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Naim NAC N172 XS
p2 NAP 155XS power amp
p3 Jon Myles says
p4 Conclusion
p5 Measured Performance
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WITH THE NAP 155 XS POWER AMPLIFIER


It is rare that I find huge discrepancies in how a piece of hi-fi performs across different inputs, as with the NAC-N 172 XS preamplifier connected to the NAP 155 XS power amplifier Naim supplied to match it. There is normally a consistency to a unit’s characteristics that transcends what is playing. However, with this combination I was stumped.
    Using my all-valve Icon Audio PS3 phono stage feeding the preamp's analogue inputs yielded some stunningly powerful results from LP.  The first piece I listened to on my Inspire Monarch turntable with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze in an SME V arm was a vintage recording of Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’, Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Decca. I noticed a much tighter rhythmic drive than my VAC Auricle Musicblocs (valve) are capable of, the extraordinary and indeed revolutionary use of polyrhythms being showcased with powerful yet precise drive. In particular the percussion was revelatory, and the power amp had ample resources to drive my B&W 802Ds to new exalted heights. Clearly the use of a valve phono stage with this combination is an interesting and fruitful one.
    Turning to CD and a grand orchestral work – Nielsen’s 4th Symphony, Blomstedt on Decca, played through my reference Bel Canto CD2 transport and both my Weiss DAC202 and the NAIM preamp's internal DAC, via electrical S/PDIF, yielded something of a disappointment. The soundstage had been collapsed compared to my valve monoblocs, and tonally, the midrange had lost the lovely tonal palette that I normally hear, swapping it for a pleasant but far less subtle version, a touch desiccated and rubberised.

   Yes, the bass was full and tight and highly attractive, but the midrange was missing a trick or two. The Weiss’ party piece of separating a violin section, enabling the listener to feel the weight of the different players’ contributions had disappeared, in its place was a narrow and smudged version which was far less involving. With this pre/power combination, I found it much harder to distinguish between the Weiss DAC and the internal DAC of the NAC-N 172 XS, the power amp in its transformations had minimised these differences.
    Similarly, listening to the tuner input, and in particular my Magnum Dynalab MD90TSE, a virtuoso amongst tuners, the subtleties that this great product can bring to a live Radio 3 broadcast were minimised. The tuner has an almost magical ability to introduce very accurate spatiality and weight to a live concert, with a gloriously beautiful oak-like timbre to the string sound. Under the Naim’s tutelage, this was eroded.
    Listening to Ray Gelato (CD) on Linn Records once more yielded an attractive and impressive result. Recorded using multi-tracking, rather than real 3D mic’ing, with heavy percussion, the sound was throbbing, vibrant, toe-tapping and fast.
    Obviously, I am skewed in my preferences towards the thermionic, but for me, the NAP 155 XS performed best with the combination of a valve phono stage, which seems a great antidote to the inherent characteristics of the power amp, the phono stage having a complex tonality in the midrange, superior spatiality, but a weak bottom end which lacks the tightness of Naim’s typical fare. The high-res nature of the Inspire Monarch contributed positively to the symbiosis of these components.
    The 155 XS has a creaminess to it that is different in quality to the brighter Naim kit of yesteryear, there has been a subtle but significant development to the ‘House Sound’ which I appreciate. I can also see that for music which is percussion-led, like the ‘Rite of Spring’ or Rock and Jazz, this power amp has the right qualities to be greatly attractive to a listener and will make many friends.
    For my own personal tastes and requirements, it doesn’t do enough in the areas I value and enjoy, quite in the right way. I also find that with my reviewer’s hat on, it is much harder to discern the contribution of other components in the chain as the NAP 155 XS lacks the transparency I need to hear subtle differences.



 

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