NAC A5 – What Did I do Wrong?

Having dreamed of being a Naim owner for many years, a couple of months ago I threw caution to the wind and bought a used Supernait 2 from a Naim dealer, a significant upgrade from my Arcam Solo and my biggest Hi Fi purchase ever.

Excitedly I set it up, plugged in my existing speaker cables (Audioquest Slate) and played some of my favourite vinyl on my turntable. It sounded incredible. A couple of years ago I upgraded to a Clearaudio Concept Wood from an entry-level turntable and a veil was lifted from the music. Switching to the Supernait 2 was the same again. The music became even more engaging, another veil lifted, subtle aspects of the music I had never heard before I heard for the first time, the stereo imaging and soundstaging was incredible. I was hooked. I played records with my wife and she was hooked away too, all was good with the new purchase.

I read a lot of views of the right speaker cable to use with the Supernait, many from this forum. The NAC A5 was almost universally praised so I thought I would complete my upgrade with the ideal cables also. The Supernait 2 had already blown the budget for me, so I found an older used 3.5 M pair of unterminated NAC A5 online and bought them. The dealer that supplied the Supernait gave me (FOC) a pair of the Naim terminal plugs for the amplifier end and a set of Deltron plugs for the speakers. I soldered the Naim plugs and fitted the Chord Company plugs and replaced the Audioquest and sat down with the same favourite vinyl. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. Almost all of the sonic benefits of the Supernait 2 were lost. The newly found details were lost, stereo imaging took a backward step, the music somehow less engaging.   I checked that I had not wired or installed the cables out of phase, I had not. Eventually I switched cables back, normality was restored. Many years of being a fan of Hi Fi has lead me to follow my ears and that’s what I did.

 I am more than happy with the Supernait 2, but puzzled about the seeming lack of performance of the NAC A5. At this stage I am making the assumption that I have done something wrong somewhere along the way, the question is what. For background, here is my system:

Clearaudio Concept Wood with Clearaudio Performer V2 cartridge

Graham Slee Reflex M phono pre-amp

Van Den Hull D102-III between phono pre-amp and Supernait 2

Dynaudio Audience 52 speakers, stand mounted.

 The NAC A5 is older and one run has the Naim text and direction arrows almost completely worn away, so I guessed the direction based on the markings that were left. The other run has clear arrows on, which I installed towards the speaker. I am not an expert in soldering, at the amplifier end, based on the photos I have seen from the internet, my termination was not the prettiest, but by far not the worst.   The dealer said that he thought the freebie speaker plugs may be rhodium plated, my recent research says they are nickel, which I suspect isn’t ideal.  So the question is what next? I am keen to get to the bottom of the problem so I can hear what the NAC A5 can do.   Any advice?

 

George

Original Post

I would really suspect you have them wired out of phase if you hadn't said you've checked it.  Even so I gonna say are you sure,  are you really sure ??   How did you check this ??    I really would go over that again - do you know how to check it using a 1.5v battery ??

Re the long shot other possibilities.   It may possibly be you do have a bad solder joint,  but even if its not so neat I doubt a bad joint would give the effects you describe.    Re banana plug pin material/plating,  the Naim pins are the same material as used in the Naim amp speaker sockets so they are 100% right for the job,  besides even if it was rhodium or anything different, it would not cause your problem.

Soldering NACA5 has to be done properly. Have you read the section on it in the Forum FAQ? Alternatively, ask your dealer to do it for you. 

The Naim right angled plugs are the right ones to use at the amp end, and nickel plated Deltrons at the speaker end are a good choice. Also, make sure that the stiffness of the cables is not exerting any tension on the ends, especially the amp sockets. Softening it up with a hairdryer and preforming a bend can help. 

Hi George,

May l suggest that you take the NACA5 cables to your local dealer and kindly ask them to make them up for you. I have found the soldering, type of solder and termination technique are critical to A5 performance and it really 'is' a big deal. I have proved this to myself time and time again!!

It took me quite a bit of practice with a solder iron to get the process right over time and I have been soldering for over thirty years!!

The difference between the job being a good one or a bad one is massive in terms of performance, get it right however and everything falls into place as well as the penny and why one should be using it in the first place.

 

georgecart posted:
I am not an expert in soldering, at the amplifier end, based on the photos I have seen from the internet, my termination was not the prettiest, but by far not the worst.

http://forums.naimaudio.com/to...-andamp-f-connection

Various aspects like direction, coating on plugs, etc. shouldn't be make-or-break matters.

You seem to have a decent relationship with your dealer. If he's happy so to do - I'd take the cables to his shop and (if he uses NAC A5) substitute them in a known system to check they aren't doing something disastrous.

I'd suspect a problem with the soldering. It would be useful anyway for the dealer to check this. It's one of those jobs that's fairly easy - the 50th time you do it but a bit-of-a-bugger the 1st.

If all is well with the cables and you prefer the ones you have - resell the Nackers on-line.

ChrisSU posted:

.....also, did you strip the insulation back until you found pristine, shiny copper before soldering the new plugs. If corrosion has crept under the insulation over time, you should cut beyond it through clean wire. 

Good point!  

ChrisSU posted:

.....also, did you strip the insulation back until you found pristine, shiny copper before soldering the new plugs. If corrosion has crept under the insulation over time, you should cut beyond it through clean wire. 

This has been a question I've raised with myself and haven't been arsed to answer.

NAC A4 used to go green like gang busters and it was considered good practice to trim back to the copper before soldering (new) plugs. I slightly wonder if the worries prompted by the visuals were necessarily indicative of actual deterioration within the working bits of the solder joint.

Since NAC A5 became semi-ubiquitous I haven't noticed that verdigris as a problem. That said, like the Queen visiting a hospital, when you work at Naim, all the cable you encounter 'smells of new paint'.

The problem with A4 was able to migrate inside the insulation. Perhaps A5 melds these two elements better and maintains airtight conditions within.

My (longstanding) Naim dealer hates the Naim right angle plugs because they are so prone to poor soldering. They always install high quality crimped plugs on NAC A5. I say that not because they are necessarily taking the right approach but because it might explain why you are not getting good results with your soldering.

Adam Meredith posted:
ChrisSU posted:

.....also, did you strip the insulation back until you found pristine, shiny copper before soldering the new plugs. If corrosion has crept under the insulation over time, you should cut beyond it through clean wire. 

This has been a question I've raised with myself and haven't been arsed to answer.

NAC A4 used to go green like gang busters and it was considered good practice to trim back to the copper before soldering (new) plugs. I slightly wonder if the worries prompted by the visuals were necessarily indicative of actual deterioration within the working bits of the solder joint.

Since NAC A5 became semi-ubiquitous I haven't noticed that verdigris as a problem. That said, like the Queen visiting a hospital, when you work at Naim, all the cable you encounter 'smells of new paint'.

The problem with A4 was able to migrate inside the insulation. Perhaps A5 melds these two elements better and maintains airtight conditions within.

I think you are right, Adam, in that A4 and other cables are more prone to this than A5. I did come across it once, though, on some very old A5 which I suspect had been flexed repeatedly at the ends to loosen up the insulation. There were small traces of green oxidation nearly 100mm inside it. 

Some years ago I owned Chord signature cables and ran these with my Olive system (82/180).  After reading about Naca5 I tried some, and did initially find that the sound was slightly 'thinner' than with the Chord, so I do understand where you are coming from here.  However, the Signature was just adding bass which shouldn't have been there in the first place. 

I also ran a Supernait for a while on demo with the Signature cable, and while I enjoyed the sound it was almost a tad vacuous, difficult to explain in words.  Also the S/N plays a very refined sound compared to the older Naim equipment, so Naca will accentuate these qualities (mid / treble, lots of detail).

Speaker cables can alter the sound of your system, and needs to be tried out to see which you prefer.

I would check it has been soldered properly as mentioned above, but be cautious, as there is an art to this and even dealer examples I have seen in the past have been shocking to say the least.  Dr Peter is the best man for that, he did my first runs of A5 and they are excellent.  Nowadays I solder my own cables as I have mastered it, however, you need a very good quality iron (to give an idea mine was approx £300).  Good tools and all that...

It could be that you just prefer the sound of your AQ cables, but I would give the Naca5 a couple of weeks as it took me a while to adjust to the sound but now I really enjoy it.  There is also the supposed burn in time but I equate this to relate to your ears adjusting to the sound more than anything else. 

This is just my personal opinion of course

In summary, once you've checked the phasing and soldering etc, give it some time to settle into the system and see how you feel in say three weeks or so.

Wow, thanks everybody for the quick responses.  I did strip the cable back by cutting of the exposed ends, I didn’t want to lose too much length so is didn’t go much further back than this.  Yes I did watch several tutorials on the termination of the Naim plugs before attempting myself.  My iron was not as powerful as some recommended, and it was my first not 50th time of course so not perfect by any means.

I have a couple of follow up questions.

1) Say I take the cables to a dealer, can the existing naim plugs be desoldered and re-soldered or do new ones need to be used?

2) If I chose to diagnose the issue by removing the naim plugs and installing high quality crimped plugs to at least see if I like the cable and to identify which way round the unmarked run should go, what high quality crimped plugs do you recommend?

Thanks for all the help so far!

George

BTW if it’s relevant I live in Toronto, Canada 

JedT posted:

My (longstanding) Naim dealer hates the Naim right angle plugs because they are so prone to poor soldering.

The Naim pins are dream easy to solder with NACA5,  they're designed for just that.  Also required is operator training/skill,  the right solder & the right wattage/temperature soldering iron.  

georgecart posted:

Wow, thanks everybody for the quick responses.  I did strip the cable back by cutting of the exposed ends, I didn’t want to lose too much length so is didn’t go much further back than this.  Yes I did watch several tutorials on the termination of the Naim plugs before attempting myself.  My iron was not as powerful as some recommended, and it was my first not 50th time of course so not perfect by any means.

I have a couple of follow up questions.

1) Say I take the cables to a dealer, can the existing naim plugs be desoldered and re-soldered or do new ones need to be used?

2) If I chose to diagnose the issue by removing the naim plugs and installing high quality crimped plugs to at least see if I like the cable and to identify which way round the unmarked run should go, what high quality crimped plugs do you recommend?

Thanks for all the help so far!

George

BTW if it’s relevant I live in Toronto, Canada 

1. Yes you can

2. The Naim plugs are the ideal connection at the amplifier end. 

Hungryhalibut posted:

Maybe you just prefer the sound of the Audioquest cables. Ask your dealer to solder up the A5 properly, using the plugs you have, and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t, you have your answer. 

There is the distinct possibility that THIS is going on

georgecart posted:
1) Say I take the cables to a dealer, can the existing naim plugs be desoldered and re-soldered or do new ones need to be used?

 

Well; you can if there wasn't too much solder applied in the first place and it hasn't flowed into the grooves below the cable slots, otherwise i'd start again with new ones.  The pins need to have play in them and the plug top should not touch the solder joints after it is screwed back on, everything should be free to wriggle around or performance will be severely impaired as it will be stressed upon insertion. I have found that all this stuff really matters, I can clearly hear it in my system if attention to detail is ignored.

 

 

Crimped plugs are pants unless they are properly mechanically crimped on with a tool and then soldered.  Most 'crimped' plugs are just screwed on, and whilst they might work you aren't getting the best connection.  All 'proper' speaker cable terminations used by the likes of Chord and Naim are soldered.

My advice is to take the time to do it correctly, or send the cable to a dealer that you know is able to do the work to a professional standard. 

I had a similarly disappointing and alarming experience when I first switched to NAC A5, and started a thread along the same lines.  I received much of the same advice, with the addition of letting them burn in  as my cables were brand new.  They didn't burn in, I didn't adjust to them, my (now) dealer checked them out and found the solder to be a good job.  But...when I bought them my situation was different, and i was not in that happy place with the system, which shares the SN2 and actually Van Den Hull D102-III (which I think are great BTW), but digital front-end.  I was hoping A5 would mend something that was a bit broken, but what they actually did was accentuate the gripes, namely over emphasized top and bottom end, and worse still the stark absence of mid range grunt and warmth.  They did make the sound cleaner and more defined, but also it was thin and vocals in particular were really grainy.  

I still use NAC A5 with my current speakers after a re-think, and the system has had me utterly hooked ever since they arrived 6 months ago.  From some of the demos I had too, it seems quite clear that the all Naim amp and cable arrangement does not work well with some speaker combinations, not in terms of what I want anyway.  As already suggested it might just be it's not for you, at least not with your speakers.  It's a cable that is quite clearly different in presentation to that I've used previously, and even when perfectly terminated can sound both pretty awful, and, thankfully, absolutely sublime depending on what you hang on the end. 

Update: so I took the cables to Steve at Hififofum, a local Naim dealer.  My soldering job and terminations checked out ok.  His belief is that the NACA5 cables should sound better and that the set up of my system could be a factor right now.  Left with plenty of advice to check out my speaker stands for resonance for starters and some loaner isolation pucks to see if isolating any one component helps the sound to aid diagnosis of the root cause.

Steve was very helpful, thoroughly recommended!

JedT posted:

My (longstanding) Naim dealer hates the Naim right angle plugs because they are so prone to poor soldering. They always install high quality crimped plugs on NAC A5. I say that not because they are necessarily taking the right approach but because it might explain why you are not getting good results with your soldering.

I wonder if your dealer is my former dealer?  They persuaded me to crimp a broken NACA5 cable (and its partner) and it sucked out a lot of what I liked about NACA5 and the Naim sound.  The three highly respected Naim dealers I've had dealings with since (I'm going back 12 years to the crimping job) swear by a good solder joint and will have nothing to do with crimping.

George, if dealer Steve has a set of NACA5 cables he uses for demo (assume he does) could he lend them to you to try at home? If they also sound bad to you then you’ll know you don’t like NACA5 (you won’t be alone, even amongst Naim devotees) and can happily stick with the AudioQuest. 

Someone, I think in the expensive cable thread has claimed that the type of solder used is important. I happen to have a set of A5 to solder and a reel of thin diameter lead based RS components solder of the sort that used to used for component replacement on a circuit board before the lead ban, is this suitable if not legal? Otherwise what is the best sort to use for NACA5? 

yeti42 posted:

Someone, I think in the expensive cable thread has claimed that the type of solder used is important. I happen to have a set of A5 to solder and a reel of thin diameter lead based RS components solder of the sort that used to used for component replacement on a circuit board before the lead ban, is this suitable if not legal? Otherwise what is the best sort to use for NACA5? 

Lead based solder is easier to use, so I would stick with what you’ve got. If it’s very thin, twist two or more strands together to get a decent thickness. Just wash your hands very thoroughly afterwards, or avoid touching the solder altogether. 

yeti42 posted:

I happen to have a set of A5 to solder and a reel of thin diameter lead based RS components solder of the sort that used to used for component replacement on a circuit board before the lead ban, is this suitable if not legal? Otherwise what is the best sort to use for NACA5? 

 

If you're not working day-in-day-out with the stuff or eating it - probably (I speak as an ordinary citizen here) fine.

That said, you'd be wary if you'd seen the awful effects it had on those in the wiring department,

Attachments

Photos (1)

Lead based solder gives off very noxious fumes when melting so be sure to use extraction if you go down this route! I always use lead free silver solder on my Naca, works a treat.  Get a decent iron and it will melt anything!  I still think you should give it some time to 'burn in' and see how you feel in a few weeks as I said before.  If you still don't like it, then we can conclude that this combo of electronics and cable perhaps don't create the sound that pleases you, in which case revert to your AQ cables.

Lewis posted:

Lead based solder gives off very noxious fumes when melting so be sure to use extraction if you go down this route! I always use lead free silver solder on my Naca, works a treat.  Get a decent iron and it will melt anything!  I still think you should give it some time to 'burn in' and see how you feel in a few weeks as I said before.  If you still don't like it, then we can conclude that this combo of electronics and cable perhaps don't create the sound that pleases you, in which case revert to your AQ cables.

Fumes from soldering with lead-based solder are no more toxic than non-lead solder: lead is not appreciably volatile at soldering temperatures however the flux used, notably with rosin-cored solder, is harmful. The primary reason for phasing out of lead based solder is the presence of toxic lead in waste when the electronic items reach end of life.

Occasional exposure to the lead vapour from soft solder is so minimal as to be almost irrelevant.

Having said that I find SN/Ag/Cu eutectic solder is easier to use as the working time before significant oxidation occurs is greater, hence more reliable joints on things (like cables!) that aren't going to be damaged by a little more heat.

Huge posted:

Occasional exposure to the lead vapour from soft solder is so minimal as to be almost irrelevant.

Having said that I find SN/Ag/Cu eutectic solder is easier to use as the working time before significant oxidation occurs is greater, hence more reliable joints on things (like cables!) that aren't going to be damaged by a little more heat.

I don't know what solder Naim adopted when they had to change over to lead free but previously they eschewed silver solder. Not sure why (assumed sound quality - it might have been cost) but I certainly used to advise against it.

Perhaps this is not so now.

I have found that the best solder to use is a 60/40 -Tin/Lead alloy, such as the stuff in Adam's attachment above. Silver or lead free solders just do not sound right with NAC A5 to my ears, lending it a brittle, mechanical, unbalanced or even a harsh/fatiguing 2D sound. The quality of flow (speed) on how the solder is applied and the amount will also make a difference.

I am not claiming to be an expert in here any way, i'm just merely passing on my 'desperate' experiences with which I accumulated  in the past that hark back to the old 'active' days when I was trying to get my old system to sing, when, no matter what I did it just didn't sound right - until, that is, the NAC A5 was happy.

Of course with my newer 'lesser' system now on hand,  past experiences have paid off and I can now just sit back and really enjoy the music without no silly itching going on.

I remember someone at the Superline launch tour (it may even have been Steve Sells) saying Naim had had the devil of a job maintaining sound quality when they had to stop using lead solder, he didn’t reveal how they solved it however. Looks like leaded is the best option. 

I have an 80W Weller iron of the sort where the temperature is set by the tip and I have the hottest tip available and it’s wide enough. I’ve done enough soldering over the years of the tin it first variety but I’m told that won’t work for fitting the Naim plugs. I’ve been shown what to do but the type of solder wasn’t mentioned.

The cable and iron are in our flat in France but the dealer over there couldn’t solder the Naim plugs and put gold plated things on both ends. This system, CDX2/282/Hi/250-2 and Thiel CS1.6, which was my old main system before upgrading, minus the vinyl front end and 555ps, doesn’t sound right at the moment. Cable dressing is fine and it’s on Fraim Lite. I might as well put the propper plugs on and as a last resort lift the speaker cables off the marble tiles though with what I haven’t worked out yet. If it still doesn’t work (and it only gets turned on for a week at a time so will never be optimum) it might be time to consider trading for something that warms up faster. 

This was meant to be a quick interjection on an aspect of NACA5 termination, not a takeover of the thread but I hope something useful to the OP will lurk in here somewhere.

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