What a great day yesterday. A REAL Naim day.
Firstly, thanks to Mike and Mr Underhill (Martin) to let me hear two very different but great sounding Naim systems. I arrived at Martin's abode after being delayed by an accident where a BMW driver managed to destroy his BMW. Fortunately, he was walking around so was not injured, except in his pocket.
We went over to Mike's abode and were made welcome. Mike had just upgraded his system with a brand new Naim 500DR. And very nice it looked to with its accompanying power supply. This top-notch system consisted of a Naim CD555 and power supply, a NAC 552 and PSU, a Naim 500DR and PSU with a set of Focal 1038Be speakers. All cabling by Naim and some very nice stands. The Naim 500DR was run in and had been on for many hours as was the rest of the system.
On goes Suzanne Vega.....forget all the negative thoughts you may have this was a well-tuned system in a great room. The voice was natural and the frequency response very even. No emphases I could detect, possible slightly warm. Yes, a Naim/Focal system that was was possibly slightly warm. Suzanne's voice was very clear, present and full of emotion. It was transfixing. The guitar was real but not hyper-real or etched and the whole musical picture was well integrated. The timing, as you may expect, was immaculate. What I thought was a straight forward guitar tune was more complex with different emphases on the timing which built and released the tension in the song. We then went through a few of Mike's favourites that demonstrated what this system could do and after a track or two, I got out of reviewer mode and just enjoyed the system and the music it played. Pink Floyd's money showed that although the frequency balance was even the cymbals shimmered and sounded like real metallic instruments. I hear this with good systems but here there was a huge amount of information about how the cymbal was being played, without any pushing forward of the top end. I liked the warm powerful bass with a shimmering cymbal.
Of course, I had brought a couple of CDs and the first was a very well recorded (Chesky) but simple piece of music featuring some live rockabilly music. It was fast and detailed but kept the individual drum beats and bass playing separate and it was easy to hear when the bass provided a simple beat or when he let rip and just filled the tune with ultra-fast bass notes. It was infectious and made you want to dance. But of course, we are British so no such thing was done. You would be surprised at the number of expensive systems that just can't do that in a simple tune. The bass tends to merge in those systems. We then played Mike Valentine's recording of Bach's Toccata in D and it was easy to hear the size and distance to the organ. And the size of the church. Imagine that, a Naim system doing 3D imaging. Not that artificial ultra-sharp instrument placement type of imaging beloved by some US systems but the more realistic you are in the church imaging. It was really easy to hear the two parts played by the left and right hands and still hear the whole integrated music. And the bass was nicely deep and tight and settee rattling.
And before we knew it we had to go. I have heard many expensive systems, some with speakers 3x the price of this complete system, but this system is one of the best. In the top 4/5, which is a major achievement. I have also heard more expensive Naim systems sound much worse at shows but this system was well set-up and in a sympathetic room and sounded it. Luvvverly.
And on to Martin's place. We took out his EAR valve amplifier and added an Allegri preamp and a Naim 250. And here was a small chunk of what we heard earlier. That clarity and ease of hearing what the singer was singing and the emotion in their voices were easy to hear. Timing tightened up a lot and the small amount of 'fuzziness' of the valves disappeared. This was a great insight into the music. The bass had less weight and 'heft' as Martin described it. And I agree. Downsides, well the bass although detailed and fast did have less weight and the dynamic range of sound quality was greater. What does that mean? Well, good/great recordings sounded good and great but less good and compressed tracks sounded not so good. The valves evened out those sound quality differences. Some will say that makes the Naim more truthful but that may not be what you want. Do you want to hear awful recordings sound bad? I suspect a bit more warming up of the amp or some different cables will help. Or even better a newer DR amp would help but then I am being generous with someone else's money. Something I do a lot of. My choice would be the Naim for those extra-musical details on brilliant/good recordings and turning down the volume on bad recordings. But it ain't my system. Either way, it is the best I have heard Martin's set-up and thanks again putting up with me for most of the day.