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As I always do, I first inserted the Naim DAC into my usual chain. Though dispatched preconditioned, 24 to 48 hours of warm-up noticeably relaxed the sound. Connection was via Naim’s €298 DC1 RCA-to-BNC digital cable and €798 Hi-Line 5-pin Din to RCA interconnect. The Dac’s basic personality was strongly determined by its tonality. That is darker than many other high-end converters. I’d noticed this already when German Naim importer Music Line had temporarily made available a complete Naim system of CD5 XS, DAC, NAC 152XS preamp, NAP 155XS stereo amp and Flatcap XS power supply. Like slamming the massive door on a luxury car, this system caused ‘welcome home’ feelings. Nothing was frail, wispy or confused but focused on the essentials of musical structures and great clarity.

The DAC solo followed this precedent. The tonal center was the lower midrange. Voices had excellent articulation and very natural timbre, two core strengths to my ears. Resolution and staging went beyond criticism. Nothing wandered with increasing frequencies, everything stayed put as it should. On high the Naim DAC sounded very different than many others. You must be familiar with common descriptions of speakers sans built-in upper bass hump – "I first thought the box to be somewhat lightweight in the bass until that first real low-bass impulse arrived". Ditto for the HF here. One first thinks the treble somewhat shaded or insufficiently illuminated; until the first well-recorded cymbals cut through with full energy and believably metallic decay. Super.

I thought the upper bass somewhat less contoured than the midband and the low bass slightly recessed relative to the DAC’s vocal range. Due to absolutely brilliant dynamic contrast both macro and micro, it was child’s play to track rhythmic structures. Let’s call on Dissidenten’s Live in Europe disc, an obviously live cut from their Indian period. The bass is mixed very forward and augmented by drums and strong percussion. The Naim rendered this appropriately pulsating and driven. Charlie Mariano’s sax had very realistic timbre. While for my tastes this production surrounds Izaline Calister’s vocals and their Curaçao roots with too much compression and reverb, the Naim DAC allowed me to ‘sidestep’ these effects and still react with goose bumps to the voice.

For context I wanted to compare the Naim with a known quantity. Enter my friend Tom with his Weiss DAC2. Tom runs a MacBook with M2Tech hiFace USB/coax interface and iTunes with PureMusic in memory play. For simplicity’s sake I used the same tracks which already appeared in my review of the Audiolab 8200CDQ. On Smog’s "Dress sexy for my funeral" the Weiss clearly resolved the shaker better, rendered the guitar more tautly strung, lighter and harmonically richer and Bill Callahan’s voice less nasal. The Naim had more bass drive and better vocal integration. In a manner hard to describe the Naim conveyed a different speed as though voices and instrument had more time to articulate themselves.