Really like your studio workspace.
It looks a great space to spend your day.
Several elements to a well rounded system, with music streaming at its heart. Streamer - server - external DAC - amplifier, maybe an integrated amp. Also user interfaces for access and navigation and the internet music streaming platforms. Power supplies too, if you wish to get into that. (Maybe not PSU’s . So, leaving that for another day).
At the budget end of the streamer market, there is a plethora of offerings. Some are mentioned at the beginning of your thread. All offer something interesting. However, now your budget is better understood, thoughts would start some where else instead. On balance, spending on source first, as a priority with the budget.
Here are a few thoughts about what I’ve learned over recent years - experience and experiments ….
Digital sources : Reference points
Just focussing on sound quality only, here are a few reference points …
Naim NDX2 is better than ND5 XS2
ND5 XS2 + nDAC is better then bare NDX2. (Can be achieved for half the cost of NDX2). Albeit two boxes, instead of one.
Also, ND5 XS2 is better than (streaming component only in ) NSC222
ND5 XS2 is better than Innous ZENmini + LPSU, (when using their respective internal DAC’s)
ND5 XS2 and Innous ZENmini + LPSU - both used as transport with nDAC - both almost equal. ND5 XS2 edges it. Just.
Innous ZENmini + LPSU is better than ZENmini bare.
Innous Pulse is better than Naim ND5 XS2. Same or similar costs. ( Note : Pulse is streaming transport only. No internal DAC. So needs to be partnered with a decent external DAC ).
I am told, (not auditioned this myself) Innous Pulsar is equal to NDX2. Innous costs less.
Chord Qutest performs same or similar as Naim DAC. Maybe slightly different presentation, it’s subjective. Qutest has limited number of inputs, compared to nDAC.
Chord Hugo TT is better than nDAC and Qutest.
Now let’s look at whole solutions…
So, looking at Naim system ideas. (After all, this is a Naim forum).
Note : Suggested prices, from Nov 2023.
Naim XS Series
Two or three boxes. As already suggested by @daddycool, the XS slim boxes solution would be Nait XS3 and ND5 XS2. And yes, maybe add a nDAC too. Perfect matching form factor. All that might be achieved with a budget of around £4,500.
Sorted for phono. The XS3 has an internal MM stage. It’s a good one.
I started my Naim journey with the Nait XS2. A perfect partner to our Rega RP6, which we improved from stock, over time. Added a HiCap to the XS2. Also added CD5 XS as transport with nDAC. Was happy with this for years.
Naim Original Classic
Two boxes. NDX2 + SN2 or maybe SN3 is the obvious place to be, with OC, subject to pieces available at the right pre-loved prices. Pairing a pre-loved NDX2 + SN2 might expect to be around £5,500.
Pre-loved SN3’s tend to go for £ 2,500-3,000. Maybe too much. However…
The SN3 has an internal MM phono stage. It’s a good one. The benefit of using your Rega record player directly with SN3 and losing a box (separate phono stage) might be worth pushing the budget and stretch to the SN3.
Naim New Classic
Two boxes. The new Classic NSC222 is a great option. You might prefer what is offers.
There is a pre-loved New Classic NSC222 - at Acoustica - for just under £4k. Maybe find and add an OC NAP200 DR for around c.£1200. So you could get going with latest NC system, for just around £5,200.
Sorted for phono. The 222 has an internal MM phono stage.
Thoughts about vinyl
Assuming you intend to keep and carry your RP6 forward with you.
Like you, we also have the Rega RP6. I love mine and wouldn’t ever consider being parted from it. Actually, I’m not sure I could really say anything that might improve on the very capable Ortofon Black 2M, probably one for the best MM cartridges around.
Are you using the original TT- PSU supplied with the RP6 ? If yes, there is an inexpensive upgrade open to you, by swapping in the newer NEO PSU. Honestly, for just over £250 it’s a steal and one of the best upgrades for your RP6 out there.
One thought is to maybe go to MC with such as Dynavector 20x2 or Rega Ania or Ania Pro. Also requires an extra box, an MC phono stage, like Rega Fono MC or better Aria. I only mention this, as the better amplifiers will show you the small differences or gain from these several ideas.
My opinion FWIW, putting all that together.
With what I have learned and know, would probably pursue one of these two solutions. Both are three boxes.
(1) ND5 XS2 + nDAC → SN3 ( Budget around £5,500 )
Note : There is some redundancy here, as the streamer has an internal DAC which has been paid for, but isn’t being used. This idea leads to another option…
(2) Innous Pulse + Chord Qutest → SN3 ( Budget around £ 6k )
Note : At this price point, probably the best streaming SQ out there, right now.
TBH, think the nDAC and Qutest are interchangeable in this regard. Select the one that suits you best.
If the all Naim option 1 appeals, all same form factor, then look to Moorgate Acoustics, in Sheffield. They currently have both pre-loved or ex-demo items ND5 XS2 and SN3 available. Also, look to Signals, in Ipswich for a pre-loved nDAC. It’s an older item, but better priced. Check out their websites. This superb all Naim three box solution could be achieved for just less than £ 5,350 from available items.
Another way forward, with this option, is to take your time. Start with ND5 XS2 and SN3 for maybe around £4,500 for now. Later, add an external DAC for a nice upgrade, when you are ready.
If you don’t so much mind mixed items, from different brands, maybe think seriously about the Innous Pulse, which is so seriously good. With any decent DAC, like the nDAC or Chord Qutest, with a SN3.
What do to about your CD collection?
Consider continuing using the Mac mini, or any other NAS - as upnp - on your LAN. The streamer can then access your CD collection. Alternatively, transfer all onto a USB memory device and attach directly to the streamer.
Diminutive shoe boxes
When funds allow, add the ubiquitous Innous ZENmini. It’s an absolute darling. Transfer your CD collection archive across. The ZM can become your server, for the whole house. Also offer local streaming, in one room, for the UQ2. (If you wish, go on a journey with the ZM and add LPSU and external DAC over time ). In the meantime, add the natty NAP100 to your Uniti Qute 2 for a perfectly formed shoe box system. The ZENmini is the obvious choice to match with Naim UQ2 + NAP100. Perfect matching form factor.
At this point, it is worth noting an advantage here for the user, if both digital sources are Innous the result is a single UI - Sense - for both devices.
Think about UI
Think about user interface. FWIW, my opinion is Naim App is good. Works perfectly well. Innous Sense is better. For me, Roon is best. Maybe look at Roon further down the line.
Knowledge is good
Have a long chat with the guys at Acoustica
Do some more research.
Go look at alternative products and ideas, with Innous and Chord products, in particular.
Look for opportunities to use some of the items you’re not familiar with. Particularly the user interfaces.
Maybe sign up for the free trials with the music streaming platforms (Tidal, Qobuz, etc) and see how they work too
p.s. just listening to The National, “Laugh Track”, (2023).