Naim NAC 62 preamplifier & NAP 140 power amplifier Page 3

Soundstage depth and feeling of three-dimensionality were exceptional. There was a distinct impression of up-front presence (more so with CD source), yet simultaneously a laid-back quality. Instruments toward the front of the soundstage were right there in front of the listener, with immediacy and palpability, yet musical subtleties and instruments toward the soundstage rear were laid-back and distant. I found that this ability to put images in their appropriate musical contexts heightened the listening experience. In addition, the impression of depth wasn't truncated toward the soundstage's lateral edges. Instead, reverberation seemed to extend beyond individual instrumental outlines, surrounding the presentation with an aura of air that expanded the apparent size of the listening room. Further reinforcing the impression of great soundstage depth was my perception of each instrument being spatially distinct and individually resolvable within the soundstage. More on this later.

Bass reproduction was liquid and agile, with good pitch definition, but somewhat lacked dynamics and a sense of effortlessness compared with the best solid-state amplification or the VTLs. In addition, a leanness to the bass added to the sense of precision and articulation, though at the cost of a bit of heft in the presentation. However, only rarely did I feel musically shortchanged, tending instead to concentrate on the Naim system's other very special qualities. In addition, the Naim system was very musical in the lower registers, with roundness and ability to reveal textural detail. This was particularly apparent on plucked acoustic bass. The string attack and resonant pitch were clearly resolved, rather than becoming a muddy continuum. The system also conveyed a satisfying sense of energy and rhythmic intensity at low to moderate playback levels. Fast and intricate bass lines were easily distinguished because of the lack of homogeneity and the excellent pitch articulation.

Nevertheless, the 140 amplifier appeared to run out of steam when called on to reproduce instruments in the lowermost frequencies at high playback levels. This was especially noticeable on dynamic instruments like bass drum: the 140 didn't have the visceral impact heard through other (albeit more powerful) amplifiers. The feeling of complete control and effortlessness in the lowermost octaves just wasn't there. Bass guitar was a bit thin, rather than full-bodied. I was, however, surprised by the 140's ability to produce fairly high playback levels before the sense of strain set in, considering the 140's moderate 45Wpc power rating.

Similarly, musical climaxes could become strained at high playback levels. The magic this system can produce disappeared when it was asked to give more than it was capable of. During climaxes at high playback levels, textures became harder, the soundstage become congested, and the bloom was reduced. The LF character became thinner, along with the previously noted tendency for the mids to become lacking in palpability.

After a week of listening to the 62/140/Hi-Cap combination, I disconnected the Hi-Cap, using the NAP 140 power amplifier to supply DC to the NAC 62 preamp. Is the Hi-Cap's $1195 price for a box, transformer, two rectifiers, two caps, and two voltage regulators justified? From a look at the parts cost, no. From a musical standpoint, a resounding yes. Without the Hi-Cap, the system was very good, but failed to transcend the boundary between good sound and the involving intimacy with the music to which I had grown accustomed. The sound was still good, but the compelling musicality was gone. I was quite surprised at how great a difference the better power supply made. Without the Hi-Cap, the soundstage became narrower and shallower. The bloom and air around instruments collapsed. No longer was there that remarkable ability to present instrumental outlines that were spatially distinct from one another. The treble lost its utter sweetness and delicacy, instead taking on a harder, more electronic sound by comparison. There was a compression and homogenization of the presentation. Had I not listened to the system with the Hi-Cap first, I would have thought the sound with the standard power supply quite good and recommendable at the price. The Hi-Cap, however, elevated the performance from good to truly musical. The Hi-Cap should therefore be considered essential to achieve the 62's full potential.

Back to the question I posed earlier: What was it about the Naim's overall rendering that created such a powerful intimacy with the music? Despite my criticisms of specific performance aspects, it was easy to lose oneself in the music. I struggled with this important question during the review. Clearly, the Naim electronics were doing something right, but what was it? There was some ineffable quality to the music that went beyond the usual adjectives. These components crossed the line between producing good sound and creating a thorough involvement with the music.

The more I listened and thought about it, the stronger my first suspicions grew. What made music so compelling through the Naim components, I believe—besides the specific areas already mentioned—was their ability to clearly differentiate between disparate musical lines without homogenizing them into what JA vividly describes as "shaped and textured noise." Instruments in the presentation had their unique tonal characters intact, were overflowing with fine inner detail, and seemed to exist independently of each other in space. The feeling of each instrument being a distinct and independent component of the presentation, surrounded by an envelope of air, was extraordinary. The Naim electronics were totally devoid of the artificiality often heard when individual musical lines become fused together like a carton of Neapolitan ice cream left in the sun. This quality, I believe, is what separates a truly musical system from a merely competent one.

Operated within its power limitations, the Naim system was eminently enjoyable. Its shortcomings tended to be ignored in the context of its overall musicality.

The Naim NAC 62 preamp, NAP 140 power amp, and Hi-Cap power supply, taken as a system, achieved a level of musicality that in some aspects was comparable with the best electronics—regardless of price. Music had a sense of relaxation, ease, warmth, liquidity, and transparency that was breathtaking. What really makes the 62/140/Hi-Cap special, however, is its ability to present disparate musical elements as separate, intact images within the soundstage rather than as a synthetic continuum of "shaped and textured noise." This rare quality, coupled with natural portrayal of timbral shadings, a huge and transparent soundstage, and the sense of bloom around instrumental outlines, produced an involvement and intimacy with the music that transcended mere "good sound." I greatly enjoyed the many hours spent with the Naim electronics.

However, I felt the presentation lacked vibrancy and immediacy through the midband, a feeling that was exacerbated by high playback levels. Textures were not as fully fleshed out as I would have liked, imparting a threadbare quality that took away some musical drive and energy on some recordings. This character was inherent in the entire system, but seemed more pronounced with LP playback. Careful phono-cartridge matching may ameliorate this tendency. The low-frequency performance was tight, with round textures and good articulation, but lacked a sense of weight and authority. In addition, the Naim system didn't have the effortless dynamics heard through more powerful amplifiers. The bass tended to be overly lean—polite rather than visceral. In addition, the magic heard at moderate listening levels disappeared when the system was asked to deliver more power than it was designed to give. I did, however, get musically satisfying playback levels with most music through the Hales Signatures (87dB/W/m sensitivity) before the 140's problems became evident.

Although the Naim 62/140/Hi-Cap produced one of the most involving musical presentations I've heard in my listening room, its idiosyncratic design, limited power output, and apparent problems driving low impedances preclude a blanket recommendation. Furthermore, potential purchasers should be acutely aware of the inherent lack of flexibility in choosing associated components, interconnects, and loudspeaker cables; an upgrade path confined to the Naim family; and the 140's modest power output. Clearly, these components aren't designed for "normal" audiophiles (is that an oxymoron?) who like to experiment with their systems. In addition, these components have a certain sonic personality that will appeal to some listeners more than to others.

Having said all that, however, the Naim system earns a recommendation to the music lover who will set it up once, won't care about new breakthroughs in interconnects, doesn't feel that nagging compulsion most of us have experienced in trying to extract just a little more music from our systems, and is satisfied with moderate playback levels.

Considering the level of musicality offered by the 62/140/Hi-Cap, the combination is well worth the system's $3385 price, in my opinion. It held its own in some respects against much more expensive components: Classé DR-5 and Audio Research SP-11 Mk.II preamps, and VTL 225W Deluxe monoblocks (connected with premium interconnects and speaker cables to boot). Although the Naim system's specific limitations were apparent in contrast with these more expensive units, its overall musicality and ability to involve the listener were beyond reproach. Further adding to the system's value is the lack of need for buying expensive interconnects and loudspeaker cables. A couple of pairs of well-regarded interconnects and cables often boost a system's price by many hundreds of dollars. For comparison, two Naim DIN-to-RCA interconnects and two 10' runs of cable cost about $200. Although a lot of money for the parts inside, the Hi-Cap should be considered mandatory for achieving the musicality I've described. It should, of course, be pointed out that one may add the Hi-Cap at a later time, as finances permit.

If you want a music system you don't have to think about, and don't need lots of power, the Naim NAC 62, NAP 140, and Hi-Cap combination offers a superb musical experience. Despite their limitations, these units have that rare and compelling ability to satisfyingly convey the music's expression, which is what a playback system is all about.

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

volvic's picture

These products represent a time for me, where great sound came from small boxes, customer service was stellar and gear that took the guess work out of mixing and matching different components - the synergies were awesome. Plus it kept its value. Great stuff, great era.