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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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JON MYLES SAYS -  
To say Naim has enthusiastically endorsed the brave new audiophile world of streaming music would be something of an understatement.
    Their range now stretches from the sub-£1000 UnitiQute to the heady heights of the flagship NDS which comes in at £6250 without power supply. And now comes the NAC-N 172 XS – basically a pre-amp with streaming facilities priced at £1650.
    In effect Naim sees it as an ideal starting point for adding network attached storage to an existing system – or alternatively starting afresh with one of the company’s own power amps. And let’s be frank, the latter combination is how the majority of 172s will be used because that’s what Naim owners do. Which in a way is shame – because this pre-amp is good enough to fit into a variety of systems.
    I’ll admit to being a bit of a Naim fan and regularly use a Supernait for everyday listening. And for those who say they don’t ‘get’ the Naim sound it’s worth noting that the overall balance of today’s equipment is a lot smoother than that of previous years. The NAC-N 172 XS is a case in point. Hooked up to the supplied NAP 155 XS and it showed its talents immediately. Yes, there’s still those almost clichéd Naim talents of pace and the ability to pull a rhythm out of almost any piece of music – but it does it without any sense of heavy-handedness.
    Barb Jungr’s ‘The Men I Love’ sounded deliciously rich – the Naim combination delivering a wide soundstage that positively oozed atmosphere. It has a seemingly natural affinity for vocals – Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Sean Nos-Nua’ sounding similarly detailed and vibrant.
    Switching to streaming from a RipNAS and the NAC’s ease of use was exemplary. It picked up the network immediately and the iPhone/iPad N-Stream App is simplicity itself to use. But it’s the music that counts and the Brian Eno/David Byrne ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ collaboration played to the 172’s strengths. It’s an album of studio trickery and densely-layered samples which on the wrong system can sound a bewildering mess. But the Naim effortlessly portrayed the various strands, making it easy to hear right into the mix. It was the same with Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’ – the sometimes murky sampled vocals actually becoming crystal clear. Was streaming better than CD as some people claim? Probably not – but it’s certainly close.
    What was better though was a high-res download of the Neil Cowley Trio’s ‘The Face Of Mount Molehill’ played through the front-facing USB port. Here the strength of the Naim’s internal DAC showed itself – with a palpable sense of greater air and space around the instruments. Of the pairing, there’s no doubt the pre-amp is the star of the show.
    I briefly connected it to a Naim NAP 200 and the obvious benefits of this power-amp’s greater resolving power showed through. There was a definable leap in resolution and authority – showing the NAC-N 172 XS can hold its own in more expensive company.
    If there’s one minor criticism to be levelled at the unit it’s the
fact that if you’re a non-iPod / IPhone / iPad user then you’ll be stuck with the Naim remote control because at present there is no Android App. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does negate some of the convenience of streaming.
    Apart from that, this is a very accomplished product from Naim. For the price it’s an excellent pre-amp offering all the connectivity you’ll probably ever need. Whether you are new to Naim or already a user, it’s well worth a listen.



 

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