Banner
Banner
cookie-banner
Article Index
Naim ND5 XS
p2 Installation and set up
p3 Sound quality
p4 Conclusion
p5 Measured performance
All Pages

NAIM ND5 XS NETWORK PLAYER

 

From Hi-Fi World - March 2012 issue
READ ONLINE
BUY THE MAGAZINE (back issues subject to availability)

 

Top rate

naim-nd5-xs_front

Naim recently introduced their competitively priced ND5 XS network player, able to play highest resolution 24/192 digital audio. Noel Keywood hears top quality digital.

 

 

If you scoured our comprehensive review of Naim’s NDX network music player in the October 2011 issue, then the new ND5 XS will look very familiar. It has much of the functionality of the NDX, but comes at a lower price in an ever more competitive market. Where the NDX we reviewed cost £2,995 the ND5 XS is available for somewhat less – £1925 is being quoted by Naim. Our sample came with an optional VHF/FM plus DAB radio module, that broadened the product’s scope past that of most other network players, but took the price to £2175.

 

Whilst network players commonly have internet radio, few have VHF/FM. It offers good sound quality, providing a decent aerial is used to suppress hiss. That same aerial must also pick up DAB on the ND5 XS because they share an aerial input socket and this raises issues – more later.

 

So the ND5 XS with optional VHF/DAB module is a radio tuner of broad ability, perhaps unsurprising considering the reputation of Naim’s NAT 05 XS VHF/FM tuner, considered one of the best sounding available. Pressing Radio on the remote cycles it through FM, DAB and iRadio giving access to more stations than you’ll get from most other network players or conventional tuners available.

 

Of course the ND5 XS is more than a radio. As a network player it can read music files from a computer – Mac or PC – providing they have a UPnP server installed, as usual. PCs have this in Window Media Player 11 (Vista onward) but Macs do not and need server software installed. The ND5 XS can also read music files from a memory stick that conveniently plugs into a USB socket on the front panel. Having Apple authentication, it can control and play music from an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad connected up through their Apple USB lead and, using the free n-Stream app., the ND5 XS can also be controlled by these devices. Since the on-board green screen display and remote control are unexceptional in legibility, the remote being unilluminated for example, this is a useful option.  At the price the ND5 XS is behind the curve here, many network players having either bigger screens viewable from a distance (Logitech Squeezebox Touch (and/or better remote controls (Cyrus Stream series).

 

The ND5 XS has analogue outputs and an on-board DAC of some complexity that relies on a Sharc DSP engine to carry out digital filtering. Analogue is delivered to the usual pair of phono sockets and the inevitable DIN socket preferred by Naim – and given priority as factory set up; the phono outputs must be selected to make them live. The analogue outputs can be disabled if digital output is used. Volume control is not provided, so the ND5 XS cannot drive a power amp direct, unless a passive preamp is used. The remote control’s volume buttons are for Naim preamps, although the Philips RC5 control code is common and will alter volume on many amplifiers.


 

INSTALLATION AND SET UP

The ND5 XS has a massive toroidal mains transformer with multiple output windings feeding different analogue and digital sub-circuits. As a result it is relatively large, measuring 432mm wide, 350mm deep including protrusions, and 87mm high. It is also unusually heavy at 10kgs.

 

The rear panel has three S/PDIF digital inputs, optical via TOSLINK, electrical via phono sockets or a BNC connector. A CD transport can be connected up here, or a player acting as a transport using its digital output, the ND5 XS acting as a DAC, its analogue output feeding an amplifier.

 

There is a single digital output, S/PDIF via a phono socketed electrical connection; why no BNC or TOSLINK heaven knows. Presumably, Naim feel their on-board DAC will outperform most external DACs and the digital output is unimportant. Perhaps they are right. I used it and bumped into another reason; the ND5 XS played a 24/192 (AIFF) file just as Naim claimed it would, but the digital output remained stubbornly silent, whilst the analogue output delivered fine sound quality. I forgot that S/PDIF doesn’t support 24/192, only 24/96. Using the on-board DAC and analogue output avoids such issues; you are assured of getting music! So if you want to play highest resolution 24/192 files, which run at a massive data rate of 9Mbps, against CD’s measly 1.4Mbps, you cannot use an S/PDIF digital link. However, 24/96 sounds nearly as good I find, from using Blu-ray, so it isn’t a big issue subjectively.

 

The rear panel also carries the usual RJ45 Ethernet socket, a USB socket that can hold a memory stick out of sight, remote control inputs and outputs for Naim system users, a wi-fi antenna socket and a VHF/DAB screw-on UHF aerial socket (not an old co-ax type). There is also a large military multi-pin socket to which can be connected one of three Naim upgrade power supplies.

 

Naim fit a module that uses what is known as SDR, or Software Defined Radio, to derive both VHF and DAB. The basic aerial signal is digitised and then processed to extract wanted radio transmissions, eliminating all the many analogue tuning circuits used in conventional tuners. The output of the module is digital Naim told me. The use of such a module explains why there is just one aerial socket, where DAB and VHF tuners usually have one apiece, to accommodate the different aerials required.

 

The ND5 XS initialised without hitch, saw the network and was identified by its MAC address on my home router straight away. It picked up my PC and its Windows Media Player 11 UPnP server and it saw a Logitech UPnP server running on Mac OS-X 10.7.2 (Lion), but it didn’t see EyeConnect running on OS-X 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard) without a bit of coaxing (re-booting, switching things on and off!). This may be an EyeConnect problem though, as some other network players do not always see it.

 

Internet radio uses vTuner and brought in the usual thousands of stations worldwide, with a Naim recommended list bringing up Radio Paradise at 320kbps – and very nice it sounded too. As did Radio 3 running at 320kbps with AAC compression.


SOUND QUALITY

Naim say the ND5 XS can stream and play WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, AAC, WMA, Ogg Vorbis and MP3 file formats. I tested it with all formats at 24/48 and it worked fine. So standard rate files, compressed and uncompressed are played.

 

At high 24/96 resolution the ND5 XS played our WAV, AIFF and FLAC pink noise test files streamed from iTunes over ethernet, and from a high speed LaCie 4GB shielded WhizKey. These formats are all non-destructive of course; they don’t use ‘compression’, better termed data reduction, and can provide a level of sound quality clearly superior to CD as a result, which is what we hope for from high resolution digital after all.

 

Streaming from iTunes on a 2011 Mac Mini (no CD drive, no 44.1k CD data clock conversion error and low jitter as a result) running Lion, the Naim fared well with standard CD rips. Much like the Cyrus Stream X also in this issue it was able to produce a tidier and more dynamic sound than most other music streamers and this is likely attributable to the effort Naim put into jitter reduction (see MEASURED PERFORMANCE).  From the Eagles ‘Long Road Out of Eden’ CD that I use as an example of – er – standardised Rock (!) that tests for Rock dynamics in benchmark fashion, the ND5 XS sounded sweet and sparkly in its treble – not something I expect from network music reproduction. Here it was like the Cyrus Stream X and unlike the CD from which the track was ripped, so enhancement was occurring in the delivery chain, comprising BE12LU30  LG Blu-ray drive, Mac Mini and Naim ND5 XS.

 

What the ND5 XS managed so well was to give this music a sense of body and bass heft, some real power and drive, qualities that Naim live for and manage to deliver through their own in-house design techniques. To hear this I had to use the analogue output of course; digital gave me the sound of the Marantz receiver’s DACs and analogue circuitry. But the Eagles album played superbly, sounding less congested and sweeter than from CD. Running the same tracks from USB WhizKey gave very similar results to streaming via ethernet from the Mac.

 

Running a number of 24/96 high definition music tracks showed the same clear midband and silky quality, but with deeper silences, a greater sense of sound stage depth and better instrument placement. I was impressed at how echoes from the percussive drum strikes at the start of ‘Misery’ from Dave’s True Story’ (HD Tracks) reverberated and tailed away into a dark background, where they would sound truncated on CD. The ND5 XS played its way through a wide variety of 24/96, always sounding stable, smooth and with lovely stage depth. In truth 24bit resolution in studio equipment as well as playback equipment contributes to superb sound quality more than high data rate and the Naim was fully able to display this.

 

Naim claim the ND5 XS can play 24/192 files and indeed it did play the Trondheim Soloists ‘Divertimenti’ from 2L of Norway at 24/192 resolution from the USB WhizKey, via its analogue output (the digital output falls silent because S/PDIF does not work at this data rate). This track and other 24/192s also streamed from the Mac, and at 192kHz AIFF Naim’s display declared, so the ND5 XS is able to handle all high resolution formats, setting it apart from most rivals.

 

Sadly, I was aware from the off that the VHF tuner sounded dry and grey of tone, with little upper treble sparkle. Listening to Radio 3 intently to assess how annoying hiss would be I found instead that it hardened up and showed some ‘spitch’ on crescendoes from flute and violin, suggesting the distortion we measured was audible. Ironically, hiss was not very obvious, possibly because of Optimod dynamic range compression at the transmitter, but occasionally a slightly coarse chattering sound  came through with volume turned up. I wasn’t certain whether this was in the transmission or from the tuner, but whatever, the VHF module wasn’t an especially pleasant listen by VHF/FM standards, which was a shame. It was better than most DAB, but worse than internet radio running at high 320kbps data rate.


CONCLUSION

It’s expensive, but Naim pack a lot into the ND5 XS and most of it works very well.  If you want serious sound quality from high resolution music files, right up to 24/192, then this unit provides it. Naim’s on-board 24/192 DACs do a great job, supported by a huge power supply and again you pay for this. Because at present the S/PDIF digital link cannot support 24/192 and no one is using HDMI (that can) the presence of a serious on-board DAC is crucial for those intending to download and listen to 24/192 maximum resolution files.

 

The only drawbacks are a disappointingly small display panel unreadable from more than 4ft or so away, and a VHF/FM tuner that doesn’t show what this medium is capable of; Onkyo fit better analogue modules in their receivers.

 

In spite of all this, at the price and in view of what its rivals offer, Naim’s ND5 XS can justify its place in the market as a superb network music player.  It's easy to use,  stable and reliable and sounds superb.

 

 

verdict four globes

Great sound quality with Naim heft, a wonderful DAC and full 24/192 handling. Only the display and VHF tuner could be better.

 

 

FOR

- strong Naim sound

- handles all high res files

- front USB socket

- high quality DAC

 

AGAINST

- small display

- simple remote control

- no headphone socket

- mediocre VHF sound

 

NAIM ND5 XS     £2175

Naim Audio

+44 (0)1722 426600

www.naimaudio.com

 


 

Tested with a Rohde & Schwarz

UPL audio analyser rs-upl

 

 

 

MEASURED PERFORMANCE

Frequency response at 44.1kHz sample rate (CD) measured flat to 20kHz, our analysis below shows. With 96kHz sample rate the limit was a constrained 30kHz, not the 48kHz possible. However, although the increase in bandwidth isn’t great the rate of roll off was slow and analogue like.

 

The DAC was very linear, producing  a very low value of 0.16% distortion at 16bit resolution, -60dB (see below), falling to 0.16% with 1LSB of dither applied in our Rohde & Schwarz digital signal generator.

 

At 24bit resolution the Naim DAC measured just 0.04% at -60dB – as good as it gets. EIAJ Dynamic Range with CD was a high 100dB because of the high linearity. Output was a normal Philips standard 2.15V.

 

Jitter from USB was very low our anlaysis below shows, a -60dB signal inducing just 20pS of signal related jitter, less than 10pS random jitter and 22pS of low rate clock drift – all very low values, making the ND5 XS a very low jitter source. 

 

The VHF/FM section of the tuner module uses Software Defined Radio techniques and possessed a performance fairly typical of the (budget) breed. Frequency response was reasonably flat to 11kHz, but exhibited the undulations of digital filtering (see below). A hard cut-off above 12kHz eliminates all higher frequencies.

 

Distortion was high (2.5%) at full modulation on Left and Right, but low (0.1%) in the Mono (L+R) channel. At 50% modulation the figures had fallen to around 0.3% of 2nd and 3rd harmonic, more reasonable but still high.

 

Hiss was very high at -56dB (IEC A weighted) and will be audible; analogue tuners typically manage -62 to -72dB. Sensitivity was good, however.

Naim’s on-board DAC gave very good results and is well able to resolve high definition audio. Jitter was very low too. The VHF tuner was an SDR solution of mediocre quality though, afflicted by hiss and not for critical listeners measurement revealed. NK

 

DIGITAL TO ANALOGUE CONVERTOR

Frequency response (-1dB)

2Hz-30kHz

 

Distortion (16bit)  %

0dB          0.0007

-6dB         0.0005

-60dB       0.16

-80dB       2

 

Separation (1kHz)          112dB

Noise (IEC A)               -108dB

Dynamic range (EIAJ)    100dB

Output                           2.1V

 

VHF/FM

Frequency response      10Hz-11kHz

Stereo separation           28dB

Distortion (50% mod.)     0.3%

Hiss (CCIR)                   -56dB

Signal for minimum hiss   0.6mV

Sensitivity

mono                            5µV

stereo                           42µV

 

 

FREQUENCY RESPONSE (what it means)

naim-nd5-xs-dac-fr1_site

 

 

DISTORTION  (what it means)

naim-nd5-xs-dac-thd1_site

 

JITTER  (what it means)

naim-nd5-xs-usb-jitter_site

 

VHF/FM FREQUENCY RESPONSE  (what it means)

naim-nd5-xs-vhf-fr1_site

 

Search

Hi-Fi World, Powered by Joomla!; Hosted by Joomla Wired.