Friday, 15 June 2018

Naim ND555 - New Top of the Range Streamer - First Listen

Had the pleasure of the comparison between NDS and ND555 at Acoustica this evening.

System was Core / NAC552 / 300DR into B&W 803D3 with SuperLumina throughout.  NDS / 555DR vs ND555 / 555DR swapping the interconnect between the sources (hence keeping the same input on the pre).  All electronics on Fraim.  Chord C-Stream for ethernet.  Nice to see the continuation of the green logo.  The ND555 and its 555DR PS are on the top shelves in the picture above.  Thankfully, we didn't have to suffer more of the upper range of Focal speakers today.

The ND555 is an evolution of the NDS.  It uses the same B-B DAC but with a different power supply design.  In fact, as you might expect from Naim, there are a number of power supply changes inside the ND555.  Each "stage" (digital, analogue, clock) has its own dedicated and DR fed power supply inside the box (in addition to DR in the physically separate 555PS of course).  The digital section is similar to the new platform in the Uniti range and therefore supports the latest stuff such as Roon.  It is housed in its own dedicated metal box which "floats" inside the ND555's main case - it is mechanically and electrically isolated from the DAC and analogue stages which themselves sit on suspended thick brass plates.  The screen is also shielded internally.  There was also an explanation about how there are two clocks - an input clock that can vary its timing to match the incoming data feed and a second clock to time the DAC.  Not sure about this and how that's a benefit when there's a buffer involved, but there you go.  "Normal" Naim Burndy cables are provided with the ND555 for connection to the power supply (or supplies as there is an option to use 2x 555PS units with the ND555).
Although I'm not a big fan of the B&Ws, this was probably the best I've heard from them.  They have a slightly un-natural treble and a squidgy bass that doesn't appeal to me.  A little boom caused by the room too, but it wasn't excessive nor overwhelming. NDS first of course, then we swapped between the 2 sources a few times before settling in to a longer listen to the ND555.  Jason from Naim was looking after the demo.
First thing to say is that the NDS doesn't "sound broken".  It does a great job, just as it has done for a long while now.  We started with an acoustic guitar track then onto a trio of female folk singers listening to the NDS.  The trio was then played again for 40 seconds or so before switching over to the ND555 and listening to the same track again.  We selected some Shelby Lynne and repeated the process.
Its not a "gob smacking" change for me - its more subtle than that, but that shouldn't de-value the size of the upgrade, its just that you have to think about it rather than have it fed to you on a plate.  The instruments most definitely separate more clearly, the edges of notes are better defined without being edgy, you can hear more of the way in which a note is plucked on a string or how a bass line starts and stops more clearly.  Yet these more clearly defined instruments don't stand alone as the timing seems more coherent, enabling them to make better sense of the "whole" of the tune.  But the biggest impact for me was the added emotional element, particularly in Shelby Lynne's voice.  That was what stood out for me, once we'd settled into the changes.
Worth a longer audition at home, whilst the VFM, as ever, continues to be a personal choice of course.
Thanks to Acoustica and Jason for a very effective and relaxed dem.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Acoustica Chester Show, April 2018

Its come around again - Chester dealer Acoustica's nice little show at the DoubleTree hotel on the outskirts of the city.

A sample of previous reports here:
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/chester-hifi-show-2017-naim-kudos-t-707.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/chester-hifi-show-2017-naim-uniti.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/chester-hifi-show-2017-naim-snaxo-and.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/chester-acoustica-show-march-2015-kudos.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/chester-acoustica-show-march-2015-naim.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/chester-show-2014-chord.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/chester-show-2014-rega.html
http://audiophilemusings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/chester-hifi-show-march-2013-review.html

Acoustica is well known as one of the leading Naim dealers in the UK.  It should come as no surprise then that many of the rooms at the show feature Naim sources and amplification - often only the speakers are the differentiating factor.  There's a decent smattering of other manufacturers too.  The hotel features a number of decent rooms in the original building, with other systems in hotel bedrooms - some of which are a reasonable size, some very small indeed.  Let's get stuck in.

You can click on the images to see a larger version.

Naim ND/555/252/500 and some more power supplies plus the Focal Utopias (I think they are the Maestro Evos) on Fraim and connected by SuperLumina

Positioned in the large function room, this year the system was set up firing across the room, aiming towards the section that has the low ceiling.  The main part of the room has a very high, vaulted ceiling which really is a major challenge for any system.  I can't recall this room being used in recent years, but 5 years ago, with active Ovator 800s firing down the length of the room, it wasn't a great result.

Behind the main listening area here 3 podiums with kit on the top of each - the new "classic" range of streamers.  Unfortunately they weren't in use, but it was nice to see them with the lids off.  They have a mix of surface mount, microchip and tradition pin-through components - as the range progresses from ND5 XS 2 to NDX 2 to ND555, the more traditional components you see.  The ND555 has 2 "floating" brass boards, supporting the main circuit boards - with the digital stuff in its own physically separated and boxed area.  The NDX 2 had a loose yellow wire taped up at each end, so these are clearly late prototypes. A quick word with the Naim team reveals that a production ready small batch has been built and these are going through final comparative testing and tweaking.  June possibly?  Taking them out of the batch testing process for a show delays the testing process too much, so they weren't there on demo.

ND555

ND555
NDX 2

ND5 XS 2


So how was the system?  Well NDS/252 and 500 with the usual array of power supplies were feeding Focal Maestros in a rather natty metallic mid-blue, all hooked up with SuperLumina cables.  We listened to 5 tracks in the room, all of them fairly simple acoustic or jazz music.  The 3rd row of seats were suffering from some room boom so moving forward a row helped.  This system delivers quite a lot of detail but its all very disjointed and "bitty", with no real imaging - both speakers were very clearly the source of the sound.  We didn't hear any complex music, which is usually a challenge with these speakers.  Anyway, in this combination, in this room, there's no real evidence of the benefit of £100k of hifi.



NAIM and Dynaudio 40th Anniversary Specials


A nice big pile of Naim electronics.  I think the streamer was an NDS/555 with 252/PS and the amp was a 300DR with its PS.  All Fraimed of course.  This system was in the largest of the dem rooms upstairs in the original building - normally we've heard top end electronics with various Focal Utopias in this room, but this year, we didn't need to walk out in relief like those previous years.

Here the little standmounts were doing a decent job in such a large room.  I think they did the electronics justice from a detail resolution perspective - pretty musical too.  They do a decent job on the bass too.  But there was something odd about the imaging - sometimes it was there, sometimes it was lost.  Curious.  Having heard them sounding pretty good at Bristol, they're probably worth further investigation if that's they type of speaker and price you're considering.




NAIM Electronics with B&W 803D3

Normally, I'd expect to be writing "detailed if a little clinical top end and mids, with warm slightly over-blown bass".  Not this time.  Apologies, I never found out what the electronics were in this system, but we weren't in the room long enough to find out.  This system was hard, harsh, piercing and just intolerable.  We had to leave the room.  Surely there was something wrong here???

NAIM 272/555, 300DR, Kudos Titan 505


Well, another Acoustica show and another no-show for the SNAXO active crossover.  Very frustrating for Kudos I would expect.  But no matter, because there was good news in this room anyway.  The "baby" of the Titan range, which debuted at Bristol in February 2018, was making its first showing at the Chester show.  All the electronics were brand new on Friday night and those who know Naim know that there will be more to come from this system once the electronics have some hours on them.
Its really that not easy to describe what the Titan family does so well, but its still present here in the little standmounts.  They kick well above their size with a good, solid, tight sound, making the best of what seems to be the best room at the show.  As I've only heard the other Titans with higher end Naim and Linn electronics, its difficult to tell what's down to the speakers and what's down to the electronics, but these Titans were a little less detailed than previous listens.  But the musicality, the sheer joy of listening is still there.  Good result.

LEEMA SIRIUS II, TUCANA AND ATC SCM 50 PASSIVE


Pretty much the same system as Leema played at Bristol this year, and pretty much the same result - nice enough, rather polite, no glaring problems.  This version of the speaker has a cabinet that doesn't require a stand - apparently the lowest part of the cabinet is not included in part of the cabinet that contains the drivers, so its essentially the same as the cabinet that benefits from the short stands.

NAIM ELECTRONICS AND RUSSELL K




Russell K were demonstrating some prototype floorstanding speakers, due for lauch in September or so this year.  I hope there's a lot more development work to come.  Despite finding previous Russell K speakers lively and reasonably enjoyable, these have a long way to go to be even remotely interesting.  Top end percussion sounded like someone randomly dropping teaspoons onto a splash cymbal and there was no real bass to note - even when moving around the room to make sure it wasn't the effect of a null.  At this point, they're not worth anywhere near their projected £6k.

PROJECT CLASSIC TURNTABLE, PROJECT BOX ELECTRONICS, PROJECT BOX 10 SPEAKERS



I rather enjoyed this diminutive little system.  I think it was the only turntable in use, at least, it was the only one I heard in action this weekend.  This system was nicely engaging with no real issues of note and the extremely slim little £900 speakers were doing a decent job.  Good to see a manufacturer demonstrating something suitable for the room size available...

HEGEL ALL-IN-ONE AND DYNAUDIO CONTOURS


Having heard this little all-in-one at Bristol with tiny Amphion speakers, it was interesting to see how it fared today with a more substantial standmount speaker.  And it was reasonably engaging, reasonably detailed and had a good grip on the music.   It didn't have the same "wow" factor that these electronics delivered through the tiny Amphions, its still a decent sounding system.  Both boxes look very modern and well finished.

AURALIC ALL-IN-ONE AND SPENDOR A3 SPEAKERS


Another nicely made little box of tricks here - the Auralic combining storage, streaming, pre-amp and power-amp in a very small space.  Here they were feeding the new A3 speakers from Spendor.  I've been critical of recent encounters with the more expensive D series speakers from this manufacturer - too safe, too smooth, a little dull.  But the A3s are differently voiced and are quite a bit of fun to listen to, having more life and dynamics.  Nicely done in this system.  Curiously though, no seats provided in this room, so crouching was required to get a decent idea of what was going on.  Odd.

MARK LEVINSON ELECTRONICS AND REVEL SPEAKERS


Here we had £30k of electronics into £3k standmounts, in a small room.  So the standmounts were probably a good idea as there was little to no boom in here.  Lots of detail, very good imaging, but no real musical or emotional involvement in the music.  Odd choice of components.  Note the new Arcam electronics on the rack at the top - unfortunately they weren't being demonstrated when we were in the room, but apparently were in action later. Shame to miss them and they might have been a better mix with the little Revels.

INNUOS SERVER, LEEMA ELECTRONICS, KUDOS TITAN 606 SPEAKERS




Audiophile Musings awarded the "Sound of The Show" to these speakers at the Bristol Show 2018.  Here, the Leema electronics weren't quite up to the standard of the Linn Exakt electronics at Bristol, the combination here sounding a little thinner and brighter.  Not a bad system though.

 ATC CDP/PRE-AMP/STREAMER AND ACTIVE SCM100A SPEAKERS


 Large, that's what they are, and the styling's not so subtle either.  I think this system was playing too quietly.  It was OK, but I suppose I was expecting a more, given the imposing visuals.  Again, a system with large bass drivers that don't move very much is a little disappointing - it seems, from experience, that smaller drivers that move more a more "friendly" sounding, and better suited to a domestic environment.

NAIM ELECTRONICS AND ATC SCM50 PASSIVE


This combination made for a much more lively, engaging kind of musical presentation compared to the active floorstanding versions of these speakers.  Worth further investigation


AURALIC VEGA WITH ATC SCM40A ACTIVE SPEAKERS


Diminutive little Auralic streamer and DAC/pre-amp feeding into ATC's smallest floorstander, the active SCM40A (thankfully, without their hideous chicken wire grilles).  Well this was a great sounding system - lively without being harsh, detailed without being shouty, warm but articulate in the bass.  Tunes were easily followed and musically engaging.  There was a bit of boom added by the room, but it was possible to ignore this, and it was a pretty small room for this size of speaker.

Whilst the Kudos T-505 room was probably the better sounding system, once price is factored in, this system delivered the sound of the show for me.

NAIM UNITI NOVA ALL-IN-ONE AND FOCAL KANTA


The new Uniti stuff seems to be consistently good, when used with the right speaker - and room.  Heard with Kudos Titan or Focal Aria the examples I've heard have been very enjoyable.  However, the room at Bristol meant that the Nova / Kanta combination was impossible to evaluate - just a boomy mess.  At Chester though, the combination was working much better.  Kantas are at Focal's kind of lower mid-range, being more expensive than Aria whilst less expensive than Sopra.  It shares the same mid-bass driver materials of the Aria.  Yet again, the lower priced Focals comprehensively out-played their vastly more expensive breatheren at the same show.  The Kanta / Nova combination being rather enjoyable, although we didn't hear any tracks that might've exposed any aggressiveness from that tweeter.


As usual, the Acoustica Chester show delivered in 2018, in terms of organisation and a relaxed atmosphere in a decent quality venue.  Dominated by Naim, as expected, there were some other gems to enjoy too.  Thanks Acoustica.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Inside Linn's Akurate Exaktbox - With and Without Katalyst

Photos below of the boards inside Linn Akurate Exaktbox10.  Click on an image for a larger version.

First the original version...

An extremely busy board with 10x mono DACs and (top left) 3x Exakt processors





3x Exakt processors (1 Master, 2x Slaves)



DAC layout - staggered on the circuitboard to fit them all in


Boards back to back and empty chassis...

New board at the bottom - a much simpler and clearer layout, but 5x stereo DACs rather than the original 10x mono DACs

Bare Chassis


Then the upgraded "Katalyst" versions (Akurate Exaktbox10/1)...

Much more spacious layout - 5x DACs in stereo mode.  Remembering, also, that Linn has just invested in a new board populating machine that places even tinier surface mount components.

Smaller board, less clutter


New, single, much more powerfull Exakt processor


Less crowding, but stereo rather than mono DACs
The proof is in the sticker.

EDIT 16 June 2018.

And here are the Akurate Exaktbox 6 equivalent photos:

The original Akurate Exaktbox 6 board in situ.  Note 6x individual DACs
Another view of the original board

The original board removed from the casework - the Exakt master and slave processors are bottom right


 Below you can see how much simpler the board layout has become.  There many fewer components mainly due to the use of 3x stereo DACs rather than 6x monos DACs.  Also, there is now only one Exakt processor which is more powerful than the previous 2 processors combined.
Of course, Linn's new board populating machines also place much smaller surface mount components which adds further to the spacious layout of the board.

New single, more powerful, Exakt processor top left

The 3 stereo DAC circuits are clear to see here, arranged top to bottom from just left of centre over to the right.


Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Post Kegworth Musings, 2018

Some visitor comments about the Musings system at Kegworth 2018

What Hifi Forum:
insider9: "Linn Exakt didn't disappoint once more."

lindsayt: "I enjoyed my time in the active Linn Katan + sub Exakt room.
It was like going to an official Linn show demo. Lighting turned down. Playlist decided days in advance being streamed from a laptop. Sounded fine. Impossible to say how fine as they were playing tracks I've never heard before."

Linn Forum:
Willie Eckerslyke: "Digital sound of the show was sunbeamgls, by a country mile. It was just musical...."

CyrusUnofficial:
mickbald: "sounded superb"

Saturday, 24 February 2018

NEAT AT THE BRISTOL SHOW 2018 - HIGHLY COMMENDED

NEAT
- Rega TT
- Melco, Rega and Heel Electronics
- NEAT IOTA EXPLORER





I really enjoyed this system. It was simple enough but the new, bigger, Iotas with their downward facing isobaric loaded bass driver worked extremely well today.  There was no issue with room boominess (see, it is possible!), everything was clear without being aggressive and the sound filled the room (at the expense of imaging, which is distinctly blurry, but that's just a different balance of compromises).  Music on this system was easy going (and I mean that positively, not that it lacked any dynamics at all), but pretty crisp and precise at the same time.  I really enjoyed my time in this room.