Naim’s Statement Amplifier
Though English manufacturer Naim Audio has had some very affordable products in their line, like the original Nait integrated amplifier from the mid-1980s, their reputation for sound quality was established with relatively expensive models. But nothing in the company’s history prepared me for the Naim Statement six-piece preamplifier/twin monoblock system (center in photo) that made its debut at CES. To be available in July, the Statement, which comprises the NAC S1 line preamplifier and two NAP S1 power amplifiers, will be priced at $200,000 and is specified as delivering one horsepower (740W) into 8 ohms! Its weight matches its power: the preamp weighs 135 lbs and the power amplifiers each weigh 222 lbs.
The Statement is the result of three years’ work by a team led by the company’s Electronic Design Director, Steve Sells. Steve showed me the interior of the power amplifier (above) to emphasize that the topology is based on a vertical layout, with the power supply in the base of each unit suspended on an A-frame and coupled to the floor using spikes. The audio signal paths are kept as short as possible, with a three-dimensional layout minimizing electromagnetic interference and eliminating parasitics. Even the output devices are made especially for Naim, and mount the transistor die directly to the heatsink to lower the thermal impedance and shunt heat away from the transistor as fast as possible. The circuit was described as an error-correction type and Steve said that the amplifier was so stable that you could clip it continually at high frequencies without breaking anything.
The class-A preamplifier also features vertical layout and disconnects unused inputs to lower the noise floor. It has a unique dual-action volume control: volume is established by a resistor divider; however, this is only when the volume is set; when the volume control is turned, reed relays disconnect the resistor ladder and the new level is set by a Cirrus Logic volume-control chip; as soon as the volume control is released, the Cirrus chip is disconnected and the better-sounding resistor ladder immediately assumes the new setting. I tried this out and could not detect any glitches that might result from this process. It was seamless.
One more photo of the Naim Statement, this time from Jason Serinus, to emphasize the gorgeous industrial design, which sculpts the heatsinks with a wave motif. The sound in this room, with the Statement driving Focal Stella Utopia speakers, was one of the best I experienced at the 2014 CES, with an enormous dynamic range and the feeling that you could follow reverberation tails on a recording like John Rutter’s Requiem down for ever into the ultimate silence. Amplifiers that can play very loudly are plentiful; Naim’s Statement is the rare amplifier that simultaneously plays extraordinarily quietly without the music becoming submerged.