Naim CD5 CD player with Flatcap 2 power supply

Give an engineering team a blank page and a blank check and there's no telling what they'll come up with. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, for example, one company showed a $25,000 CD transport with laser-pickup mechanism that was separate from its disc drive—almost the cosmic equivalent of having the sun revolve around the earth.

This is not the kind of thing that Naim's cautious engineers would likely come up with, even if given a blank check. The company's products exude a quirky but fundamentally conservative approach to industrial design and engineering, and pay special attention to small but important details of optimizing parts performance that they hope will translate into improved musical performance.

Don't Break the Bank!
The CD5 design team, headed by Naim's Roy George, was not given a blank check—at $2250, the CD5 is at the bottom of Naim's current line of CD players. But that doesn't mean they skimped on parts or build quality.

The CD5—a significant update of the Naim 3.5—may be the cheapest Naim player, but it has the look and feel of luxury; its overall fit'n'finish are more impressive than the more expensive CDX, which I reviewed in the May 1999 Stereophile. The CD5's chassis is the latest and sleekest update of Naim's unique design motif: a black box highlighted by a 3D Naim logo backlit in green. And unlike other Naim players I've reviewed, this one didn't ring like a bell when I rapped it with a knuckle—its rigid aluminum chassis feels as if it's been treated internally with some kind of damping material.

There are new round, backlit buttons for Previous, Next, Play, and Stop, and the LED panel displaying track number and elapsed playing time is easy to read. That's it for the front panel—the On/Off switch is on the rear, along with DIN jacks for analog out and for connecting the optional Flatcap 2 outboard power supply.

Naim includes an unlit remote control that can also operate a Naim preamp and tuner. Its multiple rows of equally sized buttons don't make it the most ergonomically elegant device I've ever had my hands on, but once I familiarized myself with it, it wasn't bad.

Like the more expensive CDX, the CD5 uses Naim's exclusive hand-operated "oven-door" drive access, which is fast, convenient, simple, and rigid. It's even fun. Philips' VAM 1205, the transport that Naim uses in all of its CD players, is built into the swing-out door and decoupled from it by an elastomer mounting system. The door's tray surface is coated with an infrared-absorbing material that keeps stray laser light from bouncing around. (Some laugh. Others listen.)

A small puck—part of the low-inertia magnetic clamping system used here and in other Naim players—holds the CD in place and gives the loading process the feel of a high-end LP turntable. It also makes noisy, motorized drawers that virtually suck a CD into the player look, sound, and feel "futuristic" in the worst sense of the word. Do we really need robotic help inserting a plastic disc in a slot? More important, Roy George told me that the clamping system has a "big" effect on the sound.

Naim supplies an extra puck, but you'll lose it as quickly as you did the first unless you quickly establish a consistent resting place for it while you change discs. I regularly lost the puck when I reviewed the CDX, but this time I didn't misplace it once. I guess mental progress is possible with age.

The CD5's other key components are also off the shelf: Philips' SAA7376 servo-controller and TDA 1305 4x-oversampling, 18-bit digital filter/DAC combo chip; and the Burr-Brown op-amp analog output chips. The difference Naim makes is in how they implement these parts.

Naim's proprietary operating software, written for their original top-of-the-line player, the CDS, controls the servo and all other operating parameters; it, too, affects the sound quality, according to George. A Naim-designed seven-pole output-filtering stage removes ultra-high-frequency garbage from the final signal, and the board on which all this circuitry is mounted is elastomer-decoupled from the chassis to reduce microphonics.

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