Naim NAIT integrated amplifier Robert Harley 1989
Before writing another word of this review of a British product, I have a confession to make: I was born in England. Although I left Britain at the tender age of 18 months and am an American for all intents and purposes, I wanted to expose this fact lest some reader with inside knowledge bring it to Stereophile readers' attention, crying "British equipment bias!" By getting it out up-front, I have practiced a political maneuver called "damage containment," thus avoiding a protracted controversy in the magazine's "Letters" section.
All kidding aside, the British do make excellent hi-fi equipment. Although not known for a cost-no-object approach to consumer audio gear, they consistently produce more musical components than their mass-market counterparts. In addition, Britain has made significant contributions to recording technology, a fact not widely known outside the professional audio community. The three most highly regarded recording consoles in the world (Neve, Solid State Logic, Trident) all come from England. The British also make microphones, digital processors, and a variety of other studio equipment. Much early work in broadcasting and acoustics was done by the BBC.
It's obvious that the British spend more time on the audio arts than the culinary arts. I grew up eating "bubble 'n squeak"---a kaleidoscope of leftovers mixed up and fried together)---"bangers 'n mash" (sausages stuck in a mound of mashed potatoes (footnote 1), and "chip buttys" (a sandwich of fried potato slices). I'll stick with their audio equipment, thanks.
The $795 NAIT 2 is representative of the British hi-fi industry's output. It has a volume control, selector, mute, and tape monitor switches, and not much else, not even a headphone output. It is also distinguished by its small, boxlike proportions and low power. (There is less demand for high power in England, perhaps due to their generally smaller listening rooms. I worked in a British hi-fi store briefly about 11 years ago and got a feel for the market there. High power is definitely not a priority.) Naim gives few specifications for its products, keeping with their stated philosophy that measurements of audio components are meaningless in choosing among them.
Speaking of measurements, Stereophile's audio test laboratory was just coming on-line during this review. Some relevant measurements are included later.
Two large knobs consume the majority of the NAIT 2's 3" by 8.125" front panel: One is a volume control, the other selects between phono, tuner, aux, and tape. The only other protuberances on the NAIT 2's front panel are a power switch, balance control, and a third control that provides muting and tape monitoring operation. The NAIT 2 uses DIN jacks for all signal inputs except phono, which uses gold-plated RCA jacks. For someone who will "fit and forget" this amplifier, the DIN jacks may be a minor inconvenience. I found these connectors to be a liability.
I should add that the NAIT 2 shuttled between my test bench and listening system, where it was removed and replaced several times during the listening comparisons. Perhaps this unusual situation exacerbated my dislike for DIN connectors. I'm no fan of RCA jacks, but they are convenient, universal, and permit the user to select from a wide range of interconnect cables. Incidentally, for $12 Naim will convert the NAIT 2 to a preamp-only unit, allowing future power-amp upgrades. (Though it can then be used with Naim's own NAP 90 or NAP 140 stereo amplifiers, Naim does not recommend that it be used with the NAP 250 and points out that it cannot be used as a preamp with their NAP 135 monoblocks.)
Footnote 1: Frying the sausages and pouring the resultant melted grease (complete with bits of charred sausage) from the frying pan over the mashed potatoes is an interesting regional variant, while allowing the grease to congeal, then spreading it on bread (white, of course) results in the British blue-collar worker's favorite snack: bread'n'dripping. Who says the British don't know as much as the French about cooking?—John Atkinson