"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Naim NDS / 555PS DR Update - The Three Week Itch

If you remember back to early March 2014, I posted an article on the Linn Klimax DS/1 vs the Naim NDS / 555PS DR streamers, in a mainly Naim system with Kudos speakers.  Here's the link to that story.

Most electronics (and pretty much every pair of speakers) seem to benefit from something referred to as "burn-in".  This is the idea that the components are not working at their ideal when brand new, and some usage allows them to settle down and reach their optimum operating parameters.  Some say that's rubbish (probably based on some theory or skepticism rather than actual experience, or maybe their experience has been with components that don't benefit), some say its essential.  Cyrus electronics have a large print message on the inside of the box lid saying that users should expect the components to burn-in and change their sound quality over the first few weeks of use.  I've heard this with Naim electronics too - certainly Richard's NDX improved over time.

The first NDS listen was a comparison against the Linn on a busy evening on the night before the Scalford show and we were listening to the NDS that had been used as the demo unit for the Naim Statement amplifier at the Bristol Sound & Vision show - so it had about 3 days solid use under its belt.  The 555PS DR was at least 6 months old and has been powering the NDX during that time.

And so, to pick up where the story left off, we had a Linn DS sounding very controlled and considered against an NDS that just wanted to get on with the job, leaving me less than involved because things were too pushy and edgy - I couldn't relax into the emotion or flow of the music.  Great with female vocals though - more texture and colour (not colouration) than the Linn.  And Richard (who has the Naim / Kudos system and the NDS on demo) wondering if it was going to be right for him.

Now we're three weeks on and the NDS is a permanent fixture in Richard's system.  So he's either forgotten the Porsche or the NDS has settled in somewhat.

Using the usual mix of artists such as Eagle Eye Cherry, Blues Company, Ana Brun etc., we had a bottle of Budvar in hand and listening commenced (there was red wine last time, so the alcohol relaxation factor was pretty much balanced across the 2 listening sessions...).  Richard had warned me that things would not be all they seemed last time.  And this was proven to be true.  At first I was very quiet, listening intently, making sure I could take in what was going on.  Subtle this ain't.  And this time I don't mean the way the Naim attacks the music, I mean the change in that 3 week period.  This box has really matured in that time, and maybe there is more to come.  That Naim enthusiasm is still there in spades but the stridency has all but disappeared - the edginess does still happen, but it seems much more related to the quality of the recording being played - its not there as part of the standard mix of attributes.  Imaging has a touch more depth too - not just width now, although from memory I still think the Linn is better in this area.  Another thing that's changed is the clarity of vocals in the mix - male or female singers are now more distinct - less swamped - although, to be fair I hadn't really noted this in the earlier listen, perhaps the other more significant challenges in the sound were overpowering more subtle observations.  There seems to be more subtle details across all the range of music and instruments - there's definitely more layers of detail under detail to be heard.  The system even seems to get some deeper notes than on my own system, which was a suprise given the compact dimensions of those Kudos Super 20 floorstanders.

We come to a concensus - the NDS is a very different beast to 3 weeks previous.  It seems a bit bizarre that the "burn-in" should be so significant.  A replay of the Linn vs Naim bake-off is something we should go back to now, perferrably in my system to try and give us some balance.

There's also concensus on how we should describe the differences between the Linn and Naim streamers.  There's probably little, if anything, to choose between them in terms of detail retreival, but their characters are very different.  We're listening to some studio recordings and the Naim is delivering them much more as though the artists were performing live.  And that's a key part of its character - a live sound, an enthusiastic sound.  By contrast, on those same studio recordings the Linn doesn't add a "live" character to the music, rather it presents a studio session where the musicians seem to have put in that extra couple of rehearsals, as though they are striving for that extra bit of accuracy, more craftsmanship in the way they are playing.  I love that "attention to detail" kind of presentation - as though the musicians care about what they're doing and how it will emotionally impact on the listener.  The Naim, well that's keen to let you know there are human beings involved in producing the music, and it should sound live!

Makes you wonder why Naim would use a brand new out of the box NDS to demo their Statement amp, it could've sounded so much better.  As I said at the time in the Bristol Show report, the Naim Statement room would impress you if you liked to listen to hifi.  If they'd burnt in their streamer, I might've been reporting that it would impress you if you liked listening to live music!

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