To Naim a tune

Model: Naim Nait 5i integrated amplifier

Price: RM4,900

Distributed by ABSOLUTE HI-FI SDN BHD (Tel: 03-7804 8788 / 8433)

PASSION is what drives the whole business of being an audiophile. Itís the only way to explain the hermit-like behaviour of a person capable of spending hours in an enclosed area, with nothing but music and an audio system for company.

Even within this select group of individuals, passions are strongly divided or surprisingly partisan. We hear, for example, of the vinyl aficionado who frowns on the series of ones and zeros that are supposed to represent music, or the live wire of a guy who insists on making his own hi-fi equipment.

We also have this other chappie, the Naim aficionado. While other makes of equipment may offer better performance specifications on paper, this one insists on hearing music through Naim equipment only. Where the divide lies is in the nature of its sound; naysayers claim it does not quite adhere to audiophile-approved values, but adherents believe that it makes the best music around.

FADE TO BLACK: Let the Naim Nait 5i integrated amplifier take you on a musical journey.

This brings into focus the Naim Nait 5i integrated amplifier, currently the latest and most accessible route to get acquainted with the Naim sound.

Naim of the game

Naim equipment has always had its own personality, and the Nait 5i can be considered a slight detraction from its original design philosophy Ė but this isnít necessarily a bad thing. Most notable is the doubling up of RCA in addition to the traditional DIN inputs for the Tuner and CD inputs, a change that makes it significantly more accessible to the masses. It makes perfect sense too, for Naim has been estranging people who do not have DIN connector-equipped components (which includes just about everything else, actually) for too long now. There is also the flexibility in choice in speaker cables now Ė where previous incarnations insisted on the use of Naim cabling, the Nait 5i is now friendly to other makes of cable.

DOUBLE THE FUN: The Nait 5i has RCA connections as well as Naimís traditional DIN Connectors, but only for its CD and TUNER inputs.

Compared to the older Nait 5 it replaces, the Nait 5i offers four inputs instead of six. There is no phono stage, and as a matter of fact, there is no input designated ďPhonoĒ for any of the sources on the amplifier, which necessitates the use of either the CD, Tuner, AV or Tape inputs.

Furthermore, any prospect of upgrading the Nait 5i has been removed. Where you could have once added Naimís own FLATCAP or SUPERCAP external power supplies or double it up with another Naim power amplifier, this is now impossible with the absence of the necessary connection options.

As far build quality goes, however, you canít fault the Nait 5i. Its zinc die-cast chassis, combined with aluminium extrusions, has a reassuringly solid feel, and follows former trends with basic black with green fluorescent highlights.

Finally, the Nait 5i now has more grunt, bumped up to 50 watts from 30 in the previous Nait 5.

By any other Naim

Accompanying the Nait 5i were the Marantz CD 63 KI Signature and Naim CD5i CD players, Pro-Ject Debut II Phono turntable, Philips Q50 DVD player, Epos M5, M22 and Monitor Audio Studio 15 speakers with AudioQuest SR15/4 speaker cables, AudioQuest Sidewinder and DIY interconnects with a Restek Fable integrated amplifier as base comparison.

Naims have always been sluggish to get going, which is the reason why the power switch is located at the back Ė its meant to be left on indefinitely. But if you really have to turn it off, an hour after powering up is sufficient to get things cooking.

THE SIGN OF FOUR: You'll find four input options on the Nait 5i.

The sound of Naim equipment is a very distinct one, one that you wonít forget easily Ė whether you love or hate it, is another matter, though. Naims work within set parameters in the frequency range, and you wonít get extended highs or subterranean lows, but what it dishes out in spades is PRAT, pace rhythm and timing Ė only in the Nait 5iís case the ďAĒ also means attack. This lends credence to the belief that Naims are good for rock music only, although this is not an accurate description of its musical prowess. Nonetheless, music of the genre takes on a new vibrancy, with a directness and drive that really gets the groove going. The Nait 5i just seems to get it right, bass accents from bass guitar or percussive drumbeats are taut and punchy, while driving guitars scream out at you with the requisite edge.

On the other hand, music that requires a deft touch Ė gentle, flowing vocals or string ensembles for example, exposes a chink in its armour. There is a harder edge to the music, one that almost borders on grittiness. Having said that, however, there is still an underlining musicality in its presentation, which keeps your foot tapping throughout the duration of the music. It may not be hi-fi in its strictest sense, but itís sure a lot of fun!

As for volume levels, the Nait 5i belies its 50-watt rating. It worked superbly with the Epos M5 bookshelves, and it had more than sufficient juice to rattle things in the listening room without breaking up. Even with the larger M22 and Studio 15, prodigious volumes were possible, which took me by surprise, actually. Gain levels of the amp have been looked at, and there is now more control possible with the volume knob, and there was a smooth crescendo right up to about 11 oíclock on the dial before things started to get very loud. Having said that, push it up too much and things start to get really messy; but keep the volume levels within reason and youíll have little cause for complaint.

When you consider an all-Naim system would have speakers flush against the rear wall, you canít really expect the Nait 5i to have a deep and wide soundstage or pinpoint imaging. But things arenít all that bad, actually. Depth and width is less than what Iím used to, yet there remained a semblance of depth perception while the width was contained within the boundaries of the two speakers. Imaging was slightly larger-than life, but still occupied a clearly defined space on the sonic canvass.

A Naim for everyone

It is clear with the Nait 5i, that Naim has had to adapt in order to recruit a new batch of loyal followers. Naims will always have their distinct traits, but the underlying fact is that the Nait 5i is always musical and enjoyable to listen to.

What makes the Nait 5i such a joy is that it retains all the strengths of its predecessors and yet has managed to remove the barriers that made them so inaccessible for many. It will still have its opponents, but these will be outnumbered by those won over by its musicality.

For: A wealth of RCA phono plug inputs Ö finally; superb musicality; Naims can really rock.

Against: Four inputs are good, but Iíd have welcomed a couple more.

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