When I interviewed Naim designer Steve Sells a few years back I asked which amplifier he used at home, he said the Supernait. It’s perhaps surprising that the man who developed the Statement, Naim’s most ambitious amplifier ever, uses one of the more modest models for his listening pleasure, but there’s nothing like a good integrated for forgetting the hardware and enjoying the music. The Supernait has been around for some time now, as its name suggests it’s the ultimate example of Naim’s original integrated the Nait (Naim Audio Integrated) and now in its second incarnation. It benefits from tech taken from the NAC552 preamplifier as well as Naim’s DR regulation in the preamp power supply circuits, the actual power amplifier section is similar to a NAP200 but without the DR power supply. Output is specified as 80 Watts per channel and features include a class A headphone amplifier, ceramic heatsink isolation and powered inputs for Naim phono stages (which require external power supply).
In true Naim tradition it has an array of five DIN inputs but matches these with RCA phono sockets beneath, making the Supernait ready for use with most source components on the market. Speaker outputs are on 4mm sockets which means that cables need matching banana plug terminations, no spades or bare wires please. They are also the ‘wrong’ way round compared to 99%of amplifiers, that is the right channel is on the right side of the amp as you look at the back, but the right speaker is on the left of the amp – it’s apparently a very old Naim thing retained for reasons of nostalgia or possibly circuit design. There’s also a pair of DIN sockets that are bridged externally and marked power amp in/upgrade which gives access to the preamp and power amp separately or can be used to add an external power supply (HiCapDR or SuperCapDR), and an AV bypass switch for the purpose of using the amp as part of a surround system. The Supernait 2 is not unduly large or heavy but build quality is to Naim’s Classic series standards with attractively marble like backlit buttons and full remote control via the infrared handset, a device that allows balance changes and muting but is not entirely intuitive with regard to inputs. But the numbers relate to input names on the front panel, so it doesn’t take long to get used to.
In use I found that the Supernait 2 had a little bit more gain than I needed with a range of speakers, I guess I’m not playing loud enough but could only turn the volume control up to around the 8 or 9 o’clock position. But this didn’t seem to stop it making a very engaging sound with a wide variety of music, especially when using an NDX 2 streamer/DAC as the source and then some more when using a DIN connection between the two, but I’ll come back to that. Initial experiences were with Townshend Fractal interconnect and very enjoyable, ultimately that is what the Supernait 2 is really all about. It does hi-fi stuff like imaging and spaciousness but in essence it’s about getting to the fun factor, or if you prefer the depths of misery, there’s nothing wrong with sad music after all. As with most Naim products it takes a little while to bed in and calm down, a few days at least is required before the music opens up and starts to hang together as it should, but when it does you know all about it. The grooves it can extract are fabulous, and if you have a speaker that’s nimble they’re even better. Immediacy is clearly a strongpoint, leading edges are well defined and give music with a rhythmic element an ability to engage that is hard to ignore. The bass is not muscular, this is not a grippy amp and you shouldn’t expect too much definition at low frequencies but it does extend down low. There’s plenty of thump on music that needs it and with a ported speaker you may need a bit more space to the wall in order to keep things under control. Basslines are always clear, that’s the important thing, you don’t get good timing if they aren’t.
I enjoyed the voices on the Cinematic Orchestra’s latest release To Believe, the opening track combines voices in layers that work very well in the atmospheric haze of the production, which becomes that much more powerful when the juicy synth bass comes in. On Dave Holland’s ‘Veil of Tears’ the double bass is full of texture if not as tonally rich as it can be, the Supernait is a little lean through the upper bass or so it sometimes seems. The instrument has good weight however and more importantly this tune retains its interest after the fabulous solo. That’s the most important point, this Naim is more about the music than the sound per se, it has that indefinable quality that makes you want to listen for longer. It is also plenty revealing of each piece of you play, Bark Psychosis’ Hexhas a bright, eighties style production with fabulous low end but a forwardness that’s hard going.
Switching to the DIN cable that came in the box with the NDX 2 I reviewed earlier in the year, eg a standard Naim cable, made the sound brighter and coarser but upped the sense of immediacy quite dramatically. Once the change in tone had been accommodated I found this pairing addictively enjoyable. Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ has rarely sounded so real and vibrant, it makes me realise that DIN connections are the key to the Naim sound. I played an awful lot of music through this combo with the PMC fact.8s but failed to take many notes, a sure sign that it was doing what it should be.
I came back to an RCA connection from the BorderPatrol DAC that I got on so well with recently, that and a pair of Dynaudio Evoke 30 stand mounts. It soon became clear why Dynaudio’s Bill Livingston uses Naim to demonstrate his speakers, this is a cracking combo, it delivers openness, timing and an appealing ease that makes the tunes flow effortlessly. Radiohead’s ‘Desert Island Disk’ stood out and ‘Veil of Tears’ gained a bit of warmth to fill out the room nicely. I also brought in some Q-Acoustics Concept 500 floorstanders, which have a fuller balance than average, these delivered exceptional image solidity and reflected the tonal balance of recordings really well. The bass was a bit strong so I pulled them further out from the wall, but that done the combination produced a very appealing result that while not as gripping as some had a scale that kept me coming back for more.
The Supernait is a classic Naim amplifier, it’s not the most refined example of its ilk but it gets to the parts that most other amplifiers cannot. That is, it gets you involved with the music, it makes you want to listen longer and yes, sometimes louder, and that’s really the point of hi-fi IMHO. It’s all very well feeling your internal organs being vibrated or picking out the piccolos but at the end of the day music is about communication, be it intellectual or emotional, and the Supernait has an uncanny ability to make that connection.