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

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.



 

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