Naim for Bentley - if it sounds good here...
It's a common enough grizzle: "you can't really tell how a system sounds at a show," writes Andrew Everard. But even by the standards of most hi-fi shows, the location in which I've just spent an hour or so listening to Naim's new system was, on the face of it, less than promising.
After all, we were in a car. Without a roof. On a motor show stand. With all the hullabaloo of new car launches going on on stands all around.
So it's greatly to the credit of both Naim and the Bentley people that the new 'Naim for Bentley' system, to appear in the Crewe company's option list soon, and due to be available across the range by the end of the year, sounds remarkably impressive on first listen.
I have to declare a bit of an interest here, as I've been following the progress of the Naim for Bentley project since it was still 'Naim Hopefully for Bentley'. The first time I became aware of the project it was in a garage space at the back of the Naim car park housing a couple of dusty cars. Inside them, systems were being developed and tuned as part of the 'pitch' to the luxury motor company.
Now it's all set to go, with Bentley's Senior Engineer - Infotainment Mike Hanks (left, with the Naim for Bentley amplifier unit) explaining that the only problem now is stopping the Naim guys continuously twiddling with the fiendishly complex digital signal processing! Apparently they get one more crack at it just before the project goes totally live for customers to buy.
That's the system able not only to keep a consistent sound regardless of the speed of the vehicle, but tune the sound for any area of the car, or any type of listening material.
In the installation we saw, in the convertible Continental GTC, it can also compensate for whether or not the roof is up. Oh, and in all the models there's also a mode designed to give maximum impact and excitement, while there's even talk of an option to have custom-tuned equalisation packages for specific buyers.
That, I imagine, will play rather well with some of the company's customers - the kind who earn a crust on Saturday afternoons running around a piece of grass with 21 other blokes and a man with red and yellow cards and a whistle in his top pocket.
Naim's Steve Sells gave us a brief demonstration of just how the DSP can be used to alter the sound of any speaker in the car – up to 15, depending on the model - in the cool, fine-sounding Naim demonstration room built in the press/VIP area of the Bentley stand at this week's Geneva Motor Show.
That was after we actually managed to get into the room - it seems the Bentley chairman decided he preferred the calming music and effective air-conditioning in the Naim room to the ambience of the purpose-built meeting room at his disposal alongside!
He had a point: whether from CD or the NaimNET server installed in the room, the set-up sounded very good indeed, and would have put the demonstration rooms at many a hi-fi show to shame.
Despite some misgivings by the Bentley top brass about actually demonstrating the Naim system in the Blue Continental GTC taking centre-stage out on the stand, the decision by the super-enthusiastic Hanks to give us a spin of a disc or two paid off.
We had a sit in the car, played some music and tried some of the equalisation settings, including the 'Naim Audiophile' one, and all seemed pretty pleased with what we heard. All the settings are accessed using the screen (below) on the dashboard, and the Naim audio system is of course fully integrated with all the other information and communications systems in the car.
And the decision to give the system a blast for a handful of somewhat scruffy hi-fi journos seems to have attracted the attention of some of the existing and potential customers visiting the stand on what was a press and VIPs day. At least one visitor asked if the system could be fitted in his existing car – no. not his Veyron, his Bentley.
It can't, due to its complexity and the fact that the 1100w amp unit draws a not inconsiderable 90amps from the car's wiring harness. On hearing it couldn't, and having also had a listen to the Naim room, the problem was solved.
He was apparently last seen making definite "where do I sign?" noises.
No wonder Naim seems confident that quite a lot of customers will tick the 'Naim for Bentley' box having heard the system. And with Bentley selling just over 10,000 of its handcrafted cars last year, that looks like some very serious business coming Naim's way.