Hardware Reviews

Naim New Classic and the rhythm divine

Naim New Classic NSC 222, NPX 300, NAP 250 review

Naim NSC 222, NPX 300 & NAP 250

The Naim New Classic range marks the beginning of an era for the Salisbury based electronics brand, a company that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It is the first change to Naim’s core product line since the introduction of Naim Classic in 2002. The Mu-So and Uniti products have appeared in that time but they were additions rather than replacements, New Classic will be phased in as existing Classic products are sold through. Bringing more radical in their styling and, as you will read, sound.

New Classic has launched with three products, the NSC 222 is a preamplifier, streamer and DAC with a headphone amplifier and MM phono input for record players. Its distinctive shape and lovely volume knob echoes that of the company’s Statement amplifiers and was created by the same industrial designer Simon Matthews. The aesthetics also reflect the Uniti range in the large display screen that shows artwork for streamed music and provides access to the broad range of sources this unit can deliver. These include streaming services, wireless and wired, and both analogue and digital components.

Naim New Classic NSC 222 review

The Naim New Classic NAP 250 power amplifier mirrors the styling of the NSC 222 and thus stands in starkly stylish contrast to the outgoing NAP 250 DR, a relatively plain black box by comparison. The New Classic NAP 250 is also a more powerful amplifier, it is rated at 100 Watts per channel which is 20W more than its predecessor. So much more that it requires a cooling fan in the back panel albeit not one that I heard in operation, it must be extremely quiet. The other distinction on the back of the New Classic NAP 250 is that the single XLR input of yore has been replaced by a pair of these ostensibly balanced connectors. This signals quite a dramatic shift in approach by the engineers at Naim, previously pre- to power connections were via DIN to XLR, with both channels combined in the single cable and quite often sent via a separate power supply. For New Classic Naim have adopted a pseudo balanced output on the NSC 222 that connects with the power amp via a pair of XLR terminated cables supplied in the box.

The pseudo balanced or balanced impedance approach has the noise cancelling advantage of regular balanced connections but avoids the increased gain and the need for time matched send and receive electronics of that approach. Using a pair of conventionally wired XLR sockets also ensures a broader compatibility with other brands, in future it will make it easier to connect Naim components as well but for the meantime the company can supply cables to use legacy products with New Classic. The speaker cable connections are still banana/4mm sockets, Naim are sticking to their less is more guns there, but they have added a selection of non-audio related connections. These include remote in which acts like a 12V trigger but uses an optical connection to the NSC 222. There’s also a brightness/reset button and a selector for auto standby/instant on. It’s positively user friendly.

Naim New Classic NSC 222 back panel

The third element in the New Classic series is the NPX 300, a power supply upgrade for the NSC 222, this looks identical to the new NAP 250 but has a pair of multipin outlets on the back which supply power to the NSC 222, removing the need for a mains cable on that unit. The purpose is to provide a cleaner power supply. As electrical power is the lifeblood of any piece of electronics the quality of that power is critical to its performance, the NPX 300 contains six discrete regulators (DR) in order to remove noise from the mains and feed individual sections of the partnering component. The power transformer is nearly as big as that in the NAP 250 and the NPX 300 weighs nearly as much as that unit.

Naim New Classic ease of use

The Naim control app has seen some appealing changes since I last grappled with it but you need a fairly up to date device to get the full effect. On a 2018 iPad I couldn’t get Qobuz to run (it worked on an iPhone 8) but Tidal and everything else was fine. You can choose inputs, control volume and stream from network attached storage or streaming services including Spotify- and Tidal Connect, Chromecast and Airplay 2. It’s pretty versatile with good access to internet radio, no longer a given, the option to trim input levels across sources so that you don’t get big changes in volume when switching from one to another, and even a lip sync adjustment feature on digital inputs. Those inputs don’t include HDMI ARC as yet so the NSC 222 isn’t likely to be a first choice among AV enthusiasts but this is progressive for a sound quality obsessed brand like Naim.

Naim New Classic NAP 250 review

Setting up the Naim New Classic components is more straightforward than with earlier Naim systems but you do need to establish which end of the power supply cable the white band goes to by a means other than looking for an arrow on it (it goes at the other end to the PSU) and the NSC 222 needs to be told that its network connection is via a cable, but the interface is pretty user friendly overall.

The gung ho sound of Naim New Classic

I started off with the NAP 250 connected to an AVM CS 8.3 Black Edition pre/streamer/DAC in an attempt to get a handle on this element alone. This revealed that the New Classic amp is quieter than its predecessors, background noise is lower so you can hear more fine detail, but also that it’s more gung ho and confident in its presentation. The last two generations of this amplifier have if anything been closer in character to power amps by other brands in the same broad price bracket, they appeared to be losing some of the Naim DNA in an attempt to fit in with the wider world. With the New Classic Naim appear to be saying this is what music should sound like, it’s statement product that’s proud to be different.

Naim New Classic NAP 250 review

The main indication of this is an extraordinary sense of rhythmic propulsion, the groove is the first thing you hear in pretty well any piece of music, and it’s glorious. Play something with a distinct beat and you will have trouble sitting still, I dropped Bias (Mayfield Depot Mix) by Floating Points and suddenly there was a rave in my living room.

Playing The Art of Tea on vinyl Michael Franks’ band had a distinct spring in its step, a move which rescues this album from becoming overly schmalzy and makes it sound like the west coast jazz classic that it deserves to be. The emphasis on rhythm is so infectious that you don’t care about the relatively limited image depth it presents or the slightly lean tonal balance, when the music is this much fun such aesthetic considerations are no longer important.

Naim New Classic Focal & Naim app

Naim New Classic NSC 222 joins the party

Bringing the NSC 222 and NPX 300 into the equation did nothing to undermine this impression, if anything there was now more compulsion to stay up all night playing favourite tracks. Functionally the NSC 222 is a nice unit to use, it comes with a decent remote control that has backlit buttons, the volume level is displayed in large numbers and you can set it so that the display dims shortly after you press play. A setting well worth choosing as it made a positive impression on sound quality.

I very much enjoyed the way that the combined New Classic components separated out the various musicians in a busy mix but kept the way that they interacted with one another right on the money. Timing is spot on no matter how dense or complex the rhythms, this was clear on Foolology by Conjure, a jazz/blues track that I’ve been playing for ages and know well. Other electronics have a tendency to meld the various instruments, many of them percussive, into one and leave the voice separate. Here all the musicians were given their own space to express themselves whilst fitting in with one another’s contributions. It’s quite a treat when reproduced so fluently.

Naim New Classic NSC 222 review

The Naim New Classic trio loves guitars off all varieties, steel string acoustics and electric examples being particularly engrossing when played by the likes of Stephen Stills, Ryan Adams and Douglas McCombs and no doubt any great musician. The above was enjoyed with a pair of PMC twenty5.26i loudspeakers which were replaced with Vivid Kaya S12 standmounts for another round of sounds. As with the PMCs I found that these worked best with their front baffles parallel with rear wall, eg not toed in, as this suited the NAP 250. The results were in many respects even more glorious, the Vivids highlighting the Naim New Classics’ ability to sort out the most challenging of pieces. Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come can be a difficult listen, it combines fiery playing on alto sax and cornet (Don Cherry) and it can get a bit shouty on lesser electronics. Here the coherence of the Naim streamer/amp combo delivered the musical message is such a way that it made sense, in fact it blew me away, such was the inspiration of this early example of so-called free jazz.

Removing the NPX 300 didn’t make an obvious difference at first listen, I thoroughly enjoyed the result with a wide range of music, but it had lost some of the magic in terms of engagement. Adding it back revealed that what had gone was fine detail, the noise floor drops dramatically when the power supply is included and as a result everything gains depth, shape and articulation. In practice this means you get a far stronger sense of the feeling that the musician is imparting; the NPX 300 works for both head and heart.

Naim New Classic NSC 222, NPX 300, NAP 250 review

Naim New Classic conclusion

I think it’s safe to say that Naim has got its mojo back with the first fruit of the New Classic range. Not only have they made their core products more attractive, more fully featured and easy to use but they sound more like the Naim products that put the brand on the map. The introduction of more conventional connections with a wide range of inputs both via cables and over the aether gives the NSC 222 the flexibility to adapt to any likely changes in the future of hi-fi, while the onboard preamplifier, streamer and DAC are of a calibre that you wouldn’t get from separate boxes at this price. The Naim New Classic NAP 250 is a chip off the classic pace, rhythm and timing block that has power reserves to drive all but the most demanding of speakers and a musicality that eludes a lot of the competition. Naim New Classic feels like an affirmation of faith for both the faithful and those in the wilderness who have yet to discover what truly great electronics can do for their music.

Specifications:

Naim NSC 222
Type: preamplifier, streamer, DAC with headphone amplifier
Analogue inputs: RCA, 8-pin DIN, MM phono
Digital inputs: 2x Toslink optical, coaxial RCA, coaxial BNC
Analogue outputs: pre-out RCA & XLR, 6.3mm headphone jack
Distortion:
Line: 0.0025% @2.2V input volume at 0dB, 1kHz
Digital: 0.0035% @0dBFS volume at 0dB, 1kHz
Output impedance: 60 Ohms RCA, per phase XLR
Output voltage: 7V RMS max
Control options: Focal & Naim app, remote handset, Roon Ready
Maximum bit/sample rates: up to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD128
Streaming options: Google Cast, Airplay 2, Bluetooth aptX, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Qobuz
Streaming sources: UPnP servers, USB stick
Accessories: Powerline Lite power cable, remote handset, optical trigger cable
Dimensions (HxWxD): 91.5 x 432 x 317.5mm
Weight: 11kg
Warranty: 2 years

NAP 250
Type: stereo power amplifier
Analogue inputs: XLR
Analogue outputs: 4mm sockets
Power output: 100W/8 Ohms, 190W/4 Ohms
Frequency response: 1.4Hz – 100kHz (-3dB)
Sensitivity: 1V
Gain: 29dB
Distortion: THD+N: at 2/3rds full power 8 @1kHz (0.013%)
Signal to Noise Ratio: 111dB (full power)
Accessories: Powerline Lite power cable, Naim XLR interconnects
Dimensions (HxWxD): 91.5 x 432 x 317.5mm
Shipping weight: 16.8kg
Warranty: 2 years

NPX 300
Type: external power supply
Accessories: Powerline Lite power cable, Burndy cables
Dimensions (HxWxD): 91.5 x 432 x 317.5mm
Shipping weight: 14.4kg
Warranty: 2 years

Price when tested:
Naim NSC 222 £5,700
Naim NAP 250 £5,700
Naim NPX 300 £5,700
Manufacturer Details:

Naim Audio
T +44 (0) 1722 426 600
http://www.naimaudio.com

Type:

preamplifier/streamer/DAC, power amplifier, power supply

Author:

Jason Kennedy

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