Every once in a while a product appears on the market that is so appealing that you need to buy it. This time it is not a gadget but a real audio product from a highly reputed company in Salisbury. A small power amplifier in the Naim tradition designed primarily to be used with their new DAC-V1. Or, as in my case, just as a power amp. Now most reviews do combine the V1 and NAP 100, focussing on the D/A-converter, I prefer to use the NAP 100 on its own. Just because it looks so good and because it is nothing less than a real Naim.
Under the hood there is a class A/B amplifier built in a traditional way, not a class D or digital solution as the size might suggest. Half the case is taken by a large power transformer which has separate windings for left and right channels. The output power comes from just two bipolar transistors on each side in a symmetrical setting, these transistors use the half width metal enclosure as a heatsink. The amplifier circuit is on one PCB, although it’s dual mono all the way. On the rear panel we find inputs in four pin DIN and stereo RCA variants. The speaker terminals are for 4mm banana plugs only and sit alongside the power inlet and a power switch. There’s no need to turn the NAP 100 off, it idles at 7 Watts, yet its 29.5 dB gain will deliver 50 Watts per channel into 8 Ohm and 75 Watts into 4 Ohm loads. As it happens the NAP 100 has the same gain as the power section of the UnitiQute, we will see later how that can be used. The front is free of knobs around the backlit Naim logo. In the carton you will find a 4-pin DIN Naim cable, a power cord and Naim's idiosyncratic idea of decent banana plugs.
Cute with a Qute
Being the happy owner of a Naim UnitiQute in my study I was most interested to hear what the increase in power and performance from the NAP 100 could bring compared to the amp inside the Qute. But when it became apparent that both amps had the same sensitivity I realised that I could use the NAP 100 to bi-amp the system. Tweeters on the Qute, woofers on the NAP. The set-up is straightforward, the UnitiQute runs on my network with a Synology NAS, connected with Cat7+ cable. Single or double Supra loudspeaker cables run to my PMC Twenty.23 speakers. Power cords are home made from decent wire but nothing special.
First I swapped the speaker cables from the Qute to the NAP 100, at this stage I didn’t switch the internal power amp in the Qute to the ‘no speakers’ position. The music I played came, among others, from Kari Bremnes whose CD Norwegian Mood provided the track The Copenhagen Cavern, afterwards I played the track Here Comes The Flood from Katja Maria Werker’s CD Mitten Im Sturm. With both tracks the results were clear: a better stereo image with the voice standing out from the musicians to a greater degree. There was also more and deeper low end both in quality and quantity. The music became more convincing and had more ‘air’.
As soon as I switched the internal power amplifier of the UnitiQute to the ‘no speakers’ position in the menu a darkness in the sound disappeared and the character of the Qute changed to the sunny side of music reproduction. Naim’s classic pace, rhythm and timing made its appearance, percussion had more attack and the sound got more involving. While the bass lines became clearer and easier to follow individually. With the power supply in the UnitiQute dedicated to the digital and preamp sections it is clear how much influence the power section has on the end result. No wonder Naim has so many power supply upgrades in its range.
The final step was to see what would happen if I bi-amped my small PMC system. New music was played, this time Marc Cohn with Walking In Memphis and Melody Gardot singing If The Stars Were Mine. I went back to the UnitiQute first which plays very well on its own, but it is clear that switching off the NAP 100 is a step backwards into darkness, a less pretty low end combined with less detail overall. You notice it as soon as you connect or disconnect a better power amplifier, although I am sure in the beginning Naim never meant to use a UnitiQute this way. I added the NAP 100 and connected it to the woofers, leaving the Qute to fire up the tweeters. This meant I had to switch the internal power amp on again and unfortunately this gets us back into the situation where its influence limits the capacities of the standalone NAP 100. It is a far better solution to just connect the NAP 100 to my speakers and when I changed from a single run of Supra Classic 4.0 cable to Chord Company bi-wire I reached my goal. That was the last time I combined the NAP 100 with the UnitiQute, mostly because the cables added just that little warmth the Supra cable lacks as well as improving speed. For bi-amping I would probably have to buy another NAP 100.
By now it is probably clear how much I appreciate the cute little NAP 100. This is a real power amplifier in the Naim tradition and I assume it works wonders in combination with a DAC V1. But don't just leave it in the study, take it to your main room as well. It’s a pity Naim doesn’t have an analogue preamp at a similar price to create an entry level pre/power. Looking at the product range a UnitiQute is the closest thing if you want at least one analogue input, I always thought of the Qute as Naim’s Swiss army knife.
Without an affordable analogue preamp on hand I connected the NAP 100 to my main system. I was intrigued to see how far this baby Naim could be pushed, and in this system it was driving PMC fact.8 speakers. It looks funny, a NAP 100 next to a class A Audia Flight 50. Although both are able to deliver 50 Watts into the same 8 Ohm load, the Audia is at least on paper far more powerful when exposed to difficult loads and more demanding speakers. Of course no serious dealer will ever sell you an almost £9,000 Strumento No. 1 preamp in combination with a £650 power amplifier and fact.8 speakers, but it might be the ultimate stress test for the Naim. Starting off with Sade and her album The Ultimate Collection the NAP 100 showed what rhythm is all about, it’s a quality that has always at the core of the Naim sound. The soundstage filled the space in front of me nicely and put it a little further from my listening position which was rather nice. As expected the baby Naim couldn’t compete with the massive Audia in sheer power, it sounded small with far less bass extension on the big PMCs. On the other hand, whilst being the limiting factor in this setup the NAP 100 still does a nice job. Certainly the music is involving and presented in a natural way without much coloration. Do you to know Autobahn from Kraftwerk’s live DVD Minimum Maximum? An ALAC rip of this sounded very nice on the NAP 100, with a lot of the energy in this weird electronic paradise appearing on stage. Toward the end the session I played Famous Blue Raincoat performed by Leonard Cohen from his album Songs From The Road, which also offered a lot of listening pleasure. In summary it’s fair to say that in this setting the NAP 100 sounds nice and engaging but is too small to get the best out of these speakers. It proved itself to be a decent amp, performing like a real Naim should, and is worth its money but is naturally the limiting factor. Returning to the small set-up described above and it’s just the opposite. In combination with a UnitiQute the NAP 100 only brings energy and joy.
Pay the bill
The NAP 100 is intended to be used in combination with a Naim DAC-V1, which is a digital preamp and a converter. But using it only that way is a pity since it is a very capable little power amplifier that serves well in different set-ups. For instance it does an excellent job to of upgrading a Naim UnitiQute. I enjoyed the NAP 100 in that setu-p so much that I bought one for permanent use. It not only adds extra power but lets the Qute produce a more open soundstage, better dynamics, and better timing, more details and last but not least more enjoyment of my music collection. It is therefore recommended in and beyond the study as long as the speakers are not too unforgiving.