Naim Nac-N272 vs Cambridge 851E, N, D with ATC SCM50ASLT

Hi everyone,

I am thinking about moving to Naim from Cambridge Audio. Current setup -  Cambridge 851E, N, D connected via balanced xlr to ATC SCM50ASLT.

Will it b much better if I replace all the Cambridge gear with 272? And then if I add an XPS or even better in the future?

Thanks,

Serge 

Original Post

Ok. I'll confess I have never heard the Cambridge boxes, or even heard of them until your post. I'll also confess that I find matching the budget Cambridge boxes with massively capable active ATCs to be something of a bizarre choice, but it's one you've made so that's that. 

I own a 272 with XPSDR and it's a highly capable bit of kit. Naim and ATC is generally a good match. 

Now, it would normally be something like the SCM40A that you'd match with the 272. For your speakers something like the NDS, 555PS, 252 and Supercap would be appropriate. But do you have £20,000? 

If not, the 272 is very likely going to be better than what you have now, though I'd be getting a XPSDR or 555PSDR to power it from day 1 if possible. 

Note that the 272 does not have balanced outputs, so you will need new leads. 

Thank you, I got the point. Well, the idea was to move up gradually, so maybe 272 is better than Cambridge, and it can be a gateway to NDS, 555PS, 252 and Supercap in the future... I am in Moscow, so the choice is rather limited here...As per whathifi, "We would happily put the Naim’s 272 preamp section up against any stand-alone rival in the £1000 to £1500 price range without fear. The DAC section would be one of the better performers below the grand mark". So it is in the price range of CA 851E, D, N... and then comes the "sound" etc

Well, the real problem is that I can't take it for a demo, so it is blind purchase I would say...

It depends on what you consider huge. But yes, the NDS and 252 will be better and you will hear the difference. But it's a lot of money and if I were you I'd go with the 272 and XPSDR if you want to try something from Naim. You can always improve things later if you want to.  

Drewy posted:
Tesilk posted:

Is there a huge gap between 272 & NDS, 555PS, 252 and Supercap as per previous post? Will I hear it right away with my speakers? 

With a decent power amp yes I reckon.

I'll say there is a difference, but that difference isn't necessary to enjoy music.... but as Naim would like, once you get the bug you may want more and more, and progressing up the seperates ladder is part of their customer strategy.. and you are told when you meet the some of the Naim leadership team, the seperates portfolio is  closest to the pure Naim DNA

Is buying Naim kit difficult in Moscow? No chance to demo??? It seems there are quite a few Naim dealers, and considering the degree of income inequality in Moscow (super-rich rather than Richer Sound...) I would have thought that these dealers stock the full Naim ladder... And since you have rather posh speakers, I would have thought you want posh electronics as well.

Those ATCs cost around £13,000 in the U.K.  Which is a lot, and you start to think - is the poor old 272 good enough? My speakers would cost about £8,000 if they were still made, and when you add the power amp at nearly £4,000, that's £12,000 more or less - not much less than the ATCs. The 272, admittedly with XPS, works really well in my setup, so perhaps it's entirely appropriate in Serge's system. I wouldn't recommend the 272 without the XPS in this context, but there is nothing to suggest that it won't be a really nice combination. 

Hi Serge

 

I have the N272 into ACT SCL50ASL. It works extremely well. I haven't heard the Cambridge Audio kit so can't comment on that but have a DacMagic tucked away somewhere. This is a great little product but brighter and thinner sounding than the 272. There is a lovely dynamic tension with Naim that adds musical enjoyment so I can say I think you'll be pleased with the outcome. I'm also looking forwards to adding an external PS in due course and understand it's not uncommon for some to go as far as the 555PS on the assumption that they'll get the NDS, or something like an N372 if one is built in future. I'll start saving now....

An interesting thread and a bit of a reversal of a 'source first' principle. A dichotomy of excellent speakers and a lower-grade front end.

Unfortunately I tend to agree with HH's summary - N272, even with a 555PS may be bit too little to do full justice to your woderful speakers. 

Let's put it this way - I run my NDS into a NAC 252 / NAP 250 and I 'only' use it with Ovators S-400.  And it sounds wonderful. In fact I'm enjoying it right now as I type this.
If we were to apply the same price logic and work backwards from your ACTs, you'd probably be looking at a full 500 series setup to do them justice.

Halloween Man posted:
Tesilk posted:

But no streaming and preamp then? 

Use a PC/laptop or alternatively something like a Naim Uniti Core or other dedicated streamer.

Preamp - definitely no if you only have digital sources. Yes, if you have analog sources.

Wholeheartedly agree: for streaming, ideally a combined store/renderer (player), such as Melco, Innuos Zennith, Mac Mini computer running Audirvana, and I would suggest possibly the Naim Core, but if you're buying urgentlynthen it's too soon to know how good it is. That into a DAC with volume control, such as the Chord ones, best I know is Dave, but HugoTT is excellent, as and indeed is Hugo itself but less appealing because it doesn't have a remote control for volume. And DAC straigt int the active ATCs.

Not everyone by far subscribes to the 'source first' idea, however the picture here is distorted btbthe factbthatbthe speaker price included the power amp - which you can be certain is well up to driving the speakers, and ATC's electronics are highly regarded. It will take as good a source as you put on it. The modest Hugo would not be disgraced, not by long chalk, however if funds allow (and you'd be saving on preamp), then go higher, and Dave has a real ability to wow you.

Timo posted:

Is buying Naim kit difficult in Moscow? No chance to demo??? It seems there are quite a few Naim dealers, and considering the degree of income inequality in Moscow (super-rich rather than Richer Sound...) I would have thought that these dealers stock the full Naim ladder... And since you have rather posh speakers, I would have thought you want posh electronics as well.

It is. Prices are multiplied x2 in comparison with 2013, when exchange rates doubled,  therefore few dealers we have here can't afford demo items as I understand. So they bring one item after another, and just in preorder. 

So once the box is opened, it is not considered as a new unit, and is more difficult to sell for them...therefore the only option often is to read reviews and to take a risk.

That's what I did when I bought my ATC SCM50ASLTs, no regrets so far

 

Peter Earnshaw posted:

Hi Serge

 

I have the N272 into ACT SCL50ASL. It works extremely well. I haven't heard the Cambridge Audio kit so can't comment on that but have a DacMagic tucked away somewhere. This is a great little product but brighter and thinner sounding than the 272. There is a lovely dynamic tension with Naim that adds musical enjoyment so I can say I think you'll be pleased with the outcome. I'm also looking forwards to adding an external PS in due course and understand it's not uncommon for some to go as far as the 555PS on the assumption that they'll get the NDS, or something like an N372 if one is built in future. I'll start saving now....

Thanks Peter, I see your point, I think it can be a good option to start with -  you really  like the way it sounds.

I was trying to understand the difference between 272 and 851D Dac - 851N is based on it, and gets very good reviews in UK etc and if you add the CA 851 separates prices, they are even more expensive than 272...

Tesilk posted:

There is an opinion, that the sound signature is mainly made by amps and speakers, in my case both ATC. So streamers, Dacs and preamps just serve to pass the signal with as low influence as possible....

That is certainly an opinion.

There is also another opinion that what is lost at source cannot be made up later on in the chain.

Speakers have the single largest effect on the character of the sound, but the quality of that is dependent on the power amp having adequate control, which can be more or less challenging depending on the speakers. For fidelity to the recording, all components, starting with the source, have to supply the music, without losing, adding or modyfying anything. Some equipment is better at that than others (hence, for example, I found Hugo to be better sounding than the DAC in the ND5XS, and whilst Hugo sounds extremely good, Dave is markedly better, notably in clarity). Also, things not being perfect, to a greater or lesser extent, each component in the system can have a sound 'signature' however pronounced or subtle that may be -this is where the "Naim sound" comes in, the emphasis on timing being the one critical thing, more so than accuracy in reproducing everything as presented to it, can make the sound different and that is something that some people like, while others prefer greater accuracy. The Naim sound seems to come predominently from the preamp, but brought out by the power amp, with many people liking that sound happily using non-Naim sources and speakers. Unfortunately for someone in your position, you have to hear to know if you prefer the Naim sound, and at the end of the day all that matters for home enjoyment is whether you, personally, like anf find satisfying the sound the system produces from the music you like - bearing in mind that recordin/mastering quality can vary considerably, and the more transparent the system the more that may be apparent.

Tesilk posted:

There is an opinion, that the sound signature is mainly made by amps and speakers, in my case both ATC. So streamers, Dacs and preamps just serve to pass the signal with as low influence as possible....

Dacs and preamps can have a profound influence on sound IMO. I recently compared Hugo TT to Dave and they were very different, not at all subtle.

Preamps can colour the sound, IMO the best preamps are the most transparent.

Tesilk posted:
Timo posted:

Is buying Naim kit difficult in Moscow? No chance to demo??? It seems there are quite a few Naim dealers, and considering the degree of income inequality in Moscow (super-rich rather than Richer Sound...) I would have thought that these dealers stock the full Naim ladder... And since you have rather posh speakers, I would have thought you want posh electronics as well.

It is. Prices are multiplied x2 in comparison with 2013, when exchange rates doubled,  therefore few dealers we have here can't afford demo items as I understand. So they bring one item after another, and just in preorder. 

So once the box is opened, it is not considered as a new unit, and is more difficult to sell for them...therefore the only option often is to read reviews and to take a risk.

That's indeed rubbish. Maybe making a daytrip to a European city where you could audition a good range of Naim kit? This might be cheaper than buying the "wrong" kit. I am relatively knew to Naim, but my short experience is that one quickly wants more once bitten by the Naim bug... Even though Naim might sell well in the second-hand market, there are considerable lossess...

Halloween Man posted:

Tesilk if u only have a digital source then if I were you then I would connect a Chord DAC (such as Dave) straight into your ATC active speakers for best sq.

In fact that's what I do and have to say it's rather good 

Sensible advice. No point in over complicating things. 

 

 

There is also another opinion that what is lost at source cannot be made up later on in the chain.

This argument is trotted out perenially as if by rote by those arguing 'source first', but is a meaningless statement as you also cannot get out what any component doesn't pass through, which includes amp and speakers, the weakest links in the system limiting what you hear, whichever components they may be. Against that the primary argument for a major focus on the speakers is because they most influence the character of the sound - but that is not blindly saying 'speakers first' not least because of course the very behaviour of speakers can be adversely affected by an amp not up to the job. Overall considerations need to take into account the effect of all components, though that may be moderated by any upgrade intent, especially in the short term when limitations might be more acceptable in the promise of realisation of the full potential soon.

Curiously the one valid argument for strong consideration to be had for the source is rarely mentioned: namely that if any component modifies the signal in any way, e,g. limiting, enhancing colouring or distorting (whether spectral range, dynamics or timing etc), that modification is carried through by the subsequent components, each then superimposing its own 'signature', however more or less significant that might be: so a bad source will sound bad however good the speakers are. However, with modern digital sources it seems that even quite low down the cost spectrum sources may not be bad as such, just not as good as others, while as with everything the law of diminishing returns comes into play, and available budget, especially If limited, presents a challenge as to where most benefit arises to the intended listener.

in this case, however, the OP has the speakers and power amp, so the question is simply one of what source and preamp within his budget are best (bearing in mind that some DACs do not need a separate preamp if analogue sources aren't used)

Timo posted:

That's indeed rubbish. Maybe making a daytrip to a European city where you could audition a good range of Naim kit? This might be cheaper than buying the "wrong" kit. 

This is a good suggestion, depending on exactly where you are and your travel capability. But given that you already have the active speakers, you would need to track down a dealer with the same speakers who can also demonstrate the preamps and DACs you're interested in, assuming it is not feasible to drive taking your speakers with you.

Hi Serge

 

From my own experiences with Naim kit, and with my DacMagic, I fully believe in the improvements possible when you add an external power supply like the XPS or 555. With my DacMagic, I bought a simple external PS from a UK company that significantly improved it and added weight and detail (circa £100 IIRC so not really in the same league price wise as the Naim equivalents, nor as sophisticated!).

 

So I think the 272 has more to give than the DAC currently made by Cambridge Audio in the kit you've described. It could be argued that you will go slightly sideways in terms of overall quality, but those elements of musical reproduction that I value - dynamics and general musicality over brightly lit detail - will become more obvious and pleasurable, even if you're perhaps not blown away by the improvement. When you add your external PS as funds permit, I expect you'll fully realise the benefits of your decision.

 

All the best

Tesilk posted:
Timo posted:

Is buying Naim kit difficult in Moscow? No chance to demo??? It seems there are quite a few Naim dealers, and considering the degree of income inequality in Moscow (super-rich rather than Richer Sound...) I would have thought that these dealers stock the full Naim ladder... And since you have rather posh speakers, I would have thought you want posh electronics as well.

It is. Prices are multiplied x2 in comparison with 2013, when exchange rates doubled,  therefore few dealers we have here can't afford demo items as I understand. So they bring one item after another, and just in preorder. 

So once the box is opened, it is not considered as a new unit, and is more difficult to sell for them...therefore the only option often is to read reviews and to take a risk.

That's what I did when I bought my ATC SCM50ASLTs, no regrets so far

 

same story here in Turkey so " have a demo " and " trust your ears " advice is not helpfull at all..... we trust our UK friends to do that for us before spending our hard earned and highly volatile currencies  

I have ATC SCM50ASLTs with Anniversary amp packs; I have previously had SCM50ASLs and SCM25As. I strongly suggest you listen to Chord DACs! The Hugo (shortly to be superseded by the Hugo2) sounded very fine in my system, and ime they get commensurately better as you go up the range. 

Peter Earnshaw posted:

Hi Serge

 

From my own experiences with Naim kit, and with my DacMagic, I fully believe in the improvements possible when you add an external power supply like the XPS or 555. With my DacMagic, I bought a simple external PS from a UK company that significantly improved it and added weight and detail (circa £100 IIRC so not really in the same league price wise as the Naim equivalents, nor as sophisticated!).

 

So I think the 272 has more to give than the DAC currently made by Cambridge Audio in the kit you've described. It could be argued that you will go slightly sideways in terms of overall quality, but those elements of musical reproduction that I value - dynamics and general musicality over brightly lit detail - will become more obvious and pleasurable, even if you're perhaps not blown away by the improvement. When you add your external PS as funds permit, I expect you'll fully realise the benefits of your decision.

 

All the best

Thanks Peter,

if you have a video recording of what it sounds like with ATCs connected to 272 - please give us a link to it.

I think we can feel the "sound signature" even like this

Otherwise, it is a full time job to organise a trip to Europe to find a dealer who has both...

Best,

Serge

Emre posted:
Tesilk posted:
Timo posted:

Is buying Naim kit difficult in Moscow? No chance to demo??? It seems there are quite a few Naim dealers, and considering the degree of income inequality in Moscow (super-rich rather than Richer Sound...) I would have thought that these dealers stock the full Naim ladder... And since you have rather posh speakers, I would have thought you want posh electronics as well.

It is. Prices are multiplied x2 in comparison with 2013, when exchange rates doubled,  therefore few dealers we have here can't afford demo items as I understand. So they bring one item after another, and just in preorder. 

So once the box is opened, it is not considered as a new unit, and is more difficult to sell for them...therefore the only option often is to read reviews and to take a risk.

That's what I did when I bought my ATC SCM50ASLTs, no regrets so far

 

same story here in Turkey so " have a demo " and " trust your ears " advice is not helpfull at all..... we trust our UK friends to do that for us before spending our hard earned and highly volatile currencies  

Totally agree)

Tesilk posted:

if you have a video recording of what it sounds like with ATCs connected to 272 - please give us a link to it.

I think we can feel the "sound signature" even like this

That's a new one on me (though I have sometimes come across utube videos claiming "hear the new xxx") -

The only way such a video could possibly convey the character in a way that can be interpreted by the viewer (listener) would be by a direct A-B comparison with some reference known to the viewer, recorded under exactly the same conditions (microphone, room etc), otherwise you may simply be hearing the characteristics of the recording. 

similarly using the same recording conditions it could be possible to compare the sound of  two different items of kit - but only within the limitations of the recording, so if, for example, one of the components being compared is missing or exaggerates the top or bottom end, if the microphone isn't responding in that range  you'd have no idea of the difference when listening to the recording.

well guys, too complicated, it will be much easier to take a risk and buy the 272, and as always we can take the final decision after few months (or years) of listening.

I really appreciate your inputs and help.

Will be happy to inform you when I will be a Naim family member finally! 

Best,

Serge

Hi, Forum newbiie here. System notes and a query to follow elsewhere. Re the NAC 272 I have one, and upgraded it after several weeks with the XPS DR. The difference this power supply makes to 272 is truly dramatic with a much more open sound, and would suggest its money in the overall budget very well spent. Philip

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