Naim Nait XS2 & Supernait 3: first impressions

Feature

Naim Nait XS2 & Supernait 3: first impressions
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Naim’s top two integrated amplifiers have been updated for the vinyl generation. Both the Nait XS3 (£2,199) and Supernait 3 (£3,499) have had a MM phono stage added to their roster of line inputs. Naim’s Steve Sells and the R’n’D team in Salisbury have also upgraded the Supernait's power amplifier that have resulted in a more muscular and timely sound than was possible with its predecessor. 

The phono stage is based around Burr Brown op amps and through-hole rather than surface mount resistors because the performance of the latter is compromised by thermal variations. Naim has chosen polystyrene input capacitors for their low dielectric absorption and in the Supernait the entire phono stage is mounted on a separate board for isolation purposes. 

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Those with good memories will recall that the first two Supernaits did not have phono stages because Naim said that their performance would be compromised by the proximity of a large transformer and that having one onboard could undermine performance for the line inputs. Steve Sells explained that there is now more “desire to do it” because of demand from customers enjoying the vinyl renaissance. This has resulted in the engineers working at the problem and finding solutions, there’s nothing quite like a commercial imperative! The choice of an MM rather than MC stage comes down to the most likely users of this facility being relative beginners, better equipped vinyl enthusiasts can use the powered connections for an external Naim phono stage with MC capability.

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For the critical preamplifier stage in the Supernait 3 Naim has taken an unusual approach to resistor choice, Steve Sells and the team decided they liked the sound of 5% resistors better than the theoretically superior 1% variety, then they selected them in-house to as to achieve a 1% tolerance from there. This is largely because Naim don’t select on specs alone but accept that certain types of distortion are worth tolerating in exchange for the timing qualities that they prioritise, essentially it's because in their view we are more sensitive to timing errors than harmonic ones. 

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This approach can also be seen in the power amplifier of both models which used to have a cascode stage to protect a delicate transistor, in the new models this cascode element has been removed to make the power supply faster at the cost of a small increase in second harmonic distortion due to higher power handling second stage transistor. The new Naits continue to have Reed relay input switching with a ‘shock absorber’ capacitor and constant current supply to provide a smoother DC supply, or to use Steve’s words: “No more lumpy DC in the supply”. The headphone output remains fully class A with extra current. The input sockets are flexibly connected to the PCB on the Supernait to allow a degree of mechanical isolation, and the IEC mains input remains ‘loose’ for the same reason. 

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A demonstration of old versus new amplifiers via Focal Sopra No.1 speakers at Audience in Bath revealed the XS3 to have gained a distinctly more substantial bottom end with a more powerful presentation and improved timing, bringing its balance much closer to the Supernait 2. The Supernait 3 is clearly more muscular than its predecessor with stronger image depth and better timing, the latter being largely a result of the extra control in the bass.

One final snippet worth repeating is that Qobuz will become part of the Naim control app in the not too distant future. Naim hope to be making an announcement about the increasingly popular French streaming platform at the Rocky Mountain show in October but won’t give a launch date at this time. Both new Naits will be on sale at the end of July.