Naim NAC-N 272

FOR Ter­rific streamer/preamp; fine fea­tures; in­sight­ful sound AGAINST DAB and FM tuners are an ex­tra cost

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

There are only two things you need to know about Naim’s NAC-N 272: it’s a fully fea­tured stream­ing pream­pli­fier, and it sounds lovely. We could con­clude what would be the short­est re­view in What Hi-fi?’s 40-year his­tory right here, but that would leave us a num­ber of blank pages, so let us elab­o­rate.

The cru­cial dif­fer­ence

Stream­ing preamp? This may not seem par­tic­u­larly spe­cial. Af­ter all, there isn’t a short­age of mu­sic stream­ers that also have a vol­ume con­trol. The NAC-N 272 isn’t like most of them though. It uses a fully ana­logue preamp sec­tion, much like the de­signs seen in Naim’s more up­mar­ket of­fer­ings, so per­for­mance through the ana­logue in­puts – one DIN and two RCAS – has the po­ten­tial to be re­ally good. Most ri­vals tend to pri­ori­tise the dig­i­tal cir­cuits, leav­ing the qual­ity of the ana­logue sec­tion dis­tinctly sec­ondbest. That cer­tainly isn’t the case here.

Naim has long been a fan of DIN con­nec­tions, be­liev­ing they sound bet­ter than the RCA al­ter­na­tives. There was a time when the com­pany’s prod­ucts sported only DINS, but thank­fully this at­ti­tude has be­come far less dog­matic over the past decade and a half.

This is also an up-to-date unit, so there are dig­i­tal in­puts. There’s a good range of op­ti­cal and coax­ial con­nec­tions along­side aptx Blue­tooth – Blue­tooth would have been un­think­able in a high-end prod­uct just a few years ago, but an in­creas­ing num­ber of high-end man­u­fac­tur­ers are wak­ing up to the fact that wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity is a good thing. And Naim’s one of them.

Do­ing the cir­cuit

Naim be­ing Naim, a great deal of en­gi­neer­ing care has been un­der­taken to avoid such fea­tures spoil­ing the sound. The dig­i­tal and ana­logue sec­tions com­mu­ni­cate through op­ti­cal iso­la­tion chips to min­imise any in­ter­fer­ence. As is usual for the com­pany, plenty of care has been taken in get­ting the cir­cuit lay­out right and the power-sup­ply ar­range­ment just so. Even so, the 272, like other Naim prod­ucts, is eas­ily up­grade­able through one of the com­pany’s out­board power sup­plies. These aren’t cheap, start­ing at £1800 for the XP5 XS and all the way up to £6k for the 555PS – but in our ex­pe­ri­ence the sonic im­prove­ment tends to be ob­vi­ous.

The unit’s out­puts mir­ror the con­nec­tiv­ity of the ana­logue in­puts by of­fer­ing both DIN and RCA op­tions. There’s also a line-level out­put if you want to use the 272 as a stand-alone streamer and plug it into your ex­ist­ing am­pli­fier.

This is a well-spec­i­fied unit. It will stream at a max­i­mum of 24-bit/192khz across your net­work, and han­dle DSD 64 should you have such files. All the main file for­mats are cov­ered, from FLAC and AIFF right through to Ap­ple Loss­less. Spo­tify Con­nect is built in, as is na­tive sup­port for Tidal – and if that isn’t enough, there’s the big, wide world of in­ter­net ra­dio to en­joy. Ana­logue ra­dio fans haven’t been for­got­ten in the fast-flow­ing cur­rent of stream­ing: there’s an op­tional DAB/DAB+/FM mod­ule avail­able too for an ex­tra £300.

Fa­mil­iar – and re­as­sur­ing

Build qual­ity is as solid as we’ve come to ex­pect from Naim. The 272 doesn’t feel par­tic­u­larly lux­u­ri­ous but does give off a no-non­sense air that sug­gests a fo­cused, well-en­gi­neered de­sign. The front panel con­trol count is low for a prod­uct such as this; it is backed up with a clear dis­play that’s large enough to read from across a room, even in bright light­ing con­di­tions.

The 272 is straight­for­ward to set up. Its menus are easy to use and it con­nects to our net­work swiftly. While go­ing wire­less is an op­tion, we al­ways pre­fer to take the wired eth­er­net route as it in­trin­si­cally of­fers greater sta­bil­ity.

While Naim sup­plies a stan­dard re­mote with the 272, we think users will be bet­ter served by the com­pany’s con­trol app. This has gone through nu­mer­ous evo­lu­tions and, on the whole, works well. Android and IOS ver­sions are avail­able, and there’s no great dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance be­tween them. The app is well laid out and pretty easy to use.

Nat­u­ral bed­fel­lows

Our re­view unit was sup­plied with a NAP 250 DR power am­pli­fier. At £3600 it’s a log­i­cal part­ner, as might be the more af­ford­able, lower-pow­ered NAP 200 DR (£2050). While the 272 is more than happy driv­ing al­ter­na­tive power amplifiers – it works well with our ref­er­ence Gamut D200i, for ex­am­ple – we sus­pect the vast ma­jor­ity will find them­selves in an all-naim set-up.

We have no is­sue with that, as such com­bi­na­tions en­sure com­pat­i­bil­ity not only in elec­tri­cal terms, but also when it comes to sonic char­ac­ter. Dur­ing the re­view pe­riod we use a range of speak­ers, from our ref­er­ence ATC SCM50S right the way through to the PMC Twenty5 22s and Dy­nau­dio’s Emit M20s. None throw up any com­pat­i­bil­ity is­sues.

Just to en­sure we are get­ting the best out of this Naim, we leave it run­ning for the best part of a week be­fore we start any se­ri­ous lis­ten­ing. And it’s worth the wait, as the sound be­comes clearer and more fluid over time.

Sweet ‘tooth

Once up and run­ning the NAC-N 272 turns out to be a superb per­former re­gard­less of source. We start by us­ing Blue­tooth and find the wire­less con­nec­tion to be swift and sta­ble. Us­ing a Sony Xpe­ria Z3 as our source we’re happy to re­port the Naim de­liv­ers a sur­pris­ingly co­he­sive and in­sight­ful per­for­mance.

”Once up and run­ning the NAC-N 272 turns out to be a superb per­former re­gard­less of source”

Lis­ten­ing to Jill Scott’s Fam­ily Re­union is fun. We like the way this Naim ren­ders the song’s easy-go­ing beat and the pre­sen­ta­tion’s bal­ance be­tween at­tack and re­fine­ment. There’s lit­tle sign of the lack of subtlety and thin­ness that Blue­tooth can still suf­fer from, and the tonal bal­ance is just that – bal­anced. While we wouldn’t use this con­nec­tion for any se­ri­ous lis­ten­ing it’s great for a ca­sual dip.

Clear-flow­ing stream

We’re fa­mil­iar with the qual­ity of Naim’s stream­ers – our ref­er­ence unit is the com­pany’s range-top­ping NDS/555PS combo – so it comes as no shock to find the streamer sec­tion of the 272 is a good one. It’s a sur­pris­ingly tal­ented per­former, keep­ing the bal­ance of Blue­tooth but adding siz­able chunks of trans­parency, subtlety and rhyth­mic pre­ci­sion to the mix.

We play a whole range of mu­sic, from the com­plex in­stru­men­tal weave of Hans Zim­mer’s In­ter­stel­lar right the way through to Ken­drick La­mar’s hard-hit­ting

How To Pimp A But­ter­fly. The Naim de­liv­ers across the board.

With In­ter­stel­lar it gen­er­ates an im­pres­sively large-scale pre­sen­ta­tion. The mu­sic’s huge dy­namic sweeps are sup­ported by rock-solid bass that has plenty of author­ity with­out sac­ri­fic­ing def­i­ni­tion. We love the way the 272 com­mu­ni­cates the in­sis­tent drive of

Coward – it’s de­ter­mined and sure­footed – and that sim­ply re­in­forces the men­ace and ex­cite­ment of the track.

The Naim doesn’t de­liver the most open or spa­cious sound­stage, but it is nicely fo­cused and crisply lay­ered. Im­por­tantly, it stays fo­cused even when the piece be­comes de­mand­ing.

Mov­ing to Ken­drick La­mar’s set shows off the 272’s di­rect de­liv­ery. While there’s plenty of in­sight and subtlety we’re drawn to the highly or­gan­ised way this unit ren­ders mu­sic. Ev­ery note and sound has a dis­tinct place and pur­pose and through the Naim it all makes sense.

Smooth, but with bite

It’s this abil­ity to or­gan­ise, and the sta­bil­ity that goes with it, that makes the 272 such an im­pres­sive per­former. Rhyth­mi­cally it’s strong, mak­ing the most of hard-driv­ing tracks such as King

Kunta. De­spite a strong dose of re­fine­ment, the 272 has plenty in the way of bite to con­vey the at­ti­tude of the mu­sic well.

The ana­logue line stages and built-in DAC are equally im­pres­sive, pre­serv­ing the unit’s sonic char­ac­ter while be­ing re­veal­ing enough to show up the sonic dif­fer­ences be­tween al­ter­nate sources. We would hap­pily put the Naim’s preamp sec­tion up against any stand­alone ri­val in the £1000-£1500 price range with­out fear. The DAC sec­tion would be one of the bet­ter per­form­ers be­low the grand mark.

The head­phone out­put is as good as the line stages – some­thing that isn’t al­ways the case. It’s a Class A cir­cuit, de­signed to drive a wide range of head­phones well, and it does. We try var­i­ous prod­ucts, rang­ing from Bey­er­dy­namic’s T1s through to Grado’s PS500S, with­out is­sue.

No com­pro­mise

The NAC-N 272 could have eas­ily turned out to be too much of a com­pro­mise, a poor re­la­tion to the com­pany’s dis­tin­guished and long-es­tab­lished line of ded­i­cated sep­a­rates. It isn’t though. It sounds great, it’s full of life and has the abil­ity to make mu­sic, no mat­ter how com­plex, make sense. Fac­tor in the box-count re­duc­tion, lack of ex­tra ca­bling and the fuss-free way it op­er­ates, and this unit looks like some­thing of a bar­gain (in high-end terms at least). Highly rec­om­mended.

While many stream­ers ne­glect ana­logue in­puts, the Naim makes them a pri­or­ity

The re­mote’s neat enough, but we’d rec­om­mend the well laid-out app

Note the multi-pin con­nec­tor – next to the ana­logue in­puts – for use with Naim’s power sup­plies

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