Naim ND5 XS 2 media player

The late Julian Vereker, the sharp-minded former racing driver who founded Naim Audio and designed its first products, did so because he wanted audio amplification of a quality he felt no one else was making at the time, reasoning that if he wanted such a thing, so might others. Thus came about Naim's first domestic-audio product, the distinctive NAP200 solid-state amp (1973).

Throughout the 1980s, I closely followed Naim's work, buying a few of their products, lusting after others, and seeing in many of them the same originality of engineering that had characterized the NAP200. At the time of its introduction, there was nothing else on the market remotely like the Naim Nait integrated amplifier (1983)—and the same could be said for Naim's NAT 01 FM tuner (1984), SBL loudspeaker (1986), Aro tonearm (1989), CDS CD player (1991), and Armageddon turntable power supply (1995).

That begs a question, variations on which arise almost every time I talk on the phone with some of my Naim-loving contemporaries: Do Naim's current products embody the same originality and uniqueness as the above-mentioned Naim classics? In the past few weeks, while living with Naim's new entry-level network player, the ND5 XS 2 ($3495), I may have come a little closer to finding the answer.

Introduced in September 2018, the ND5 XS 2 is distinguished from its predecessor, the ND5 XS, by its use of Naim's new streaming platform, which is based on a low-voltage, differential-signaling (LVDS) serial communications protocol. According to Paul Neville, Naim's R&D director, "LVDS uses 10x lower voltage compared to standard logic, and noise is reduced proportionally." Neville also said that an LVDS system "has impedance matched terminations at the send and receive ends, [thus] reducing reflections that can cause RF." (Naim's longstanding belief in the sonic superiority of impedance-matched terminations is what drove them to use BNC rather than RCA jacks on their older analog preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers.) According to Naim's website, the LVDS protocol's higher speed gives the ND5 XS 2 the ability to handle "all HD formats at up to 32 bits/384kHz, or DSD 128." Naim also claims that their LVDS-based streaming platform supports dual-band WiFi.

The ND5 XS 2 includes native support of Chromecast, Spotify, and Tidal, and is Roon-ready. My review loaner didn't support Qobuz, but Naim says that that they are currently working on integrating native Qobuz support.

Notably, and in common with Naim's other two network players, the NDX 2 and ND 555, the ND5 XS 2 contains its own D/A processor, based on a Burr-Brown PCM1791A DAC chip. In this player, the processor is addressed by four digital inputs—one BNC, one RCA, two TosLink—and supports up to 24-bit/192kHz inputs and DSD over PCM up to DSD64 on all but the TosLink optical inputs, which are limited to 24/96. Also included are two USB Type A sockets—one front, one rear—for use with portable media. Through these, the user can play a variety of file formats, including: WAV, up to 32/384; AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, all up to 24/384; DSD, up to DSD128; and various lower-resolution codecs. The ND5 XS 2 does not unfold MQA files.


Apart from an on/off switch, an illuminated Naim logo, and a USB port, the ND5 XS 2's front panel is virtually featureless: To use the ND5 XS 2, its owner must have a smartphone or tablet computer, on which the player's downloadable control app can reside: The player itself has no user controls, and a remote-control handset is neither included nor available. A WiFi-enabled router, connected to the Internet, is also required to explore and exploit all that the player has to offer.

The ND5 XS 2 is built into an enclosure of a size and style similar to that of Naim's CD5 XS CD player, measuring 17" wide by 2.5" high by 11.75" deep and weighing 14.6 lb. Its top and sides are extruded aluminum with a black powder-coat finish, while its front panel is machined from aluminum, then brushed and anodized black. The case proved impenetrable; for all I know, the inside is finished in some other color. But I kind of doubt it.

Installation and Setup
In the manner of so many contemporary consumer goods, the ND5 XS 2 is packaged with a slim booklet containing only the most basic setup instructions. As such things go, and with exceptions (see below), this Quick Start Guide is acceptably good. It begins by instructing the user to connect the player to an Internet router with a wired or wireless connection; the former requires an Ethernet cable (not included), while the latter requires the user to fasten two screw-on WiFi antennas (included) to the appropriate sockets on the player's rear panel. A Bluetooth antenna (included) is also recommended for installation. I chose to start with the wireless approach, and later checked my results by switching to an Ethernet connection. (I heard no differences.) I then obeyed the Guide's directive to download the Naim app to my iPad. When I first launched the app, which appears to have no name other than Naim, it initiated its own setup instructions, which I followed to the letter.

I ran 1.5m-long Audio Note AN-Vx interconnects from the Naim's RCA analog output jacks—a stereo DIN output socket is also provided—to one of the line inputs of my Shindo Laboratory Monbrison preamp. With the powered-up Naim thus connected to my system, and with Naim's nameless app now open before me, I selected from the latter the Tidal icon, chose a familiar album, hit Play, and heard . . . nothing at all. The text at the bottom of my iPad's screen scrolled in a manner suggesting that streaming was indeed taking place—and since I knew, from minutes-old experience, that my system was functioning properly, it was clear that the ND5 XS 2 itself had fallen short. Then I remembered my experience with the CD5 XS CD player: Naim products equipped with two types of analog outputs require the user to select one or the other . . .


For something more in-depth than Naim's Quick Start Guide, one must go to Naim's website, then Customer Support, then Support & Information, then Product Manuals, then click NDX, then click the listing that includes on the same line both the product name and the desired language (there are no listings for the ND5 XS 2—only for its predecessor, the ND5 XS). I did so, and in Section 2.8.2 (Audio Signal Outputs), I was informed that output sockets are selected and configured via the NDX/5 XS's Analogue Outputs and Digital Output setup menus. I went to the pertinent manual sections and saw that, indeed, the making of setup selections was a very real possibility—but how? Backing up to the first entry in Chapter 4 (Setup), I saw that I could "enter . . . setup mode by pressing the handset setup key." That would be lovely—if only a handset were supplied with the ND5 XS 2. Obviously, I was wasting time looking at the manual, which also covers Naim's handset-equipped NDX2.

I went back to the Naim app, noticed the little gear icon, pressed it, and saw a list of Settings, including the all-important Output settings. Hooray! I went there, saw that DIN had been selected, chose RCA instead—and heard music. All was well. I suggest that Naim mention this in their Quick Start Guide, or ensure that all of their source components are shipped with both outputs activated. The latter is a selectable option, albeit one that Naim has described in the past as offering slightly lower sound quality than if only a single output is activated.

Most of the other setup chores were straightforward. To listen to Internet Radio, I chose that icon from the Naim app's home screen and was off and running. Having done that, I could sort and ultimately select stations by genre, country of origin, and other logical criteria. Similarly, to listen to files stored on a thumb drive, I inserted the drive in one of the ND5 XS 2's two USB ports, selected the app's USB icon, and presto—once again, I was off to the races.

Pairing a user-supplied smartphone with the Naim's Bluetooth input option isn't covered in the Quick Start Guide. Through trial and error, I found that getting my iPhone to communicate with the Naim depended on my turning off and then turning on all associated products and functions in just the right order. And although Naim's implementation of Bluetooth sounded no worse than any others I've heard, it was nevertheless not worth the trouble: As with just about every other Bluetooth-as-serious-audio-source effort I've experienced, the sound quality was to Tidal as soft-serve ice cream is to the real thing, only filled with slightly more icy particles. Don't bother.

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

Bogolu Haranath's picture

PITA? ..... Pita bread? :-) .........

Charles E Flynn's picture

Go to this page:

Scroll down to the section "Technology & Craft".

Try to place your mouse pointer at the left end of the photo of the rear panel, halfway up. You see the image become magnified (very nicely done). Move the mouse pointer to your right, until you come to Digital Inputs. The RCA input with the orange ring has a small 3 under it. It could be argued that the text "Digital Inputs" is above the inputs so the text cannot be obscured by a protruding RCA jack. If there were a bit more room, the numerals identifying the individual inputs could also be above them.

Below the serial number barcode there appears:


Stephen Scharf's picture

I too am always intrigued by what NAIM is up to, but man, I gotta say...the prices for this gear is getting way outta control. $3500? For a delta-sigma DAC? And to top it off, to use the ND5 XS 2, its owner *must* have a smartphone or tablet computer. C'mon. I know you guys hear this all the time, but still...this stuff is way overpriced. Hey, we want you to drop 3 1/2 large on this streamer with a $6 D/S DAC chip in it, and oh BTW, you can't control it unless you have dropped another $300-$1000 on a phone or tablet. Seriously?

I'm starting to be fully in the camp of Schiit Audio...there needs to be more great gear that is priced at 3 figures, not 4 or 5. Seriously, what does a machined-from-billet front panel contribute to functionality? All it does is drive the cost of scrap up, and thereby, the cost is passed on to the customer.

I know NAIM makes really great gear, I've heard it first-hand on some first-class systems, including Dynaudio and Magico.

But, I'm gonna wait for what Schiit Audio does for a Pi-based streamer given they can now do their own genuine in-house USB implementation. It will likely sound as good as this NAIM and sell for ~$500 or less.

doug beechwood's picture

The piece is Imported, and thusly goes through a Distributor. The Distributor just had a name change to Focal Naim America. Their website roster lists 32 warm bodies (not including the warehouse staff) occupying a zooty office.

That number of people will generate a healthy monthly nut just in payroll. And we know where that cash flow will come from; retail margins.

Eclipse's picture

FYI - Begs the question is a term that is used to mean that someone has made a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support.

dc_bruce's picture

And, frankly, the reproduction of sine and square waves looks like what you commonly see in JA's reviews of digital stuff from 10 years ago. I know, I know, measurements and such don't matter, etc., etc., but Art kinda damned this one with faint praise.

To be specific, the comparison should be with the Simaudio Moon 280D DAC with the MiNd unit (streamer) installed. I was at a dealer about a year ago, who offered his demo ND5 XS at the same price as the Simaudio unit ($2700). That was a discount for the Naim unit, but was list price for Simaudio. I personally preferred the sound of the Simaudio, which also had the virtue of handling DSD, which version 1 of the Naim did not IIRC. Moreover, if you buy the Simaudio, you get their MiNd app, which is a pretty fair substitute for Roon, for those who don't want to pay another $500 or so for that software.

Finally, FWIW, Michael Lavorgna, late of Audiostream, was pretty fond of the Simaudio unit, although I don't believe he ever reviewed the ND5 XS.

Solarophile's picture

This device performs like machines a decade ago. The most likely reason is that it is based on a rather old TI PCM1791A DAC which itself was released more than a decade back. No matter how great the analog circuitry around it, the resolution cannot go beyond the limits of that chip.

The only features that looks 2010's is the Roon/Chromecast/Spotify/Tidal endpoint ability and the upper limits of samplerate (384kHz PCM and DSD128).

filmfresser's picture

The Naim streamer might sound great but how is it a great value when you can purchase something like the Sonore ultraRendu, Allo DigiOne Signature, or the entry-level streamers from Auralic that offer so much more for the money. I've owned Naim digital gear in the past and while it sounded fine, it wasn't very competitive to other CD players that were cheaper. Having had the chance to listen to the new Naim, it's not as plug-n-play as it should be, and I heard very little to make one want to upgrade from the Sonore or even the Innuos ZenMini MK III that is cheaper and a Roon-Core device as well.