On Naim Watts and musicality...?

As a long-time user of a simple Naim set for this forum (Nait 5i and Cd 5i, both non-Italic’s) and a reader of this forum and others, I often read about the concept of Naim Watts.

But what is that actually?

When I bought my Nait (2006) after listening to countless amps, sometimes with so much more wattage, I fell for the Nait because of the musicality. Something happened to the music in contrast to the, to me, annoyingly boring other amps, etc. Only after I had more or less opted for the nait did I discover how (relatively) little wattage the small nait delivered.

I’ve actually never understood how Naim manages this…

I’m sure it’s my limited understanding of technology or something but can anyone enlighten me on this subject?

Are there other brands that also deliver this: musicality and low wattage, or is Naim the only one that can achieve this?

Have you tried using the forum’s search function?

This thread has several helpful replies which you might find interesting.

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I went looking for a Naim replacement. Couldn’t find one.

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I’m no electrical engineer, but I have been building PCs (with a focus on audio and ‘electrical trickery’) for many many decades. (I had the first soundcards to market and ran an overclocked 8086 back in the 80s)…

Watching the market advertise and ‘list stuff’ that is “consumer attractive” (spec sheet warfare) and experiencing the parts that actually deliver (quite often without promises of greener pastures); I can recall the early days of my hifi journey.

I ‘downgraded’ a top tier 100s of watts amplifier to a ‘lowly’ 50watt yamaha stereo unit.
A later upgrade from that Yamaha was a ‘further downgrade’ to a range of others (such as a NAD 3020, and ultimately a Musical Fidelity XA1 (30 watts)).

The NAD, when you looked at the Printed Circuit Board, you could see FAT COPPER TRACKS,
It made sense to me when I would read about how it could push 2ohm and ‘low ohm loads’.
The MF XA1 was one of the first amps I had bought that claimed a headroom in dB…
Some of the nice things ‘along the way’ included a Sansui AU919, which gives ‘flat’ freq response from DC to like something insanely high, with a crazy slew rate (and featured ‘five power supplies’ (I believe it claimed)).

Sure some amps are ‘over engineered’ and don’t over promise on what they can do.
(that is probably a large part of it), but also due to incredible design choices ‘do things other amps simply cannot’.

It really comes down to what the engineer, or ‘design goals’ are.

I have just moved from a 275Watt Musical Fidelity amp to a ‘lowly’ Nait integrated.

At any listening volume I care to listen to, what I notice are the musical goals of the part that has my attention.
There is a lot of music where a beat or a certain instrument just sounds life like and ‘real’.

This isn’t about power levels, or even, I would argue, a ‘matching with my speakers’ (towers that most would pretend that the lowly Naits just don’t do ‘the best’ with)…

I am highly sensitive to harmonic distortion… (of the ugly kind- I LOVE valve amps and their ‘musical’ distortion)…
I used to listen to test tracks with varying amounts of harmonic distortion, and whilst initially 3% or 1% was what I would pick up on quickly, after awhile I got to much much lower amounts…

It is fair to say I never drive an amp to the point where it makes the sound ‘harsh’. (my tolerance for such small distortions is basically NIL)

Having now run the Nait (nearly nonstop) for many many weeks, it has become a ‘very sweet sounding’ box…

I have on three occasions driven it at 10o’clock on the volume pot.
About six occasions at 9o’clock on the volume pot. (never with compressed music!)
At those spots, I get a very sweet dynamic range that doesn’t ride past high eighty Decibels, and the smoothness is really nice. It is obvious it has headroom and the swings in volume, whilst playing large scale orchestrations or ‘tricky recordings’ - it bounces back quickly…

So a large part of this is tuning a circuit to have the ability to renew its’ power reserves, whilst having circuitry that allows letting the electrons actually flow.

Many amps make rock (as a genre) sound harsh, or ‘like a wall of sound’.
(I use Suzanne Vega ‘fat man and dancing girl’ as typically about my third test track when auditioning kit, and if the amp makes THAT song sound like a wall of sound,…WELL- I would NEVER buy an amp like that!)

Enjoying rock on the Naim Nait, a genre that I simply do not spin if the the associated equipment doesn’t do it justice; on the Naim kit, is a true joy to experience.
Equipment that plays ‘rock’ right, in the last twenty four years, seems to have basically disappeared from the audio market.
spec sheet DAC chips and ‘homogenised sounding front end and amplfication stages’ just robs the life from such genres, and I would rather simply remember it sounding good, than attempting to play back music I enjoyed through kit that makes me ‘hate the music’.

It is fair to say I would rather buy an amp which doesn’t play spec sheet warfare games (and sounds hollow/lifeless) vs one that doesn’t promise anything but delivers joy.

Oh- the Nait does so much more than ‘rock’, but rock is a hard genre to do well.
Having around twenty amplifiers in the house, only FOUR I would consider decent enough when playing this one genre.
Orchestral music, at high dB volumes might be an advantage to the top tier Musical Fidelity amp I have ‘swapped out’ (but it drinks 1500VA from the wall, has three toroidal power supplies in an outboard box, and weighs many many times what the replacement Nait does= not really apples to apples comparison)

By design, detuning spec sheet perfection seems to be what most of the best (‘my favourite’) brands seem to do…
They make a part that is perfect at the spec sheet level, and then they rotate parts on THAT circuit until it sounds musical.

With yellow belt consumers- not doing the ‘last step’ (tuning for MUSIC), actually means less work equals ‘more sales’ (albeit- kit that serves little purpose for those who have actually heard stuff built at the high point of two channel music (>20 years ago)).

I learnt at sixteen years of age that ‘spec sheets’ can tell me aspects of ‘does the company know what they are doing’/ how to compare two ‘same tier’ pieces of kit- but by the time I was twenty I had learned so many truths that just didn’t fit with what a science background (including psychology) had taught me…

There certainly IS more to all this than the numbers dictate.
Brave companies with ‘loyal followings’ are generally free to follow their hearts and make stuff that is worth owning.

I stumbled on Naim, because of many dozens of times when I have been buying tier 2/tier 3 kit (second hand), and when finding out ‘what are you upgrading to’(?); many people whom had ‘unlimited budgets’ (and didn’t buy based on ‘value’ but SOUND), were Naim converts.

Given the chance to experiment with this brand: I can see (!HEAR!) why; it is actually musical by design.



The power of the amp is unrelated to it’s sound character - that is a matter of other aspects of design. Power is to do with providing sufficient energy to drive the speakers at your chosen volume, including musical peaks.

As for “Naim watts”, watts are watts are watts. However where the majority of amps typically claim to provide a peak power output of about twice their rated RMS power before clipping, Naim’s claimed peak power capability typically is about 5x their RMS power, and this is probably the origin of the term “Naim watts”. With music having good dynamic range this suggests that compared to most other power amps Naim’s are capable of playing music up to a similarly high average sound level as amps of up to about 2.5x Naim’s rated RMS power capacity. (RMS power output is the wattage rating of amps most commonly quoted.)

I don’t know the reason for Naim’s unusually large difference between RMS and peak ratings, though (purely a guess) it might be to do with heat dissipation. In my experience other amps with similar peak capabilities as Naim’s but RMS rated 2.5x Naim’s, big finned heatsinks are used to cool the output transistors. With less efficient cooling the transistors would overheat if subjected to continuous high power. Whilst the result of less efficient cooling would be a lower RMS rating, for most music reproduction it is not really a problem because the peak capability is generally the limiting factor for sound quality. Even loud music playing with typical speakers only uses an average (for which equate continuous) power of just a few watts (low single figures), but musical peaks can easily require 50x the power to reproduce without clipping - and for wide dynamic range music that might be 100x, 200x or more (every 3dB louder requires double the power).

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Naim Watts is about perception. A good amp is electrically about a stable “reference” (ground) no matter how much current and a stable power supply with the full audio bandwidth - it should able to hold the hi-hat and its envelope even when a big bassdrum “whompff” comes along. Doing this while keeping a musical balance requires knowledge and experience and open ears. And Naim is very good at this.

So you can have two amps and the more powerful one will simply begin to crush the music by masking chunks of what’s going on musically early on just because the powersupply etc. cannot hold the fort when brunnhilde gets going in wagners götterdämmerung!!

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We have been around this at least once before. There is a standard to which a power amp is measured against. Although i doubt this is done by an independent test house, so each manufacturer may take advantage.
Usually a very good inducation is the size of the power supply. And the amps weight. A good amp should be capable of doubling its power as the load reduces by half.
But none of this tells you how it sounds.


So the statement is about 2x900w of someone else!

It’s to do with how the P/S is regulated. “Stiff” power supplies keep the peak rating close to the RMS rating while “loose” power supply let it run wild. The latter is a problem if the rest of the amp can’t “keep up” - blown fuses, excessive distortion, other components wear out prematurely. This was common in the 1960s/early 1970s until the FTC stepped in with their requirement for realistic power amp specifications.

Naim gear is very conservatively rated - that’s all a “Naim Watt” is.

Are you saying my assessment is incorrect, or is this a form of you agreeing with me?

As for your observation about “stiff” power supplies, whatever that means, surely the biggest contribution to peak power capability is the size of reservoir capacitors, more than regulation? FWIW I’ve never come across any amps blowing fuses, having excessive distortion or, other having components “wearing out prematurely”, so that part of your post is meaningless to me.

I’m agreeing with your statement that a watt is a watt - if it’s specified correctly. As for your second paragraph, I don’t quite know what to make of that.

Now I’m confused because my second paragraph was the one that said a watt is a watt is a watt! Maybe you meant the third? As I indicated, my suggestion as to the reason how Naim’s amps can give greater peak power relative to continuous, compared to most other brands, is speculative, but to me it seems to fit, so is believable until anyone suggests something that fits better (and your suggested reason doesn’t much sense to me, not explaining the difference). The final sentence of that paragraph was plain fact.

That must be one of those “alternative facts”.

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Excuse me? What exactly in my sentence, copied below for ease of reference, do you consider to be anything other than genuine fact?
Even loud music playing with typical speakers only uses an average (for which equate continuous) power of just a few watts (low single figures), but musical peaks can easily require 50x the power to reproduce without clipping - and for wide dynamic range music that might be 100x, 200x or more (every 3dB louder requires double the power).

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You are excused. If you’ve never blown a fuse on a loud bass transient or don’t know how how capacitors respond to years of over-current and fail, then I don’t see any point in continuing this discussion.

Over and out.

Well, never having blown a fuse could be luck, but more likely just that I’ve never had amps with such inadequate power supplies that amp peaks can draw enough current from the mains to blow the fuse. Ditto capacitors failing from abuse (though I am well aware they can fail through overvoltage, and experienced this though not in a hifi product, and I’m well aware that life shortens considerably with excessive temperature). But if such things happen with inadequate power supplies (and I’m not disputing your suggestion that it happens with some amps), it bears no relation to Naim’s unusually high peak current capability relative to RMS rating, given that there are numerous amps with the ‘standard’ 2x ratio that do not have the problems you describe (including all amps I’ve owned).

That aside, I take it that in fact you have no issue with my sentence about actual amp power in use?

Hi, as said above, there is no correlation between power and the quality or musicality of an amplifier.

A watt is defined by voltage x current… and so is a consistent measure whether the amp is a high or low current design. (High current means lower voltage for a given power). This is the same for everybody including Naim.

With regard to watts and power … one needs to check whether peak or average (RMS) power is being quoted. Peak power will be greater than the average power, and refers to short bursts of power in audio content.

Many quality consumer hifi manufacturers will quote average sustained power (RMS) and peak power… for example with Naim on the NAIT 50, the RMS power is quoted at 25 W into 8 ohms with a peak power of 225W.

This means the amplifier can comfortably work continuously providing 25 W into a 8 ohm reactive load, with the occasional transient signal peak of 225 W.

Amps that don’t have a stated peak power, one might reasonably expect a max peak of 2 or 3 times average… but you can see a form of dynamic compression may start to occur if the peak is relatively low to the average, hence why many quality manufacturers quote also peak power.

There is nothing unique to Naim in regard to this.

Amplifier power in many ways is not an overly useful measure, unless linked to another measure like distortion, for example the Nait50 is quoted as 25 W into 8 ohms with 0.1% distortion (total harmonic distortion plus noise)

BTW contrary to what some suggest transients won’t be purely bass related… a transient will like be a sharp fast burst of sound, and as such will like include many frequencies including bass… but with a significant proportion being high frequencies… one reason why transients can often blow tweeters with amps pushing speakers near their peak limits.

What’s in a Naim! Or should that be Watts in a Naim?

Actually, I think that “Watts in a Naim” would be a rather good brand slogan for the company!

Perhaps just as well you are not in their marketing dept :grinning:

Oh, you killjoy, Simon, I was feeling rather pleased with myself!!