A Cautionary tale of a SuperUniti and a Cat5 cable

A Cautionary tale of a SuperUniti and a Cat5 cable.

 

Thirty years ago, when I was still a school boy, my holiday jobs were just enough to get me to the bottom end of some real British hifi, but names like Linn and…  er… Naim, were out of reach.  Six months ago, after half a lifetime of being very happy with my trusty Rega Planar 3, A&R A60 and Heybrook HB2s, I finally decided it was time to invest in something new and this time Naim was at the top of the list.

 

Being an old-school purist, I assumed I was looking for a CD player and an amp (new speakers would have to wait).  However, when I called a Naim dealer for a chat, I was told that streaming was the way to go.  I wasn’t keen and the dealer said he’d happily sell me a CDP if I wanted, but he suggested I came in for a listen.  I did.  He’d set up a Linn Majik DSM, a SuperUniti and a CDX2 as a CD comparison.  The result was that the CDX2 spinning discs didn’t sound (to my ears anyway) any better than the SU streaming – I’ll be honest, that was a big surprise, and given the convenience of streaming, I was sold.  And so was the SU – I didn’t like the Linn, it was just a bit too analytical, probably very accurate, but not for me.  I placed an order for a SuperUniti, and waited for Naim to build it for me.

 

A couple of months later I got a call to say the SU had arrived and an installation was arranged.  My house had already got various Cat5 cables running through the walls, left by the previous owner.  The installer found cables connecting my office to my living room, which meant I could rip on my Mac in the office, feed the files to a NAS in a cupboard in the corner of the living room and then the SU itself was connected to the NAS via a switcher and another stretch of Cat5 that was already in the living room wall.  All very neat.

 

Once everything was set up the installer left with the comment that Naim kit takes a lot of running in when it’s new, so don’t expect it to sound great at first.  He wasn’t joking.  It sounded horrible.  Admittedly the SuperUniti was feeding 30 year old Heybrook HB2 speakers, but even so, to my ears it wasn’t a great advance over my A60, and in some ways it was worse…

 

Forums like this one confirmed that Naim kit does get better with time, so I vowed to be patient, but as the months went by the sound didn’t get better.  It was thin, hard and reedy, but at the same time, felt as though the top end was heavily rolled off.  I knew that Naim had a distinctive sound, but this was ridiculous.  How could so many people actually like this sound?  I re-read all the reviews, I read forums, I got friends round to reassure me.  They were polite, but the feeling remained, this was hugely disappointing for a black box that cost three and a half grand.  Actually it would have been disappointing if it had cost a tenth as much.

 

I spoke to the supplying dealer who was convinced the problem was with my ancient Heybrooks.  Maybe, but they hadn’t sounded bad when I took them in for my original demo and nor did they sound bad with the old A60.  Perhaps it was the way I was ripping files?  But then the dealer had put some demo tracks on the NAS he’d supplied and they didn’t sound that great either.

 

Miserably I began to consider that I just wasn’t a ‘Naim person’.  Perhaps my sonic appreciation just wasn’t subtle enough to understand why this was good sound…   Could that really be the case?  Hey, but hadn’t the SuperUniti sounded pretty super at the demo?  Even with my speakers.

 

Perhaps the SU was faulty?  But then again, it was built by Naim, the same guys who have an almost religious pursuit of perfection.  Could it really be that my handbuilt black box had been let out of the factory without being properly tested?

 

After a lot of experimentation I discovered something odd: The sound from compressed MP3 files on my iPhone sounded better than the full res FLAC files on my NAS.  Was FLAC overrated?  Should I be ripping to WAV?  Then I tried connecting my old Denon CDP and spinning some discs.  They sounded better than the ripped FLAC files too…    But at the original demo hadn’t a £4k CDX2 failed to comprehensively outshine the FLAC files?  Finally I tried short circuiting the Cat5 cable that was buried in the wall of the living room and connected the SU directly to the NAS.  Suddenly it was as if a door had opened and the lights had been turned on.  There was treble.  There was bass.  Actually it sounded awesome – even through my long serving Heybrooks.  Sure better, newer speakers would probably reveal even more talent, but the SU/Heybrook combo was actually, suddenly, sounding pretty damn fine.

 

Now I come from a background in TV production, we have lots of cables going everywhere all the time.  Back in the days of analogue there were engineers to set everything up and measure stuff with vector scopes and waveform monitors, but in the modern era of digital signals it’s generally assumed that if a signal gets through, then it’s going to be OK.  So it had never dawned on me that there might be a problem with the link between the NAS and the SU.  If the signal was getting through then it would be OK right?  Seems I was wrong.  Very wrong.  The cable is buried in the wall so I still don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it – there may be a nail through it for all I know, but what I do know is that the data it was supplying to the SU wasn’t the full deck.

 

And why am I writing this?  Well, partly because I’m so happy that I’ve finally realised why Naim is as legendary as it is and I wanted to share that thought with fellow enthusiasts, and to declare that I am a ‘Naim person’ after all.  But also because, there just might be, somewhere out there, someone else who’s splashed out several thousand pounds on a Naim streamer only to be bitterly disappointed, but can’t quite figure out why.  If that’s you, then check the connection between NAS and streamer, just because you’re getting a signal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the whole signal – and as I discovered, that can make a big, big difference.

Richard

SuperUniti + B&W PM1s
Original Post
Originally Posted by NotMyNaim:

I spoke to the supplying dealer who was convinced the problem was with my ancient Heybrooks. 

And there lies the crux of the problem. Surely, the dealer's responsibility is to ensure that the system sounds correct. Admittedly, this was easier before streaming...

 

Jan

Originally Posted by NotMyNaim:

A Cautionary tale of a SuperUniti and a Cat5 cable.

 

 half a lifetime of being very happy with my trusty Rega Planar 3, A&R A60 and Heybrook HB2s,

That takes me back. I started with this source and amp and I really wish I hadn't sold the A60 for buttons. It could still serve me well today. Isn't hindsight wonderful? Still got the RP3 though. I don't use it but I can't bear to part with it. So many happy memories.

 

I haven't been bitterly disappointed but I have concluded that different arrangements and different Cat cables can make a difference. It's murky. There is much debate and chin scratching. But if you can hear a difference in your system (either way) there is one 

 

If the HB2s are working correctly they will revel and bathe in whatever is fed into them. Sure you can do better, but I bet they've never sounded as good as they do now. I think Jan-Erik is bang on the money here. Not so much a possible reason as an unclutched straw.

 

All the best with it. Upside, at least it's run in now.

Thanks Harry and you're right, the HB2s sound great.  I'm considering B&W PM1s to replace them (I've got an option to buy a lightly used pair for half price), but right now the HB2s sound so good I'm in no hurry.  

 

I've still got the A60 and RP3 - haven't used the Rega for years, but like you, can't part with it - it's just such a nice thing.  I've used the A60 recently and it has a lovely tone and some serious punch for a 40x40w, but against the SU it sounds congested and confused, so I wouldn't feel so bad about letting yours go.

 

Richard.

great post Richard, thanks for taking the time.

 

does rather open a can of worms (or open it wider). Have you connected a laptop to the offending CAT5 and is there any indication of a faulty connection? Did internet radio work under the old scenario?

 

Speakers, for what it's worth, have to suit 3 things, your amp, your room and your ears. You simply have to hear them is situ in your room. Historically it would have been noted that Naim amps may be a bit underpowered for B&W speakers. (I ran 603s with a 150x and it sounded great so let your ears judge). Personally I'd be inclined to luxuriate in your new Superuniti with your current speakers for a long while before upgrading. Get to know the sound the pairing makes intimately before attempting to change things.

 

Take the train and enjoy the scenery rather than flying straight to your destination.

 

SJB

 

 

 

 

 

Hi SJB,

 

I haven't actually tried connecting a laptop to the offending Cat5, but the internet radio was working - although it didn't sound great either.  To be honest, I haven't tried the radio with the new set up.

 

I agree with the caution about speakers.  I have auditioned an SU with various speakers twice now (but both times at a dealer demo room, not at home) and both times I preferred the PM1s to anything else I heard (Spendor A5, B&W CM8s, Linn Majik 140s).  I did take my HB2s with me as a comparison, and, although they sounded quite impressive in isolation, once the modern day speakers were hooked up, particularly the PM1s, it became obvious that my old Heybrooks had a rather woody sound to them.  The PM1s were particularly impressive with their incredibly light and airy mid-range and sparkling top end.  The bass was obviously not as solid as the floor standers, but it was still nicely controlled and remarkably full for such a small speaker.  They also had an almost supernatural ability to become invisible in the music.  They really impressed me.  It may be that at high volumes things fall apart - but the days of playing music as loudly as I can are behind me, now I've got a wife and kids who won't let me.  It's more important that the speakers sound great at low level and I thought the PM1s did.

 

I agree a home demo would be ideal, but, due to the nature of the deal, I may not get the opportunity - I might just have to take a punt - although I go in with my eyes open.

 

Thanks for your thoughts.

 

Richard.

Nice post, Richard, and glad you've sorted out the problem.  I'm also pleased to learn that someone is still listening to and enjoying a pair of HB2s.  Many years ago I used to run a pair from a A&R A60, a great match (still in my loft somewhere). What stands do you use for the HB2s? I started with Linn Kan stands and later moved to Partingdon Dreadnoughts which seemed to give them more oomph. The stands were heavy beasts, though.

MDS  

Hi MDS,

 

I'm ashamed to admit that my speakers are currently sitting up on a shelf away from the pointy and inquisitive fingers of my three year old twins.  I do have contemporary, sand filled, Target stands for them, but they're a bit of a hazard in their own right with their deadly spikes - so they've been banished to the garage.  If I get the PM1s, with grills on, they might be allowed to sit on their own stands.

 

Richard.

What an interesting and valuable tale. The whole subject of Ethernet cables seems very controversial, with some saying they make no difference whatsoever, and others spending large sums on bespoke Hifi versions. You have certainly found out that they do have an impact, though as it's buried in the wall you won't know if it's faulty or just poor quality.

 

I would advise you not to get speakers without trying them. I'd also advise, having had bouncing boys, to get floorstanders rather than standmounts, or alternatively something like Naim's nSats or PMC's DB1i, both of which can be used with dedicated wall brackets. I used SBLs when the boys were young, which are particularly ideal as they sit against the wall. 

 

If you like the Heybrooks, you may be wise sticking with them for a while longer.

Richard,

 

You could also have the Heybrooks restored and rejuvenated by a speaker specialist. Areas for improvement generally include tweeters (newer technologies / components improve definition and smoothness), crossover components (idem), internal wiring and speaker terminals.

 

I've done this for 30-y old Mordaunt & Short Pageant 2s and Pageant 3s and the result is well worth the relatively small outlay, compared to new speakers. 

 

Then spend a few hours hand rubbing, drying and wiping several coats of tung oil into the wood veneer with 00 steel wool. Sit back, listen and admire !

  

Jan 

Originally Posted by NotMyNaim:

Hi MDS,

 

I'm ashamed to admit that my speakers are currently sitting up on a shelf away from the pointy and inquisitive fingers of my three year old twins.  I do have contemporary, sand filled, Target stands for them, but they're a bit of a hazard in their own right with their deadly spikes - so they've been banished to the garage.  If I get the PM1s, with grills on, they might be allowed to sit on their own stands.

 

Richard.

Ah, yes. I remember the hazards of inquisitive little fingers. I've had more than one centre dome on a speaker depressed by them! Your arrangement sounds very sensible for the time being.   

 

I'd be inclined to stick with the HB2s while you're still enjoying them. I enjoyed mine for many years and their replacement (floor-standing Ruark Talismans) were utltimately rather disappointing. After many months of denial I eventually and rather shamefacedly dug out the Heybrooks again and enjoyment returned.

 

MDS   

To the Op:

 

+1 to what you found - I suspect there is something wrong with the cabling at my place too. Having said that, I also recently noticed that the upnp server you use makes a difference too.

 

I'm getting better sound now, that ever - 

I've hooked up my PC running the upnp software to a switch which is connected to my streamer. All of this via Cat6 cable. The switch is connected through the wall (with cat 5) to a Nas which stores the files.

 

This sounds just right!

 

In comparison, the older configuration where I had the streamer hooked up the cat 5 which was connected to the nas via the switch, and where the nas had the upnp server - well, it sounds unlistenable now. 

 

See my recent thread.

 

https://forums.naimaudio.com/to...ckness-network-tweak

Originally Posted by MangoMonkey:

To the Op:

 

+1 to what you found - I suspect there is something wrong with the cabling at my place too. Having said that, I also recently noticed that the upnp server you use makes a difference too.

 

I'm getting better sound now, that ever - 

I've hooked up my PC running the upnp software to a switch which is connected to my streamer. All of this via Cat6 cable. The switch is connected through the wall (with cat 5) to a Nas which stores the files.

 

This sounds just right!

 

In comparison, the older configuration where I had the streamer hooked up the cat 5 which was connected to the nas via the switch, and where the nas had the upnp server - well, it sounds unlistenable now. 

 

See my recent thread.

 

https://forums.naimaudio.com/to...ckness-network-tweak

Now you need to try one of those fancy AudioQuest Vodka ethernet cables.

You may well know I am not an expert.  However,  I have 3 Mac Airport Extremes in my home and have no problem streaming wirelessly even at 192/24.  I run a cat 7 from both streamers to the appropriate AEx [conveniently located within 7 feet]  I think thats a cost effective solution vs. running cat 6 cable throughout.

 

YOu might try jRiver as it converts all your files to wav on the fly.  Maybe it will sound even better than Asset.  [I am pretty paranoid so I run Asset, Minim and JRiver]

Thanks everyone, lots of good advice. For now, at last, I'm very happy with the sound I'm getting. I didn't think it was possible for the HB2s to sound this good and I'm delighted not to have been laughed at for putting 200 quid's worth of 30 year old speakers on the end of £3.5k of SU!

I'm skeptical about the necessity of audiophile Cat5 cable, my guess is that the Cat5 in my wall is either damaged or not Cat5.  The Cat5 that I'm using now, instead of the stuff in the wall, is nothing special, but the sound difference is like night and day.

I agree that the cable in the wall should have been tested before it was connected to the SU, but in my defence, that's kind of what I expected the professional installer to have done.

Thanks everyone for bothering to read my long-winded original post!

Richard.

I ran Spendor S5e off 552/300 and they were not embarrassed at all. They never sounded better and this arrangement served well for in excess of a year. As it turned out, some posher alternatives costing several multiples more didn't work so well in the room. When it comes to speakers and rooms all bets are off until you hear them in situ.

 

You are right to be sceptical about "audiophile" Ethernet cable. That your cabling could be faulty is the obvious and logical first conclusion. However, if it works then it works. Past that, nothing about the cable should affect sound quality. Possibly. If only life was that simple. If you can hear a difference there is a difference, and if you can't there isn't. It's different for everyone.

Richard

 

if using long stretches of cat cable I would recommend a shielded type.

 

As many experiments/tests have shown, bits are not just bits, it is all about noise, outside interference and timing issues. Better quality cables do pay off.

 

cheers

 

Aleg

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