Upgrading - what amp to choose

I'm in the process of looking at upgrading my NAIM 5i - i.e. the one with the jack on the front panel and the passive front end.

I like integrated amps (they take up less space) and I specifically like the NAIM because it runs so cool.

But I'm looking for something that resolves to a higher level with better imaging, but has the punch and clarity of the NAIM.

Budget around $3k

Any thoughts?

Or is my only choice the NAIT XS-2 :-)

Cheers :-)
Hey Willie -
Were I looking to buy an integrated, a couple things I might at least do some research on would be Parasound's Halo integrated. They claim 160 Watts x 2 @ 8 Ohms (RMS, both channels driven) & 240 Watts x 2 @ 4 Ohms (RMS, both channels driven). Has a DAC and phono stage too, I believe. Very feature rich.

Also, I saw a couple of used Hegel H-300s on A'gon. Hegel claims output power: 250W + 250W in 8 ohms, 430W + 430W in 4 ohms. Minimum load: 2 ohms.

Good luck in your search.
Gh - thanks for the info.

Hegel peeked my interest initially and I tried the Hegel h300 today,but it's early days and lots more amps to audition.

I'll be sure to check out the Parasound if I can find a local dealer.

Looking into the Krell 300I - sounds itenresting, but the reviews are a little mixed. But it's a krell :-)

Used Luxman 505 or new 550 ordered from Japan.
Willie - Audio Advisor carries the Parasound Halo Integrated. I believe they ship to Canada. They have a 30 day money back guarantee in the States. Don' know if that applies to Canada but worth checking if you are interested in the Halo integrated. Link here should take you to the AA product page for it.

If you like the Nait, I would upgrade to the next level of integrated that permits you to add an outboard power supply like the flatcap or hicap. The improvement in sound quality by adding the PS is beyond what you would have thought. Yes, you do add an extra box, but it's totally worth it from a sonic standpoint.
Chayro - that would be the XS-2, which I am going to audition next. The dealer is very good, so I can also try it with the power supply, which I know makes a significant difference with NAIM amps

Even without the power supply - I'm hoping for a revelation :-)

Andysf - I actually owned the Luxman L530 just after it first came out and I was very impressed

It would be interesting to hear it again with the cables I now own.

The only thing putting me off was a really bad experience with a leaky oil-filled heat sink - very messy :-(

That, and it ran very hot - you could almost make toast over the vent :-)

So even though the Luxman 530/550 does sound very nice indeed - I think I'll give it a pass this time round.

Thanks guys - you input is much appreciated.
Gh - thanks for the link -got an email off to them today

Krell 550i discounted

Hey Willie, saw this today on Audio Advisor's Clearance Newsletter.
I'm listening to a Bel Canto C5i right now and it is killer...the real deal!!!
GH - being in Canada, that's another $$$OUCH! - I was eyeing the smaller model.

Mapman - it's on my list - getting out to hear one next week.

How do you find the image?

What I'm looking for is the punch and clarity of the NAIM with the finesse and imaging of a good tube amp.

Does the Bel Canto offer that?

Thanks guys
Used Pass for great sound.
@WillieW - The outboard PS also makes a huge difference on the CD players. You wouldn't believe it. I think every designer would probably want to put a big PS in a separate box, but the marketplace won't tolerate it. Peter Qvartrup from Audio Note was telling me about the pushback he got about separate power supplies in the Asian market, where space is extremely limited. Anyway, enjoy your demo and good luck.
May I offer a different, used option? If you can find a MF KW500 in good condition, it may surprise you. Tremendous amp. I used it with Sophias. Used should be around 3k. I've had mine for 11 years and recently upgraded to NuVista 800, which is phenomenal. But I'm not selling my KW. It's too good. Saving it for a second system. Good luck!
Perhaps you should get a good tube integrated if "finesse and imaging" are actually important…more heat maybe (I say "maybe" because I've had some SS amps that could fry an egg) but really not an issue unless you live in a small hut, not that there's anything wrong with hut dwelling (Yurts? Domes? Treehouses?). When SS amp hype says "tube-like" I look at that as tube encouragement…at 3 grand there's some nice stuff with enough watts to get the walls (or tent flaps) shaking like that new Prima Luna thing that can use various tubes in different modes. Besides, tube amps are more fun.
I'm go also with the pass,stretch little to get better .
Are you looking only SS or willing to try tube?
Thanks for all the suggestions...

I have had my flirtation with tube and found I preferred many aspects of SS,like no tube repalcement :-)

But I do not dispute the many tube qualities either.

So, having said that, can anyone recommend a good tube-SS hybrid?

Hello fellow canadian, in all honesty, I have owned a truckload of amps in the past 25 years. Full tube, solid state, hybrids. The one I enjoyed most is my current Pathos Logos with a small collection of 6922 tubes that I roll for the fun if it. It is powerfull, has that touch of tube magic, and controls low frequencies very nicely. In full disclosure it may become available soon due to change in listening habits (long story!) Tons of reviews out there. Seek one out, its a looker too.
If you are comfortable buying used, then a SuperNait 1 or 2 would both outperform the XS and be within your budget.

The Unitiqute is another option. It doesn't have the punch of the XS, but it's a very solid one-box solution that also includes a built-in dac and streamer.

If you like the sound, an AX-7e might also be something to consider. At the same time, if you definitely prefer the NAIM sound, the Qute and the SN (used) should be on your to-audition shortlist.

Hope that helps,
Sonicbeauty - I went to look at the Pathos the other day, only to find the line had been dropped by the store, so I have to find another retailer, but I'm still looking

I had a hybrid guitar amp, which I liked very much and am wondering if a similar architecture in fi-fi gear might be the best combination for my listening pleasure.

They are definitely on my list.

Courant - when you say "outperform" - from what aspects
- punch?, clarity?, spatial accuracy ?

I do like the NAIM sound for the most part, but I get the impression form various posts that it is lacking a little in presenting a precise and spacious image.

I have upgraded cables to great effect, especially in this particular area, but reading peoples comments about their systems leaves me wondering if there is more to be had

All input appreciated

Many Thanks
The SuperNait is more detailed and has better bass compared to the XS.

Also, there are differences between the SN1 and SN2. The SN2 loses the dac of the SN1, but gains a better power supply, and as a result an improved midrange.

Hope that helps,
Well, after a couple of weeks of auditions I've decided that the amp is not the problem.

I have also just installed the Schiit Bifrost DAC 4490 upgrade and upgraded the SPDIF cable from my V-Link to my Bifrost and the IC's from the DAC to the amp.

The net effect of these changes has been a huge improvement in resolution, imaging and clarity, which I believe is mainly due to the DAC upgrade.

Now I have to look at my Phono Stage :-(

But my previous thoughts that the amp was not performing as well as I would have liked has been laid to rest.

I did get out to audition a couple of amp/DAC combo's, but they did not seem to provide any improvement in SQ over my NAIM 5i, even without the uprgades.

Granted, they were "in-store" auditions, but I made sure that
- the source, cables and speakers connected to the amps were of suitable quality.
- the room was of suitable size.

Thanks for all the suggestions - I'll tuck them away for future reference

Well I, for one, am dying to know what you upgraded to! especially from V-Link to DAC. I'm guessing you went to some flavor of KLEI Innovations on the ICs from your DAC? Let us know. Glad things are sounding better.
Ghosthouse - you, and a few others, may just find what I am about to write a little hard to swallow. I probably would had I not tried it :-)

Yes - I am a bit hawkish on KLE Innovations products. However, I have also been "evolving" my own design of DIY IC's, which happen to use the KLEI Absolute Harmony RCA plugs.

I've had the design of my DIY IC's available for all to see on my "System" link since I first developed/used them.

Basically - they made use of the silver conductor from a pair of silver IC's I had purchased, as the signal line, but the neutral conductor is just a twisted pair of CAT6 wires wound around the signal conductor.

Over the past year I have evolved this design by augmenting the neutral conductor from a single twisted pair to a double twisted pair and finally a triple twisted pair. Each time the changes resulted in more clarity, better imaging, better bass control, etc...

One other thing that came out of this is the fact that the "triple" IC with the three twisted pairs can also be used for SPDIF applications without any signal loss - at least up to 24/192, the max I have been able to test to.

MOVING ON: Last week a feature of the Silver Harmony RCA plug, i.e. it has a silver neutral pin but only a silver coated copper signal pin, prompted me to re-think my DIY IC design.

Perhaps using a better quality conductor for the neutral would achieve better SQ?

So once again I constructed yet another pair of IC's, but this time I purchased some Teflon insulated cryo-treated OCC copper wire for the neutral and some OCC Silver wire for the signal. but I followed the same basic construction technique.

I first tried one of the IC's as a SPDIF from the v-link192 to the Bifrost and the improvements were immediately noticeable in the dynamic performance, resolution and clarity, but the overall fidelity also improved.

Based on this performance I then constructed a half meter SPDIF simply using the OCC copper wire for both signal and neutral. The result turned out to be better than the gZero3D I was using.

The IC's with the OCC silver signal conductor and OCC Copper neutral conductor have now replaced my gZero20's from the DAC to the amp and the improved SQ has convinced me that an amp upgrade was definitely NOT required.

The DIY IC's are taking a long while to burn-in, which I also found to be the case with my previous DIY IC's. But they are sounding very nice after only 200+ hours of burn in - I estimate around 400 hours to get the best image from them. After 2-3 days they cause a drop in volume, but by day 6-7 it is restored to it's normal level.

At times like this I wish I had a cable cooker :-)

The performance of the DIY IC's as a SPDIF requires the use of KLEI Harmony RCA's - Pure Harmony for optimum performance, but the Silver Harmony will also provide very good performance .

I don't know why they work as a SPDIF, especially since the v-link states it has an impedance of 50 ohms and the DAC is 75 ohms. Maybe something to do with thei comparatively high impedance of the KLEI RCA's which is supposedly greater than 110 ohms.

Basically, it does not conform to the generally accepted "principles" of SPDIF cable design - but it works - extremely well :-)

A pair of DIY IC's cost roughly $240 CDN to build, but I would assess their performance to be somewhere between the gZero20 IC's and the new zFLOW33 IC's

The Schiit 4490 upgrade has improved the Bifrost's resolution capabilities - which I also heard with the gZero20's in place. But it was the level of improvement in SQ with the DIY IC's really surprised me.

I have one last mod to my DIY IC's which will incorporate a Silver conductor in the neutral side as well as the signal, which should take a couple more weeks to build and burn-in.

That's about it!

Strange - but true :-)


Hey Willie - I was not being sarcastic or ironic with my KLEI comment. Knew you thought highly of their products so figured that's what you would use. I checked out your DIY IC procedure on your system page. (I'm guessing your haven't yet updated things to reflect the triple twisted pair used for the neutral conductor in the latest design?) Wow. Nice job on the DIY description. Easy to follow and nice clear photos with plenty of detail. I'm thinking even I could build one (maybe). Good job.
GH - honestly, I didn't take your comments as being sarcastic - anyone reading any of my posts would probably realize I'm into KLEI products.

It was quite a natural conclusion :-)

The only other KLEI guy on these forums is Yping :-)

But I think our "ravings" may be garnering some interest.

I'll have a revised version in a couple of weeks to detail the new "Mark IV" build

Try them - it would be really interesting to know how they perform on your system.

BTW their "sound" is very similar to the KLEI products, i.e. very detailed, dynamic, clear, controlled with no bloating or colouring.

BTW - nice setup!

Are you going to upgrade to the Gungnir Multibit - or do you already have it?

I see you have Shunyata Venom's - how are they?

From what I can see from their pics they are a similar cable architecture to my own DIY power cables, which I find are very quick and responsive.

How do they compare to the Pangea's?

Many Thanks
Hello again, Willie. I'm not planning to upgrade the Gungnir at this point. I'd gotten a bug to try something new and became interested in Class D amplification. Discretionary $ are going into a Taranis amp from Merrill Audio. I've really not done much A/B'ing between the Shunyata and Pangea PCs. They were bought at different times to serve different equipment and meet specific spacing needs so I really hadn't tried comparing them. Music Direct was offering the Shunyatas at a reduced price a while back. I needed some additional cords to replace stock on some new gear. The reviews were favorable and they were affordable so I got them to run the Hegel and the TEAC CDP. My intention is to power the Taranis with the Shunyata but with the mono blocks not in use, I could certainly try a Pangea 9 on it it. Sounds like you looked at my system page. I need to update some of the cabling information there but A'gon is doing work on the Virtual System feature and I've been unable to edit my system. Ciao for now.
Ghosthouse - I've just completed my final incarnation of my DIY cables...

"The Mark V" DIY Interconnect

It turned out to be something really quite special and using it as a SPDIF from the V-link to the DAC resulted in the best SQ I've ever achieved from the Bifrost.

It's still early on in the burn-in process but it has already exceeded what I thought might be possible by a considerable margin. Even my demanding tracks are reproduced with amazing clarity with superb imaging and incredible venue acoustics.

The upper register of the violin can sometimes be a little shrill right now, but that will smooth out over the next few days.

"The Mark IV's" are on my phono stage and has taken the Simaudio Moon to a whole new level of performance also.

So the idea of upgrading the amp has now been squashed.

Now it's finally time to focus on the music :-)

Regards Steve ;-)