Naim Nait5i Integrated: Review
The Naim Nait5i is a 50wpc (8ohm) integrated amplifier with four line-level inputs. This makes it both small by current standards, and of limited flexibility. The traditional 5-pin DIN input sockets are still there for two of the inputs (for CD and, improbably, tuner), though the other two inputs (AV and Tape) are RCA-only, and even the CD and Tuner offer RCA sockets as well. As has been reported by other members, the amp is every bit as "buggy" as a piece of electronics designed by Britons could reasonably be expected to be -- including a noticeable 'thunk' at power-up and power-down, as well as a tendency for the input selector to freeze after significant running time.
Why would anyone put up with all of this? One word: sound.
When I first started posting in the audio asylum forums in search of a good, flexible integrated amp that I could continue to use when funds permitted graduation to a 5-channel system, I received a great many recommendations for 'usual suspects' ranging from the Onkyo A-9555 through the Arcam FMJ A-23, and on to beefier (and pricier) products by Musical Fidelity, Ayre, and SimAudio. Because my listening tastes tend to be skewed in a way that isn't contemporarily popular -- most notably, because my preferences are for articulate micro-details and a quick, lean bottom-end, many of these well-intentioned suggestions proved either excessively tubey for my palette or else just not involving enough.
After much gnashing of teeth, I finally received a single post, from a single asylum member, who said, "You will like the Naim Nait5i, period. Either buy that, or stop wasting our time." How could a fellow argue with advice like that?
Having never seriously considered Naim, I downloaded several professional reviews and found them all to be extremely favorable -- more so even than professional reviews tend to be anyway -- and always with the very adjectives that would describe my own particular bias. Everywhere I looked in the literature I found comments like, "rhythmic," "lively," "quick", and "snappy." Eventually, finding no specimens on Audiogon, I overpaid by about $200 to acquire one from CannuckAudioMart dot com and, after a nervous week spent watching the front window for signs of a truck, it eventually arrived.
After a month of giddy experimentation, I am here to report that the Asylum member who challenged me to put up or shut up was spot-on with his advice: The Naim Nait5i is striking to look at, easy to install, easy to use, and, here's the thing, sounds better -- streets better -- than anything I've ever used before. It beats my Bryston 3B for noise floor and resolution of detail; it beats my old Onkyo integrated for current and base definition; it beats the Musical Fidelity for fluidity of sound (the MF seemed brittle to me), and it beats the Ayre for involvement in the music. It beats many of these products -- some of them handily -- in the price department, even at $1050 instead of the $850 I could have paid with a little more patience. At no point in over a month of listening to the Nait on an asylum-recommended pair of AudioPhysics Spark-IIII's (about which, much more anon), has the Nait sounded even the tiniest bit small or underpowered. Indeed, at full-up, ears-whanging levels, the Nait seems every bit as clear and cool as amps twice its power rating, maybe even more so.
Best of all (well, at least second-best of all), Naim is one of a handful of vendors whose products are consciously engineered to allow for future upgrades. Specifically, the Nait5i includes a provision for downstream connection to a 5.1 processor, gain-matched to function as the amplifier for the front two channels, in combination with a separate 3-channel amp that is purpose-built to round out the system.
If you are in the market for integrated power, if your room isn't fifty feet across, and if your speakers aren't unusually insensitive -- if you don't mind sparse inputs, no phono stage, and an occasional glitchy interface -- and, most importantly, if the idea of being settled for life on a particular brand, so much so that your search preferences disappear down the rabbit warren of that one company's resale market -- then you owe it to yourself to listen to the Naim Nait5i. Frankly, the only reason it has taken this long for me to sing the praises of the little guy is the time it has taken me to betray my work commitments for long enough to write it all up. In truth the Nait5i -- and the larger company from which it hails -- had me at 'hello'.