The ‘old’ entry level Naim streamer is capable to produce a high quality music stream, but it needs some help to achieve that level.
No doubt, a new ND5XS2 or a streamer higher up the product line is a better machine, but if you are still having the older model or you are eyeing one on the second hand market, you can push it to greater heights, compared to having it out of the box with the plug into the wall socket and on WiFi. On the second hand market, you can pick up machines at very good prices, since it is legacy. For hunters of audio on a ‘bargain’, it is an interesting machine now.
So, this message is for the people that want to get the most out of the streamer. The things you can do are in not in a particular order, but some have more immediate sonic results than others. How you value those is different and depending on your taste and ears:
- Make sure you are on the latest firmware. The current 4.8 version is a sonic marvel and it is accentuated by below listed point.
- Make sure you have a high quality (audio grade) power block. I use a filtered one, an AudioQuest PowerQuest 2. For the streamer, the filtered port reduces a lot of stress from the sound and opens up the soundstage in width, height and depth and also lets you hear more details, without sacrificing the rhythmic qualities. (I use the same AudioQuest for the amplifier, but use its non-filtered port). There are many options on the market, but the price of the AudioQuest is balanced with the price of the ND5XS.
- If you stream music to the streamer, offer it as a WAV stream. For local streaming, using AssetUPnP and set it up to transcode the music to WAV, offers the best possible quality.
- Same is true for Qobuz. Qobuz is not natively supported by the ND5XS, but you can use BubbleUPnPServer and the Linn app to play back Qobuz on the ND5XS. Bubble can be setup to transcode all incoming signals to WAV.
- An alternative for BubbleUPnPServer is Audirvana software. To my ears, it sounds different to BubbleUPnPServer and I prefer Bubble. Experiment with both and make your choice according to your preference.
- If possible, have your own music collection with AssetUPnP and BubbleUPnP server on a computer or NAS that is somewhere else in your house, but not plugged in to the same wall socket or the power block as your ND5XS. If not possible, make sure the computer or NAS is plugged into a filtered socket if you use a power block with filter.
- Connect over ethernet port and not over WiFi. It will sound better (with all of the above), but you can really make it sing if you decouple the ethernet cable by putting a switch in between.
- Between the outgoing ethernet port of your router, or your WiFi mesh node, and the ethernet port of the ND5XS, put a switch. The switch can be a simple ‘desktop switch’, but from a respected brand like Cisco or Netgear, or an ‘audio grade’ one from English Electric or Chord. If you go for a cheap option, make sure you replace the power supply of the switch with a iFi PowerX, or if you really have the cash, a lineair power supply like an SBooster.
- Use a good quality ethernet cable. This is a controversial topic, and you can go crazy with prices, but both DesignACable in the UK and BlueJeans Cable in the USA (on Amazon) sell ethernet cable from the manufacturer Belden. This is quality controlled cable at an affordable price. Cheap standard cable from an internetshop works fine, but to my ears the Belden cable opens up the sound considerably.
What I haven’t tried yet is to replace the Naim supplied power cord with a better one. The standard Naim provided power chord is of good quality, but I don’t know if using a better one makes a sonic difference.
All of the points above contribute to an improvement in sound, but combined they make a huge difference. If you strip it all away and go back to WiFi and plugging the streamer in a socket in the wall, the difference is rather startling. I did this, just to check that all improvements I heard over time are not due to getting accustomed to a sound and confirmation bias.
In terms of money: The PowerQuest2 set me back 249 Euro, the Cisco Switch 40 Euro, the iFi PowerX power supply 109 Euro and two pieces of Belden ethernet cable from DesignACable 40 Euro. In total 438 Euro. This is still a considerable sum of money, but the effect is having a streamer that sounds as a more expensive model from another manufacturer. As such, the return on the investment is great.
I’m sure that machines like the UniQuest series or the SuperUnity series gain as much, but since both machines have amplifiers in them using a filtered power block might have detrimental results. A good power block always helps.