Naim DAC-V1 £1350

FOR Pre­cise sound; sup­ports PCM and DSD; con­nec­tiv­ity AGAINST Not the most re­lax­ing pre­sen­ta­tion

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Dacs -

It’s fair to say Naim didn’t spring into dig­i­tal mu­sic with quite the same gusto as some of its com­peti­tors. In­stead, it scoped out the mar­ket and tack­led one thing at a time – first by fo­cus­ing on stream­ing, then adding dig­i­tal out­puts to its CD play­ers, be­fore turn­ing to the bur­geon­ing ‘desk­top au­dio’ sec­tor with the launch of the DAC#V1 in 2013.

This is the se­cond DAC from the com­pany, but the first that also works as a head­phone amp for desk­top lis­ten­ing and fea­tures an asyn­chro­nous USB port for con­nect­ing di­rectly to a lap­top.

This al­lows the DAC to con­trol the in­for­ma­tion flow from the lap­top rather than vice versa, al­to­gether re­duc­ing jit­ter and re­sult­ing in bet­ter sound qual­ity.

DSD file-sup­port

Since we last heard it, Naim has re­leased a firmware up­date to of­fer sup­port for DSD files (both sin­gle and dou­ble speed) via the S/PDIF or USB in­puts, an up­date Naim says has re­quired sig­nif­i­cant op­ti­mi­sa­tion of the DSP code, (which has in turn im­proved sound qual­ity).

It has also added a Sam­ple Rate Con­ver­sion (SRC) mode to help im­prove the per­for­mance of S/PDIF sources that don’t have an ac­cu­rate clock, al­low­ing the dig­i­tal in­put to ad­just it­self to sig­nals that are out of range.

Phys­i­cally, the DAC#V1 is the same prod­uct as in 2013, which means Naim’s dis­tinc­tive green and black styling is present, as is its half-rack alu­minium shell and handy OLED dis­play. There are a hand­ful of but­tons on the front panel, which makes se­lect­ing your in­put easy. Or you can use the re­mote in­stead.

Same as it ever was

As with the other prod­ucts in this test, the Naim DAC#V1 can work as a pream­pli­fier too. You’ll find three coax­ial in­puts (one BNC and two RCA) and two op­ti­cals for hook­ing up var­i­ous sources. Op­ti­cals are lim­ited to 24-bit/192khz, while the USB port is ca­pa­ble of up to 24-bit/384khz. All of the in­puts, bar the op­ti­cals, can ac­cept DSD too.

As for out­puts, you can choose be­tween reg­u­lar RCA ana­logue outs for hook­ing this up to an amp, or al­ter­na­tively there’s a DIN out­put in­stead. On the front panel Naim has in­cluded a 6.3mm head­phone jack for us­ing the DAC#V1 as a head­phone amp.

We plug our head­phones in and are greeted with Naim’s sig­na­ture sound, which bal­ances the abil­ity to be hard-driv­ing, fo­cused and dra­matic with the sub­tlety and fi­nesse needed to han­dle more del­i­cate pieces of mu­sic.

We’re not sure there has been any dras­tic change to the sound from the re­cent up­date, but then there didn’t need to be. The per­for­mance it demon­strated in 2013 is as strong now as it was then, and isn’t one that’s about to be eas­ily both­ered by new com­peti­tors.

Play a 24-bit/96khz record­ing of Su­gah Daddy by D’an­gelo and the Van­guard and the Naim im­me­di­ately shows it­self to be a big, full-bod­ied per­former with su­perb rhyth­mic abil­ity. There’s real pre­ci­sion here, with the DAC#V1 metic­u­lous in its han­dling of the start­ing and stop­ping of notes. The pi­ano in­stru­men­tal might be sim­ple, but it’s de­liv­ered with at­ti­tude thanks to the punch the Naim af­fords it. Mean­while the hand­claps and per­cus­sion that sup­port the melody punc­tu­ate it with toe-tap­ping lev­els of bite.

Re­lax? Don’t do it

”There hasn’t been any dras­tic change to the Naim’s sound fol­low­ing the re­cent up­date, but there didn’t need to be. The per­for­mance it demon­strated in 2013 is as strong now as it was then, and it isn’t about to be both­ered by new com­peti­tors”

There’s a huge amount of de­tail here. Not quite enough sub­tlety to bother the Hugo, but not a mil­lion miles away. You’ll have no trou­ble pick­ing out each part of the song’s in­stru­men­tal and vo­cal, and there’s plenty of space to al­low each part to build and de­velop too.

As the song in­tro­duces more rhyth­mic el­e­ments, the DAC#V1 has no prob­lem keep­ing ev­ery­thing or­gan­ised with­out ever sound­ing clin­i­cal or dis­jointed. It’s a solid sound across the board, from its pow­er­ful low end and strong, fo­cused midrange to the re­fined, well-bal­anced tre­ble that keeps it from sound­ing harsh.

It’s not the most re­lax­ing lis­ten, throw­ing ev­ery­thing for­ward in an up­front, ex­cit­ing pre­sen­ta­tion. That can be soft­ened to some ex­tent with some care­ful match­ing if re­quired. Switch the tempo to Fer­di­nand Re­bay’s Sonata in C for vi­olin and gui­tar, and the Naim has enough fi­nesse to dis­play tex­ture in each gui­tar strum, while the vi­olin moves through the track with agility. As the dif­fer­ent sounds in­ter­twine, the Naim keeps a han­dle on dy­nam­ics and demon­strates the glid­ing sweeps from quiet to loud and back down again.

A pre­cise han­dle on rhythms

Newly sup­ported DSD files show sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics. A DSD record­ing of Marvin Gaye What’s Go­ing On is full-bod­ied, ex­pres­sive and punchy, stay­ing or­gan­ised as the track builds and keep­ing a pre­cise han­dle on rhythms. Even Spo­tify tracks get a sonic makeover when played through this DAC.

With the ad­di­tion of DSD, the Naim DAC#V1 feels a more solid propo­si­tion than ever, of­fer­ing su­perb build and de­sign, ex­cel­lent con­nec­tiv­ity and a sound that’ll have you hooked.

It can’t quite match the su­perb Chord Hugo for out-and-out dy­nam­ics and sub­tlety, but the ex­tra body and weight here will be enough of a trade off for many. Like a fine wine, Naim’s DAC#V1 is only im­prov­ing with age, and whole­heart­edly de­serves to keep the full five stars.

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