Back in 2015 I spent several highly enjoyable months with a Naim NAP 250 DR and the experience left me keen to hear what the next power amp up in the catalogue could do. That model is the NAP 300 DR, the two amplifiers don’t look that different on paper, the 250 is specced to produce 80 Watts per channel and the 300 only 10 Watts more, it does produce 25% more transient power however (500VA versus 400VA). But the real difference is easy to see because the 250 is a single box amp and the 300 comes in two, with a separate power supply in classic Naim style. That means you can keep the noisy transformer and early regulation stages away from the easily corrupted audio signal, and that makes all the difference. A difference reflected in a more than doubling of retail price.
Both models were significantly revised with the discrete regulator or DR upgrade in 2015 (see NAP 250 DR review for what this meant), I had not reviewed any Naim power amps prior to this change but am told that it was quite significant. James Almey of Tom Tom Audio (a dyed in the wool Naim advocate) described the change as “shining a light into the darker recesses of the music” and revealing what is going on, in essence opening up the sound to provide higher resolution without undermining the structure of the music which has always been a strongpoint of the brand. Basically the NAP 300 DR is a far more revealing amplifier than its predecessor seems to be the view. Owners of a standard NAP 300 might be interested to know that it can be upgraded to DR status for £1,495 which seems like good value given that this involves replacing large swathes of the power supply and fundamentals like the output transistors. The new NA009 transistors are a result of the work that Naim did in developing the S1 Statement amplifier, they use silica cut from the same dye in order to achieve closer matching. The transistors used in the 300 are not as highly selected as Statement but they are the same type, and this as much as the regulator changes is key to the sound of the amplifier. As you can see from the internal image there is only one pair of output transistors per channel which is good for linearity and thus musical coherence.
The NAP 300 DR is very much a purist power amplifier and has the bare minimum of connections and controls, on the power supply there is an on/off switch that you are encouraged to leave on at all times, two Burndy connections for the meaty umbilicals that carry power to the amp and a mains inlet. As of this year Naim amps are supplied with a Powerline Lite mains cable that retails for £99 so is pretty generous freebie, you also get the Burndy cables themselves for that matter. You wouldn’t get far without them. The 300 DR has a pair of XLR inputs and banana plug speaker cable connections plus the inlets for the Burndy cables. Despite their substantial girth you are encouraged to avoid straining these power cables for best results, likewise Naim strongly suggests placing amp and power supply on separate supports rather than different tiers of the same rack. A basic interconnect is supplied with DIN connectors for a Naim preamplifier but as I used a Townshend Allegri for the majority of the listening the company supplied a pair of Super Lumina RCA to XLR cables which are distinctly pricey at £3,245.
I was inspired to try this combination by another reviewer, Martin Colloms, who like me is a big fan of the Allegri, a man who goes even further down the Naim route and uses NAC A5 speaker cable. I stuck with my regular Townshend Isolda DCT, which is the antithesis of NAC A5 yet works superbly with this and other Naim amps so long as you don’t leave cables in the amp and not the speakers, this gets the cooling fans spinning and suggests a degree of discomfort on the amp’s behalf. The Isolda is high capacitance cable that would give an old Naim amp a heart attack.
I used the NAP 300 with a number of loudspeakers over several months and found it to be consistently musical and revealing in equal measure, it has an uncanny ability to get to the parts that other amplifiers fail to find. Delivering the musical details that make each piece come alive in the context of a sense of flow that is in the highest league. It doesn’t sound as powerful, as obviously detailed nor have the speed that some other power amps deliver but that’s because it focuses attention on the music not the sound. In my book that’s what a piece of audio equipment should do but surprisingly few do, this I suspect is because it’s much easier to hear differences in sound during the research and development process. Improvements in musical engagement take longer to establish because they are more subtle; more powerful bass and silkier highs do not necessarily translate into more musical coherence and enjoyment.
With the revealing powers of a Vivid G4 loudspeaker the NAP 300 sounds fulsome, wide open and superbly timed. Play Infected Mushrooms’ ‘Avratz’ and it will take you to the rave and make you feel like you’re high on something intoxicating, but that something is not ecstasy it’s the energy in the music, the fun that the quite possibly intoxicated musicians laid down in the first place. This is what I mean by reaching the parts that others miss.
The Naim achieves this at least partly by being a pretty revealing amp, with PMC Fact.8 speakers you can clearly hear the nature of the room on Amandine Beyer’s renditions of Bach Partitas, her solo violin defining the space very clearly without the undermining the brilliance of the playing or the charm of the piece. This is piece where the timing is crucial to the end result, most decent amps make it sound nice but fail to express the rhythm that Bach was so good at, this amp lets you hear this critical element without sharpening leading edges in order to do so. I’ve contrasted it with amplifiers that give more emphasis to this side of things but they never manage to let the music flow like the NAP 300. Ultimately there is very little sense of an amplifier at work, presumably because the DR element has minimised the noise and distortions that manifest themselves in other amps.
With Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 speakers I was quite struck by how much low level information the Naim presented on an album that is usually very strong on dynamic impact but seemed to lack in subtlety. This is a very revealing speaker indeed and lets you hear precisely what an amplifier is capable of, both in terms of resolution and power delivery. It’s not the easiest load but the NAP 300 doesn’t seem to have any difficulty in keeping it under control up to pretty high levels. More obviously grippy amps will give you more bass slam but usually at the expense of subtlety at that end of the spectrum. The bass from the Naim is beautifully defined in terms of shape, it could be more solid but whether amps that have that sort of power could match its timing is debatable. Separation of instruments and voices is also very good, you can always tell who’s playing what and how the various musicians are interacting, and this is ultimately rather more engaging in the long term than the visceral thrill of having your sternum pummelled. Don’t get me wrong, the bass is as deep as the speaker allows, the 802 reveals this with all manner of material, but it’s hard to beat synthesized bass and Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ambient beauty Sumvs proves this in delicious style. The low notes vibrate the air in the room in a subtle but physical style that is tremendously appealing for some reason.
The fact that the NAP 300 works consistently with a wide range of loudspeakers is a sign that the guys at Salisbury have got it right, in the past there seemed to be a relatively narrow range of speakers that were considered to work with Naim amps but that seems to have changed. I got highly enjoyable results with PMCs, B&Ws, Vivids and more affordable designs from Rega, Triangle and Dynaudio, a pretty broad range of compatibility by anyone’s standards. Add to this the quality of build and long term serviceability that Naim has built its reputation on and the NAP 300 DR is all the amp that anyone really needs.
Type: Solid state stereo power amplifier with separate power supply
Analogue inputs: 2 x XLR
Input impedance: 18kOhms
Analogue outputs: 4mm speaker terminals
Power output: 90W/channel into 8 Ohms
Amplifier 87 x 432 x 314mm
Power supply 87 x 432 x 314mm
Weight: 12.6kg excluding PSU
Naim Audio Ltd
T 01722 426600