Best DAC £1000+, Awards 2013. A stunning all-round performance from what is arguably Naim’s best DAC yetWrite your own review
- Great build
- Incredible sound
- Supports high sample rates
- Brilliant headphone amp
- Slightly more rounded at the top-end than rivals
Naim has taken its sweet time to enter the world of ones and zeros, waiting an age to release its first CD player (the company simply felt the format wasn’t up to scratch in its infancy).
It didn’t hang around when it came to producing its first streamer, but oddly its first DAC (which came out in 2009) and this desktop box were rather a long time coming. Better late than never, though.
MORE: Awards 2013
Naim DAC-V1 review: design
The V-1’s distinctive green and black styling and shoebox design makes it immediately recognisable as a Naim product and, with its aluminium shell and OLED display, it’s finished to the high standard we’ve come to expect.
It’s actually the second DAC from the company, but the first that also works as a headphone amp for desktop listening. To that end it features an asynchronous USB port for connecting directly to a laptop. This lets the DAC control the information flow from the laptop rather than vice versa, reducing jitter and theoretically resulting in better sound.
As with some other products we've tested recently, such as the Audiolab M-DAC and Musical Fidelity M1 SDAC, it also works as a preamp; there are two coaxial and two optical inputs and one BNC for hooking up sources.
These five ports can handle music up to 24-bit/196kHz, while the USB port is capable of a whopping 24-bit/384kHz. Music at this ulta-high resolution isn’t yet widely available, but at least your kit will be futureproofed if it ever is.
As well as being able to handle hi-res audio, the Naim has been designed to ensure it's getting exactly the right data from a computer source: there's a 'bitperfect' test routine built-in, and Naim offers a sequence of files for download to allow the DAC to check accurate data transmission.
Naim DAC-V1 review: performance
There have been few sacrifices made here – everything has been done with the aim of getting the best possible sound. And by Jove, it shows.
Naim fans will be pleased to hear the company’s signature presentation, which balances the ability to be hard-driving, focused and dramatic with the subtlety and finesse needed to handle more delicate pieces of music.
There are layers upon layers of detail here, and the Naim offers a transparency that allows you to hear each part with superb clarity, all while making it feel very much part of a whole. There’s a rhythmic connection that ties it all together in a very fluid and natural manner, so nothing ever feels clinical or disjointed.
Play Eminem’s Who Knew, and you can immediately hear the low-end power behind the DAC V-1, while its strong rhythmic ability manages to keep the track light on its feet. There’s good dynamic ability too, and the texture on offer means the vocals sound appropriately venomous.
It’s a good sign when we find ourselves listening to whole albums rather than individual songs during testing, and so it proved here.
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A 24-bit/192kHz recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is a perfect example of the benefits of using high-res audio with quality kit. It sounds stunning, offering stacks of detail and a real feeling of space, with top-drawer dynamics capable of providing the drama the composer would have sought.
So while it might have taken its time in arriving, the Naim DAC V-1 has been undoubtedly worth the wait.
Naim DAC-V1 review: verdict
At £1250, it’s certainly not cheap, but the pure musical satisfaction you’ll get from every track you play makes it worth every penny.