Sunday, 22 April 2012

Linn vs Naim Mid-range Streamer

Had the opportunity to spend some time comparing Linn and Naim streamers last weekend.

Context:
Friend's system as follows:
Naim CDX2 (latest version) with XPS2 power supply
Naim 282 pre-amp with Supercap power supply
Naim NAP250 power amp
NAC speaker cable
Wilson Benesch The Arc stand mounts with their dedicated stands

We have a difference of opinion on how a system should sound - to me the above seems to interpret the music rather than let it out, and it has that Naim immediacy that borders on shouty. It is much better than it was previously when it used to have a first iteration of CDX2 and a NAP180 amp.

So in came a Naim NDX streamer, using the existing XPS2 power supply. We used my Windows 7 Dell laptop, a 2.5" portable drive, FLAC in 16/44.1 and 24/96, an unmanaged network switch and Asset UPnP. Control was via the buttons and screen on the front of the NDS - really simple to use and gets you up and running quickly. I thought it was much simpler to set up than a Linn DS. It took us about 3 minutes to decide that the CD player was a non-event compared to the streamer. The difference is quite astounding - the streamer is much more organic and precise - it has an hint of analogue about it. The control it brings to the music really makes the CD player sound quite nasty, cluttered and over zealous. Job done. This streamer and power supply combination lists at about £6.5k. You can pick up ex-dems and secondhand and get this down to just under £5k. Not many about though, although I suspect more NDXs will start to surface now the NDS is on its way.

We brought in my Akurate DS/0 Dynamik and silver cables (yes, the 282 pre-amp has a couple of phono inputs on the back!) into the Naim system to conduct a direct comparison. We used the same data source as used for the NDX and used Kinsky on the laptop for control. How did it compare? Well its a tricky one really. I really wouldn't like to say which was better, but there certainly were some differences. For me the Linn brings more detail, separates the instruments better, times the music more naturally (more involuntary foot tapping) and is very musical. To counter this the Naim sounds more analogue, a bit more fluid and gives an open, more airy soundstage - almost like the room in which the recording took place was bigger. I know the current ADS/1 lists at £4.5k, but mine set me back just under half that amount.

So you pay your money (lots more for the Naim) and make your choice. I really would be happy living with either in the Naim system, but if you add VFM into the mix, the Linn wins out significantly.

Oh, and if you take the PSX2 out of the system, the NDX is a real disappointment compared to the ADS/0 Dynamik, but still outperforms the CDX2.

If we can find a suitable cable, I'll try and report back on the same comparison in my Linn system...
Scores (a bit simplistic, but there you go - all I'm trying to do is indicate relative performance rather than absolute performance):
Naim NDX / XPS2 = 90%
Linn Akurate DS/0 Dynamik 89%
Naim NDX = 75%
Naim CDX2 / XPS2 = 65%

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