Naim CD 3.5 CD player Page 2
The CD 3.5 couldn't be simpler to use: Plug'n'play is the name of the game. The hinged drawer has a solid feel to it—for some reason, I found it oddly satisfying to open it up, put a disc in place, place the magnetic clamp on top, and shut the door. Is this just a sign of audio-geekiness—perhaps nostalgia for the inconvenient ceremony of playing LPs? I'd probably be the last to know, but I've monkeyed around with a bunch of flimsy disc drawers in my time, and the Naim's hinged transport tray has a no-nonsense feel to it that invokes greater trust. Of course, you might find it a huge pain in the keister.
My wife, normally stoic in the face of an unending procession of new gear, found the 3.5 a refreshing change from players that demand more of the user.
"Four buttons," she explained: "Forward, back, stop, play—why confuse me with stuff I'm never going to use?"
"What if you want to program a disc?"
She looked at me incredulously. "As if. I can always walk over and skip a song if I don't like it."
"The remote has all those tiny little buttons on it, but you could use it, you know."
"Yeah, right—like you've ever left a remote where I could find it. They always wind up under a pile of newspapers on the couch or on a shelf I can't reach. That's why I like this player. It's simple."
Another county heard from.
We are all Adam's children, but silk makes the difference
I know Martin Colloms' theories of pace, rhythm, and timing are controversial in some quarters, but I can't help but believe that he's on to something. Some electronic components just "swing" more than others. Perhaps we haven't come up with a definitive measurement that reveals this property yet, but I suspect that's because we're dealing with something that's mighty close to the nature of music itself—after all, music is one of the few arts that deals directly with time.
I mention this because the Naim CD 3.5 gets pace and rhythm so right—which, given the company's insistence that digital reproduction is primarily about time, shouldn't be a surprise. (See Sidebar, "It's About Time.") In any event, as I played disc after disc, I found myself focusing on rhythmic aspects of performance. I don't mean to make the 3.5 out to be a one-trick pony. It's not. It's genuinely good all around: good timbre, detail, low-level resolution, coherent top-to-bottom frequency response—all that audio checklist stuff. But where it excelled was in capturing the snap and electric crackle of live music. It made most other players seem like embalmers. ("Oh, it seems so lifelike!"—only, of course, compared to the real thing, it don't.)
Listening to None but the Lonely Heart by Charlie Haden and Chris Anderson (naimcd0022), I was struck by how much momentum these two musicians impart to this music. You hear the term "stride" bruited about, but most of the time it merely seems to mean a fast walk. Here it meant saunter, sashay, strut, shamble, and swagger. Haden's bass had power, too, not just propulsion, while Anderson's crystalline chording rang like chimes.
Acoustic Mania, a guitar duo featuring Antonio Forcione and Neil Stacey, has a CD called Talking Hands (naimcd020) that lives or dies based on the portrayal of the rhythmic interplay between the two instrumentalists. Through the CD 3.5, it lived quite nicely, thank you. The opening cut is an arrangement of Joe Zawinul's "Birdland," which serves as a rollicking introduction to the playing of these two superb musicians. First and foremost, the song's a rompin', stompin' groove, kicked along by both guitarists' ability to comp and solo with great forward momentum. In the middle, they get playful, handing the lead back and forth repeatedly. Here, the CD 3.5's ability to sort out the differences between Forcione's nylon-stringed Ramirez and Stacey's steel-stringed Yamaha came to the fore—and not only were the gross differences between instruments neatly delineated, but so were changes in attack and, even, decay. It felt as if I were witnessing the sort of casual jam session that breaks out whenever any two passionate guitarists unpack their axes.
Shostakovich's String Quartet 3 played by the Allegri String Quartet (naimcd016), another superbly natural recording by Ken Christianson, was also a delight as played through the Naim. This is a five-movement piece of incredible power—by turns perky and jaunty, then somber and, in places, shockingly forceful—and the CD 3.5 did it proud. The player allowed me to hear far into the soundstage, but was not hyperdetailed in the way that digiphobes assume we mean when we say that—the balance between instruments and hall was perfect. And the timbre of each instrument was exquisitely rendered, both individually and in ensemble.