It must be the post-wedding hangover (could also be gas from the wife's chopped liver), but I find it almost impossible to believe that it has been more than two years since I reviewed a complete Naim system. Where the hell did all of the time go? So many things have transpired since spilling ink on that glorious collection of green boxes that I do not remember half of them... except for the really important things such as getting married, becoming an uncle, moving to the United States right after the attacks in New York and Washington, spending time in Israel before all hell broke loose, losing more money than I care to admit in the stock market crash. I know very few people who feel that life now is as stable and predictable as it was just twenty-four months ago. Speaking for myself, a certain level of stability as it allows me to concentrate on getting important things done, rather than worrying about trivial things that I can not control. It also makes enjoying one's musical interests a lot more fun as well. I need a certain level of stability.
Even though I chose to baby sit twenty-four beautiful glowing tubes each day that does not mean that I do not demand absolute reliability from the products in my home, and more specifically in my listening room. When buying something, it better perform as advertised and last a very long time because I hate speaking to customer service representitives who could care less.
Thirty Minutes Or It's Free
No, that is not Naim's customer service policy, but that is about as long as it should take to unpack, connect, and begin enjoying Naim's replacement for the venerable Nait 3 integrated amplifier. Most audiophiles that I know have very intense views about Naim Audio; some love their gear, others despise it with a passion. Well, as someone who used to fall into the "despise" category (although yours truly is the proud father of a two year-old NAT 03 FM tuner), I would have to say that Naim has finally crossed over the line with the Nait 5 leaving "naysayers" with spotted dick on their shoes.
With the Nait 5, Naim has broken free of an aesthetic look that served it well for nearly two decades and come up with something entirely fresh and modern looking that deserves top marks. For starters, the entire Series 5 line-up uses a new case made from plates of a die-cast alloy. Naim has always built a solid case, and the new one is no exception. On the bottom of each Series 5 component, are low-energy-transfer feet which work in conjunction with decoupling pillars inside the case that help better isolate the circuit boards from vibration. The entire case is only 17.2" x 12" x 2.3" (WxDxH), making it one of the most compact integrated amplifiers on the market.
Another change for the Nait 5 is that Naim now offers an external phono preamplifier called the Stageline, which can be powered through the internal power supply of the Nait 5, or through one of Naim's external power supplies such as the Flat-Cap 2. Naim still offers its plug-in phono boards for its more expensive preamplifiers, but that option no longer exists for the Nait 5. With the addition of an external power supply the Nait 5 can also be converted into a pre-amplifier or power amplifier. Needless to say, this integrated amplifier is not going to become obsolete anytime soon.
Internally, the Nait 5 is your typical Naim product. It is meticulously laid out, clean, and well put together. There were no problems whatsoever with the Nait 5 during the review process and I left it on for weeks without ever having a problem.
One issue that constantly rears its ugly head, but is really a non-issue at this point, is the DIN and connector issue. Naim insists on offering products that only use DIN connectors that has always made potential users wary - afraid of connection problems with non-Naim equipment. Having used Naim's supplied cables for more than two years, including those offered by the Chord Company (available through Naim dealers) which are terminated with a DIN on one end and RCAs on the other, I find all of the moaning and groaning to be a case of sour grapes. Yes, Naim wants you to use a Naim CD player, tuner, and external power supply with its amplifiers and pre-amplifiers. Why shouldn't they? From a synergy perspective, Naim gear sounds a lot better in an all-Naim system nine times out of ten. Another positive element is that Naim's cables are cheaper than those of the competition.
From a design perspective, the power amplifier section of the Nait 5 uses a version of the new circuitry designed for the flagship NAP500 power amplifier. The power supplies inside the NAIT 5 have been greatly improved, including the new transformer which has secondary windings for the preamplifier and power amplifier circuits, and all of the pre-amplifier's power supplies are double regulated.
The NAIT 5 is rated at thirty watts per channel into an 8 Ohm load, but my ears tell me that the amplifier has a lot more in reserve than that. Especially when dealing with more difficult speaker loads. I would not use a NAIT 5 to drive a pair of really inefficient panels, or a pair of 84dB speakers in a large room, but it had no problem with my 88dB Spendor SP2/3s in a 20' x 16' x 9' (WxDxH) room at very loud listening levels. The NAIT 5 also handled my Meadowlark Hot Rod Shearwaters without breaking a sweat, so its power output is likely to be more than adequate, except in certain systems.
The pre-amplifier section uses a discrete resistor ladder volume control, which consists of a network of high quality resistors and solid-state switches which are controlled by the microprocessor. The NAIT 5 offers both a manual volume control and remote function. The NAIT 5 also offers a balance control, but it is operated through the remote only. Through the remote, you can also adjust the gain for each individual component.
The NAIT 5 has six inputs; CD, Tuner, Tape, A/V, Aux 1, and Aux 2. The Tape, A/V, and Aux 1 all have record output facilities if you want to use a cassette deck, VCR, etc. There is also a Mute button which one pressed reduces the output from the speakers to zero. The Aux 2 input is far more versatile, as it has two functions. The socket on the right (when viewed from the rear) is for any other ancillary equipment. The socket on the left is for use with the external Naim Stageline phono pre-amplifier.
The binding posts on the rear of the NAIT 5 are well spaced, but are naturally designed to work best with Naim's NACA5 loudspeaker cable. While the cable may not be the ultimate loudspeaker cable for non-Naim speakers, it is not all that bad with Spendor or Meadowlark and it is certainly cost-effective.
Well, It looks Like A Naim...
To be quite blunt, the Nait 5 sounds like a Nait 3 that finally finished going through puberty and emerged as a mature adult. If you are totally confused by that image, I am glad because it means that you are still reading. One of the most important strengths of any piece of Naim equipment is its ability to impart exactly the right amount of pace on the music it is reproducing. Music comes alive with wonderful vitality and the Nait 5 upholds the Naim tradition with aplomb. This integrated amplifier never bores the listener as it attempts to reproduce the pace of the performance.
The title track to Etta James' Tell Mama [MCA Chess 088 112 518-2 CD] always makes me want to get up and shake my tail feather. Propelled by the Nait 5 it had me spinning the wife around the room until she cried uncle (actually it was until her credit card came flying out of her wallet). One thing I noticed about the Nait 5, especially with this recording, was how much smoother it was in comparison to the Nait 3. While I really enjoyed the vigor of the Nait 3's presentation, it did suffer on the top end from perhaps too much energy. It was not overly bright, but certainly less smooth sounding than the Nait 5. Upon first listen I thought that the Nait 5 sounded almost too restrained, but over time I began to appreciate its new sonic signature... especially in relation to the midrange.
Few voices affect me as strongly as Sam Cooke's, and while the Nait 5 did not quite do it as well as my Wavelength Duetto or Blue Circle BC6, it left little doubt that its midrange ability is nothing short of superb. Fine, so it is not exactly fair to compare a $1,600 integrated amplifier to a $5,250 single-ended piece of art, but the little green box was not all that shabby in comparison. On "Lost and Lookin'" from Sam Cooke's Night Beat [RCA 07863 68098-2 CD], the Nait 5 differentiated itself from its discontinued sibling with a degree of warmth and clarity that had me checking to make sure that I was listening to a piece of equipment made by Naim. What the hell is going on at Naim?
One thing that has not changed, and this is where the Wavelength and Blue Circle amplifiers are noticeably superior, is in the reproduction of space around musicians. The Nait 5 does not make music sound two dimensional. It is only "above average" in its ability to recreate the illusion that fully fleshed out musicians are performing in front of you in whichever recording venue was used. It is certainly true that my Spendor SP2/3 are not exactly references in the categories of soundstage depth, width, and image height, but with the two single-ended amplifiers in use the Spendor monitors just seem to open up and envelop the listener to a greater degree.
From a tonal perspective, the Nait 5 is exceptionally accurate, although somewhat rolled-off in the bass and in the upper treble. Glad that Steve Stone reviewed and highly recommended The Pizza Tapes [Acoustic Disc ACD-41 HDCD] as it is a tremendous recording by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. I knew that the Nait 5 would have no difficulty reproducing the energy that was clearly present in the recording studio, but was not sure that it would be as tonally beautiful as the two single-ended amplifiers in my possession.
Well, we are waiting...
Close, but no cigar.
It is all in the details, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.
Both single-ended amplifiers have the ability to retrieve and reproduce inner detail with such ease, and clarity that they make the Nait 5 sound... like an overachieving $1,600 solid-state integrated amplifier.
In the low end, the Nait 5 breaks from tradition somewhat, as its bass response is slightly meatier than that of the Nait 3. Yes, the bass is still somewhat lean sounding but it is also quite taut and very quick. The Nait 5 is not a "one note" wonder and those who enjoy a diet of Green Day, Prodigy, the Beastie Boys, and Bela Fleck will find its grunt rather satisfying.
Honey, do we have room for another stereo…okay, put down the gun... I was kidding... sorta...
Five legitimate reasons for spending $1,600 on the Nait 5 integrated amplifier right now in these difficult economic times:
1. Very few high-end components offer such value, reliability, sound quality, ability for upgrading, ease of use, and fun for that amount of money.
2. The Brits are banging heads with us in Afghanistan unlike the weenie French who are sitting in Uzbekistan complaining about the availability of fresh bread and therefore deserve some reciprocal financial support.
3. Naim finally built a product that sounds as good, if not better when used with speakers other than Naim's own products.
4. You will probably own it ten years from now.
5. It will make life seem a little more certain.
Very highly recommended.
Remote-controlled or manual volume
Programmable gain for each input (when switching between sources with different output levels there is no change in output loudness)
Inputs: Six source inputs (note: Sixth input includes optional power supplies for the Stageline phono pre-amplifier)
Outputs: three stereo plus a tape outputs
All sockets are available to split the Nait into a separate pre and power amplifier for simple upgrades
Input Sensitivities: 75mV, 100 KOhms
Power Output: 30 watts per channel
Dimensions: 58.4 x 432 x 301 (HxWxD in mm)