Has Naim lost their way in high-end digital? Discuss

Lots of ex-Naimies here it seems so I am curious to understand what I perceive as a bit of a trend. Has Naim faltered in its pursuit of the SoTA in digital or were they maybe never really there to start with?

I have always admired Naim but thinking back I have never actually owned any of their kit. When I was at University and bought my first ever system (comprising a Rega Planar 3, Mission Cyrus 2 and Mordaunt Short MS-20s) a NAC 32.5/NAP250 was my ultimate drool amplification for a while (until I discovered Audio Research and Krell which is where I eventually headed). But on the amplification side I have always seen them as one of the best indigenous producers.

On the digital side I have very little experience. I chose the original Uniti for my father when at the age of about 80 he downsized from the bigrig (Delius/Purcell) and moved to a house with a smaller listening (oops, living-) room. The Uniti is just superb, offering radio, CD, streaming and file playback and even powering his Stageline Phono. The sound through his PMC transmission lines (FB1+?) is absolutely glorious. Having taken it apart a couple of times I can say it is a superb piece of audio engineering, built to last with quality through and through. The only problem he has experienced was the dead display which I have now found can be easily remedied with a replacement costing £80 on ebay. Last week I bought an identical unit for Strutslet #1 as she prepares to flee the nest and brought it back with me following last weekend’s visit. £540 on ebay (with newly swapped screen!), I find it hard to believe that can be beaten for either functionality or SQ at anything close to the price. Just (hopefully) snagged a pair of Linn Keilidhs for £150 (including cables), no stands needed so for less than £700 she is off to the races with a system that should last her a very long time.

Anyway, I digress. I have no experience whatsoever of Naim’s more aspirational digital offerings, past or present. What do you say folks? Have they gone off the boil or were they never really on it? Or has the “Naim generation” simply got older, wealthier and is moving up-market to a part of the pond that Naim has never even tried to swim in?

I replaced my Naim Dac with a dCS Vivaldi. According to my hear, anything below the Vivaldi was not good enough to replace the Naim Dac…One of my sons still use it today (with a dCS Network Bridge as a streamer). It sounds great in his stereo.
Naim is still a very good hifi brand I think, but there is such a tough competition in the hifi industry…

1 Like

I go back to the earliest days of Naim and the founder, Julian Vereker, had a precise view of what he, the company and ( at the time) Linn were trying to achieve.

I had many encounters with Julian back then and he was, er, forthright !

You are probably too young to remember but the two companies then had a broadly similar approach. For those of use brought up in the earlier hi-fi regime this was a bit difficult to understand. Although sound quality in the normal sense ( bass, treble, dynamics etc. ) came into it the aim was for the result to sound like live music. That was where the confusion arose. Most of us thought this referred to the usual lexicon of sonic words as above. In fact it meant , not the sound per se, but the communication of music. To emphasise this I recall either a Naim or Linn series of advertisements showing a packet of cough sweets called “Tunes” and saying their gear was full of these.

I am unsure if this particular aspect has necessarily continued or is understood in the context of “tunes”. I have not heard enough modern Naim equipment to judge.

1 Like

I do remember seeing both Julian and Ivor present at shows and even enjoying brief conversations with both of them, although I have to confess I don’t remember the “Tunes” ad.

On the other hand I will never forget a demo at a dealer where my father compared Naim (32.5/250), Exposure (XVII?) and Linn (???) electronics** between an LP12/Ittok/Troika driving Linn Isobariks all carefully set up in a good room. That is one of my first memories of really high end sound and in my ears the Naim combo was just on a different level.

I remember them playing Paul Young’s cover of Tom Waits’ “Soldiers Things” and being absolutely blown away. Also the point in Die Zauberflöte (my father loved the 1964 Böhm recording with the incomparable Fritz Wünderlich as Tamino) where the speaker (Hans Hotter) shouts at Tamino to go back “Zurück!”. His voice was like a ball of thunder rolling across the stage, I was mesmerised!

** Ironically he ended up buying none of them. The choice of electronics eventually falling on Meridian 605 Monoblocks.

1 Like

Long year Naim fan (Nait2 starting point, HDX, NDAC, NDX, NDX2, NDS, ND555) and many pre/power amps…
Main points why I left the path…

  1. too many black boxes (the power supply religion was too much for me)
  2. as a baroque- and classical music fan there was always something missing (call it detail, call it air…) they have a hard frequency cut- look at their measurements!
2 Likes

Although I never progressed far up the Naim ladder, I jumped ship for three main reasons:

  1. TOO MANY BOXES (and don’t mention the cables :weary:)
  2. Couldn’t get past the high gain ‘hiss’ and the regular, but totally random, ground hum.
  3. I just wanted a system with no ‘upgrade path’. I could not be happier with my current setup and just love all the qualities my Ypsilon Integrated amp brings, and while I may at some point swap my Bartók for Vivaldi, even as it is my streaming source is already way better than anything Naim has to offer.

But, primarily, it’s THE CABLES!

2 Likes

I trust @phil and @James are following and taking note.

Naim was a big deal in digital in the past. I had one of their CD players for a bit, the type where the door swung out.

I demo’ed Naim amp/preamp components several times and while there were aspects of them I enjoyed, the propulsive PRAT got tiring after a while each time. And yeah, it felt like the external power supplies were sort of part of the deal and added complexity.

1 Like

Had naim for about 30years.
I think snce the NDS not much has really improved. They have kept with the old burr brown chip’s, yes they are nice but old hat these day’s.
So rather than develop years ago, they really just buried their head’s in the sand, and now trying like mad to catch up, trying to get new staff, etc.
The rossini easily shows the short comings of the nd555, so best not even mention the vivaldi.
Plus if you still have a naim pre amp in your system, then you certainly aren’t hearing what the dCS dac can do.
But i wouldn’t be surprised if they came up with a new dac that sounds great in a few year’s time, the only question is where will the rest be at ?
Personally i feel they have such a huge gap to try and make up, it’s probably going to be too much these day’s to do.

3 Likes

I’ve been with Naim for pretty much the past 20y. Think since NDX/CDX2 its digital front kinda stagnated, or never felt special enough in my system. I did progress up the amplification ladder : SN1, SN2, 252/250DR,252/300DR, etc.

For awhile I had the Puccini+U-clock replacing the cdx2 and xps. That’s quite special. The NDX did the streaming duties but kinda just alright. That lasted 5years, but once I have slotted in a Bartok when it was launched (and at that time I have started fiddling with Roon and files), there’s no going back - naim digital all gone and so as the disc playing dates were numbered.

Since then, a Rossini clock, then an upgrade to Rossini DAC and later a further upgrade to Apex. Then ditching the old classics, got the 350 monoblocs and being fed direct from the DAC… I say that’s the way to go

The only catch is …. I have to ditch my FM Tuner and LP…. But in reality 95% of my listening are via Roon of streaming or files. I can live with single source without the pre. All the better

4 Likes

I have been with Naim for around 12 years or so. Prior to that I hadn’t owned any serious hifi and my only real experience was some entry-mid level Linn kit that my Dad had bought probably around 20 years ago (which I had really enjoyed listening too). When I started demoing kit for my own system from the research I did, and the hifi shops I found that were nearby it was a straight Linn vs Naim shootout (in terms of what fit my budget). I was much more impressed back then with Naim than Linn - so impressed that I did not feel the need to cast my net any wider. I started with an NDX 282/200 and a unitiserve which i initially enjoyed. I duly made my way up the ladder to NDS 252 300DR.

I gradually found I was listening less and less to my system. Sometimes finding it a bit of a chore and often left a little flat. I think now the reason for that was that although I am initially impressed by the Naim sound - I don’t actually find it a particulalry enjoyable way to listen to music. I spent my time waiting for the system to impress me - not enjoying the music.

Things came to a head and I lost my patience with Naim for a couple of reasons. Firstly my unitiserve broke and they wanted almost £1000 to fix it. At the same time there was a problem with my NDS’s streaming card and I realised firstly how far behind the current state of play it was and was a bit put out that no updates had been offered to modernise it (even at a cost) whilst at the same time Naim were bringing out more streaming options which they claimed were an improvement over the NDS - resulting in its value plummeting.

I listened to the NS333 with the new power supply and was again impressed but realised I was impressed but not particularly having a good time. If you are into the Naim sound I suspect the 333 will go down very well indeed with you. I decided to persue other options and immeadiately realised what was missing when I demoed a Weiss 501. As soon as it started playing I found myself relaxing into the music - it was still impressive but in a totally different way. I nearly bought one but found I had a little more budget than I initially thought and found a Rossini Apex and Clock, which ones my Naim streamer, pre-amp and power supplies were part exchanged was (pretty much!) in my budget and here we are.

TL;DR - The difference to my ears is enormous - The Rossini gives me the music, NAIM showed me electronics. I am now back to listening to as much music as I can and very happy!

PS - I am a fully paid up member to the ditch the Naim pre-amp if moving to dCS club. It seems to inject a large portion if the NAIM special source into the mix

5 Likes

What I am starting to sense is that Naim may have lost their way across the board, not just on digital. Several folks here reporting that they just weren’t enjoying the music any more, at the same time as being sucked into black box escalations, power supply arms races and shortening obsolescence cycles (as well as that idiosyncratic cable conceit).

This contrasts markedly with my own experience from the mid-to-late 80s when I feel Naim were at the top of the tree (at least indigenously in the UK) as far as delivering musical enjoyment is concerned at the same time product cycles were long and the equipment was designed to outlast its owners.

This is fascinating stuff folks, please keep it coming!

1 Like

My "moment " : When i decided to move from CD to streaming/DAC . I had an all Naim system and naturally focused on their top ND555 streaming dac. I was shocked that they were selling a discontinued Burr Brown DAC for £17.5k plus it needed 2 huge power supplies at £7.5k each to work properly. By contrast dCS DACs can potentially continue to improve after purchase.

3 Likes

It was how disappointed i was with the ND555 when i first heard one that got me into dCS.
I had the NDS, and 2 power supplies, so naturally the ND555 was the way to go, this new expensive naim box would simply be much better. Well i couldn’t hear any difference playing stored music from my melco, it was only streaming that sounded very slightly better, but still nothing worth spending on, and infact using an independent streamer would have been the way to go probably.
But my good old dealer went and got the dCS rossini and clock, well say no more the difference was immediately there, and i left the dealer trying to work out how i could afford such a marvellous bit of kit.
A few year’s later i have a 3 bits of vivaldi, and have never looked back.

5 Likes

Naim Audio is a British hi-fi manufacturer based in Wiltshire, United Kingdom. The company was founded in 1973. Following a 2011 merger with French loudspeaker manufacturer Focal, Naim is owned by VerVent Audio Group , a French company. In 2019, Alpha Private Equity (Alpha), an investor in the European mid-market segment, acquired a majority stake in Vervent Audio Group.

Sadly this says it all for Naim, along with so much of British engineering heritage. Private equity cash out, short term focus on profit, and these days more accurately described as “consumer electronics”. I truly hope dCS does not go the same way!

6 Likes