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December 2011
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Naim Audio ND5 XS Network Audio Player
A very impressive digital audio 24-bit/192kHz player.
Review By Malcolm Steward

 

Naim Audio ND5 XS Network Audio Player  The ND5 XS ($3,495) is the second network audio player that Naim Audio has released this year and it is the first to offer native streaming of 24-bit 192 kHz sources. It follows the widely praised but more expensive ($5145) NDX that the Salisbury, UK company launched in February. It differs from its forerunner, though, in being built into the attractive, slim-line, XS series case rather than the bulkier Classic series enclosure, but is similar in being performance upgradeable. Upgrade options currently available include the XPS or PS 555 power supplies, and the Naim DAC. Naim told me that a matching, low-profile power supply will be available in 2012, as well. As you might expect, in terms of technology, the ND5 XS draws heavily on the established and highly successful Naim DAC. It uses the same innovative SHARC 40-bit DSP-based buffering with fixed clocks technology along with 16-times oversampling and Naim’s proprietary, low-generated noise, digital filtering algorithms. The ND5 XS 16-times oversampling mode DAC is the Burr Brown PCM1791A. This runs at a maximum sample rate of 768 kHz, and can handle UPnP signals at up to 32-bit, floating-point, 192 kHz sample rates.

Like its elder brother, the NDX, the ND5 XS adds far more to a system than just streaming. It can also be a digital input expander through providing three S/PDIF digital inputs to support the digital connection of computers, set top boxes, and CD players. This can be regarded as a ‘free’ upgrade if your CD player will benefit from an external DAC: and few will have an on-board DAC anywhere near as sophisticated or as painstakingly implemented as that in the ND5 XS. Furthermore, the player provides access to internet radio, supported by the full vTuner, five-star service. This provides useful facilities and organizational abilities including access to ‘Naim’s Choice’ higher quality radio streams, which include the superb 320 kHz AAC feeds from Radio Paradise, and AVRO Klassical. There is also an optional FM module that lets users add terrestrial radio capabilities to the unit if they so wish. I reckon that anyone who regards the radio as a way to discover unheard-of gems and exciting new performers will have already found internet radio, which through often being  intensely specialized and genre-specific, is far more appropriate in this day and age. I suppose Naim made FM an option for those unfortunate music lovers who are located so far out in the sticks that they cannot get high speed broadband.

Naim Audio ND5 XS Network Audio PlayerThe fascia of the ND5 XS is elegantly simple and features a single USB port, an OLED display, and a matrix of nine control/navigation buttons. Naturally, though, these are not the sole means of controlling the device. It comes with a remote control handset, and for iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhone users there is the free n-Stream app, which I consider to be the easiest way to select the source and music you want to hear. Naim’s ND5 XS streams and plays WAV, FLAC, AIFF, AAC, WMA, OggVorbis and MP3 files either through its UPnP connectivity or from a memory stick plugged into its USB port. The latter can also be used to connect an iPod or equivalent. Being Apple Authenticated, the ND5 XS will extract a pure digital signal from the iPod or iPhone to enable optimum performance from the ubiquitous device. Finally, fans of classical music and progressive rock will be pleased to hear that the ND5 XS offers genuine gapless playback of all formats. So you can endure Dark Side of the Moon in all its uninterrupted, interminable, several hours-without-a-break glory if that appeals: as you might guess, I am not a Pink Floyd fan, and I honestly only acquired a rip of DSOTM as a test for gapless playback. It proved the point quite adequately.

The build quality of this unit is typical of Naim Audio: the company obsesses over minuscule details that clearly strike competing manufacturers as too insignificant to concern themselves with. However, the cumulative effect of all that fanatical attention to detail gives the ND5 XS a finesse and polish that eludes its competitors. The sort of detail I am talking about here is outwardly inconsequential: for example, exactly where and how the cable ties are fitted to a wiring loom, or the length and orientation of a wire between circuit boards. In isolation, these probably makes the tiniest of tiny differences, but include another dozen similar fine adjustments and the cumulative difference becomes far more significant and the result easily discernible.

In order to keep noise levels to an absolute minimum, the ND5 XS features galvanic isolation between sections of its circuitry. The power supplies for each segment of the signal stages are also independent. Four separate secondary windings feed four separate power supplies for complete isolation. These discrete supplies provide part of the electrical isolation of the digital DSP section from the DAC chips and analogue circuits. The reservoir capacitors are larger than would typically be used to reduce the unregulated voltage noise and provide increased short-term current capability. Voltage supplies to many of the digital circuits are double- and, in some cases, triple-regulated to reduce noise further. When an external power supply is employed, the supply becomes quadruple-regulated. The external supply also provides a significantly larger toroidal transformer and larger reservoir capacitors to increase the noise reduction.

I auditioned the ND5 XS primarily through a Naim SUPERNAIT integrated amplifier/Hi-Cap power supply combination and a pair of NEAT Acoustics Ultimatum XLS loudspeakers. The electronics were on Quadraspire Sunoko Vent supports; the speakers on their own dedicated stands; and the loudspeaker cabling was TelluriumQ Ultra Black. The unit was also auditioned through my active, tri-amp'ed, Naim DBL system. The sound of the ND5 XS immediately put a smile on my lips: the presentation was more than just hi-fi; it was communication at its most intimate and persuasive. Rather than analyze the sound, my instant reaction was to sit back, relax and simply enjoy the music. And that was regardless of whether I was listening to a baroque guitar quietly playing the works of Fernando Sor or the challenging musique concrète of Edgard Varèse being played with enthusiasm by a full orchestra. Either way, the word finesse sprang instantly to mind: the music sounded so natural and unforced – even at its most animated and dramatic – with no hint of ‘mechanical’ or ‘electronic’ overtones intruding on my enjoyment.

Naim Audio ND5 XS Network Audio PlayerSimilarly, the sound was clean, extended at both frequency extremes, and free from any obvious coloration or undue emphasis. The instrumentation and voices on the 24-bit/96kHz rip of the eponymous Buena Vista Social Club album were pure and gloriously expressive, and the music shuffled along with a characteristically persistent but relaxed, Cuban beat. The top end was open and clear while the low frequencies – drums and bass – had impressive weight and were sufficiently crisply defined to be persuasively rhythmically propulsive. Piano, that most revealing of instruments, had weight, definition and absolutely secure, stable pitch, along with excellent transient response and note shape. The system produced excellent sound-staging, exhibiting incredibly accurately focused stereo images on tracks such as You Gotta Move from Cassandra Wilson’s album, Belly of the Sun. Even though this is a jazz chanteuse demo-style track, the ND5 XS successfully uncovered elements of soul within her voice. The next surprise came when I played Moonshadow from Cat Stevens’ 1971 album, Teaser and the Firecat: the Naim revealed both strikingly dramatic and subtle dynamic contrasts in the music that came as something of a delightful surprise. It should not have surprised anyone, however, after the Naim’s spell-binding presentation of a 24-bit/96kHz vinyl rip of Art Pepper’s 1957 album, Meets the Rhythm Section. This was indisputably a ‘musicians in the room with you’ experience. The instrumental timbre was so credible and vivid, and the playing so vital and animated, there was no other way to describe the sheer realism that listeners experienced other than to say that their disbelief was readily and near totally suspended.

The final challenge was to see how well the ND5 XS fared with the bête noire of most UK music collections, country music… albeit the modern variety of artists such as Shawn Colvin. The portrayal of her voice, and those of other singers, was superb, and packed with expression and emotion. The player was equally revealing about the presentational aspects of the music and relished disclosing how wet or dry a mix was, and displaying instrumental detailing and texture with poise and dexterity. Equally, the ND5 XS excelled with Aaron Lewis ‘Town Line’ creating a tangible, entirely believable representation of the man and his Gibson acoustic before us. The performance of the player on the track Tangled Up In You was outstanding in the way it got straight to the emotional core of the song and noticeably brought lumps to several throats in the room.

The performance of the ND5 XS was not far short of sublime and easily justified its comparatively modest – in the scheme of things – price. It even held its head high and exposed no weaknesses in the company of more expensive Naim Classic components, which is high praise in itself. Its ability to cope with 24/192 streams future-proofs it for some considerable time and allows the lovers of hi-res music to pursue their studio-master fix. Then the n-Stream app adds all the convenience to the package for which one could ask. In an appropriate system, the way ND5 XS makes music simply makes one feel good to be alive. It must be said that the $5145 NDX with which I played ultimately has the edge over the ND5XS in sound quality terms but most people will find that their performances are very close: there are certainly no glaring night and day differences. In truth, though, I was not really comparing like with like using the ND5 XS and a non-revised – so not 24-bit/192kHz capable – NDX.  So, as always, you’ll need to audition both and then decide which bests suits your musical tastes and your budget and, of course, which best enables you to enjoy the music.

 

Specifications
Type: Network Audio Device
Digital Inputs: Ethernet, USB, S/PDIF via BNC and RCA and TosLink optical.
Digital Outputs: S/PDIF via BNC
Antenna Inputs: DAB/FM, Wi-Fi (802.11 g or n at 2.4GHz)
Tuning Range: DAB (Band lll and L Band), FM 87.5-108MHz (FM/DAB version only)
Outputs: DIN and RCA, 2.1V rms at 1kHz at full level (Fixed)
Output Impedance: 32 Ohms maximum
Frequency Response: 10 Hz to 20 kHz (+0.1/-0.5dB)
THD+N: <0.02%, 10Hz to 20kHz at full level
Audio Formats Supported: WAV, AIFF and FLAC (up to 24bit/192kHz )
    ALAC (up to 24bit/96kHz) Ogg Vorbis (up to 320bit/s)
    Windows Media-formatted content-9 (up to 320kbit/s)
    Playlists (M3U, PLS) MP3, M4a (up to 320kbit/s)

iRadio Service Provider: vTuner 5* full service Internet radio (Windows Media-formatted content, MP3 streams, MMS, Ogg Vorbis)
Power Supply Options: XPS and 555 PS
Dimensions: 70 x 432 x 301 (HxWxD in mm)
Price: £1925 in the UK, $3495 in the United States 

 

Company Information
Naim Audio Ltd
Southampton Road
Salisbury
SP1 2LN
England

Voice: +44 (0) 1722 426 600
Fax: +44 (0) 871 230 1012
E-mail: info@naimaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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