Hello all - I’m very new to the forum and just want to say how awesome it is that this forum even exists! Not all audio manufactures have this type of forum available to lean in on others experiences and advice. Just glad to be here, and excited to learn about all the Naim products!
So recently I was looking for a new power amplifier for my outdoor patio speakers PSB CS1000 but had a very specific depth requirement for said amplifier of around 13" - after doing a bit of research I boiled it down to the following options:
Naim 5si-60w, xs2-70w, sn1-80w
Atoll a200 12" 120W
Schiit Vidar 13" 100W
Rotel RB1552 13.4"D 130w
I didn’t need a preamp or dac, but just the power amplifier - however the added possibilities of the Naim won me over with having lots of flexible configurations, as well as having the shortest depth at 12", and a used one just so happened to popup as I was doing my research - which led me here!
I have to say the moment I hooked it up to the PSB CS1000 it was just so authorative, completely cleared up the sound compared to my prior Emotiva A100 50w amp and I’m very happy with it in this regards. Exceeded my expectations for it’s intended purposes. Regardless of my comparisons to the Pass Labs - it’s found a permanent home with me for sure.
But I couldn’t just leave this Naim amp in my patio speaker configuration, I had to try this thing out in my main mancave setup. Currently running a Holo Audio Spring 3 KTE w/ preamp module via XLR to my Pass Labs Xa30.8 power amplifier to Magico A1 bookshelf speakers. Absolutely wonderful 4ohm speaker, tons of detail retrieval - very happy with these $9400/pair bookshelf speakers in my small room and near field (ish) listening experience. I bought these new at a local dealer and compared them to some B&W 805d3, Harbeth bookshelf (forget the model) - the Magico A1 for me just blew them both out of the water, as well as my current at the time B&W 705S2.
Some quick history of other gear I’ve owned: Auralic Vega > Chord Qutest > Spring1 lvl2 (was upgraded to spring3), Hegel H95, Ayre V5xe, Emotiva XPA-1g2, Pass X150 and Aleph 5 - the XA30.8 has sounded the best to my ears over all others, same with Spring3 on the DAC side - I simply enjoy NOS (non oversampling) dacs more than the OS I’ve heard. Speakers owned over the years: Whatfedale OpusII, Vandersteen Sig3A, Salk Songbird, B&W 705S2. I’ve had only budget preamps in the past (1.5k range), nothing worth mentioning and will say the Serene preamp module built into the Holo caused me to sell my preamp, it just smoked all preamps I’ve had. These I’ve had all in around the past 10 years, also too many to remember <$500 dacs - as they all just sounded so similar and/or meh - mostly you get what you pay for in audio.
I tried the following configurations, however, did not try the built-in DAC for hopefully obvious reasons. All Naim tests were using the single ended RCA output of the Holo, shared power cord with Pass (direct to wall), and same speaker cables.
Double Preamp w/ Holo volume on max - First I fired up the Naim with the Holo volume on max and using the built in preamp of the SN1. I have to say, overall, just with first listen I was decently impressed with the sound, it brought a smile to my face as I thought to myself, ah this is what the Naim fuss is all about. Definitely in the way it reveals notes and sounds - deliberate starting and stopping to notes, the transient speeds, musicality and the PRaT. It was an eye opener for sure and the sound signature reminded me most of the Hegel, but this was better, faster, more tonally accurate and less fatiguing.
Double Preamp w/ Naim volume on max - This lasted for about 10 seconds - just awful, clearly max volume is not the way to use this integrated. Looked through the manual and found AV Bypass mode!
Holo preamp w/ AV Bypass enabled - Much better than both prior - just more refined and increased clarity. I am noticing certain things in tracks pop out / stand out differently, as though they draw attention more especially say in a live recording with people either coughing/shouting or just having a conversation. One of my favorite test albums is ‘Live at Eddie’s Attic’ by The Civil Wars - just a really great listen if you haven’t heard it.
Holo preamp w/ Power Amp in RCA/DIN cable - I decided to buy a RCA/DIN cable and decoupled the preamp from the power supply removing the coupler on the rear and went straight into power amp mode on the 4din pin from RCA. Immediately I got a blacker background and more robust presentation. This was by far the best I’ve heard the SN1. It clearly has some extra clarity/detail retrieval over the Pass in some tracks. The biggest ISSUE I have with the Naim is simply when I turn the volume UP. Yes, it will play loudly but the listening fatigue kicks in almost immediately. It’s as though it just can’t deliver the current to the Magico A1’s for anything louder than a low/medium listening level. This listening fatigue was really my only gripe about the SN1. I can tolerate many things in audio playback but fatigue of any kind is a big no no for me.
Comparison to Pass Labs XA30.8
For those of you who don’t know the XA30.8 is a Class A bias to 30w then A/B to a tested 165w @ 4ohm - The majority of this was using XLR, however to rule out the Holo Spring RCA as the culprit for my listening fatigue - I did try the Pass Labs in single ended mode, and had 0 listening fatigue confirming my suspicions that the SuperNait1 was just lacking the current/power to happily feed the power hungry Magico A1’s. Needless to say my thoughts comparing to the 2 directly: I can hear the same things in both amps, but the Naim will make certain background images POP more. The pronunciation of the letter P is especially prominent hearing more of the puh phonetically. The Pass being smooth and mellow, the Naim being lively with some added clarity/brightness over the Pass.
In lower volume listening I just hear more micro details via the Naim than I do in equal SPL of the Pass. They exist in the Pass but I just need to turn the volume up to notice them. Where the Pass I think has the edge is also in soundstage - this is very apparent in watching movies in stereo - as things move around or voices come from various direction - the Pass wins here in spades in comparison to the SN1. Not that the SN1 didn’t sound stage to some extent but it revealed to me that it doesn’t have quite the authority over the driver in the same way the Pass does.
Further Analysis: For fun I did a double blind test to my wife (God bless her soul for putting up with my shenanigans), who honestly has a really great ear. Her notes for the Pass were: Fuller, more rounded. Naim SN1: Musical (her literal exact words and I’ve never mentioned to her Naim reputation LOL) She said she could live with either or - some high praise indeed.
In conclusion: The ease, smoothness of the Pass combined with the total lack of listening fatigue at any volume indicates to me that this is the better pairing for my setup. It was a close call at lower listening volumes, however, I just pulled the trigger on a Naim 250DR to demo as I want to see how the Pass does against a dedicated Naim amp with a little more grunt, that’s how impressed I was with this underdog SN1!
More to come!