Naim Supernait 3 – HiFi Review

Naim Supernait 3 – HiFi Review


This is my HiFi review of the fabulous Naim Supernait 3 integrated amplifier. I’ve really been looking forward to this following my recent exposure to both the Anthem STR and the Micromega M150 that are both similarly integrated amplifiers but share room correction, that I’ve been really very impressed with. The Naim Supernait 3 is still the goto all-out analogue performer with typical Naim understatement but featuring a new brilliant Phono input stage, fantastic.

On Tone

it is the amplifier that sets the tone of any system

In times past and before this adventure in HiFi, I had not really been all that clear where to spend a HiFi budget and have probably believed that the source was the key to system performance.  Surely, good in means good out?  For example, the Rega P8 with the Aura pre-amplifier, or the Auralic Vega G1 streaming DAC.  But what about speakers, the Sopras for example, cables, etc?

But now I know, having experienced the Moon 600i, the Rega Osiris and, in particular, this Naim Supernait 3 amplifier, it is the amplifier that sets the tone of any system.  It is the vibe and the heartbeat of any system and this Naim Supernait 3 is the one to beat.

Design

the phono input for moving magnet cartridges is exceptionally good

The Naim Supernait 3 is a classic analogue integrated amplifier, there’s no digital compromise to be had here.  It is a solid-state, 2-channel integrated amplifier.  When I went to the launch of the Supernait 2, several years ago, there was no phono stage included as was expected with Naim concerned about interference from the larger transformer in the Nait.  With the widespread growth in Vinyl Use, Naim has now worked the problem and come up with a moving magnet solution for the Supernait 3.  This is really great news although Naim Stageline sales may take a hit because the phono input for moving magnet cartridges is exceptionally good.  I suspect that most with higher-end moving coils will have their preferred phono stage so there is a clear decision here to optimise the MM input.  I believe a moving coil stage is more sensitive to interference, so maybe by the time the 4 comes, Naim will have sorted this too?

The Naim Supernait 3 has 5 Analogue RCA inputs (CD, AV, Stream, Phono, and Tuner) with matching DIN inputs as preferred by Naim and the new Phono stage.  There is an RCA output pair for a subwoofer.  The inputs are each individually hand-wired at the factory to minimise noise and interference while internal switching employs ultra-low-noise, constant current sources that are derived directly from the electronic design of the flagship NAC 552 preamplifier (it says here).

The Naim Supernait 3 has 80W/channel into 8Ohms, plenty for the Kantas I’ve been using (mainly) and 130W into 4.

The Naim Supernait 3 also includes a Class A preamp output stage which doubles as a headphone amplifier and ceramic heatsink technology that minimises capacitive coupling between the chassis and output transistors for optimum sound quality.

Naim Supernait 3Overall, there’s not much to add here, other than your analogue needs are well catered for here, particularly if you’re into Naim already (e.g streamer/DAC and CD for example).  There is also an AV bypass option that may suit some.

I don’t know if it just me but are the Naim green glowing lights dimmer these days, my Uniti2 and NAC seem to glow brighter?

Quality

The amplifier is heavy, weighing in at 14 kilos, it is the standard size (dimensions (hxwxd) – 87 x 432 x 314 mm) and has the brushed metal black anodised finish you expect from Naim.

All in all, it feels lovely, the power lead hangs free and loose at the back to minimise noise transfer (I’m using an Atlas Eos dd power supply in place of the provided Naim Powerline Lite).  The DIN inputs I’m using are really satisfying as they twist and connect effortlessly.   Because I have the Naim ND5 XS2 streamer (see below) also, it all looks and feels particularly satisfying.

When you turn on the Supernait 3 it’s muted by auto until it is happy it has warmed up, I’m not sure if that was a feature of the Supernait 2 if I’m, honest.  There is no standby mode in keeping with most other Naim equiment.

Naim ND5 XS2

Although I still have the Auralic Vega G1 in my stable, I took the opportunity of receiving the ‘entry-level’ (Naim’s words, near £2,299) ND5 XS 2 network streamer that has Bluetooth, AirPlay, Chromecast, Roon as well as the usual Tidal and Spotify streaming support, though not Qobuz, yet. It is a wonderfully understated streamer, it has no screen or other fanciness to it.  It is controlled by the ever more stable

Vertere Redline Din-Din upgrade

Naim App that suffices as the screen and offers full device control.  It connects to the Naim Supernait 3 through a DIN Snaic cable (provided) to ensure the best connection possible.  Towards the end of my review process, I received a set of Vertere Redline Din-Din interconnector that delivered a huge performance upgrade.  The ND5 XS 2 has no variable output so the volume is controlled by the Naim Supernait 3 amplifier (and the remote control), not the App.

Performance

Set-Up

I’m listening to the Naim Supernait 3 with the ND5 XS 2, my Rega PP3 turntable and latterly headphones from Oppo (HA-2) and Meze (Empyrean).  The Naim Supernait 3 is powered with an Atlas EOS dd power supply instead of the provided Naim Powerline Lite driving a lovely pair of Kanta No.1 speakers by Focal.  They are supported in my case by a REL sub due to the open nature of my room.  I’m using QED Supremus speaker cable on this occasion.

Towards the end of this test, the Kantas went on their merry way and I’ve reverted, with contentment, to my own outstanding Jern 14DS speakers.

First Impressions

After assembling the amplifier and streamer up in the late afternoon, the amplifier and Kantas really did need a while to get familiar, which is fine and not unexpected.   I left everything running over-night.   On my return, maybe 20 hours later (I have a long running-in playlist!), I went for a bit of Kasabian, just to warm myself up having heard L.S.F for the first time in a long, long time on the radio.  The soundstage is big, wide, massive and I was hooked.  L.S.F. really sings here, with a massive tight, fast bass line rumbling the tiles on my roof.   Crikey, first impressions really do matter (see below).

PRaT

Might as well start with the necessary.  Naim’s name has been made on the PRaT (Pace, Rhythm, and Timing) philosophy, though some may argue this is not possible to deliver in all parts.  Having had Naim equipment for a considerable time now, I characterise my Naim sound as always forward, never rounded out on the mid ranges or treble and lighter, but tighter, on the lower frequencies.  I’m familiar with a certain harshness at volume or extended plays but when I’m relaxing, I’m often at a lower volume, with vocal-led music, so this is never a concern for me, the control and resolution is the clincher then for me.

I’ve always liked the impact of the Naim sound on an ad-hoc listen.  Indeed, I heard a pair of JBL L100s in Music Matters (Stratford upon Avon) driven by a Supernait 3 with an NDX source and the impact of the overall sound was sensational, a sound I long to hear again (I’m trying to get the JBL L100s in before the Supernait goes home, here’s hoping).  That’s the impact that sells Naim, I guess and has me hooked.

Rhythm

The bounce and tingle from the signature sound are here.  I’m delighted by the confidence of the sound, a full and vibrant edgy sound with a bit of the edge rolled off by the Kantas that are singing really nicely now after an extended run-in.  As a goto rhythm and timing track, I usually head for the ‘Telegraph Road’ or ‘Thinking of A Place’ by The War on Drugs.   There is a danger of clutter in ‘Thinking of a Place’ but the sound is presented with the vibrancy demanded by the track, the rest of the album, demands a listen, I haven’t felt this good about Naim for a while now because I’m still chuntering on about how Moon by SimAudio and especially Auralic has MQA and Qobuz and a load of other features not offered by the Naim brand recently.

Soundstage

With this Naim Supernait 3, the lower frequencies are nicely presented and the soundstage is forward but wide, I like it.  I get the same forward presentation from the Jern speakers when they are swapped in.  There is clear channel separation, for example, as I listen to Liam Gallagher’s new album released today, I’m slightly taken aback by the recorder jumping towards me as I type away in the track ‘Halo’ (this album is well worth a listen by the way, surprisingly).

Tone

I feel the Supernait 3 has a nice balance, deeper maybe than the recently reviewed Micromega and STR amplifiers, although that may be a reflection of the room correction in both cases as the peaks are trimmed and the bass is lifted away.  In the Supernait you are getting a pure analogue presentation whilst the other two had DSPs controlling the raw output.

Resolution

Resolution is fantastic from the Supernait 3; it’s always ‘Ryan time’ when I think of resolution and Ryan Adams’ Carnegie Hall concerts on vinyl are perfect here.  Using my RP3 into the Phono Stage is remarkable here.  If you listen to the piano version of ‘New York, New York’ the mechanics of the piano can be heard clearly and the edge of the piano in the ‘out-tro’ is rolled off by the vinyl version unlike the digital stream on Tidal.  The Supernait handles both versions transparently, however, it is really impressive.

Phono Stage input

The star of the show here is the MM Phono input, even with an RP3 the resolution is fantastic, as detailed above.  Side 3 of the first night is beautiful, from ‘New York….’ to ‘Sylvia Plath’, blimey, there’s some noise in the background but the soft vinyl eases through the whole album.  I Suspect Stageline sales have had it (I’ve got one), so good is the Phono support here.

Headphone Output

The headphone output from my Naim Uniti 2 and NAC-N 272 have always felt like a bit of an afterthought if I’m honest.  The 272 is OK but you can feel it is slightly lacking, particularly if you’ve been lucky enough to listen to some fabulous headphones, like the Meze Empyreans, with a proper amplifier, like the recent Benchmark HPA4.

Here the headphone output is very satisfactory indeed, the Supernait cuts the volume when you plugin which is fine.  The resolution is top rate and better than my 272, particularly with the Meze Empyrean headphones which really are special.

Naim ND5 XS2

Naim Supernait 3 with ND5 XS2

Naim Supernait 3 with ND5 XS2

The Naim ND5 XS2 is superb as a streaming client but it has a couple of problems.  The App is brilliant (I’ve recently bought a new iPad which helps) and it has been faultless in my set-up, even though I switch between Android and an iPad absentmindedly.

The problem I have with the Naim ND5 XS2 is it has no USB B input for a computer that I can see and I’d like the Chromecast built in to have YouTube support (mine give me various options but YT is not one of them it is one of my favourite things about the Auralic stuff, that you can stream YouTube seamlessly) but since there’s no Qobuz or MQA support anyway from Naim these are the trade-offs with Naim.   It does have Roon, I gather, and will go to a NAS if you have one.  Having said that, the sound quality is consistently fabulous, which is really all that matters.

My usual CD player has packed up so I thought a nice Coax output from an old school Technics SL P350 with more lights and numbers on the screen than a Christmas Tree might do the trick.  And indeed the ND5 does a superb job of processing the Technics ‘transport’.

The Bluetooth via the ND5 XS2 is really very good indeed.  I’ve also had a bice play with my 24-bit recording on a USB stick and the ND5 presents these tracks beautifully.

Kanta No.1

The Kantas have been terrific and complement the Supernait wonderfully.  I suspect the floor-standing Kanta No.2s would be a more suitable partner but the 1s are terrific.  I’ve found the 1s to present a wonderful voluminous sound that is wide and warm.  I’m supporting them with a REL subwoofer because my room is quite empty.  These are fine speakers and I would suggest if you’re budget does not stretch to No.2s the No.1s may do a job for you.  However, the stands made a huge difference to my listening so they are a must, particularly since you screw the speaker to the floor, effectively.

Vertere

Vertere Redline 5 pin din to 5 pin din

As I mentioned, I received the new Vertere Redline DIN-DIN cable to replace the Naim provided interconnector.  After a suitable run-in, the results were remarkable and readily noticeable.  The output is now wider and more subtle and it is a bit disturbing that a meter of cable can produce such a difference.  I’m definitely going to seek out the same interconnector upgrade for my own 272 into my NAP 250.

The Redline series is a new line for Vertere drawing on their top of the range hand-built products, labeled HB.  The Redline series is double shielded with an outer screen braid and a conductive foil, delivering lower noise.

The Press Release goes on to say “Seven independent high-purity copper (not pre-used or reclaimed) conductors per channel of different thicknesses and plating surrounded by low-dialectic constant FEP are utilised per channel. This allows the flexibility of different configurations for different uses. The six (two thin and four thick) signal conductors are silver plated. The thicker dedicated ground conductor is tin-plated.”

Vertere are at pains to note that cables cannot add to performance only take away and their less is more philosophy certainly chimes with my own, but the difference is marked.

Overall

listen to this Supernait 3, it is a real winner

I’ve been an un-ashamed Naim fan-boy for a long time now with the Naim NAC-N 272 being the centre of my happy listening life for several years now.  I’ve always liked the sound of Naim.  Sure, I’ve had my head turned by Moon’s overall softer tone and greater functionality in the product lines but now I’m on the Naim super highway it is very difficult to leave it.  Recently, I had the privilege of trying the Rega Osiris with the new P8 and that was a real treat, I’ve always loved Rega’s analogue signature.

Overall, though, I think if I was starting again this Supernait 3 would get my attention for its sheer analogue quality, long term integration path, and uncompromising approach.  On top of that, it so understated and beautiful, how could you not want to go this way?  With a nice turntable you are on your way to the greatest journey, the audiophile journey, that will drain your bank account whilst delighting your ears for years ahead.  For what it is, this Naim Supernait 3 gets an ‘Outstanding’ award from me.

______________________________________________________

Having recently reviewed the Micromega M150 and the Anthem STR with the same Kanta speakers the obvious question is which one would I choose?  It’s time for a table:

Criteria/Amp

Price £s

Room Correction

Rear Layout

Sound

Style

Onboard DAC

Balanced Input

HFAMS* Award

Anthem STR

5,500

Yes

Best

Superb Balance

Least

Yes

Yes

Outstanding

Supernait 3

3,250

No

Comfortable

Best Rhythm

Cool

No

No

Outstanding

Micromega M150

4,000

Yes

Cramped

Power

Stylish

Yes

Yes

Highly Recommended

*hifiandmusicsource.com award

I think you can see that the Naim Supernait 3 is a great value uncompromised analogue solution.  Obviously the M150 and the STR have the added benefit of an on board DSP that may offer you the value you might be looking for.  Although I would always prefer a separate DAC solution,, mainly for future proof reasons.  You could even argue, with yourself as you probably are crazy too, that this Naim Supernait 3 with a Naim ND5 XS2 (at £2,299) would be a better value solution for the longer term.  If you get the chance and you have the budget and you have a friendly HiFi retailer still in your local town, listen to this Supernait 3, it is a real winner.

Love 

Analogue perfection

The uncompromised, understated look

Rhythm

Vertere Redline interconnect

Like 

Less is more

Naim Glowing Greenlight

Wish 

Always dreaming

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