What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Tue, 13 Jan 2009, 1:00pm

Naim Nait XS

Tested at £1495
100100
5

Sacrifice a smidge of detail for musicality and you've got the Naim - it's an easy amplifier to love

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For

  • Brilliantly cohesive, balanced and downright musical performance
  • not lacking get-up-and- go
  • upgradability
  • excellent build

Against

  • Loses grip on the deepest bass
  • its Cyrus 8 XP rival performs even better

This is probably our favourite integrated amplifier from Naim. Sure, the company's cheaper 5i model represents brilliant value for money, but the step-up here is a significant one.

And while you might miss the bells and whistles of the high-end SuperNait (i.e. the DAC and headphone output), sonically the XS isn't a million miles behind.

It may sound strange, but the Naim's strength is its sheer musicality. This amplifier encourages you to listen to a track as a whole, rather than analyse different musical elements.

So although it's possible to talk about how the multiple guitar strands intertwine throughout Wilco's One Wing, what's more important is how harmonious and cohesive the overall composition is – a result of excellent timing and tonal balance.

Listen to Bizet's Carmen Suite No 2 and the theme continues. It's fair to say that the Naim doesn't have the sheer clarity and precision of the Cyrus 8 XP, but its ability to find the essence of a track is uncanny, brilliantly conveying the ebb and flow, as well as the dynamic tension.

Naim delivers on sonic thrills
Even though it can't quite match the Cyrus for attack, it's still a very forthright performer, and this combines with added weight and scale to produce an always-thrilling performance.

Anyone partial to rock or classical music will be particularly happy, but the Naim is able to turn its hand to delicacy, too, recreating the vocals on Adele's Daydreamer with emotive nuance and clarity.

In fact, this is perhaps one the most flexible amplifier we've tested – it's well-suited to all genres of music, and will even have a good go at flattering a poor recording.

The only real criticism we can aim at the XS is a slight lack of control at the very bottom of the frequency range. Where something like the Roksan Caspian M-Series keeps its bass delivery tight, right down to the almost sub-sonic depths of The Dark Knight soundtrack, the Naim loosens its grip just a little too much.

An easy product to love
Even so, taken as a whole the Nait XS is an easy product to love, and when you factor in upgradability, Naim's excellent service department, understated looks and excellent build quality, it's easy to mount a
case for the slimline, matt-black box.

In the end the Cyrus wins out by dint of its astonishing transparency and precision, but if that's just a
little too analytical for your tastes, sit back and enjoy the XS.

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