This quirky but modern streaming system delivers stellar-sounding performance

KEF R3 Meta, Roksan Blak, Naim ND5 XS 2 on grey background
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Now we are the first to admit that, on the face of it, this lovely premium streaming system is a little unconventional. Why not pair the Naim streamer with a Naim amplifier, we hear you ask? After all, it’s well-known that we are huge fans of the Salisbury-based company’s products.

Well, you wouldn’t go wrong with that match-up, it’s true; but in this instance, besides attempting to show that there are more answers to a conundrum than purely the most transparent solution, we decided to go with an amp that will match up brilliantly with the speakers in this system, rather than simply the source. It’s a bit horses for courses, perhaps, but this quirky set-up does a brilliant job while being a little less than obvious. Which we rather enjoy.

The system

What is undeniable, whatever your thoughts about the make up of the system, is that all three of these components are stellar performers in their own right. 

Music streamer: Naim ND5 XS 2

Naim ND5 XS 2

(Image credit: Naim)

Starting with the source, despite its relatively advanced years now, the Naim ND5 XS 2 remains simply the best-sounding streamer we have heard at this level by a mile. It’s a back-to-basics model that just sounds really good. Naim calls it its “entry-level” streamer, which is true in the respect that it is the least expensive dedicated streamer from the company that you can buy; but it’s still two and a half grand, so the description isn’t necessarily the most conventionally accurate there could be. 

There are four digital inputs – a pair of optical, one coaxial RCA and a coaxial BNC – and RCA and five-pin DIN analogue audio outputs, alongside another USB Type-A socket and terminals for Ethernet cable, Bluetooth and dual-band wi-fi aerials. 

Of course, there is plenty else built-in for your streaming needs, including Chromecast, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect. The ND5 XS 2 is UPnP enabled, so it can stream files up to 32-bit/384kHz from any outboard NAS device or home computer stored on the same network.

Naim products have a tendency to take some time before really sounding their best, so we urge you to give the ND5 XS 2 a fair chance of getting up to speed; while a day or two of running in will iron out any creases, the sound can continue improving over a number of months, with initially subtle enhancements eventually leading to noticeable sonic gains.

You’re unlikely to be disappointed with this streamer even straight from the box, but be aware you might not experience its full potential for some time after its purchase. 

It is unmistakeably a Naim product: tonally it is even, with the ability to dig deep into bass frequencies with ease and tempering that with rich and insightful mids and treble. It possesses that neutrality required to paint an honest picture of a track, refusing to force its own presentation simply to catch the listener’s ear. The ND5 XS 2 is as masterful at conveying timbre as anything you could hope to find for this kind of money. 

Naim has proven again the possibility of providing truly great sound irrespective of genre.

Integrated amplifier: Roksan Blak

Roksan Blak integrated amplifier on black shelf with books

(Image credit: Roksan)

Now we come to that, on the face of it, vaguely controversial amplifier choice. The Roksan Blak – a former What Hi-Fi? Award-winner at this price – is a fully equipped unit that can connect to your computer, smartphone, turntable and headphones. Balanced XLR and three RCA line level inputs join a USB Type B digital input that will cope with 24-bit/192kHz PCM as well as DSD music files. A moving magnet phono stage is included, while the Blak has embraced aptX Bluetooth connectivity, too.

It’s a hefty amplifier in every respect, weighing in at 14kg and rated at 150W per channel into an 8-ohm load. 

And, in keeping with those beefy numbers, it delivers a large-scale sound positively brimming with authority and power. Those big numbers for power delivery mean the Blak is never particularly flustered and sounds completely at ease even when music becomes particularly demanding. At the top end, there’s plenty of bite, but enough in the way of refinement to stop things from getting too aggressive; while low frequencies are punched out with textured ease. 

In our review of the Roksan, we conclude: “The Blak amplifier is superbly judged. It has a powerful and energetic sound, with enough in the way of insight, subtlety and refinement to keep us happy.” Which makes it perfect for the speakers in this wonderful system.

Stereo speakers: KEF R3 Meta

Standmounted speakers: KEF R3 Meta

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

We were big fans of the original R3, but the addition of KEF’s innovative metamaterial absorption technology (MAT) has taken all those strengths and turned them up to 11. KEF claims that the puck-sized MAT (made up of 30 tubes, each designed to absorb a particular high frequency) absorbs 99 per cent of the distorting sound waves that come from the back of the speaker’s tweeter. The result? Less distortion, clearer highs. And it works better than, on paper, it has any right to, making a huge difference to the sound. 

The R3 Meta speakers simply flow with every type of music thrown at them. The even tonal balance and insight we liked so much in the also-excellent LS50 Meta (and the older R3s) are present here, but with an additional layer of refinement, weight and openness that is instantly apparent.

The KEF speakers don’t simply grab your attention from the start, they keep the momentum going over long periods of listening. The soundstage is wide open, giving breathing space to complex arrangements as well as, say, sparser piano pieces, where you can get lost in the meditative, melancholy composition. What is remarkable is the amount of detail and texture the R3 Meta manage to eke out of every song. As we say in our review: “Agnes Obel’s intimate, otherworldly vocals on her Aventine album come through crystal clear and beautifully nuanced. It’s an elegant, affecting performance.

“The initial pluckings of the violin and cello strings in Obel’s The Curse, the weight of the bow across the strings – there’s a convincing sense of depth and richness to each instrument, rendering them so three-dimensional in our listening room.”

KEF’s traditional Uni-Q driver array design, with the tweeter placed at the centre of the midrange driver, means that the acoustic centre is the same for the tweeter and midrange; which in turn means the sound seems to be coming from the same point. That integration is key to the R3 Meta’s musically cohesive performance, and it is further bolstered by the dedicated bass driver that adds a whole extra layer of spaciousness and deeper bass. 

That results in a sound that has authority, solidity and sounds of a piece, but is also dynamic and agile. Every note is etched with precision and the timing is spot on. 

But, most importantly, as well as being so impressive with their refinement and precision, the KEFs also sound so much fun. Songs we have not played in a long while win us over with an energy and playfulness that’s infectious. 

The verdict

That all-round sonic ability blends perfectly with the Roksan amplifier, which makes the very most of the speakers’ bass scale and authority. 

Combine that synergy with the all-round brilliance of the Naim source, and here you have a sublime premium streaming system that, while not a conventional pairing of kit, has to be heard to be appreciated.


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Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.