Naim CD5 XS CD player

By no means could I undertake a survey of candidates for Your Last Perfectionist-Quality CD player—so far, my ongoing series of reviews has focused on models from Audio Note, Bryston, EAR, Luxman, and Metronome—without including Naim Audio. After all, it was Naim that brought to market the first really good-sounding CD player of my experience: the two-box CDS, introduced in 1991 at a then-staggering price of $6999. In doing so, they convinced me that a digital future might not be so bad after all.

Four years after the CDS's stunning debut—and three years after their introduction of an intermediate model, the CDI—Naim answered more than a few prayers by releasing the CD3, which offered a goodly chunk of the CDS's musical prowess for a much more manageable price: $1850. I raved about Naim's entry-level player in the very first issue of Listener magazine (published in January 1995), and eventually bought the review sample, which I kept and enjoyed for another five or six years: an eternity in digital audio.

The CD3's arrival seemed to herald an even keener interest on Naim's part in developing new digital source components. Just two years later, in 1997, Naim replaced the CD3 with an upgraded model, the CD3-5. And in 2000, the CD3-5 was replaced by a thoroughly redesigned model, the CD5—it was still Naim's entry-level player, though by then the price had crept up to $2250. The CD5, too, got a rave in Listener: writing in the January/February 2001 issue, none other than Herb Reichert praised it for making CDs "exciting to listen to," and for being "way more textured sounding and colorful than any of its Naimsakes."

Unsurprisingly—the lifespans of some of Naim's core products are measured not in years but in decades—the CD5 endures to this day in an updated version, the CD5 XS ($3995), introduced in 2009. Seeing no reason why an eight-year-old should not be allowed to compete with a bunch of one- and two-year-olds, I told Naim's very nice North American publicist about my ongoing survey, and the Salisbury, UK–based company was more than happy to send me a review sample.

For swingin' players
Now as in 1995, Naim's entry-level CD player is distinguished by an unusual disc-loading scheme. Rather than a motorized drawer or a top-loading bay, the CD5 XS has a manually operated, pivoting drawer—manually because the fewer motors and control circuits, the better; and pivoting because a single-point hinge would seem to provide the greatest degree of mechanical isolation of the disc transport from the rest of the player. The drawer itself—when viewed from above, it's shaped like an anteater in profile—is molded from a glass-filled phenolic resin. One imagines its initial tooling costs were high, but the concept has surely been vindicated over and again for more than 20 years.

Nestled into that swing-out drawer is a Philips VAM1202/12 transport (the original CD5 used a Philips VAM1205), supplemented not with an internal clamp of the usual sort but a 1.15"-diameter removable puck made of plastic and containing a ring-shaped neodymium magnet. After opening the drawer and placing a disc on the transport's drive hub, the user clamps it in place with the puck, then shuts the drawer, thus closing an internal contact switch that coaxes the player to read the disc's table of contents.

The Naim's nicely finished aluminum enclosure measures 17" wide by 2.75" high by 11.85" deep. It comprises a machined front panel of modest bulk and an upper "wrap" that looks like a single extrusion but is actually made up of three extruded pieces, fastened together in a manner that suggests the suppression of undue resonances was the aim. Inside are an Irish-made (in County Donegal!) Talema toroidal transformer of considerable size and two elastomer-isolated circuit boards, the larger about 10" long and containing power-supply circuitry at the end nearer the transformer, and digital components at the other end. The smaller board is home to the active and passive parts that comprise the CD5 XS's analog output section. (In Naim's previous entry-level players, everything was on a single board).


Unlike the original CD5—and, for that matter, unlike all of Naim's earliest CD players—the CD5 XS offers a digital output: a single rear-mounted BNC jack, on which an S/PDIF signal appears. According to Naim's electronic design director, Steve Sells, other distinctions between the CD5 and the CD5 XS include the latter's better power-supply bridge rectifiers, its independent power-supply rails for the transport motor and digital circuitry, a stiffer spring-damped pivot for the disc drawer, and a Naim-designed, discrete "eye pattern" filter—the name is a reference to the distinctive oscilloscope pattern produced by the confluence of a digital datastream and clock output, the appearance of which can indicate the presence of noise on the former or jitter on the latter—for the signal that comes off the laser head.

More characteristic of earlier Naim CD players—indeed, of Naim products of almost every sort—is the option of upgrading the CD5 XS with an extra-cost outboard power supply. On its rear panel is what appears to be a jumper plug, shaped like a duck's head and spanning two DIN sockets; remove this plug (but only when the player is turned off!) and you'll see that its job is to complete the electrical connections in the left-hand socket and simply occlude the one on the right—and it's the one on the right to which you can connect a Naim FlatCap XS ($1695), HiCap ($2595), or SuperCap ($7695) power supply. I didn't request an outboard power supply for this review, but perhaps, if the CD5 XS can stick around for a while, I'll come back to that an issue or two from now.

And that brings us to the heart of this or any CD player: its digital-to-analog converter, for which Naim has chosen the Burr-Brown PCM1704, supplemented with a current-to-voltage converter of Naim's own design and manufacture. In 1998, at the time of its introduction, the 20/24-bit PCM1704 was lauded for its 120dB signal/noise ratio and 112dB dynamic range; in the ensuing 19 years there's been an awful lot of water streaming under the digital bridge, and the PCM1704 now seems a bit dowdy in comparison with its higher-resolution, more comprehensive competition. That said, since the introduction of the CDS with its Philips TDA-1541 "Crown" DAC chip—which, even then, was a bit (haw) long in the tooth—Naim has focused its engineering talent on maximizing the quality of the digital signal coming off the laser head and refining the analog output section, while taking a conservative view of the conversion process itself. And so it is here.

Installation and setup
Far be it from me to deprive the reader of such ripping yarns as "Plugging in the Power Cord: How I Did It," but the fact is: The only remarkable thing about installing the CD5 XS is that it has two analog outputs—a pair of RCA jacks and a five-pin DIN socket—and, when the player is first installed, only one of those is operative: the DIN output, useful only in all-Naim systems. (Indeed, a DIN-to-DIN signal interconnect is included with this and all other Naim CD players.) To activate the RCA output jacks requires some fiddling with the CD5 XS's remote-control handset, also included—no point describing which buttons require pushing unless you have a CD5 XS in front of you right now, and I assume you don't—and takes less than 10 seconds. The user can opt to activate either or both of the player's analog outputs, but the owner's manual suggests that the sound quality suffers, however slightly, when signal appears on both outputs. Call me unadventurous, but I didn't test that claim.

Naim Audio, Ltd.
US distributor: Audio Plus Services
156 Lawrence Paquette Drive
Champlain, NY 12919-4861
(800) 663-9352

Ortofan's picture

... Esoteric/TEAC Grandioso K1 or K-01X, the Marantz SA-10, the TAD/Pioneer D1000MK2 or D600 and the Yamaha CD-S3000.

supamark's picture



tonykaz's picture

Of course there are outfits that only make superb products.

That said,

being an Audiophile mandates individual product selections from a wide range of offerings thought to be the best gear selection available.

Audiophiles are music System builders with their own individual design preferences.

Being an Audiophile is a Mix & Match Statement.

No Audiophile could be happy with an all LINN system, an all Meridian system or even an all Goldmund system.

"Audiophile Nervosa" is the Hobby part of being an Audiophile.

Don't try the Audiophile thing at the Chevy Dealer, they'll send you across the street to the Auto Parts store to hang out with the hotrods.

Hmm, it makes me wonder if the Enthusiast Network would tolerate the Review of a Complete "One Brand Music System" ?

Wouldn't that be a hoot.

Who would be willing to do such a thing ? It'd make for some interesting reading.

Tony in Michigan

supamark's picture

Compare several such systems. While there aren't a lot of mainstream companies that offer a full line of high quality stuff, I could see a real interesting "shootout" between:

Bryston (they do make a turntable)
Technics (their new TT's and speakers are interesting and well reviewed)

You could bill it in int'l terms - US vs Canada vs Britain vs Japan since all have a lot of successful high end audio equipment makers or in style terms since each company has a strong identity (and all but Technics have a sort of house sound). Is there a German or Scandanavian company that has a full line and meets Stereophile's review criteria for availability in the US?

tonykaz's picture

Of course a big Shoot-out would be a gigantic undertaking. Who could house such an adventure?, RMAF possibly?

Europe has lots of music system suppliers.

I'm kinda looking forward to having a go with Mark Levinson and his latest music system.

Just now, we're able to have Genelec and even Kii make their entire music system contained inside their Loudspeaker enclosure. Phew!

The Genelec even does Room Eq corrections.

Tony in Michigan

supamark's picture

I've still got my pair of Genelec 1031A's that I bought new in 1992. Right now just savin' up a li'l dough to have them serviced/refurbed by the Genelec rep in the US (lightning strike shorted one of the power supplies ~6 years ago) - that's one of the great things about Genelec, they still have the parts to refurb my 25 year old speakers to original spec's (early version, amps are discrete instead of IC's, w/ hand written serial numbers - higher peak SPL for better transients than later revisions). Their new pro monitors, besides the DSP and cast aluminum enclosures, show some very innovative thinking/design. Hell, all those waveguides you see now? Genelec was doing that in the 80's (and popularized it with the 1031/1030 models in the 90's).

That's one thing I don't see mentioned when talking about active speakers - passive x-overs seem to dull transients a smidge more than active x-overs.

It's not just Genelec with room correcting DSP, Dynaudio professional has been doing it for well over a decade (as has Genelec). I'm really surprised it's taken as long as it has for Dynaudio to release active monitors into the consumer market. In the pro audio near/mid-field monitor market, everyone follows what Genelec (and to a lesser extent Dynaudio) does. Barefoot Sound is another company to keep an eye on with their MicroMain and MiniMain systems.

Those new Kii speakers do sound intriguing, but I'm still not sold on moving D/A to the speaker - I don't want to have to replace my speakers when new/improved digital tech comes out and I don't want my volume control in the digital domain. Hell, I'm still running a pair of (partially rebuilt) Boston Acoustics T1030 speakers from 1990 (their last acoustic suspension flagship model) until my Genelecs are refurbed.

Man, I really miss acoustic suspension speakers being common... the bass is so much better. My T1030's bass is the best I've personally heard in a full range speaker, but I've not heard the Magicos - I'd assume their S3 and up models are better in the bass than my "90% of a Matrix 801 at 20% of the price" T1030's per the review in Audio Magazine (I think by Tom Norton, wish Audio was still around though many of their reviewers are here at Stereophile and Sound&Vision).

tonykaz's picture

including B&O are exciting.

Not for the "hair shirt audiophile" who needs to ponder various Amps, Wires, Trusses, room treatments, room placement, peer approval.

I can imagine a listening room that only has two loudspeakers and no rack full of gear, the listener controls the speakers from his iPad. Just as we see Mr. JVS doing in Jana's video of Jason in his home system. hmm.

I want us to have what Jason has, without the fussy, a DSP music system.

Tony in Michigan

ps. the new "1" Genelec series is for the Consumer. ( in colors )

supamark's picture (their "The Ones" point source range, really interesting design)

I didn't think they had a consumer version yet. I've always wanted a pair of their long discontinued S30C compact 3 way active with ribbon tweeter. The 1031A was the pro version of the HT208, mine are in the original wood veneer (w/ discrete amps) instead of the textured finish (and IC amps) of the later "producers version".

tonykaz's picture

Yes, I think I am pointing to these 1's with their DSP.

Seems like all of the technically ( engineering ) capable, European Music Companies ( i.e. B&O thru Genelec ) are moving in this direction.

From here ( I suspect ), we'll see the Smart Phone entry level music System ( like the LG Tone ) with the Genelec type speaker being the Up-Grade .

Tony in Michigan

spacehound's picture

And I would also describe it as 'realistic', you have nailed Naim's approach 'down to a T', so to speak.

Three points:
1) Even the entry level Naim CD players are so good one wonders if they are competing with themselves? I realise that they are 'covering the market' with the variously priced players, but owning an earlier lower cost one I wonder if the differences between them is worth the extra cost.
2) At this price I don't see many adding the external power supply when even the lower cost power supply is almost as expensive as the player itself.
3) Using the Naim 'manual' CD tray is in fact much quicker than using the usual self-loading ones. And it never jams. Don't lose the puck :)

Tony in Michigan:
I don't think you would be in any way disappointed in an 'all Naim' system. I have just that with two exceptions, a Chord Dave DAC, mostly used via USB from a computer (I will no longer buy expensive DACs that use someone else's 5-10 dollar 'off the shelf' chip to do most of the work, which I see as merely implementing someone else's ideas as best you can), and Tannoy speakers.
And I arrived at Naim 'accidentally', I did not start off with Naim in mind. But now it's Naim CD player, phono stage (for my rare ventures into vinyl), pre and power amps, and 'streamer'.

I have no connection with Naim other than as a customer.