In a previous review I wrote about the Naim Supernait 3 integrated amplifier, which I thoroughly enjoyed. While it was here I was also lucky enough to have the latest version of Naim’s entry level streamer here as well. I have owned and used a Naim NDX since 2015, I was interested to see and hear whether in the intervening four years, improvements in Naim’s streaming technology meant that the new kid could show his older sibling a few tricks.
Externally, the ND5 XS 2 is as plain as an Amish suit. No frills on view. That means no screen, just an illuminated Naim logo in the classic green livery and USB input on the front panel. I wondered about the lack of a screen very briefly, but on my NDX I really only use it (and the remote control) to change between RCA and DIN outputs. I have selected not to have it on during music replay, and in truth I cannot easily read it from my listening chair. Everything with the ND5 XS 2 is controlled through the Naim app, which I have on both my iPad and my Android mobile phone. The ND5 XS 2 is Roon compatible but I didn’t explore that part of its capability. Nor was I able to try out the Multi-Room ‘party’ mode, but I have no reason to suppose that it does not work as advertised. I simply used the streamer as a source, and at this it excelled.
A quick word about the Naim app. I read a lot of critical commentary about it on various social media groups, but I think it is now as good as most of the competition’s offerings. It is about 10 years since the first Uniti products saw the light of day, and this app is now mature and perfectly usable.
The rear panel of the ND5 XS 2 has everything one needs, including the aforementioned DIN and RCA output sockets, four digital inputs (S/PDIF coax and optical) a coax out, a USB A socket, an ethernet connection and an IEC power inlet with an on/off switch. There are points for screwing on three antennae, one for Bluetooth and two for WiFi. As I connect via CAT6 ethernet cable, the WiFi was not needed. The unit comes with one of Naim’s excellent mains cables which I used alongside a much more expensive third party option during the review period.
Once I had plugged in the optical cable from the television (my reviewing room is also our lounge), a pair of Audioquest Fire RCA interconnects, an ethernet cable and the mains lead we were good to go. Flick on the power switch and retire to my Stressless chair, iPad on my knee.
The first thing once the app has launched is to “find the rooms”, which means to hook up the device to the WiFi network. The ND5 XS 2 was found very quickly, as it was every time I sat down to use it. The interface with the NDX is much less reliable and can be quite irritating so first score goes to the newcomer. I had no objective way to measure it, but I think the ND5 XS 2 was much quicker to respond to inputs from the app, and small details made it more satisfying to use. The ND5 XS 2 found my UnitiServe right away, but to warm it up properly I selected one of Tidal’s rock music playlists and went out for the day. Naim equipment typically likes a good warm up period but when we came home, I thought the sound was already pretty good. Over the next few days I played music for hours at a time before starting to listen more intently, but it was clear from the outset that this is a very talented performer.
Connected to the Supernait 3 via a DIN to DIN cable, I started to listen to music streamed from my Naim UnitiServe consisting of WAV files ripped from my CD collection. I suddenly realised that in my first serious session four hours had passed in a flash. This Naim combination was creating a compelling aural experience. All the usual Naim suspects were of course present – pace, rhythm and timing aplenty but wait, what is this? A real three dimensional soundstage, with almost holographic imagery. Excellent. And deep tuneful bass, a truly realistic midrange and an airy top end too. The same characteristics were there when I switched to streaming from Tidal. I played modern rock, classic rock, jazz, folk, West African music, some reggae, lots of classical and choral music and some modern pop. The Naim combination really did not care what genre of music it was asked to present – everything came across as fresh and vibrant. Just occasionally I thought the ND5 XS 2 sounded a little brighter than my own Naim NDX but never to the extent that I found it tiresome.
I then switched amplifiers and connected the ND5 XS 2 to my Yamaha A-S3000 integrated with a pair Audioquest Fire RCA cables. The slight extra warmth of the Yamaha suited the Naim streamer very well, curbing any slight tendency for it to sound over-eager. This is in fact a very sophisticated streaming device. In the weeks it was here I came to truly love its capabilities and its very mature sound qualities. Overall I think it outperformed my NDX, showing the progress that Naim has made in digital replay systems over the past 5 years. It is also worth noting that the sonic excellence was carried through the Toslink connection from the Panasonic TV. Movie soundtracks had real punch, while spoken word programmes sounded just right. I was also very happy that in all its time with me I never once got the “Room Not Found” message from the app, which is not the case with my own 4 year old NDX. Another clear indication of progress.
My time with the ND5 XS 2 was very enjoyable. Digital is not my go-to source – I play records more than I listen to digital music when left to my own devices. However, reviewing a streamer meant that vinyl took a back seat for many days of the week, and I really enjoyed the experience.
If I was in the market for a new system that wasn’t eye-wateringly expensive, I would put a Naim XS3 amplifier and this ND5 XS 2 streamer at the top of my short list to audition. Add a pair of appropriate loudspeakers, some decent cables and you will have a system that will give you many years of musical joy.