Naim CD5 CD player with Flatcap 2 power supply Page 2

George told me that Naim's listening and measuring confirmed that circuit-board design and parts layout are critical to controlling jitter. Thus, signal paths are kept short, ground planes are carefully considered, and the master clock—the heart of any CD player—is a special circuit originally implemented for the current top of Naim's CDP line, the CDS-II.

The onboard power supply has 12 individually tested voltage regulators, and a transformer with two secondary windings: one for the digital circuitry and transport, one for the analog circuitry.

I auditioned the CD5 as a standalone unit and with the optional Flatcap 2 outboard power supply ($900), which connects to the CD5 via an umbilical cord once a jumper plug has been removed. Once connected, the Flatcap powers the analog stages, while the original CD5 supply is just used for the digital circuits.

Naim's New Sound
Contrary to popular belief, I actually do listen to CDs—and with the Naim CD5 in my system, I listened to many more than usual. While I found that the CD5 had a few shortcomings, it proved an easy player to enjoy because it made music without apology, even if it cut a few corners on the way.

The first thing I noticed was that the CD5 didn't have the CDX's taut, speedy sound. The CD5 may not have sounded as "exciting" as the CDX, but its more relaxed sound made listening to music more inviting and compelling, not less: There was more texture and color within the notes, and the sonic picture was more fleshed-out harmonically, giving music a velvety richness I'd not previously associated with Naim players.

Compared to the best digital sound I've heard, the CD5's was slightly dry on top, with a hint of transient softness. A slight bit of cymbal sparkle was lost, but the plus side of this was a total lack of grain, edge, and glare. The CD5 was one of the least fatiguing CD players I've heard. In fact, it was one of the more involving—the freedom from hyper-edge allowed satisfyingly 3D images to develop on a somewhat distant soundstage produced well behind the speakers. Images never projected forward from the speaker baffles, but what was spread out behind was coherent and concise.

The CD5 continued Naim's reputation for producing a fine sense of musical time, partly anchored here by impressive low-frequency extension and definition that I couldn't fault. When I played Pomp & Pipes, the pants-leg-flapping HDCD from Reference Recordings (RR-58CD), the non-HDCD-decoding Naim delivered the lowest organ stops with ease. However, when I played the disc on an Camelot Technologies Round Table DVD player, which offers HDCD decoding, it revealed more detail and, especially, more space.

The CD5's most obvious weaknesses were not critical ones: its inability to cleanly layer instruments from front to back, or to easily differentiate their timbres. While the top-shelf CD players I've heard focus Pomp & Pipes' trumpets and other horns more effectively in space, and better render their brassy overtones, the CD5 blended them spatially into the instrumental backdrop and somewhat ripened their tones. It may not have had the ultimate in transparency, but it more than compensated with an overall presentation that was rich, cohesive, and musically inviting.

I auditioned the new Nick Drake reissues on Hannibal/Rykopalm (remastered in 24-bit SBM by John Wood, the original Sound Techniques studio engineer), and found Drake's guitar and voice slightly drier through the CD5 than through my reference Camelot Round Table, and somewhat recessed in space. But the CD5's transient attack was superior, giving the music—especially the rhythmic line—greater immediacy. These superb-sounding CDs will be the standard until Drake's timeless music is reissued on DVD-Audio or SACD, or until you're lucky and/or rich enough to find the original UK Island LPs. (The HDCD logo on two of the reissue CDs is a production error. Producer Joe Boyd told me that the 24-bit SBM beat the HDCD transfer "hands down.")

Naim Flatcap 2 power supply
The Flatcap 2 power supply adds $900 and raises the CD5's total cost to $3150, but you get your money's worth. The Flatcap 2 didn't fundamentally change the CD5's winning personality, but reinforced it in ways not so subtle and very useful. For instance, with the Flatcap, the brass on Pomp & Pipes came forward a bit more spatially and tonally, and the overall dynamics improved as well, though not to the point where the presentation became "jumpy." Nick Drake and his guitar remained on the dry side, but both came into better focus and moved slightly forward on the soundstage while maintaining well-focused three-dimensionality.

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