Back in the first decade of this century, I was a well-paid employee of a well known high tech firm, that’s when I bought my first piece of Naim equipment, a CD5X disc player. Within five years that had somehow grown into two racks of Fraim, with a CD 555, a NAC 552, a NAP 300 and a NAT 05 tuner nestling upon them. I well remember the pleasure of walking into the room and seeing all those green logos shining at me. It all sounded pretty good too, playing through floor-standing Audiovector loudspeakers.
Then came the financial crash of 2008 and redundancy. After many months of finding myself unable to secure a new role in IT sales, I made the pragmatic decision that mortgage payments took priority over hi-fi and sold the whole lot. In mid 2009 I started a new phase, working in hi-fi retail, and selling, among other things, Naim. However, I decided that rather than buy back into the Naim range at a much lower level than I had left it, that I would try other things. Meanwhile, I regularly sold Naim equipment and continued to enjoy listening to it at work. Indeed in my final hi-fi retail job, we had the mighty three-box beast that is the Naim Statement in our audition room.
Thus when the Supernait 3 arrived here a few Fridays ago, it was the first Naim amplifier to have graced my listening room for 10 years. I do own a UnitiServe server and an NDX streamer, but not an amplifier. When the Supernait 3 arrived I had already taken delivery, for review purposes, of an ND5 XS 2 streamer. I was genuinely excited to have the Supernait 3 here, even as a guest.
When it arrived, I was struck by the sheer weight of the box. This thing is heavy. Unboxing it and carefully placing it on the rack, I attached the streamer with the Naim DIN to DIN cable, and my phono stage and CD player via RCA interconnects. I plugged my REL 305SE subwoofer into the pre-out sockets. My Harbeth P3ESRs were in the room at the time and I connected them to the loudspeaker sockets with Tellurium Q cable. I even remembered that Naim still have the left and right speaker outputs back to front on their amplifiers. One disappointment was that the remote control was exactly the same as the one I had 10 years ago. The source selection buttons do not even offer the same selection as on the front of the amplifier. To let the amplifier thoroughly warm up I selected one of Tidal’s rock playlists (ideal for the purpose) and got on with my day.
With a weekend of warm-up behind it, I went ahead and started listening properly to the third generation of the Supernait. About a minute later I realised that I was grinning for ear to ear, and that my feet were tapping uncontrollably. I suddenly remembered why I had fallen for the Naim sound 15 years before, and how much I had missed it since.
I played vinyl – lots of vinyl – but was unable to check out the sound of the built in phono stage because it only supports moving magnet cartridges, and the Vertere MG1 Mk2 (also here for review) is equipped with a moving coil cartridge. Nonetheless, my Gold Note PH10 sounded amazing through the Supernait 3, and that first day I played nothing but records, a lot of records. Colosseum, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, JJ Cale are the ones I recall. Track after track, I was utterly enthralled. In fact, I am now so keen to try the phono stage that I have obtained a moving magnet cartridge for my LP12 and have been promised the chance to have the Supernait 3 back in a few weeks specifically to hear it.
What struck me right away as I listened was that the sound was just ‘right’. Naim’s famous pace rhythm and timing were all there of course, but so was a huge amount of detail, and really good bass. My memory of the first two Supernaits was that they were not particularly strong in the very lowest octaves, but this revised version has plentiful fast, punchy and tuneful bass on offer.
As the review period rolled on, I listened extensively to the ND5 XS 2, using both my own UnitiServe with its 3,000 albums of WAV files ripped from my CD collection, and Tidal. The ripped CDs sounded spectacular for the most part, and thoroughly engaging. Tidal too was well represented, although I always find that the bass streamed by this provider is not quite as full and well defined as it is from my other sources. But it is a great way to listen to new music before parting with hard earned cash to purchase a vinyl copy. I suspect there are many of us who use it for the same purpose.
My Yamaha CD-S3000 was also pressed into service, playing CDs and SACDs. I played several classical pieces that included (perhaps ironically) some Linn Records releases. If anyone ever says “Naim only does rock” feel free to point them to this review. Through the Supernait 3, classical music sounds spectacular! No ifs, buts or damning with faint praise. The Dunedin Consort’s recording of Handel’s Messiahgave me goosebumps.
The Harbeth P3ESRs are not efficient loudspeakers – they like an amplifier that can serve them with lots of current and yet which controls them too. I have never heard them sound better. The same held true of the much bigger Harbeth Super HL5+ 40thAnniversry editions, which are my main loudspeaker at the moment. With the REL sub switched off, these large standmounts absolutely revelled in the power and control from the Supernait 3. I have good friends in the business who are inclined to dismiss Harbeth designs as ‘pipe and slipper’ – which I take to mean a bit dull, boring and middle-aged. Trust me guys, you are sowrong. The Naim/Harbeth combination creates an addictive sound, totally non-fatiguing yet utterly compelling.
Naim amplifiers were never particularly celebrated for their three dimensional presentation or their soundstage creation, but this new integrated does both pretty well. The soundstage it creates is wide and has both height and depth. If you have ruled out Naim because you have heard it doesn’t do those ‘hi-fi things’ go to your nearest Naim dealer and book and audition. I guarantee you will be very pleasantly surprised.
I have been reviewing for The Ear for over a year now, and have had the privilege of hosting some fine equipment. A friend warned me when I started that the danger of reviewing is that it can make you covet things that you cannot afford. Hand on heart, this is the first time that I have been genuinely reluctant to pack up a piece of equipment and send it home.
Since my first Naim purchase all those years ago, the company has changed a lot, as has its catalogue. First came the Uniti range, which coincided with my move into hi-fi retail. Then in 2015 the Mu-so range was launched. Those of us who love the ‘old’ Naim, the Classic series, might have felt that we were no longer figuring in Naim’s thinking. Oh we of little faith. The Classic series is still very much alive and kicking and the Supernait 3 is living, musical proof. It is a shamelessly analogue device, as far as inputs and outputs are concerned. It may almost be an anachronism in an era where manufacturers’ marketing gurus are straining every sinew to cover every possible market segment with product. But as the beating heart of a music lover’s system, this integrated may just be the last amplifier most of us could ever want or need. Conceived, designed and built in Salisbury, this thing is a triumph. Bravo Naim!