Naim is rightly proud of its ND 555 music streamer. It’s the first of the company’s streaming products to gain 500 series status, and in Naim speak that means it’s the very best it makes right now.
The ND 555 is claimed to be a ground-up new design, but still focuses on evolutionary thinking rather than trying to reinvent anything. Considering the success the company has had with such an approach over the decades, that’s no bad thing.
If you spend £13k on a music streamer, you’d expect it to work straight from the box. But that’s not the case here, as the ND 555 doesn’t have a built-in power supply. You’ll need to add at least one of the company’s 555 PS DR outboard power units and that costs another £7k. You can add another if you’re really feeling flush, and the claim is of another performance lift.
So what we really have here (in base form) is a £20,000 music streamer, and you know what? We love it.
Naim has been at the forefront of hi-fi streaming for years. It invested in the technology early, when most rivals, apart from Linn, hedged their bets. It has continued to pour resources into R&D to make sure it stays at the leading edge.
Not only do the streaming products themselves need continuous development to keep pace with new technologies, but the control app also demands regular attention to keep on top of changes. While not perfect, Naim’s control app remains one of the better examples of such software.
Bluetooth type aptX HD
USB 2x USB Type A
Analogue 1x RCA pair 1x 5-pin DIN
Dimensions (hwd) 8.7 x 43 x 31.4cm
Power consumption 25W
Display 5in colour LCD
The basic digital streaming module used in this player is essentially the same as that used in the company’s other streaming products, and first appeared in the revised Uniti range back in 2017 and then filtered into the new Mu-so wireless speakers afterwards.
So, essentially, this £20k high-end hi-fi streamer is using the same streaming module as a grand’s worth of wireless speaker, but here everything from the product’s structural design to the sophisticated power supply arrangement and purist analogue audio circuitry helps to get the very best sound possible.
Take a look at the ND 555 in the metal and there’s little to get excited about. It looks pretty much like most Naim premium electronics. While that’s not a bad thing, it certainly isn’t likely to grab attention on a crowded shop floor.
The 5in TFT colour screen is a handy upgrade from the previous generation of products, but the control count is deliberately kept low to keep the appearance clean and uncluttered. Of course, most people will use the dedicated app to control the unit on a day-to-day basis rather than the front panel buttons.
Take a look inside and things start to impress a lot more. The company has always taken a great deal of pride in its circuit design and it’s thrown the book at this range-topper.
Care has been taken to isolate the main circuit board from external vibrations by using a specially tuned leaf spring suspension system that keeps out this unwanted mechanical energy. There’s even a fresh look at the way digital data is transmitted around the circuit board. LVDS (low voltage differential signalling) is used to ensure lower levels of electromagnetic radiation are generated as the signal flows.
The digital and analogue sections of the circuit are separated as far as possible, to avoid unwanted interactions spoiling the overall sound. That involves a lot of shielding as well as careful placement of the various modules inside the chassis.
Power supply regulation has always been a Naim priority and here it is taken to an extreme with no fewer than 13 of the company’s highly effect DR regulators used to ensure that every part of the circuitry receives a clean, stable and low noise power feed.
The likes of Chord make a big song and dance about using FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) loaded with in-house software to do the digital-to-analogue conversion duties. This approach can yield excellent results, but it’s not the only way to great sound. Naim sticks to the traditional approach of using an off-the-shelf number cruncher, Burr Brown’s highly regarded PCM1704, and dedicates one per channel.
This Burr Brown DAC chip isn’t inherently compatible with DSD data streams, so the ND 555 converts such files to PCM prior to conversion. Some purists may object to this approach, preferring to keep DSD in its native state throughout, but we’re more interested in the final results than the mechanics.
We have no issue with the range of file types this Naim will handle though. It’ll happily accept up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM files and play up to DSD128 streams.
Elsewhere this remains a really accommodating player. Bluetooth in higher quality aptX HD form is included, as is Chromecast. Tidal and Spotify Connect are embedded, and Apple Airplay, Roon compatibility and the ability to work as part of a Naim-based multiroom set-up are also on the menu.
Look around the back and you’ll find Naim’s traditional Din output alongside the more conventional RCA alternative. In our system the Din option always sounds better. Elsewhere you’ll find a pair of aerial sockets for wireless networking (to the IEEE 802.11ac standard) and another for Bluetooth.
There are digital inputs too – pairs of optical and coaxs – the latter offering the choice of both RCA and Naim’s preferred BNC option. Two USBs complete the list with one each on the front and rear panels. We can’t think of a situation where an ND 555 is likely to be caught short in a typical stereo set-up.
Given a little while to settle, the ND 555 turns in a terrific performance. While it’s a clear step better than anything the company has managed before, there remains much in its sonic character that will be familiar to regular Naim users. Essentially, the presentation is direct, punchy and organised with a musical cohesion few rivals can match.
The xx’s debut album is a brilliantly conceived set with stripped back production that puts the group’s vocals centre-stage. This album is built on a foundation of insistent rhythms and dramatic uses of silence. This is food and drink for the Naim. It has the ability to convey the jumpy momentum of My Heart Skipped A Beat brilliantly with a confident handling of timing that we haven’t heard from a streaming product before. The group’s low-key vocals come through with intimacy intact. Voices are beautifully textured and delivered a full dose of emotional impact.
Moving to Massive Attack’s Angel confirms the Naim’s rhythmic credentials while underlining its punch. Bass notes are superbly defined and rendered with considerable authority and weight. Importantly, the ND 555 doesn’t forgo any low-frequency agility for all this muscle.
We’re impressed by the player’s composure too. It remains unfazed by complexity and is able to track a multitude of instrumental strands while still making the final result sound like a cohesive whole. This is a component that’s happy to help you analyse a recording but is equally comfortable when you simply want to sit back and enjoy it. There aren’t many rivals that are as flexible in their character.
Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring shows off the Naim’s expressive dynamics, its ability to deliver a full force of a crescendo with composure and its natural tonality. The ND 555 has a convincingly full-bodied sound that studiously avoids sounding soft or polite. Instruments and voices are rendered with convincing timbres, so much so we never question what the player gives us in this respect.
We’re pleased by the Naim’s solid and precise stereo imaging too. It lays out the orchestra before us in a nicely layered and precise manner. Instruments are locked into the soundstage with conviction and stay there no matter how demanding the music gets. It’s an excellent performance.
Naim’s range-topping streamer was never going to be cheap, but it is difficult to escape the fact that the ND555/ 555 PS DR comes with a £20k price tag. Yet, having used it for a number of months, we can honestly say we haven’t come across a better digital streaming source.
We rate the ND555/555PS combination so highly it’s become a vital part of our reference set-up – and we can’t give it a better recommendation than that.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read all our Naim reviews