Integrated Amplifiers

Naim Audio, SUPERNAIT Integrated Stereo Amplifier with DAC

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

After a week of burning in the SUPERNAIT, I sat down for a mid day listening session. Feeding the internal DAC via a Squeezebox using Apple Lossless files, initial impressions were very positive. Playing Bossanova by The Pixies, the kick drum had a ferocious attack and presence. Kim Deal's bass work was forceful, deep, and with a snap and force not often heard outside of a studio or concert. It's a rhythmic snap in the bass and mid-bass region that makes for a wonderful musical foundation. Is this PRaT? If so, consider me converted. This trait gives music the drive and timing to let the rest of the instruments breathe and live.

I listened to the entire Pixies album and discovered it in an entirely new way. The SUPERNAIT is not afraid to let its hair down and jump in the pit. My experience has been that often times when you go up the ladder in Hi-Fi you get too much polish, and the details are too refined. It makes for great analytical listening, but you lose the soul of music at times. The SUPERNAIT is a great balance of hairy chested force and sonic refinement. Feed it music that plunges into the depths of bass, and I dare you to not tap your feet or play air drums. Whether listening to The Clash, Radiohead, or classic Bowie, I couldn't help but to do just that. I was so swept up in the music, my analysis of the sound had gone out the window. That's good, very good.

When I switched to La Roux and Basement Jaxx to test the SUPERNAIT's dance credentials, the bass was turned up to 11. The balance on electronic and hip-hop was overwhelming initially. The fluid timing and taught attack were all there, but the level of the mass in proportion to the rest of the spectrum was just too high. Switching to my somewhat lean JBL 4208 speakers (from the Waterfall Iguascus I was using), I found the bass was still fairly intense in volume. I contacted Naim's US importer and was advised to try cables that have high inductance and not capacitance, my Kimber 8TC cables being low inductance/high capacitance. Switching speakers cables did bring the level of bass down, without sacrificing the feel of the bass. Everything from Ice Cube and Eminem to LCD Soundsystem and Phoenix, to Chet Baker, led me to get lost in the rhythm and enjoy the music. If the SUPERNAIT does one thing very well, it is to form an emotional connection to music. I played music for weeks with the SUPERNAIT and loved every moment of it.

For my analytical listening session, I set out to compare the internal DAC against the performance of a budget friendly DAC and a more expensive DAC. The price of the SUPERNAIT is not insignificant, and one can purchase many integrated amps sans DAC and add a good DAC to arrive at the price of the SUPERNAT.

I purchased the Musical Fidelity V-DAC ($299) as the budget contender, and the higher end unit purchased was the Benchmark Media DAC-1 USB ($1295). All comparisons were through SPDIF connections. The DAC-1 and V-DAC were connected via RCA to the SUPERNAIT, white noise was played and relative volumes marked with tape so I could level match them as best as possible.

This DAC comparison would also help me determine what part of the SUPERNAIT's sound is attributable to the DAC and what is the sound of the "integrated" portion of the SUPERNAIT.

The NAIT's built-in DAC was both more detailed and smoother overall compared to the V-DAC. The musical fidelity put up a good fight but in the end the SUPERNAIT's midrange was not only more insightful but clearer with less grain and distortion. The treble on the V-DAC had a trace of digital hash and didn't feel as extended. The V-DAC bass felt more stressed than the NAIM DAC. The V-DAC didn't go as deep nor did it sound as fast. The bass lacked the articulation of the NAIM.

Moving up the scale to a comparison with the Benchmark DAC-1 USB, the SUPERNAIT had a harder time. In many ways the SUPERNAIT's DAC is the equal of the Benchmark. Midrange was equally fluid and detailed, the level of grain/hash/distortion was equally low. Bass was fast and taut, detailed, and with a great percussive attack. The SUPERNAIT bested the DAC-1 USB in terms of that sheer slam factor and leading edge definition. Where things really differed was in the treble. The DAC-1 USB had a noticeably sweeter treble. Cymbals and Hi-Hats had a truer metallic ringing without being grainy or sibilant. There was just a tad more definition and detail in the highs versus the NAIM.

I found the SUPERNAIT to be a tad dry in its sound, especially with regards to treble and spatial depth. The treble while extended and clear did lack that last bit of air and sheen from some other amps I've heard, such as my own Myryad and NAD. Cymbals in particular lacked the sparkle and ringing to sound truly realistic. Female voices sounded a bit flat and one dimensional as well. Keep in mind this is compared to other integrated amps in the $4-6k region. The NAIM easily outperformed in all aspects any integrated I've heard in the $1-3k region plus DAC. In most ways it outperformed my Myryad integrated amp paired with the DAC-1 USB (except in terms of that air and treble sweetness).

A good example of the NAIM's dry sound is with recordings where the depth and width of the acoustic/digital space (if digital reverb was used) is well recorded. You get the effect with the NAIM but not the last nuance of the acoustic image/space. The feeling of knowing how far the artist is from the walls of the recording venue, or in the case of digital reverb being able to hear deep into the reverb trail until it fades into black is more limited with the NAIM. If a reverb trail took 3 seconds to die, the NAIM would sustain it for 2 seconds.

Dry character aside, the NAIM posses a rare trait I've never heard before in any amplifier integrated or not. Regardless of how much dynamic compression has been applied to a recording (many of the albums I listen to are massively compressed), the SUPERNAIT allows each instrument to occupy a place in the overall level of a recording. It's a hard trait to describe, but very impressive. Each time a new instrument or singer joins the sonic landscape, there's an accompanying and very noticeable increase in sound pressure. This may not appear impressive, but keep in mind that in some modern recordings there's less than 5 dB of dynamic range. In fact on La Roux's debut album there's nary 4 dB. Yet there's a distinct presence to each instrument as it enters the musical fray. I'm a bit puzzled as to how this is possible since no other amplifier I have ever owned or had on hand could do the same. It gives great insight into all the elements of a mix, and I was able to easily lock in on an instrument or singer. This trait also gives the music a greater sense of life and vitality.

The analog signal path seems immensely clean and uncolored, and any signal fed to the SUPERNAIT came out of the speakers sounding the same as it went in. Overall, the SUPERNAIT is a very good DAC, a great amplifier and preamp, and a very good value especially considering the recent price adjustment to $4550.