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Naim Nait 5si - The Latest Naim Integrated Amplifier (Part 1)

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11/18/2013 9:58:06 AM

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.

Description: Integrated amplifier

Integrated amplifier

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 5si.

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.

Description: Design simplicity is key to the Nait 5si’s charm

Design simplicity 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.

Sound quality

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.

Description: The 5si provides an excellent portrayal of instruments at the frequency extremes

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.

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