece of music featuring some live rockabilly music. It was fast and detailed but kept the individual drum beats and bass playing separate and it was easy to hear when the bass provided a simple beat or when he let rip and just filled the tune with ultra-fast bass notes. It was infectious and made you want to dance. But of course, we are British so no such thing was done. You would be surprised at the number of expensive systems that just can't do that in a simple tune. The bass tends to merge in those systems. We then played Mike Valentine's recording of Bach's Toccata in D and it was easy to hear the size and distance to the organ. And the size of the church. Imagine that, a Naim system doing 3D imaging. Not that artificial ultra-sharp instrument placement type of imaging beloved by some US systems but the more realistic you are in the church imaging. It was really easy to hear the two parts played by the left and right hands and still hear the whole integrated music. And the bass was nicely deep and tight and settee rattling.


And before we knew it we had to go. I have heard many expensive systems, some with speakers 3x the price of this complete system, but this system is one of the best. In the top 4/5, which is a major achievement. I have also heard more expensive Naim systems sound much worse at shows but this system was well set-up and in a sympathetic room and sounded it. Luvvverly.


And on to Martin's place. We took out his EAR valve amplifier and added an Allegri preamp and a Naim 250. And here was a small chunk of what we heard earlier. That clarity and ease of hearing what the singer was singing and the emotion in their voices were easy to hear. Timing tightened up a lot and the small amount of 'fuzziness' of the valves disappeared. This was a great insight into the music. The bass had less weight and 'heft' as Martin described it. And I agree. Downsides, well the bass although detailed and fast did have less weight and the dynamic range of sound quality was greater. What does that mean? Well, good/great recordings sounded good and great but less good and compressed tracks sounded not so good. The valves evened out those sound quality differences. Some will say that makes the Naim more truthful but that may not be what you want. Do you want to hear awful recordings sound bad? I suspect a bit more warming up of the amp or some different cables will help. Or even better a newer DR amp would help but then I am being generous with someone else's money. Something I do a lot of. My choice would be the Naim for those extra-musical details on brilliant/good recordings and turning down the volume on bad recordings. But it ain't my system. Either way, it is the best I have heard Martin's set-up and thanks again putting up with me for most of the day.

Edited by George 47
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Hi George,

Yes, a fantastically enjoyable day. Leaving Mike's system to one side, whilst acknowledging how brilliant it is, even with the unholy alliance of Naim and Focal, my focus since that day has been my own.

You persuaded me to slot one of my old bolt together CB250 into my system, powering my newly refettled SBLs with the Avondale PXO - whoops. My expectation had been that the EAR534 would triumph, as it has with the other such tests I have done, well not here.

System Synergy Rules OK.

Over the last few days I have been comparing the following power amps through the SBLs:

  • EAR534;
  • Naim CB250;
  • Avondaled Naim CB250; and
  • Nord NC500.

Result = ACB250 > EAR534 = CB250 > Nord.

Of course, it is not a full slam dunk, these are excellent amps. The 534 still wins with voices, but the ACB250 is a LOT closer, and as good with good files. With poorer recordings the 534 is kinder.

The Avondaled CB250 has greater detail and dynamics through the SBLs. It paints a soundstage that is a tad less 3D BUT is more transparent and detailed. What I LOVE is the way it reveals the percussive way people play acoustic instruments, superb.

The 534 adds a warmth to the bass, and perhaps a slight thickening, but the ACB250 is as deep and faster.

Having done the rounds it is the ACB250 that I am listening to ....and toying with perhaps doing a 'next' step!

M

Edited by Mr Underhill
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George 

Just to answer your question re Naim amps and crossover distortion. They are a classic quasi complementary Class a/B design. It is an old topology from the time when it wasnt possible to get suitable p-type output transistors only n-type. Because of this the o/p stage is slightly asymmetric because it uses two n-types which can give a specific distortion profile and sound different to that of more modern complementary (ie n-type and p-type) designs. I think this is why this apparently obsolete topology is still retained.

Like all class B o/p stages they will suffer from crossover distortion unless the stage is biased so that both o/p devices conduct briefly at the crossover point. Its not possible to completely remove this type of distortion but by careful adjustment of the bias it can be minimised. This bias setting is critical to get the best out of these amps and probably a good reason for regular maintenance.

If anyone is really interested in how this type of amplifier works the book by Doug Self "Audio Amplifier Design Handbook" covers it in great detail.

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Having had the SBLs refettled and bought a pair of Avondale PXOs I have been really enjoying the music, but made the mistake of watching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly the other day; the tonal differences between my current Audio Physic centre and the SBLs was laid bare. Bugger!

Just bought a Naim Axess.

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2 hours ago, Mr Underhill said:

Just bought a Naim Axess.

You devil....

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