Naim ND5 XS 2 media player Page 2

Because the ND5 XS 2 is described as being Roon-ready, I was at first a bit peeved that this functionality, too, isn't even hinted at in the Quick Start Guide or the full owner's manual. Not knowing what else to do, I booted up the MacBook Air on which I keep Roon and most of my music files, launched Roon, went first to Settings, and then to Audio . . . and there on the screen before me, under the newly appeared heading Networked, were the words "Naim Audio ND5 XS 2" and a software button labeled Enable. Apparently, my Roon installation and Naim's network player had found each other! I clicked Enable, and in doing so added the ND5 XS 2 to the selectable Zones in my Roon installation's outputs. I clicked on that new Zone choice, and boom—whatever music I selected in Roon was streamed through the Naim. Dead easy. Though it wouldn't hurt to mention this in the Quick Start Guide.

The Naim ND5 XS 2 can also be used to play files from the user's music server or NAS. I own neither, and so didn't pursue those input options in my listening.

Listening with Roon
After using Roon to play a few bog-standard 16/44.1 AIFF files burned from CDs—and noting, among other things, that Ginger Baker's drumming in "Had to Cry Today," from Blind Faith's eponymous studio album (AIFF from Japanese CD, Polydor UICY-9168), had the good timing and fine, whappy sound it should have—I moved on to some high-resolution files, checking resolution readouts as they appeared onscreen in the Naim app. When using Roon with the ND5 XS 2, that information, minus the bit rate, appeared in both the Naim app on my iPad and in my Roon installation on my laptop; also appearing in both were the cover art for the album played (in the Naim app, this appeared under Roon's stylized logo), and basic controls that let me pause or play a track, or move backward or forward among the available tracks. But Roon's metadata—bios, lyrics, etc.—wasn't available via the Naim app.


"Lonesome Tears," from Beck's Sea Changes (provenance unknown, Capitol), came through at 352.8kHz sounding as good and big and compelling as I've ever heard it, with strings as lush as digitized strings can be, and good solidity and depth from the electric bass. "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man," from the Rolling Stones' Out of Our Heads (ABKCO), correctly played as a 24/176.4 AIFF file, with superb momentum, force, and clarity of timing: It left me shaking my head at how well Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman worked together, and at the youthful irreverence of the lyrics. And Liszt's piano transcription of the Solemn March to the Holy Grail, from Wagner's Parsifal, as performed by Daniel Barenboim on his On My New Piano (AIFF, Deutsche Grammophon), played at the correct 24/96—and was nothing short of magnificent. That big piano sounded like a big piano in tone and scale, and note attacks were sharp in the most lifelike sense, without the glassy clatter that ruins some piano recordings. The power in Barenboim's left hand was put across believably—something that was even more true of the album's next selection, Liszt's Funérailles, with its low C1 (32.7Hz)—as was the humanness of his touch. (There are a few clams on this album, and I wouldn't want them scrubbed away.) To hear this recording through this device was to gain appreciation for Daniel Barenboim as an artist and the ND5 XS 2 as a playback device.

Listening with portable storage media
I used the ND5 XS 2's front-panel USB port to play files from a number of thumb drives, including one supplied to me by John Atkinson. On it were two versions of Part I of Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert (ECM): a 24/48 MQA file and a 24/96 non-MQA file. I spent a fair amount of time comparing these through the ND5 XS 2, and came away preferring the 48kHz MQA version, despite the Naim's lack of MQA decoding: Not only did the piano sound meatier in a way that lent the frilliest improvisations a bit more gravitas—even at its best, the piano sound in this recording is subpar—but in the 48kHz version, even the note decays in the air surrounding the instrument were more substantial, pleasantly and realistically so.

Another MQA-encoded piano recording, of Robert Silverman playing Beethoven's Piano Sonata 30 in E, Op.109 (24/44.1 FLAC, Audio High), sounded even better, also despite the lack of MQA unfolding. Silverman's instrument sounded much more realistic, with greater timbral richness and purr, and minus the sometimes-plasticky, sometimes-tinny clatter of Jarrett's piano in The Köln Concert. Through the Naim, the sense that the musician's touch was bringing a very large instrument to colorful, physically present life was clearer than ever. A selection of DSD64 files from one of my portable USB hard drives also yielded consistently clear, colorful, engaging results. The stacked voices in "Sabra Girl," from Nickel Creek's This Side (Sugar Hill), were realistically breathy, without undue sibilance, and the bowed double bass's entrance had all the requisite heft. Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas" (from Tenor Madness, Prestige) came across with good timing and touch—the latter especially true of Max Roach's floor-tom rolls—though the sounds of his cymbals, and of some of Rollins's note attacks, were grainy.

Listening with a digital input
Using the digital output of a CD player to drive one of the ND5 XS 2's four digital inputs wasn't too terribly difficult, though I stumbled over two avoidable hurdles, one of my own making: The sole digital output of my reference Hegel Music Systems Mohican CD player is a BNC jack—and I own no cables terminated with BNC plugs. Luckily, I found in my parts box a BNC-to-RCA adapter (footnote 1), which I pressed into service to use a single Shindo interconnect between that adapter, installed on the Hegel, and the Naim's RCA digital-input jack.


Pleased with myself for being so resourceful, I sat down with my iPad, pressed the Naim app's Digital Input icon, launched a CD, and heard . . . nothing. Futzing around on my iPad, I discovered that the Naim app regards the player's four digital inputs as distinct from one another, and that the user must enable, software-istically, the input whose number corresponds to the jack in use. In the online manual for the original ND5 XS, I saw that the RCA jack was Digital Input 2. I enabled it and relaunched the CD. Still nothing. Through trial and error I discovered that, on the ND5 XS 2, the RCA jack is actually Digital Input 3 (footnote 2). Then I was able to play music. Hope they hurry up with that new manual.

Comparing the sound of the Hegel Mohican's own analog outputs with the sound of the Naim ND5 XS 2 driven by the Hegel's digital output revealed subtle differences. Even when adjusted for level—the Hegel's analog output was slightly higher than the Naim's—the full Hegel allowed the ensemble and the room itself, on violinist Marianne Rônez and Affetti Musicali's recording of Biber's Mystery Sonatas (CD, Winter & Winter 910 029-2), to sound bigger, and notes in the treble range a little clearer. The Naim DAC-player, fed the same digits, allowed the melodies a bit more flow: It was slightly easier to sink into the music via the Naim, though both products did superb jobs of presenting note attacks, especially by Rônez, as the unabashedly physical things they are, and were equally colorful and enjoyable. Listening to "What's New," from Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely (CD, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 792), confirmed the full Hegel's greater treble clarity—Sinatra's breathing was a bit more apparent through the Mohican's DAC and output stage than through the Naim's DAC—and larger sense of scale. Yet again, through both, this delightful if somewhat trombone-happy recording was engaging and thoroughly wonderful.

Listening with Internet Radio
The logically laid-out Naim app made it easy to enjoy Internet Radio—hardly the player's highest-resolution source, but arguably the one that gave me the most musical pleasure per hour spent. During the Naim's time in my system, I discovered that Israel's Kan Kol Hamusica classical station sounds surprisingly good for its stated 128kbps streaming of MP3 recordings—their output was consistently well textured and colorful through the ND5 XS 2—and their programming is adventurous. The sound of Mupa Budapest's 192kbps stream, though acceptable, seemed more compressed than Israel's 128kbps—go figure!—and the 125kbps broadcasts from Romania Radio Classic's various artist-themed stations, though sounding a bit textureless and strangely distant, were also adventurously, intelligently programmed. (Jean-Marc Luisada's weird-ass take on Chopin's Mazurka 17 in b-flat was a quite enjoyable surprise.)

From Wales came the wonderful Blas Folk Radio Cymru—brilliant music: The Foxglove Trio's "Stars and Bells"! Carwin Tywyn's "Fairy Glen"! Blanche Rowen and Mike Gulston's "Bugail Yr Hafod"! Cripes, I could have listened to this stuff forever. It all sounded very good—amazing, in fact, at just 64kbps—and no pesky vowels. But every time I tried England's Sea Shanty Radio I got only dead air. Lost at sea, I presume.

But having said all that, with respect to both sound quality and music quality, it never got better than Otto's Baroque Music, from Switzerland: amazing 320kbps streaming—with no dropouts!

Listening with Tidal
Have I saved the best for last? Not in terms of sound quality: That honor would have to go to the best files I played via Roon from my laptop, or from portable USB storage. Nor in terms of the selection of recordings, or access to previously unheard jewels: In those regards, there's no beating Internet Radio. But for now, services such as Tidal and Qobuz are where variety and quality intersect, offering the music lover the path of least resistance to pretty good sound and pretty good selection. So I guess I've saved the easiest for last.

Via Tidal, the utterly brilliant title song of Merrie Land, the second album from the Good, the Bad & the Queen (16/44.1 FLAC, Studio 13), sounded just okay—and my experiences with other sources lead me to suspect that the ND5 XS 2 wasn't what held it back. This file through this player got the job done, but only just. The sound was full-range, and clear enough to get across Damon Albarn's borderline-sprechgesang delivery and utterly brilliant lyrics, but the bass was rubbery, and the sound grainy overall.

A number of other pop titles fared no better, including every MQA-encoded Tidal Masters file I streamed. In the title track of Tom Petty's Into the Great Wide Open (16/44.1 FLAC, Gone Gator/Tidal Masters), cymbals sounded as if formed from hard-packed granules of glass; and "Fall On Me," from R.E.M.'s Life's Rich Pageant (16/44.1 FLAC, I.R.S./Tidal Masters), which usually makes me a little misty, just fell flat. But "Sloth," from Fairport Convention's Full House (16/44.1 FLAC, Hannibal/Tidal Masters), came across with good physicality of note attacks from bass and electric guitars alike, and with much less grain.

Tidal's selection of classical recordings is less than vast, but within it I found generally superior sound—owing, no doubt, to the generally better quality of the original recordings. In particular, material from Deutsche Grammophon, all 16/44.1 FLAC, was consistently good: Martha Argerich's performance of Chopin's étude 4 sounded lovely, with superb musical flow and freedom from sonic harshness. Sounding even better was Hélène Grimaud's appropriately atmospheric recording of Satie's Gnossienne 1, in which the abundant room sound was convincingly rendered.

My experience of current streamers, players, renderers, and what-all remains too limited to make a great many useful performance comparisons. That said, compared to the similarly Tidal-compatible, DAC-equipped AVM Ovation MP 8.2 CD player and media player ($10,995), which I reviewed in February 2018, the Naim ND5 XS 2 was a little easier to set up and operate, and never dropped its WiFi connection, as happened more than once during my time with the AVM. And some of the things I enjoyed about the ND5 XS 2—in particular, its good musical timing and typically meaty sound—are qualities I've long associated with Naim.

As for originality: In 1973, Naim Audio was likely the only company making a commercial domestic amplifier with a quasi-complementary, all-NPN output section—just as, in 1984, they were the only company in Europe making their own FM tuner heads, and in 1995 were the only company building a turntable power supply around an isolation transformer. In 2019, Naim is far from the only company making Tidal-friendly network players, of perfectionist quality or otherwise. But it's possible that their 46-year commitment to star grounding, impedance-matched connections, heavily regulated power supplies, and other Naim obsessions are, in the aggregate, key to the ND5 XS 2's fine sound and generally commendable ease of use.

At the end of the day, the ND5 XS 2 impresses me as a good-sounding, pleasant-to-use player that offers very good value for the money. And when Qobuz compatibility comes aboard—at which time I hope Naim will let me revisit this model for a Follow-Up—it should be all the more appealing, especially if the price stays where it is. Glowingly recommended.

Footnote 1: As I would (re)discover when packing up the ND5 XS 2, Naim had already included one of those adapters.

Footnote 2: After the fact, I channeled my inner Robert Langdon and looked more closely at the ND5 XS 2's rear panel. Yes—there was the supersecret symbol "3," just below the Digital Input RCA jack. I guess I have to share the blame.

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.