No Pre-Amp?

I have Hugo2 DAC with ‘remote digital volume’. As my sources are 100% digital I neither need nor use a pre-amp. Could I build a NAIM system likewise? I’d ideally like just an NDX2 and a NAP300DR, but does that work?

Welcome Steve.

The pre-amp is a critical part of the overall Naim amplifier chain and is not something that can be done without. True, you could use just a simple passive switch and volume pot, but this only tends to work with a power amplifier designed to work with such a thing (usually involving additional gain stages that would normally be part of the pre-amp) and introduces some additional issues. Some DACs have a basic volume control on them but really this is no substitute for a proper high quality pre-amp stage.

You have to think of an amplifier as two parts of a whole - pre-amp and power amp. The pre-amp is the more critical part as according to Naim’s founder Julian Vereker, it’s the more difficult to do well and the part where most is lost. This is perhaps why, in Naim terms, pairing a NAC552 with a NAP200DR will absolutely trounce the performance of a NAC202/HICAP with a NAP500, despite similar cost for each pairing.

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You don’t need a preamp with what you’re proposing, correct. If you’re digital only, you’d use the NDX2 as a streaming transport into your TT2, then use the TT2 as a pre direct into the 300. You’d need a set of cables made up for this. A preamp would be pointless - unless you prefer the sound signature with a pre…but is an expensive and largely pointless experiment. Also note that an NDX2 would barely be utilised with what you’re thinking, and so would mostly be a waste of money. A streamer without a DAC would make far more sense.

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Out of curiosity I once tried my Hugo into my Naim NAP250DR. IIRC it was OK, a bit boring and a flat though. It was so much better via the NAC552 into the NAP250DR, it really came to life.

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I’m sure it was, but in the interest of balance a 552 is over £20,000. I know that’s somewhat beside the point, and perhaps SteveWeeks can easily afford this extra expense, but his question was whether it would work or not without a pre, and with what he was proposing. And it would.

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I guess it depends on what you term a preamp? many DACs technically include a preamp stage in that they can control the volume of the analogue output and also ‘condition’ the analogue signal, such that they deliver the signal output voltage within an acceptable range and provide suitably low output impedance for passing the signal on to the next stage, for instance, a power amplifier.

I use an RME ADI-2 fs DAC directly into my NAP 300DR and I find that it works very well. I guess you have to try these things for yourself to see if you like it.

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Steve, the question includes both ‘will it work?’, to which the answer is yes, and ‘will it work well?’ to which the answer is possibly.

The 300 is a brilliant power amp, but it really does need a Naim preamp to work at its best. As Richard says, Naim pre and power amps are really two halves of a whole.

If you really want to go the Chord route, you may be best looking at their TToby or Etude power amps, and the TT rather than the Hugo. @ChrisSU may be able to advise here, as he moved from Naim to Chord.

If you do want the NDX2 and the 300, a NAC282/Hicap DR in the middle and an XPSDR to power the NDX2 would be a nice setup, and really the minimum to get the benefits of the excellent 300.

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It may be that for the “Naim Sound” you need a Naim preamp, as it seems from what I have gleaned over some years that the Naim character comes mainly from the preamp. And as Richard has noted Naim intend Naim power amps to be used with their preamps (but then, what manufacturer wouldn’t?)

I used Hugo 1 into a power amp (Musical Fidelity P270) with great success, sounding better than through the preamp I had been using (Tag McLaren PA10). I guess Hugo 2 is at least as capable. I would expect it to work with most power amps provided the amp doesn’t present an abnormal load (a worse load than headphones) and provided the DAC doesn’t output higher UHF frequencies than the power amp can handle with stability. With a suitable power amp it makes every sense as it removes unnecessary electronics from the signal path - unless you want the character that the electronics introduce.

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Which sort of raises the question of why, if someone doesn’t want the Naim sound, they’d spend £8,000 on a Naim power amp in the first place. The preamp does of course add to the signal path, but it’s worth remembering that the power amps were designed and voiced to work with that signal path. Why buy something and then not use it as intended?

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Slight diversion, so apologies to OP, but I did start a DAC thread as am in the market for a new one…how do you find the RME please Roog? I too have a 300 but non-DR. I’d be using as a DAC only

Hi @anon61795652, I like the effect of putting the RME in front of the NAP. I have experimented with various DACs and preamps in my system including, a few years ago a NAC 282 & HiCap. To my ears they all sounded very much the same, so I couldn’t see the point in spending thousands on a NAC.

What the RME does that the others cannot is give me easy access to a programmable 5 band parametric equaliser which allows me to iron out a room bass peak at 49Hz!

In the future, I would like to experiment with Dirac to see what that does for my room.

As for the NAP 300DR, mine used to be a NAP300 too. I had it serviced and DR’ed at the same time, so whilst it did fix my slightly sick NAP 300 I cannot tell you which had the greater effect, the service or the DR, sorry.

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I would very much agree with the responses from @hungryhalibut and @Richard.Dane .

In fact many years ago I did design just such a power amp, specifically designed to work with a passive controller (input switch and ALPS volume control). It was successful and very ‘live’ sounding just because it was specifically designed for that use and it did necessitate higher gain. The disadvantage in that case was increased sensitivity to difficult speaker loads, but again I wanted it to drive a specific pair of speakers and designed it for that load.

As Richard and HH have said, Naim power amps are optimised in such a way as to be at their best with Naim preamps. That’s not to say that they won’t work well with other preamps (including the output stages of DACs), however the dynamic ‘liveness’ of the sound is unlikely to be present to quite the same degree.

Whether this is important to you is a different matter; we all listen to music in different ways, with different ears and different brains. As @Roog said, for themselfs there was little difference between the DAC/preamps they tried, so for them and in the way they listen these differences were unimportant. Only you can decide what characteristics are important to you, and the only way to do this is to listen to the options.

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Doesn’t that mean the Naim preamp is basically just adding (possibly pleasurable) distortion?

A digital input signal is generally loud and requires attenuation instead of pre-amplification, which is what DAC preamps do (attenuate). There is no signal loss taking place if the circuit is well designed, and the power amp would then simply amplify the resulting signal.

Analog signals are generally less loud and do require pre-amplification, but in a fully digital system i see no real reason why an analog preamp would be necessary.

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I can certainly agree with that!!

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If you have a known power amp circuit with known characteristics, some of which will, inevitable be less than ideal, then you can design a correction circuit (i.e. an amp with the inverse of the non-idealities of the power amp), and include that in a preamp. Used on it’s own these characteristics would be the opposite set on non-ideal behaviours, used together they do, to some degree cancel each other out.

Note that, with the possible exception of the NAP500, classic series Naim power amps are (to the best of my knowledge) variants of the same fundamental power amp circuit configuration, having similar basic operating properties but with successive refinement as you go up the heirarchy. The even applies to the regulated amps - the power supply may be regulated but the amplifier circuit itself is built using the came configuration and design principles as the unregulated amps. It may even apply to the 500, with the same amp circuit being used after an inverter to provide the bridge configuration - but I’m unsure of this. This ensures consistency across the range.

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Hi Steve,

A number of years ago I bought a Bel Canto 3.5vbs as it included a pre-amp & an analogue input and it seemed a good way to reduce complexity. In the event adding a BC pre 3vb was a HUGE step up.

I don’t think there is a simple recipe for what works. I use an autoformer Icon 4 passive pre with my 300DR, it works superbly - as did the Allegri, another autoformer passive. I did try and number of other passive pre-amps which were NOT to my liking.

Over the years I have used different pre-amps with Naim power amps, sometimes they work well. I am currently using a Hugo TT into a NAP140 in my nearfield system to good effect.

The only way to know is to try.

Look forward to hearing how you get on.

M

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Do we have any evidence that this is the case with Naim pre and power amps? I don’t rule out that this takes place ofcourse, but that would mean that any other (non-Naim) pre would effectively give poor results with a Naim power amp, since they wouldn’t apply the same countereffective measures?

I have a Hugo 2 as well, and tried it into a 250DR. Obviously, technically, it works, but I felt it didn’t provide the same enjoyment as the Hugo 2 into a Supernait 2. Without the pre-amp, it sounded somewhat “recessed” – as if one was further away from the music. I hope this makes sense.

Edit: I was reluctant to spend the monies for a 282, but I did eventually. Just sounded so much better…

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The majority of members having Chord sources had finally sold their Naim amp when using the Chord pre, and bought a Chord amp.
The other prefer a Naim pre with Naim amp using Chord source.

…and others have other power amps, for example Bryston, some not using a preamp though I’ve no idea if a majority or minority.