FIRST IMPRESSIONS - NAIM NAIT XS3 AND SUPERNAIT 3
Naim announced its new Nait XS3 and Supernait 3 integrated amplifiers earlier this week and StereoNET was there to hear them.
We travelled out to meet the new Naits being compared to their predecessors. We were also treated to having Naim’s Electronic Design Director Steve Sells present to us and explain how everything works together to produce Naim’s signature sound.
Nait XS3 and Supernait 3 Design
Naim’s new integrateds now support the vinyl revival with both the Nait XS3 (£2,199) and Supernait 3 (£3,499) sporting an MM phono stage.
The Burr-Brown op-amp-based phono stages also feature through-hole type resistors rather than the less-fiddly surface-mounted ones. It was explained that this particular time-consuming choice was made due to the performance of the former not being so hampered by thermal variations. The Salisbury firm also selected polystyrene input capacitors due to their low dielectric absorption. Furthermore, the Supernait's entire phono stage is mounted on a separate board for isolation purposes.
But why add phono stages? Well, we pitched that question before the demonstration, and the response was that they were omitted in the previous amps as their performance would be compromised by the proximity of a large transformer. Additionally, adding a phono stage could also impede the performance for the line inputs.
However, fast-forward to now, and Steve Sells stated that more recently there was a “desire to do it” owing to customer demand due to the resurgence in spinning the black stuff. That’s all well and good, but surely the hurdles mentioned above remain? We were told that while this might be true, the engineers worked on solving the problem as well as the PCBs being more accommodating now. Moreover, there was also the added incentive of the company expecting results. That’s not to say that the engineers didn’t put their collective foot down. They could’ve added an MC stage too, but that would have lead to even more problems to solve as well as adding another switch. Also, the intention of the integrated phono stage was more for those who might occasionally spin an LP or are satisfied with the integrated’s performance. Those who require an MC stage will be more likely to seek out a better equipped and adjustable external phono pre-amp.
The question of an onboard DAC was also aired to which Steve said that, while possible, there would be more investigation required due to interference, clocks and all the rest. As you can see in the ‘topless’ shot, the phono stage has been placed as far away from the transformer as possible. If there were to be a DAC section too, that would require further thought.
It wasn’t just the added phono stage that Naim wanted to tell us about though. The company’s R&D team have upgraded the Supernait’s power amplifier too, resulting in a more robust output than enjoyed by the previous model.
Firstly, Steve told us that the Supernait 3’s preamplifier stage features 5% resistors. An odd choice but, like much of Naim’s development decisions, this was lead by sound rather than pure measurements. The engineers preferred the sound of these resistors when compared to the theoretically superior 1% flavour. The chosen resistors are then measured and batch selected to achieve that 1% tolerance. The reasoning for going down this route is down to acknowledging the acceptance of certain types of distortion as pay off in achieving improved timing. In short, we are more sensitive to timing errors than certain harmonic ones, so it stands to reason to aim for one over the other if needs be.
Following this design, the power amplifier of both models has now eschewed the use of a cascode stage that’s employed to protect a delicate transistor. In the latest generation, the lack of a cascode stage results in a faster, more reactive power supply due to a higher power-handling second stage transistor at the cost of a small increase in second harmonic distortion.
The new Naits continue to have Reed relay input switching with a special shock resistant capacitor that’s able to remain unaffected by any board-flexing, and a constant current is supplied without having any “lumpy DC in the supply”, as Mr Sells put it. The addition of 4mm ceramic plates has also been included in favour of mica for thermal control.
The headphone output is full class A with the input sockets flexibly connected to the PCB on the Supernait to allow a degree of mechanical isolation. The IEC mains input remains disconcertingly (until you know what to expect) loose for the same reason.
After our brief bit of schooling, we moved on to a demonstration of old versus new. In the racks sat a Nait XS2 and XS3 as well as a Supernait 2 and Supernait 3. These were output to a pair of Focal Sopra No.1 standmount speakers.
Feeding some digital tunes to the XS2 and then XS3 displayed how much more body is apparent in the new Nait with the lower frequencies coming through more naturally weighted. Additionally, the timing had audibly improved. The overall performance of the Nait XS3 was closer to that of the Supernait 2 than its predecessor which, to our mind, makes it quite a bargain.
After the Supernait 2 had an airing, it was time for the Supernait 3. Thanks to a perceived lower noise floor and better handling of the low-end, imaging and soundstage have both benefited significantly. Furthermore, there seemed to be an increase in subtle detail and expression being unveiled, as well as a further improvement in timing.
Naturally, we had to test out the newly added phono stage. Here a Linn LP12 was utilised (Majik, Adikt, Basik) and it certainly does the job. Is it the last word in phono stages? Well, nope; but that was never Naim's aim. What you do get is a very competent performing phono inside a rather good pair of integrated amplifiers.
We are certainly looking forward to spending more time with the new Naims and should be getting review units as soon as they are available.
Oh, and for those hearing rumours surrounding a particular French audio streaming portal becoming part of the Naim control app, there may be an official announcement on the lead up to this year’s Rocky Mountain show in October.
Price and Availability
NAIT XS3 and SUPERNAIT 3 will be available from 31st July.
Suggested retail prices are £2,199/ €2,699 for the NAIT XS3 and £3,499/ €4,299 for the SUPERNAIT 3.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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