Managing Expectations(?)

So there’s a bit of preface to this post. My father was a hi-fi guy, he would attend all the events, pour money into his systems, have all of his hi-fi friends over every week to talk all things hi-fi.

This has rubbed off on me over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have had a system to use as I grew up listening to my favourite albums, and now I’m a bit older with a little bit more money of my own I’m starting to look at options, and that’s where I would love some advice. If you’re wondering why I’m turning to this forum instead of simply asking my dad, whilst hi-fi has always been a shared interest, my dad isn’t a natural communicator, especially not with me, unfortunately. There are two main burning questions I’d love to hear some input on, as I’m currently facing some difficult choices and am completely unequpped to navigate them.

I’ve had a pair of Sonab OA-5 Mk2’s for about 15 years now. They were my first “proper” speakers and they’re alll I’ve ever known. They’ve been happily running off a Cambridge Audio amplifier from the 90’s and I’ve always been quite content with this. I’ve done my research on these, I’m familiar with the Stig Carlsson “movement” and find it all very fascinating. However, I’m now shopping for speakers and I’m seeing hundreds of reviews for modern, wonderful-looking speakers, Neat, Mission and such, as well as countless other speakers I’ve never heard. Whenever I mention these speakers to my father, however, and try to better understand whether these would be improvements over my (now 60-year-old Sonabs), I’m usually met with something like “you’ll have to spend thousands to get a better sound than those Sonabs, never sell them”. I’m quite happy to believe this, as they do sound admittedly quite lovely compared to my ears, but I have absolutely zero reference. I had them serviced a few years ago so they’re still in great nick, but do they stand the test of time? I can’t quite believe that the whole hifi world is spending thousands and thousands on speakers whilst some Swedish mass-produced speakers from the 60s sound equally good. It’s not even like I can “try” other speakers, as surely it’s about how they fit/sound in my room with my setup that I’m comparing them to.

Onto the setup, which is a very similar question, but about Naim gear.

My father has kindly offered to sell me his old Naim system, comprised of a 42.5 Nac, Nap 90 and a Hi-Cap, for (what I believe to be) a very reasonable £750, all recently serviced. Now from my internet sleuthing this indeed seems like a well-loved selection of equipment, admittedly, I’m more drawn to the love I see for the 72/140 combo, but it’s nice to have something passed down so I’m happy to stick with the 42.5/90. I don’t have an awful lot of appetitie for trying new brands in this regard, Naim was the only brand in our household growing up, and I’m very exciting to start carving my own journey through their equipment offerings. But my burning question remains, how does this gear compare? I look at even Naim equipment from the last 3-5 years, I can buy a modern Naim integrated amplifier for <£1,500, are the Olive shoeboxes really that good by today’s standards? None of my friends are into hi-fi, I don’t have any retailers within 100 miles from me, I simply have zero reference for any of this. I’m unfortunately all digital so all of this is running off a Wiim Pro and a cheap SMSL dac, would I be much better off investing in a better streamer/dac combo? I have so many questions!

I’m just aching for some reassurance from people much more knowledgable than myself about these things, that my Sonabs aren’t a horrible sounding gimmick that I’m senselessly tying myself to, and that some 30 year olive shoeboxes do indeed pack the energy, warmth and definition that will really offer a sizeable boost to my system?

Any thoughts/inputs would be enormously appreciated, I’m pulling my hairr out here.

  1. Think of your father’s gear as a kind of family heirloom. He loved it and would probably love for you to have it and use it. It’s £750. Use it as a second system if you wind up upgrading later on or just sell it to someone that would really enjoy it. It’s better than what you have now.

  2. If those speakers sound good to you, why change? If you get the hi-fi itch and want to hear something different for a change, mail order something like a pair of Buchardt speakers from Denmark. They’re only direct-to-consumer and have a 45 day listening / return window. Or something else with a return policy.

By the way - welcome to the forum! :grinning:


Not sure where you are in the world but probably not UK if you have no dealer within 100 miles. My advice would be try to arrange your next holiday close to somewhere with a hifi dealer and book a listening session. It will less costly than embarking on a trial and error approach. I’m surprised more people don’t do this given the sums involved.

I don’t know anything about your speakers I’m afraid.

The 42.5/HiCap/90, all recently serviced is a real bargain for £750. A lovely amp combination that you won’t get anywhere close to at that price with any new gear. I would snap it up. So long as you can live without remote control.

Listen to a selsction of speakers depending on budget and take it from there.


I think the association of love for your father when you listen to his system is a winner. I have a few things of my father that always bring happy memories. And I always enjoy bottles of wine where I have been to the winery and met the people that make it.


Welcome to the Forum.

From reading your post it gives the impression that you don’t get on particularly well with your dad, and may not like him that much, yet you seem to feel the need to remain in his shadow. To me, if he’s asking for £750 from his own son, I’d tell him where to stick it, but perhaps more politely.

The 42/110 was my first Naim, back in 1983, and I loved it. But the 110 wasn’t very powerful, and I quickly bought a 250. The 90 is pretty weedy and I’d forget it. Remember that a lot of Forum members are elderly and have fond memories of this equipment and therefore the advice may not actually be what you need.

60 year old Sonabs will be knackered, which is why they sell on eBay for £150. Get yourself some modern speakers.

The Wimm isn’t anywhere near good enough for a Naim system and you’d need something better.

That’s all very negative, but what to do?

Take yourself off to a Naim dealer - 100 miles isn’t far, maybe have a night way, and listen to some modern equipment. A Naim ND5XS2 and a Nait XS would be lovely, but may cost more than you want to spend. A Uniti Atom may more than meet your needs. Don’t apologise for being all digital. Get yourself a Hifi that meets your needs, in 2024. Don’t worry about what old people were using 60 years ago. I say this as a 63 year old. I bought my 42/110 when I was 22. It was new and current, but things change. These days I have a Uniti Nova. It’s actually really, really good.


Whereabouts are you? You’ve mentioned £ so I’m guessing UK. I think you need to hear something to get a starting point.
Nap 90 = nait 3 so you can definitely do better, a second hand nait xs or xs2 would be ideal.
There are plenty of other brands out there, does it have to be Naim? The latest arcam integrated for example is good. Or you can’t really go wrong with rega.

Yes but it cost a lot more money!

I couldn’t agree more actually. I just didn’t like to point it out! My dad would never have charged me for it. But then different families have different approaches or values.

I think you’re being a little harsh here. I drove my IBL’s with a slimline 90 for several years very successfully. Sure the olive 250 I had afterwards was far better, but the 90 was still damn good.

That’s a speaker I haven’t heard mention of for a long while. Only someone who has compared directly with other speakers would be able to answer your question - but easy for you to do if you arrange some auditions of other speakers with some dealers and take those along (and the amp if the dealer doesn’t have the same one.).

Nearest modern equivalent design is probably one of the Shahanians - lookthem up, and see where you thing yours sits in the range, then you’d get a vague idea of modern price equivalent. In my own case, and sound desire is very personal, I would expect to spend £4-5k upwards young secondhand or ex-dem and £8+ new price for anything I’d find satisfying. (My present speakers bought a couple of years ago were a remarkable bargain at £4.5k, new price for current version just under £30k).

There are “source first” preachers on here who will say get the best source you can before looking at speakers, but others of us recognise the critical role the speaker plays in enjoyment and satisfaction and feel it is more important to have speakers that sound exacatly right for you, provided your source is reasonable.

Thank you to everyone that has replied, I’ve been mulling over them for a few days and there’s some really helpful input.

I’m based in Devon, and haven’t found a local hi-fi dealer that appears to stock the things I’m considering.

My Dad has since kindly set up the aforementioned 42.5/90/hicap in my lounge, and rather disappointingly I haven’t noticed an obvious improvement to the sound over the ~£150 Cambridge Audio amp. This isn’t necessarily alarming, as this is still running off the Wiim Pro which many here and my father have suggested would be a bottleneck.

I’m now at a bit of a crossroads, I’ve seen that Uniti Atoms can be picked up used for ~£1300, which when factoring the £750 I’ve budgeted for the 42.5/90/hicap, a new streamer and the Cambridge Audio Dacmagic I’ve bought, is around the same price as the Atom.

The Atom certainly seems (from feedback/reviews) at least to tick all of my boxes, particularly as I’ll only ever be using streaming as a source, and it’s becoming quite difficult to ignore as the best choice.

Still unsure what to do about speakers, everything sounds very bright at the moment, which again I’m assured is the Wiim rather than the speakers.

Decisions decisions.

I’m surprised that you can’t hear any improvement over the Cambridge integrated with the 42.5/HI-CAP/110

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I would concur this:
if hifi seperates (pre/power) do not improve Sound Quality over a 90’s (budget model) integrated, then…

A friend with a WiiM Pro, when comparing against the Cambridge CD transport- finds the music a noticable backstep.
(I notice a huge soundfield size decrease, much less front to back imaging, and NO ENGAGEMENT with the music…)

Doing internet streaming as well, my rigs weak spot is the FiiO M11+ (is an android ‘digitial audio player’ with much care in isolating power supplies to the various internal circuitry areas and has nice clock chips etc), as a streaming source. (eg Apple Music)

Apple Music via COAX (digital) output into the DAC directly sounds anemic and lifeless vs Apple Music running COAX output into a reclocking device, and then onto the DAC…

The Wiim Pro does have better clock chips that the ‘non pro’, for those using digital output; and after my mates WiimPro had a few months of usage- it did sound ‘better’…

but- having listening to Apple Music/Tidal/‘other’ hi resolution steaming services via mass market crap streaming sources (the Fiio M11+ flogs the WiiMPro btw); CDs sound a lot better than “hi res” and even attempting to keep the masters ‘the same’ (ie discs from the eighties that haven’t ever been remastered, or ‘of interest’ to anyone)…
I am yet to hear a streamer from a price point that equals ‘proper 90s budget-fi’ sound.

the 90s were a good era for two channel… (the last decade were two channel was relevant to the majority and so still netted ‘lower pricepoints’ due to scale of production).

now, rosey coloured glasses on: I’ve never heard an integrated unit beat out seperates (this extends to ‘lifestyle toys like the Novas’)… (ducks for cover- yes they are well reviewed- so is a Topping entry level product- doesn’t mean I’d want one in my system…)

Each dedicated power plug you have generally equals a ‘blacker background’ and more signal to noise ratio/better dynamics etc etc…

The fact you have an outboard power supply upgrade as well…

seriously - thank your Father.
(I too grew up in a household were buying the parents last TV/car/lounge suite was ‘the norm’ - teaches good values the parent in me would concur)…

The time he gave setting up is world serious coin… servicing prior to sale is a nice gift for the new buyer, and ‘why would he rob himself of the value by ‘not selling it’?’…

So, headphone amp / streamer/ smaller install space (and lower power bill costs) are options in front of you…

I’d suggest find the best second hand bargain speakers you can find (over whatever period of time you can patiently wait)…
and play with them on your ‘dedicated seperates’ system.

When you downgrade to a lifestyle ‘all in one’, some factors will shrink/‘go down in empirical quality’, and some with, depending on ‘taste’ improve

Myself- I can’t stand most mass market crap made after the year 2000.
Anything top tier and heavily discounted on the second hand market would be my go to purchase from the last two decades…

Buying new presently means you are buying into another year of cheapened products.
The manufacturers know that is the market they are competing in…
Some models used to have a mission statement of ‘be the best…’; those same mission statements have been updated to ‘be the best competeing in the current market’… (those who know how to read between the lines /AND have endured every world financial crisis since the early eighties DECIMATING HiFi sound…

anyhow- another world financial crisis in the last few years means most stuff coming to market has ONE GOAL- be built cheap!
(sound quality be damned!!)

So, yesah, prices go statospheric for most any stuff worth owning, and the upgradeitis is a planned pathway for many businesses to survive a few more years before being eaten up by ‘bigger fish’ (and generally buried).

There are ways to improve your digital quality, but most will say they are not worth doing… (perpetuating a myth they believe in that digital is zeros and ones and hence is intact and stable and ‘easy’ to work with…)

I’d upgrade the power supply on your Wiim Pro (perhaps you have a modern flagship mobile phone with a power pack that weights twice as much… that would be a start and is free to adopt…)

A reasonably priced digital cable (especially if USB, don’t go below $50 pricepoint/‘value’)…

inline cleanup of the digital signal can be found for <$200 with a couple of iFi products…(I have one permanently placed on the USB input of my DACMagic)…

a few tweaks might raise the present streaming experience (and carry over to whatever likely solution you settle on)…
Your present system is a great place to start…

learn the traits of the kit you have…

play Straight Old Line (Enzso), listen to the position of the spoons in the song…
write down notes as to how many metres deep into the stage you feel the spoons are (at any given timecode), and compare to the 90s’ Cambridge integrated if you really want to hear how amps can change up a playback experience (all amps sound the same until they DO NOT- sometimes the tracks we choose can help isolate/‘see’ the differences…

Sure I am being led by expectation here- that seperates may indeed outperform ‘more devices squeezed together’.

AS a tech repair agent for three decades plus- minituraisation of electronics is something that ramps up product costs.
If the design intention for the Novas (insert modern hifi ‘minimalist’ designs here); they choose squeezing everything together over ‘absolute sound quality’ (they are a box of ‘compromises’)…
some don’t mind that their turntable is digitised on the way to the speakers, and believe they don’t hear a difference… (and probably rate the parts ‘five stars’).

Lots of parts rated ‘five stars’…
Id take a two or three star rated part from a flagship lineup, over just about any ‘budget’ five star part…

second hand flagship stuff that wasn’t well rated due to ‘value’ (at time of NEW sale), are not held back in the value proposition when bought a decade later for peanuts; so the two stars because it was expensive, becomes five stars because it sounds better than anything for equivalent cash…

apols for being all over the place- there are a few ELEPHANTS that needed to be redressed, and I am in a one inch window on a small phone screen as I type this-

I like second hand bargains, ESPECIALLY in HiFi.

Most of my best speakers have been from the 50s-80s,…
and sure my present system is a hodgepodge from the nineties till today… (the Nait XS3 doesn’t truly equal the Musical Fidelity NuVista M3 it replaces, but sips power and is small- which were my goals…

Know your goals!
Whatever you set out to achieve you are much more likely to ‘stumble on’…

I’d encourage a second hand DAC (heavy and not built for ‘spec sheet warfare’), built by any major hifi brand…
case in point- my local trades has a $1500 price point musical fidelity DAC selling for $150. (bargain)

hifi went beyond spec sheets in the nineties…
the numbers that actually need improving are never even mentioned on most kit built since then… (or 'stratosphere pricepoint modern stuff)…
slew rates and damping factors, and power output at 2ohm/4ohm etc…

An all in one box has near zero resale value on any reasonable timeline I would expect from hifi at those sorts of pricepoints.

With seperates- learning what each part contributes to the sound is’half the journey’.

Congrats on a beautiful setup (incluidng upgraded power supply)…
matching speakers with full sized electronics is super easy, and will likely save you many many thousands of dollars to achieve a sound quality level surpassing all expectations.

A ‘lifestyle box’ that then demands modern speakers, which offer less sound per pound than every decade prior, isn’t ‘good value’ in my eyes.

I’d thank Dad, enjoy the flexibility that you have, and continue to toy… (but then audio is my hobby).

cheers, and thank you for post that helps the forum ‘see’ where you are at. (helpful)


I can’t add to what the guys have already said but welcome to the forum.


Servicing may well be overdue.

Lovely speakers, OA-5. Own a pair that I occasionally connect to my Naim gear. Omnidirectional speakers that works well against the wall and creates a huge soundstage. Besides Naim they like tube amplifiers.


Indeed (apart from the perhaps more politely bit).

That’s near top book prices for that kit. Walk away!

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too many people skim and still ‘chip in’;
the kit has been serviced prior to sale- has a known history, and low mileage (every owner has a wear an tear period as kit gets ‘set up’).

Ive lived in ocean facing apartments and sold off all my pre nineties stuff thereafter due to ‘SALT in air’ for a duration.

nost people vuying second hand kit cannot see the decades of lofe an amp has-knowing history-having serviced prior; and no doubt a better service guarantee/peace of mind promise from an immediate family member-if only cause of holiday dinners… (if a second hand purchase goes belly up five weeks after purchase from some random internet person: good luck sharing THAT burden… but I think Dad might be ameniable to a renegotiation/assistance to sort …

if the less dramatic Naim forum readers cpuld confirm a fair reasonable price on that kit… (i’d be happy if within 20% of market norm for serviced equipment in great condition)

I don’t have too much helpful information to add, but would just advise that

Do not presume all who reply here are much more knowledgeable, as there are quite a few posters here, whose advice I would avoid, who simply regurgitate views of the masses, and it’s easy to be taken in by their air of certainty.

The second thing I have to say is you’ve learned something to your ears in your room. Your dad‘s old system sounds no better than your current one – if you’re actually happy with your current system, I’d use this time to walk away and just enjoy the music - you’re really going down a minefield if you start changing items into your system, that sound no better than what you currently have

The last thing I’d say, as has been said above, there are more brands out there than Naim which might be worth listening to although Naim are a very high-quality brand with a very good sound if it suits your taste, but they certainly are not that affordable anymore.



Those are the ones. I think their design is very generous to combine with cheaper amps due to the soundstage they naturally produce along with the throaty bass and lively 4 tweeter configuration, which is party why I believe I’m not noticing an obvious improvement since plugging in the 42.5/90/hicap. It’s definitely not a knock to the speaker but I have a feeling if I was to plug something like some modern klipsch/kefs or similar in the ~£1,000 range I could quickly see what differences the Naim gear is offering. Maybe not though. Would love to hear your thoughts, I see a lot of praise for the Sonabs but little in the way of concrete comparisons with modern alternatives.

I don’t think I’ll know until I’ve tried something else, so I’ll likely grab something online with a generous returns policy and see how I get on.

A few people have mentioned looking at alternative brands, I appreciate that whilst Naim are much loved for producing high quality equipment they don’t always best represent value for money, and I’m definitely not in a position to dive deep down the Naim rabbit hole, but it’s really the only hi-fi I’ve ever known. To picture a rack one day filled with anything other than beautifully machined olive boxes is still weird for me.

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Rather than buying online, which is something of a lottery, why not take yourself off to a decent dealer and have a listen? When you said you were 100 miles from a dealer I suspected you might be way out in the sticks somewhere, but it’s only Devon, which is hardly Siberia. There must be dealers in easy reach, such as Gulliford in Exeter.

You mention Olive boxes but the 42.5 is Chrome Bumper. If I recall, the 90 is Olive, so presumably your three borrowed boxes aren’t a visual match.