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This review first appeared in the June 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the Naim DAC in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio or Naim - Ed.

Reviewer: Markus Sauer
Sources: Analog – deck - Garrard 401; arm - Naim Aro; cart - Lyra Skala; digital - Heed Obelisk DT CD-+ DA converter
Amplification: Phono - Tom Evans The Groove+ SRX; preamp - Tom Evans The Vibe+  with Pulse PSU – power amp - Bryston 3B SST, Jeff Rowland 102
Loudspeakers: Harbeth SHL5, JBL LSR 6332, Audio Physic Virgo 25
Review component retail: €2.748

Gnothi seauton. Know thyself. Various sources report that this Greek motto appeared chiseled into a column of Delphi’s oracle. It certainly has been subject to much philosophical discussion over the centuries. Some believe that without self knowledge no oracular answers bestow any true wisdom. As we shall see this also relates to hifi discussions.

Tracking audio enthusiasts’ opinions across real or virtual forum life as well as my own personal behavior, the underlying core belief shows itself to be clearly hierarchical in nature. It states that if machine A is better than B and B better than C, A beats C by implication. Yet one routinely finds opinions that C is better than A. That’s grist for the mill for those who believe that anything above basic competency such as has been expressed in value gear for decades already sounds all the same; that differences in auditions are due to sloppy conditions (lack of level matching chief amongst those) or various psychological effects rooted in listener expectations (expensive sounds better than cheap, famous gear better than unknown gear, champagne fascias warmer than chrome, silver face plates brighter than black).

Clearly that argument has teeth. But how about truth in numbers? Over the decades hordes of people across the globe have concluded that audio components do sound different. Routinely listeners assign specific qualities to specific components which fundamentally overlay those of unknown other listeners with the same gear. This jives with my own experiences that audio kit sounds different – and it explains why this report exceeds what otherwise would have to be a mere listing of features. But I’ve also learnt that listener preferences and perceptions diverge. Even if you and I were to utterly agree with my observations, your preferences (what you like better) could still be different. That's key to why agreement in high-end hifi is so difficult to come by.

Before I divulge how this applies today, let’s introduce the component. During the 70s and 80s of the last century, Naim Audio belonged to the young wild bunch which shocked the establishment. Today the firm has become the establishment with an impressive and occasionally confusing breadth of portfolio. It goes without saying that Naim noticed long ago that the audiophile mainstream was shifting from traditional CD players to PC-based solutions. The Brits’ first concession was the 2008 release of their HDX, a heroic effort to render computer audio as something that mostly operated just like a legacy CD spinner to appeal to their basically conservative clientele. The second concession was 2009’s DAC—today’s subject—and the third this year’s NDX streaming player. Then there’s the complete NaimNet solution for whole-house networking inclusive of off-site syncing where your vacation digs can access the software library at home.