Naim’s original Nait XS was introduced in 2008. It was designed as a step up from the basic Nait integrated amp and offered improved sound and greater grunt from a similarly slimline package.
A decade on it was revised for a second time by Naim’s engineers, and the result is the XS 3 we have on test here. Looks familiar, doesn’t it? That revision turns out to be light, with the previously line-level amplifier gaining a moving-magnet phono stage and undergoing a tweak in the power amp circuitry to improve its responsiveness.
It’s somewhat of a surprise to find that digital inputs and Bluetooth aren’t on the menu. Naim would argue that an outboard DAC would be a better solution, and at least that way the analogue performance doesn’t suffer and the price doesn’t change too much.
The new phono circuit is made up of three stages – a gain stage, passive equalisation and final gain and active equalisation. The idea is to minimise noise while delivering plenty of dynamic headroom.
The equalisation curve chosen is custom, treading the path between traditional RIAA and the IEC alternative. The aim is to deliver a good bass performance combined with enough low-end roll-off to avoid rumble spoiling the sound.
Elsewhere everything else remains unchanged. There is still the choice of stereo RCA or Naim’s preferred DIN sockets for the four line-level inputs and the option to split the pre and power sections should you want to improve performance by slotting in something more sophisticated for either part. The supplied system remote is basic but easy to use.
As is usual for Naim products, you can add an outboard power supply – the FlatCap XS (£999, AU$2100), Hi-Cap DR (£1499, AU$3300) or SuperCap DR (£4849, AU$10,000) – to improve the performance. While we can’t imagine there’ll be many systems that have the Nait XS3 coupled to either of the pricier options, the FlatCap XS would be tempting in the longer term.
Take a look inside that crisp but solid casework and you’ll find immaculately assembled audio circuitry fed by a generous power-supply section. Great care has been taken in reducing the degrading effect of outside interference and unwanted interactions between components.
We’re impressed by the attention to detail here. It drills right the way down to the shaping of connecting wiring and the exact number and placement of the tie clips used to hold it in place. Yes, it’s true that someone at Naim does indeed sit down and listen to the difference these things make.
The commitment to getting things right is obvious when we listen to the product. We’ve always liked the Nait XS and there’s nothing we hear in this third-generation model that changes our mind.
Compared with the last generation, and thanks to those tweaks in the power-amp circuitry, the ’3 sounds a little crisper and more agile. The differences aren’t massive, and certainly not of the order that we would suggest that an owner of a previous generation upgrade to this one. But, they’re enough to keep Naim at the cutting edge of performance at this price.
Seeing that the moving-magnet phono stage is the big news here it seems the right place to start. We fit a Goldring 1042 MM cartridge to our reference Technic SL-1000R and enjoy the likes of Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and Beethoven over the next few hours.
It’s pretty common to find that built-in phono stages aren’t particularly good. They tend to be included as a box-ticking exercise with little regard to getting the best performance. The circuit in the XS 3 bucks that trend with a detailed and punchy performance that brims with energy and interest. It’s relatively quiet too.
We move to the line inputs and the Nait continues to impress with a combination of insight, dynamic subtlety and rhythmic drive that’s hard to better at this level. Pricier rivals such as Roksan’s Blak offer more in the way of outright authority and bass grunt, delivering a sense of scale and an expansive stereo image that the Naim can’t match, but it’s not just one-way traffic.
Power output 2 x 70W
Line-level inputs 4
Phono stage MM
Tape loops 0
Preamp out Yes
Headphone out Yes
Tone controls No
Dimensions (hwd) 7 x 43 x 30cm
The Nait sounds more energetic and entertaining. It takes the multitude of musical strands in Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa and combines them to deliver a musical and emotionally absorbing performance. Detail resolution is good, but it’s the amplifier’s ability to assemble all that information into a cohesive whole that really impresses.
There’s a generous dose of dynamics, the Naim tracking the slow-build of the music well. The result is composed too, with a good degree of refinement when required.
We switch to Neneh Cherry’s Blank Project and love the way this amp tracks the album’s complex rhythms. There’s a proper sense of momentum to Spit Three Times and plenty of punch when the music demands. Yet, alongside the bombast there’s also finesse. Cherry’s voice is nicely focussed and comes with nuance and passion.
The story is equally positive though the front-panel 6.3mm headphone output. We try a range of headphones from the Beyerdynamic T1 to the Grado SR325e without issue. This output retains the enthusiasm and insight we hear through the speaker outputs, and that’s not always a given.
The Nait XS 3 is a fit-and-forget product in the best sense. It slots into your system and does exactly what you want it to, and that’s deliver the music with emotional impact intact. We can’t ask any more of an amplifier than that.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5