Already a big fan of the original Nait Malcolm Steward takes
a look at the latest Naim integrated amplifier, the 5si.
I have a long history with the Naim Nait, one that stretches
right back to the release – and subsequent purchase – of the original Nait in
1983. In fact, I rescued that amplifier from my loft immediately so that I
could listen to it alongside this, its 2013 counterpart. This proves to be a
rather fascinating exercise with fundamentally little to choose between the two
integrated amplifier designs in musical terms. However, their cosmetics are
dramatically different with the new Nait 5si version displaying considerably
more control, precision, poise and modernity about its presentation, sounding
more muscular and gripper than its elder brother. In terms of musical fluency,
though, they are extremely close in the way that they convey music’s
fundamentals and its nuances.
The original Nait was one of the first so-called half-width
products that Naim manufactured, but the design eventually changed – at the
turn of the century – and the amplifier became full-width, in the familiar
triptych-style case around 43cm wide, which is the format adopted by the Nait
The 5si is a slick looking confection and looks distinctly
more modern and professional than its ‘chrome bumper’ equivalent from the
eighties, but it remains minimalist with only four, line-level inputs and no
features or facilities to speak of.
When the Nait was introduced there was never any discussion
about how many watts it could produce, which Naim’s founder and then MD, Julian
Vereker, considered an irrelevance. What he believed more important was that
the design could deliver appreciable current into any real-world loudspeaker
that were to demand it. That the amplifier only output around 13W was never
mentioned because it was not deemed relevant.
Times change, though, and the new Nait 5si is quoted as
having an output of 60W into 8 ohms. The power output has increased from its
previous 50W to 60W due to a larger transformer and an improved power supply.
Components have been upgraded in critical areas such as the power amplifier
stage – where small signal capacitors have been changed to high-quality film
types. The PCB layout and wiring loom have been improved following the
company’s experience with other products like the DAC-V1.
is key to the Nait 5si’s charm
The original Nait never had a headphone jack, but the 5si
features a high-quality Class A headphone amplifier feeding a 6.35mm output
connection. Nonetheless, and despite the fact that there are now three Nait
models in the range – the 5si, the XS and the SuperNait, the Nait 5si is
perhaps the closest relative to the 1983 original. It is a bare-bones,
minimalist design and although it claims more power, a wider dynamic range,
more slam, lower noise and a better defined, more powerful low end than the
iconic original, the 5si’s character remains intrinsically the same, but has been
given a polish.
The original Nait also had a captive mains lead, which meant
that those who wanted to fine-tune its performance with an after-market cable –
not that it was fashionable in those days – would need to get inside the
casework with a soldering iron. Owners of a 5si risk no such danger because the
new amplifier is fitted with an IEC connector to accept a regular
‘kettle-style’ mains lead. Like those on some more expensive components, the
IEC connector features an almost ‘loose’ attachment in order to dissipate
vibrations trying to find their way into the component through the mains cable.
Even though this might suggest some compromise of structural integrity it does,
in truth, enhance it.
The 5si demonstrates a pleasingly open, revealing sound and
it has no trouble in distinguishing between the Naim HDX in streamer mode and
the Knell Connect, both pulling files off my primary music server over Ethernet
and feeding them to the amplifier by way of a Chord Company Sacrum Tuned Array,
BNC-connected, Naim DAC. The character of each of the different streamers
emerges with clear distinction even when those differences are truly subtle.
The 5si provides
an excellent portrayal of instruments at the frequency extremes
For example, playing Keith Richards’ Whip It Up from Live at
the Hollywood Palladium it captures the propulsive urgency of the snare
compared to the more laid-back attack and drive on the Talk is Cheapalbum. It
also latches onto the ‘loose but tight’ bass playing and how it powers the song
so effortlessly. Locked Away shows that the Nait remains a highly persuasive
musical performer, but in its latest guise it is equally convincing in
presentational terms, laying out a well-defined, broad and deep soundstage with
clearly positioned instruments occupying distinct spaces within the mix and
retaining their individuality, timbre and character.
The Nait contrasts the two albums vividly, demonstrating the
superior groove of Live at the Hollywood Palladium over Talk is Cheap, but also
the latter’s rather more pristine recording. The stereo stage is better
defined, as is the vivid dynamic portrayal of instruments like the drum kit.
Listen to David Solid Gould vs. Bill Laswell’s Dub of the
Passover, in particular the track Once We Were Dub to hear truly vivid
instrumental separation and dynamics – especially on the percussion. There is
quite brilliant layering in the soundstage – especially the vocals. There is an
excellent portrayal of instruments at the frequency extremes: stygian bass and
shimmering, metallic cymbals – it’s truly a high-end portrayal with the Knell
Connect front end! Timbral accuracy is also readily obvious on the bass and
keyboards – and sounds appear incandescent.