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Digital To Analog Converter (DAC)
Naim DAC

Price: 9950 zł

Distribution: Decibel

ul. Jana Sebastiana Bacha 34, 02-743 Warszawa
Tel.: + 48 22 847 04 61
Fax: + 48 22 847 20 60



Text: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

I think, that the company Naim does not need to be introduced to anyone. For many audiophiles and music lovers it has a cult status. However it turned out, that we did not test many devices from that company before – until now, only the set CD 5i + Nait 5i (HERE) and the player CD 5x with the external power supply FlatCap 2x (HERE) were tested. But still there is a chance of catching up, as Naim is refreshing their product line, having new propositions for us on regular basis.


For the listening sessions of the Naim DAC I used two signal sources: my Linn Unidisk 1.1, connected with the digital cable supplied also by Naim, terminated with BNC plugs, and the file server Olive 4HD (test HERE) connected using a ViaBlue cable with RCA plugs. Both sources were capable delivering the signal with CD quality (16/44.1) as well as HD (24/96 or 24/88.2 – in case of the Linn using DVD-V and DVD-A discs). In addition I used a pendrive with WAV files, with resolutions from 16/44.1 to 24/96.

Being fresh after the test of the Olive, I assumed a similar sequence of tests. So I started with placing the Lars Danielsson disc Tarantella (ACT, 9477-2, 2009) in the Linn tray. Starting with the first few notes, Naim showed, that rhythm and drive is most important here. This is maybe trivia, that Naim is supposed to sound like that, but it really does. Timing is superior to other aspects of the sound. There is no possibility, that any of the sounds would not come in time, as if a metronome would be placed somewhere inside this small enclosure. I did not encounter similar pace and rhythm on this, or even twice the price level. The tonal balance was very neutral. All parts of the sound spectrum were treated with equal attention. Only comparing directly with the Linn playing the same material via the analog outputs, we could notice slight dryness and hardening of the lower midrange and upper bass. The upper part of the sound spectrum was very good, the sound of the cymbals, their timbre, and their reverbs, were shown very well. Also bass was splendid. The contrabass of the leader had the right body and nice timbre. The sound stage was wide and presented with care. There virtual sources were of proper size, there was no doubt about that, and their placement in space was also nearly perfect. Also their edges were nicely drawn. Only the depth of the stage was smaller, than with my reference player, what made us concentrate on the first plane. But I have the idea, that this is a concept, that Naim uses throughout their products, as all the other Naim devices I heard, had a similar approach to spacial information.

The next disc was Geometry of Love Project by Jarre (Aero Productions/Warner Music, 2564 60693-2, 2003). Again the DAC directed our attention to the rhythmic aspects of this disc, what became its lead motive throughout. This made the disc sound really vivid and nice. At the same time the ‘colors’ of the synthesizers were reproduced very nicely, their sound was full and saturated. Unfortunately, this disc is not an audiophile grade recording, in terms of quality, and some imperfections are easy to be pinpointed. But the Naim behaved well here – it showed them, but kept them in the background, allowing music to keep the leader role. This is really a big thing, not all digital sound sources from a similar price level, or even more expensive ones, handle that with the same grace.

Next I fed the player with the soundtrack from the movie Black Hawk Down (Decca, 017 012-2, 2001). Of course I needed to listen to Barra Barra with Rachid Taha vocals and Gortoz a Ran – J’Attends with Lisa Gerrard. The vocals were phenomenal in both cases. I was really impressed, on how those were presented. Lisa’s voice was saturated and sensual, the voice of Rahid extremely well accented and freed from any coarseness. I think, that this can be attributed to the clean and high resolution of the midrange. Listening to this disc, and comparing to my player, I had not the impression of dryness of the lower part of midrange, that was different to the Lars’ disc. Interesting. The instruments were also shown nice, with air around them, and good localization. And finally the rhythm of the pieces – top notch.

And another disc went inside the player. 88 Basie Street Count Basie (Fantasy/JVC, JVCXR-0021-2, 1987). The big band instrumentarium did not impress Naim in the slightest way. The DAC handled it splendidly. It showed the sound of the whole band, at the same time allowing to follow each of the instruments separately. Listening to this disc, I had the impression, that the top range is slightly rounded, ‘sweetened’ I could say, what made the brass instruments, and especially the trumpets, have less vigor than I expected. On the other hand there was enough power in the sound, for the given size of the band. This disc allowed also to take a look at the resolution of each of the sub-ranges – and in all of them it was at least good, while in the midrange even better than that. This allowed the instruments to reverb fully.

The first ‘dense’ recording - Retrospective Rebecca Pidgeon, in the form of FLAC 24/96 files (Chesky Records/HD Tracks, SACD242, 2003) recorded on DVD-Video in LPCM and played from Linn, and directly from the network drive by the Olive player. Switching to high density format resulted in the HD LED being lit on the DAC fascia, but except for that, the changes were fairly minimal. We could maybe see a slightly deeper sound stage, better reverbs and increase of resolution of the whole frequency spectrum, but all those changes were subtle. We could say, that those only dotted the “i”, were the final polish to the sound, but the sound itself did not change from what we established listening to CD quality material. In my opinion, this is a sign of the maturity of the sound, we do not need to use hi-res files to have the Naim converter show, what it really can.

Until now, we did not listen to classical music yet, so I selected Messiah, GF Handel (Linn Records, CKD 285, 2007, FLAC 24/88.2) from the network disc. Here Olive was the only source of digital signal. Like the big band before, also classical works were just a piece of cake for the Naim. Perfect order on a broad stage, good representation of space and acoustics – just a sound, like it should be. The DAC showed the timbre of the whole orchestra, as well as the groups of instruments apart, without any problems. Also dynamics, both in micro and macro areas, was very good. The only thing, I could brag about, would be the depth of the stage, which was not so big.

Now because this DAC handled rhythm so well, I planted the Kraftwerk discs Minimum-Maximum (Kling Klang/EMI, 560 6112, 2005, CD) in the Linn player. My favorite piece from the second disc, Elektro Kardiogramm sounded just brilliant. It was so good, that I placed the player on repeat, and listened to it a dozen times over. The rhythm was phenomenal. And in addition the timbres of the synthesizers, and the digitally processed voice were also superb.

Finally I tried out, how the Naim fares with a pendrive. It turned out, that the functionality is fairly limited – the files are read only from the main folder, and only in the form of WAV files. The ability of moving among the files is also restricted to skipping forward and back. Fortunately, if there are other files on the pen, which are not recognized by the unit, then they are just ignored, and are not problematic during playback. The sound of the files played turned out to be identical to the one observed earlier.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is a very successful debut of Naim in the field of Digital-to-Analog Converters. Splendid functionality comes hand in hand with superb sound. In addition, the price tag seems not exaggerated, taking into account those things. If you are searching for a good digital source, being an upgrade to a player you already own, or as a companion for a computer with an S/PDIF output or a file player – you should give the Naim DAC a listen. For many people this can be the ideal solution. I recommend it.


Naim DAC is a device with the exterior design typical for this company. A flat, black enclosure has the front panel made from a thick slab of aluminum. Its middle part is slightly recessed, and contains a green lit company logo. All control elements are grouped on the right hand side of the panel. We will find an USB typu A (host) socket, two green LEDs signaling synchronization with the drive (SYNC) and reception of hi-res signal (HD) and five round buttons, used for selecting inputs and navigating the pendrive. Each of the buttons can be lit green, what indicates the selected input or pendrive read functions. The back of the device is very interesting. Looking from right we have analog outputs – DIN (this is typical for Naim, all their units have an output in this standard) and solid, gold plated RCAs. Below those there are two small switches – one selects the DIN or RCA output, the other separates the signal ground from the chassis (floating ground), what can come handy, when we have noise in our system. Further to the left there is a battery of digital inputs – two BNC S/PDIF and two RCA S/PDIF electrical inputs, doubled with optical TOSLINK, what adds up to eight inputs in total. Again to the left there is a socket for the optional, external power supply, again a Naim solution, most of their devices are prepared for such an upgrade. Next there is a second USB socket (switched off, when the front one is used) and the IEC power socket with the main power switch. The placement of the switch on the back suggests to leave the unit constantly on, what I did during the tests.

After removing the top cover, what was not so easy, because one of the mounting screws is not easy to access, and requires a special screwdriver, we can peek inside. Almost a quarter of the space is occupied by a big toroidal transformer, with many secondary windings. The currents are rectified and filtered on a PCB placed centrally, while the stabilization is conducted on the main PCB, separately for the digital and analog sections. On that PCB, made in surface mount technology, the digital section is placed near the fascia. Its heart is a DSP chip called Sharc, manufactured by Analog devices. There the initial processing of the digital signal takes place. According to the manufacturer the chip functions as a digital filter with 40 bits resolution. Besides that processor we see also the Blackfin chip, used to decode the USB signal, and a special chip responsible for seamless cooperation with an iPod. Then the signal goes to two Burr-Brown converters, the PCM1704, one for each channel. Interestingly, those are only able to process signals with parameters up to 24 bits and 96 kHz. The clock circuit is very extensive, with two quartz oscillators with different frequencies. The I/V conversion and filtering is made in completely discrete circuits, which utilize foil capacitors and metalized resistors. We can discern two filtering stages on the PCB. The final amplification of the signal happens close to the output sockets, also made from discrete components. The outputs are keyed with relays. The digital inputs are placed on a separate PCB, each one of them galvanically separated using impulse transformers. The connection between this PCB and the digital part of the main PCB is made from shielded computer tape.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Audio outputs: RCA & DIN (switchable)
Nominal output voltage: 2.2VRMS
Frequency response: 10Hz to 20kHz (+0.1dB / -0.5dB)
THD: <0.002%
Inputs: 8 S/PDIF (2 coaxial BNC, 2 coaxial RCA, 4 optical TOSLINK)
Accepted formats: WAV (LPCM do 768 kHz / 32 bit)
Sampling frequencies: USB - up to 768kHz / 32bit
S/PDIF - 32kHz to 192kHz / 24bit
iPod/iPhone - max 48kHz
Power consumption: < 30VA
Dimensions (H x W x D): 70 x 432 x 30mm
Weight: 5.6kg

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* DIY – custom cables – silver and copper