Raidho 2.1 Speaker Premieres as Naim Streams

Unique circumstances conspired to make the March 15 US debut of Raidho's handsome 2.1, 2.5-way floorstanding loudspeaker ($28,000/pair) at AudioVision San Francisco an unusual event. Despite ample planning on everyone's part, US Customs, which has never been known for putting audiophiles first, held up delivery of Raidho's new babies until the afternoon of the demo. Did they perhaps think that the "Raid" in Raidho was code for a terrorist plot?

Due to this unforeseeable snafu, what a very full house of eager audiophiles heard was not the Raidho 2.1 in all its glory, but a literally out-of-the-crate speaker whose drivers, capacitors, and circuits, by all accounts, had undergone only something like 5 hours of break-in. There was nothing that even Nordost's Lars Christensen, creator of the most masterfully conceived and executed audio demos I have ever witnessed, could do about the fact that the speaker could only provide an tantalizing albeit incomplete indication of its ultimate potential.

The demonstration paired the Raidho 2.1s with Naim electronics, put through its paces by Jenny Smith of the Sound Organization (pictured above), and Nordost cabling. Together, they produced a far warmer, more illumined sound than heard when AudioVision recently paired the KEF Blade, in its West Coast debut, with Simaudio electronics and Shunyata cabling.

The 2.1 demo used Christensen's highly eclectic mix of pop music. While we heard a track by Lambchop, another by Supertramp that had enough audiophile bells and whistles and prodigious bass to tempt one to overlook that it was plastic to the core, Tom Russell's "I'm an American Primitive Man," a version of "Unchained Melody" performed by Lang Lang and a Chinese vocalist, Elvis' aborted first take of "Are You Lonesome Tonight," Kraftwerk's "I'm the Operator with my Pocket Calculator," and an unpronounceable track by a wild Danish band, all forms of acoustic jazz and classical were absent.

The system produced an exceedingly large soundstage marked by warm, inviting sound and impressive bass. The bass wasn't anywhere near as powerful as I've heard with fully broken-in drivers at other Raidho/Nordost demos, but what bass the speaker did produce was more in control than that emitted by the Blade in the same space.

The evening also provided the most convincing demo possible of what happens when you dem a loudspeaker without sufficient break-in. The drivers' lack of pliability produced, to these ears, sound that was impressive in its fullness yet strangely untouchable. No matter how inviting the music, it failed to reach beyond the beguilingly large soundstage and impact me emotionally. It was as though the heart of the speaker had not yet opened up enough to bare its soul.

This, again, was not the fault of the speaker. Insufficient break-in, in this case beyond anyone's control, is a phenomenon all too frequently encountered at audio demos, especially at shows. Equipment looks great, but it's so new out of the box that it cannot yet either show its full potential or elicit a deep emotional response. At least nothing played during this particular demo sounded bright, edgy, hooty, or covered, which is too often the case with electronics that lack sufficient break-in.

The Raidho 2.1 is a most impressive undertaking. All drivers are proprietary, the result of five years of research and development, and are manufactured in Denmark. (Only the cabinets, constructed from high-quality MDF, are made in China). Christensen claims that Raidho's ceramic mid/bass drivers, shown above, have no resonances of their own, and that one of them is more expensive than all the drivers in the Wilson MAXX 3 combined. (I cannot confirm that). As for its planar ribbon tweeter, Christensen claims it is "the fastest tweeter ever made." Capacitors are a combination of Mundorf and Raidho's proprietary copper-foil babies. The speaker is also the first in the world whose internal wiring is a combination of Nordost Valhalla and Odin.

In AudioVision's smaller, equally packed showroom, Michael Taylor of Nordost (shown above with Lars Christensen) used Raidho's new, not-yet-broken in 1.1 loudspeaker to compare the sound of stock power cords to Nordost's Blue Heaven, Heimdall 2, and Frey 2 power cords. Though I wasn't present, I've heard this same demonstration at audio shows, and can attest to the improved sound of Nordost's new cables lines, which includes significant enhancement of bass response and midrange weight. In a system that also featured Nordost's Quantum Qx4 power purifier/QBASE 8 power distribution system, Taylor helped clarify the difference that good cables and power treatment can make.

Naim's Impressive Streamer
Jenny Smith was on hand to tout the technical advances of one of Great Britain's original high-end companies, Naim. At the heart of the system sat the Naim UnitiServe ($3345), a server that rips and stores music to its internal 1TB hard drive. As a network server, it is available to any player on the network (not just Naim's), and works with any UPnP streamer.

Naim's NDX network streaming player ($5145), together with its 555PS power supply ($9345), was the source component. The NDX saw the music on the UnitiServe, streamed it over the network, and then performed D/A conversion before sending the signal to the preamp. The NDX can see, access, and play music stored on any device on the network (such as a computer) that is available for streaming via UPnP. Other components were Naim's NAC552 preamp w/external 552PS power supply ($27,495) and NAP500 power amp w/external 500PS power supply ($27,495).

"Streaming is not the future," she declared. "It really is the present."

Once again offering only pop music, Smith controlled the system with an iPad, pictured above, and, after its battery died, an iPhone. Using the NDS, she wirelessly streamed some mightily impressive tracks from a MacBook Pro located in the next room. Once again, there was no music that sounded as though it was naturally recorded, or anything that presented the kind of complex load that a Mahler symphony can provide. Nonetheless, the first piece, which I believe was in 24/192 format, had a thrilling three-dimensionality that turned heads.

Smith compared a WAV file of music ripped directly from iTunes by the MacBook Pro to the same music track ripped to WAV by the UnitiServe using Naim's proprietary ripping software. (Smith chose the WAV format because she claims that FLAC cannot yield bit-perfect copies of WAV files). Naim's ripping algorithm is clearly special, because the NDX-ripped version sounded so much better than the iTunes rip that no one bothered to ask for a second comparison.

deckeda's picture

she claims that FLAC cannot yield bit-perfect copies of WAV files

Interesting assertion, as is the one that Naim can rip more accuratetly than iTunes, which can be setup less than ideally for ripping. I'm not disputing what anyone heard at the demo. A larger issue pertains to people who have already ripped files from other softwares such as EAC or CDParanoia, which are also widely regarded as well, exact.

Is Naim better than those, as well? Interesting that they would recreate that wheel, with essentially no related history of such software development, but not create their own streaming protocol.

AIFF (or ALAC, or FLAC) retains metadata, unlike WAV. But then AIFF or ALAC would break the UPnP kludge crutch.

Patrick Butler's picture

I've done a number of comparisons between ripping with itunes with error correction enabled and ripping with Max or EAC.  Max and EAC made superior sounding rips to wav or aiff files in a playback system of sufficient resolution.  I've also heard the superiority in playback of an aiff file versus an apple lossless file with music that was originally ripped with Max in paranoia mode to aiff.   The best part?  All of the improvements were free.

consequence's picture

I was fortunate to attend both recent events at Audio Vision and I have to disagree with Jason's comment comparing the sound of the KEF-MOON_Shunyata system to the Naim-Raidho-Nordost system. Both were excellent presentations in terms of sound and music, however the former was more musical and involving.

I actually own Naim products and if wasn't for budget constraints, I would be making a change to what I would classify as an upgrade. All brands mentioned are world-class, so I guess it comes down to personal tastes.

As for the above comments regarding file formats, in my own experience, there are far better ripping apps than iTunes in both the MacOS and Windows universes, at any and all file resolutions.

JasonVSerinus's picture

To the anonymous soul of consequence,

If you think you are disagreeing with me by stating that "the sound of the KEF-MOON_Shunyata system... was more musical and involving," I think you need to read this write-up again.


TSOJenny's picture

I’d like to take an opportunity to clarify my comments and hopefully avoid further misunderstanding.  My intention was never to be “anti-FLAC”, but rather to illustrate the reasons why Naim designed their products the way they did, specifically by performing an A-B comparison between the UnitiServe’s rip and an iTunes rip (both of which were in WAV, by the way). 

Naim’s server products sound so great for a couple of reasons:

First, they rip into WAV, which is an uncompressed format that requires less processing to play back than lossless formats like FLAC.  For example, there is no caching, zipping, or unzipping that occurs before the music data is sent out via Ethernet.  A good analogy to help understand this concept is that of a tire – WAV, FLAC, or any lossless file is like a completely inflated tire.  A WAV (or AIFF) tire stays inflated permanently, but with a FLAC or other lossless format, a computer extracts the zeroes (the air) from the file (the tire) so it takes up less space in storage.  Then during playback they are put back in (the tire is re-inflated).  This requires processing and unfortunately this creates noise in an audio system.

The second reason deals with the way they rip the CDs into WAV.  The optical drive Naim has chosen has no ability to apply error correction – which means it has no ability to change the original data.  On top of this, the operating system itself does not touch the data, which translates into the purest, most musical sound possible.  A cool side effect of this design is that not only will files ripped by the Naim server sound better, but so will files ripped and stored elsewhere and streamed through the server (again, because there is no extra processing getting in the way).

Naim decided after extensive listening tests that using WAV, and keeping the data completely segregated from the operating system, resulted in the best possible sonic performance.  Because at the end of the day, it’s what our ears tell us that matters, right?

deckeda's picture

we've seen other tests, or experiments, that resulted in better sound from uncompressed files. This would seem to be a golden opportunity to discover why that is. Intuitively, either the computing engine is weak or it's not. If it's not, then no system, regardless of CPU/RAM or other considerations would ever be good enough to process compressed files.

It's ironic that although the compressed file is a bit-perfect copy, it doesn't matter. Is anyone bothering ask why? Or are we leaving that to the mercy of an uncontrollable, unknown variable because spending an extra 30-50% on storage is no big deal?

The metadata issue is also paramount. WAVs can embed it but there's no standard because MS and IBM didn't bother. And FLACs can be made uncompressed, FYI.

Thank you for clarifying the ripping process. It should however be noted that interpretation only occurs if the disk is so messed up that a drive with no correction likely couldn't rip it, and that what error correcting drives can do is provide corrections that are not guesses.

L3AND3R's picture

My website got hacked for writing exactly what the article says in the last paragraph. Try ripping FLAC and you seem to be the one getting ripped! surprise

KevH's picture

I think the term 'noise' in reference to the decompression process could be a little confusing as this is a digital process and people may be expecting some sort of analog style hum!

The 'noise' of which you speak is the timing errors introduced by the process of decompression, some refer to this as jitter.

However I'm slightly shocked that Naim can charge 10k+ and not include a mechanism for reducing (or eliminating),timing errors by buffering and reclocking the digital signal.