Naim NAPs Tone Scale

Posted by: Khan on 10 January 2019

Hi guys,

itís 2019 and Iím on my third Naim setup which is now complete. Through the years Iíve always partnered a different NAC pre to the NAP power amps so Iíve lost sight of where each of NAPs would stand in terms of tone i.e warm or bright. Although I donít regard any Naim amplifier to be overly bright or warm there is a tone scale nevertheless. So in order of systems.

NAC 82 - NAP 300 

my first real taste of the Naim sound. And boy was I in for a treat. My speakers at the time were Harbeth SHL5+.  The NAC 82 was doing a stellar job for the £900 I paid for it and the NAP 300 was delivering the music to the Harbeths with ease. From what I learnt from some experimentation was the NAP 300 was the warmer in tone between the pre and power. Value for Money, this was my best setup. And I LOVED the NAP 300 for its tone, timbre and speed.

NAC 252 - NAP 250.2 later upgraded to NAP250DR

after I had purged myself of my first Naim setup after a horrible end to a long relationship I was in, I missed my one and only hobby so I got back into the game with the Harbeth Monitor 30.2s. They didnít quite have the scale of the larger SHL5+ but they were more transparent and definitely a faster speaker. Suddenly I learnt that there were far more notes being played in the lower registers of so many of my favourite tracks. The NAC 252 was more refined than the 82. A little darker too but in a gorgeous way. So far Iím still mighty impressed with the NAC 252. The 250.2 on the other hand was good but not great. It provided the much needed warmth to the smaller Harbeths but I always felt like it was a little thick in the mids without bringing the transparency with it. The upgrade to the 250 DR was a game changer. One of the biggest leaps in sound quality that I have experienced. I could suddenly hear so much deeper into the recording. The weight of the bass was accompanied by the texture and layering in the music. Sublime setup. 

NAC 552DR - NAP 135s

Initially with Naim SL2 loudspeakers (which I couldnít get to work on my wooden floor and small room), and then to Harbeth 40th Anniversary 30.2s. Now The 552 DR is A Masterpiece. It sorts out all the congestion in music without sounding harsh or bright. Itís bring a calmness to the music that reminds me of the best of MOSFET and tube designs that Iíve heard, but with far more transparency. I had read in Michael Fremerís review that the 552 was on the darker side of Neutral. Well, perhaps compared to his chosen alternative, or perhaps the DR is far more transparent. Either way, I would never say the 552DR is dark/er. It provides a great amount of upper register information, YES, but I believe itís providing exactly whatís been recorded, whereas lesser amps are simply not able to pull it of in quite this manner. The layering, the speed, the timbre the weight and speed of bass. Nothing seems disproportionate. Everything seems just right. 

Onto the NAP 135s, which I found a gorgeous 2002 model of????. I have to say I love the look of some vintage hifi. Itís pure pornography. Like a well maintained  E Type Jag (Drooling).

NOW, the sound of the NAP 135s is something I havenít been able to wrap my head around just yet. Iím sure that it is more neutral sounding than all the previous NAPS. Iím sure of it. It is very energetic and provides a level of control that perhaps even the NAP 300 wasnít able to muster. Itís fast as hell. It brings a lot of qualities to the table but this is where Iím getting stuck....

I feel like there is more bass than the previous NAPs. But then on other tracks I feel like there isnít as much. The 250DR was a great example of speed and weight. Now I know the 135s probably has it on speed but does it have it on bass authority. 

now you may be thinking how can I be judging the power amps when most of the time I have always used a different pre and even sometimes a different DAC not to mention speakers. Well this is where I shall annoy a lot of you and say that I believe I can. Bear in mind that at times I did try different NACs or integrated amps with the NAPs,  so that I could get a bearing on the tone and overal performance characteristics of the NAPs. And partly itís what Iíve read from all you good folks. Let me explain, I would read a description of what people heard of any amplifier and then I listened out for those characteristics in the sound. My setup is in my bedroom, with very good diffusion and absorption. This is due to wallpapered walls, large bed and an open wardrobe with scattered shelves to diffuse and absorb. Not to mention large foam pieces that I place at the first reflection point. What I mean to say is that I have a good measure of even the slightest of changes in my setup and I really can hear the most subtle changes. I can tell blind if my speaker has been moved an inch let alone a change of component. 

So finally my question to anyone who has bothered to read through all of that. Whatís your impressions of the tone of the NAPs, 135s, and the higher echelon of Classic series 250DR and above?

 

Happy New Year

Khan

 

Posted on: 10 January 2019 by 911gt3r

Hi Khan.

Phew, thatís a long one!

Maybe Naimís amps are voiced in a certain way according to the actual era they are produced. The olive range was great, where various amps could more and less successfully be paired with the lovely 52 preamp. Naim were producing great speakers in the early 2000s many of which were prepared for active amplification with a Supercap/ Snaxo. The done thing was to run a 4/6 - pack of 135s into whatever speaker was of preference to you. I ran a 4 pack into my SBLs and fantastic it was too ( taking aside the constant fiddling about to get an active system to perform at its best- do not miss that now).

The olive range was then replaced by the current black fascia range, which is now further enhanced by the DR upgrade abilities. I am not judging fun factor here olive vs black boxes, but as time has now allowed for natural tech development I do feel, that the latest DR technology actually allow us to hear the boxes voicing to a much lesser extent. They seem to give us more of what our various souces and the music feed to them without a distinct finger print- in other words they Ď stand asideí in my opinion a lot more. Here I am sure somebody will argue that the olive range was more about music and less about hifi, but somehow it is difficult as things seem to go hand in hand.

What am I trying to say with above- personally I would not have a system mixed up between the olive range and the new DR black fascia boxes. I am myself these days running a full 500 system DR except for my 500 amp, which is due to be serviced/ DRed in 2 weeks time.

It is a bit like your own analogy re classic cars, however desirable they may be ( and trust me I know where you are coming from ????), you still wouldnít want to be driving one for your every day commute. I would love to own a little half shoe box Nait again feeding a little pair of book shelf speakers, but now living in a modern house with Sonos everywhere I have so far abstained. I absolutely loved my 52/ 4 pack 135s SBL venture, but again......

Maybe you should try a get a demo on a 300DR/ 500DR and see what difference it would make for you already running the 552 pre.

As always with any expensive hobby whether cars or hifi, you gain something but sometimes also loose something- such is life in my opinion ???????????? ATB Peter

Posted on: 10 January 2019 by 911gt3r

A Danish humourist once said ( this said during Demarks occupation during WW2) ; ď Even these troubled times, will one day become the good old daysĒ..........INCOOMING! ????

Posted on: 10 January 2019 by Japtimscarlet
911gt3r posted:

A Danish humourist once said ( this said during Demarks occupation during WW2) ; ď Even these troubled times, will one day become the good old daysĒ..........INCOOMING! ????

Exactly what I tell my men at work when their moaning about something not being as good as it was....

" Just remember in 5 years these will be the good old days"

Posted on: 11 January 2019 by Khan

911GT3R Yes I agree, the lure of the vintage olive 135s was irresistible. I always wanted to own a pair ever since I discovered Naim gear. But I think your right, the 552DR will be better suited to DR power amplifier. 

Having said that I will live with this setup for a little while before I start demoing the DR amps. I really enjoyed the 250DR. Especially the warmth. Now between the 300DR AND 500DR would you say there is a difference in tone? 

Posted on: 11 January 2019 by 911gt3r

Hi Khan.

I owned 2x 300 non DR running active into Naim SL2 speakers for a long while. I have never heard the DR version of the 300, but there  is currently a thread running where 300DR is compared with 500 DR.

FWIW I believe that the 500DR is a fabulous amp, which of course it should be at its price tag. Enjoy your music Peter