What Hi-Fi (UK)
Naim Nait XS3
Naim’s original Nait XS, introduced in 2008, was designed to be a step up from the basic Nait integrated amp – offering improved sound and greater grunt from a similarly slimline package.
Now, 13 years on, the Nait XS 3 provides the same function. If it looks similar to its predecessor, the XS 2, that’s because the third generation version only had a light revision. The previous line-level amplifier gained a movingmagnet phono stage and a tweak in the power amplifier circuitry to improve its responsiveness. Digital inputs and Bluetooth aren’t on the menu, as Naim argues that an outboard DAC would be a better solution, and at least that way the analogue performance doesn’t suffer.
The Nait XS 3’s phono circuit is made up of three stages – a gain stage, passive equalisation and final gain, and active equalisation. The idea is to minimise the amount of potential noise, while also delivering plenty of dynamic headroom.
Avoiding the rumble
The equalisation curve chosen is custom, treading the path between traditional RIAA and the IEC alternative. This should deliver a good bass performance, combined with enough low-end roll-off to avoid rumble spoiling the sound.
There is a choice of stereo RCA or Naim’s preferred DIN sockets for the four line-level inputs and the option to split the pre and power sections should you want to improve performance by slotting in something more sophisticated. The supplied system remote control is basic, but easy to use.
As is usual with Naim products, you can add an outboard power supply – the Flatcap XS (£999), Hi-cap DR (£1499) or
Supercap DR (£4849) – to improve the performance. While we can’t imagine there will be many systems that have the Nait XS 3 coupled to either of the pricier options, the Flatcap XS would be tempting in the longer term.
Look inside that solid casework and you’ll find immaculately assembled audio circuitry fed by a generous power-supply section. Great care has been taken to reduce the degrading effect of interference and unwanted interactions between components.
Crisper and more agile
We’ve always liked the Nait XS and there’s nothing we hear in this thirdgeneration model that changes our mind. Thanks to those tweaks in the poweramp circuitry, the XS 3 sounds a little crisper and more agile than the previous generation. The differences aren’t huge, but they are enough to keep Naim at the cutting edge of performance at this price.
That moving-magnet phono stage seems like an appropriate place to start, so we fit a Goldring 1042 MM cartridge to our reference Technic SL-1000R and enjoy the likes of Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and Beethoven over the next few hours.
It’s pretty common to find that built-in phono stages aren’t particularly good. They tend to be included as a box-ticking exercise with little regard to getting the best performance. But the circuit in the XS 3 bucks that trend with a detailed and punchy performance that brims with energy. It’s relatively quiet too.
We move to the line inputs and the Nait continues to impress with a combination of insight, dynamic subtlety and rhythmic drive that’s hard to better at this level. Pricier rivals such as Roksan’s Blak (£3080) offer more in the way of outright authority, delivering a sense of scale and an expansive stereo image that the Naim can’t match, but it’s not just one-way traffic.
The Nait sounds more energetic and entertaining. It takes the multitude of musical strands in Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and combines them to deliver a musical and emotionally absorbing performance. Detail resolution is good, but it’s the amplifier’s ability to assemble all that information into a cohesive whole that really impresses.
There’s a generous dose of dynamics, with the Naim expertly tracking the slow build of the music. The result is composed too, with a good degree of refinement. The story is equally positive through the 6.3mm headphone output on the front panel. We try a range of headphones and this output retains the same enthusiasm and insight we hear through the speaker outputs, which isn’t always a given, even at this level.
The Nait XS 3 is a fit-and-forget product in the very best sense of the meaning. It slots into your system and does exactly what you want it to: deliver the music with all its emotional impact intact. We can’t ask any more of an amplifier than that.