S1 passive

There are some that believe a passive preamp, such as those from Townshend or Music First, are the finest as they ‘add nothing’. Then at the extreme end there is a pre like the S1 which contains a staggeringly complicated range of electronics.

I just don’t understand how those to views can be so completely different. I can get on board with the idea of a passive…how can £60k be spent on something like a preamp without that preamp producing colour? Or perhaps it’s the colour that is attractive…but then, that’s an awfully protracted way of muddying the signal.

Just after some learned views, and whether others can understand what I’m driving at. I should point out that I have very little technical knowledge, and maybe that’s the problem.

But some on the Forum have explicitly found source into power direct the best way to listen, such as Chord DACs into power amps, in lieu of pre amps such as the 552.

What is the Statement doing?


It’s an interesting question. I think it’s easy to understand the role of a source/DAC/power amp but a pre-amp not so much. I understand that it’s important and is probably largely responsible for any sound signature/manipulation applied. I’ll be following to find out.


Yes i have often mused over the amount of electronics in the way of the Signal in many high end pre-amps that sound so good……be interested to see what people have to say.

Well the argument is very close to passive versus active crossovers.

The components in a preamp do require current to operate. Whether that is derived from the audio signal or supplied as a bias current (active) is a fundamental design decision.

Preamps perform various functions beyond switching and gain. Bandwidth limiting for input to a power amp is effectively a crossover circuit.

So although the design of a particular passive preamp may be superior to certain active preamps, it is not an absolute truism that one philosophy is superior to another. Certainly the idea that with passive nothing is added or subtracted from the signal is ultimately false though. For the reasons mentioned above, the delicate line level signal is driving the preamp. As such something is subtracted. Whether that is better or worse than the an active design depends on a huge number of factors though.


Well put…I understand this principle…I suppose it’s the variation I’m interested in. As in, look at the complexity of the S1 vs the Allegri, for example. It’s staggeringly different yet offers, broadly speaking, a comparable solution…?

Sadly my thread has been relegated to the bottom of the pack. Would still like to hear some insight despite the less than sexy content!

There aren’t many people here with S1 preamps and those that have them probably don’t care much why they sound so good. They just listen to the music.


But they may be interested in why they sound good. Or maybe not. If they ‘just listen to the music’ then a pair of headphones would suffice. I assume you’ve not done a survey.

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Very true David, we are a small herd of sheep out here, who probably believe Naim to be clever enough at this level to have chosen something a lot simpler, if that exists to equal the performance of the Nac S1. I have no idea why it sounds so marvellous, but simply must go by what my ears are telling me. ATB Peter


Hi Peter. Do you not want to know?! I don’t get it. I doubt doubt it sounds sublime, but I can’t imagine not wanting at least an understanding as to what the differences are, and what they’re doing. Still - it doesn’t matter much, as you say, and it’s great you love your (undoubtedly phenomenal) investment

I’m with you on that Peter. The music is effortless and totally engaging. Everyone that’s sat and listened to music here are blown away with the authenticity of the instruments, and the emotion that the S1 pulls out of the source. Naim ‘Black Magic’ there’s no way other than to explain it :shushing_face:


From listening to many albums by many varied bands, musicians etc. and having a good knowledge of the sound of real drums, guitars, amps etc. I can say that the S1 does not colour the sound of the music. I can hear what bass, guitar, and drum (The brand and model) is being used just by the tone and detail that the S1 uncovers in the signal. It’s quite breathtaking what Naim have achieved here.
Cheers Pete


Dear Pete
… in my line of work I had the chance to use and listen to at least 4 superhighend line amplifiers including the S1 in two configurations I am familiar with.

Also in my research with the engineers around me , i got introduced to the implementation of very passive super quality volume controls, that “measures like a wire”
The result was and is quite interesting and there is also some explanations that can satisfy scientific minds…:

The context is always, that a Signal Source’s output has to go into a power amplifier’s input. If one uses the wirelike super passive volume control only, the problem starts with output impedance and input impedances have to match in the best possible way , so the signal source / passive Volume control ‘s output impedance can match and drive the amplifier’s input impedance perfectly or at least good enough.

The signal Sources I know simply don’t do that as good as the best Line stages I know ( more details, better clarity in complex musical material and dynamic resolution is quite audible, including fast and powerful base and low base control)
Apart from the aspect that the line stage sort of gives the power amplifier a better controlled signal input , and the aspect of impedance matching, I think some of the technologically knowledgeable people here could probably explain a little bit better these aspects in the context of the Naim cirquits ?
Nevertheless, it is the reality of the cirquits designed to do the best possible work in preparing a Signal for the next cirquit to do it’s best Job.
For example most Digital Converters have a buffer stage as their output stage and this simply doesn’t do when connected to a PowerAmps input.
Hopefully someone wants to elaborate a little bit more specifically regarding the question, what a Line stage/preampliefier can do to a signal source’s output in a superior quality than a passive “wire like volume control” can - for interacting with the Poweramplifiers input cirquit


It’s important I think to consider that the pre-amp is just one half of the pairing that makes the whole amplifier. This applies to the S1 just as much as any other Naim pre-amp.

I wrote the following some years back with regard to Naim pre-amplifiers. I’ll post it here as, although it pre-dated the S1, it’s still pertinent and may help provide some answer to the question of what is the S1 pre-amp doing.

So, why have a preamplifier at all? Surely, the best preamplifier is to have none at all?” While it is true that less can often be more, it’s also the case that in Vereker’s words, “less is sometimes just less”.

The preamplifier is one half of the preamp/power amp partnership, which makes up the whole of the “amplifier”. It is separated from the power amplifier to ensure that the electromagnetic fields from the power amplifier’s transformer do not interfere with the sensitive low-level signals within the preamplifier. This way, the preamp provides an ideal quiet room environment, further isolating the low level signals from the effects of microphonics, and ensuring that power supplies are kept well away where they can provide benefit without doing harm.

The preamp has a whole set of complex and vital tasks to perform; the input circuitry must accept the entire output of the chosen source without overload; the frequency response and level of the input signals must be normalised; the preamplifer then conditions the signal to ensure that the power amplifier is driven within its optimum operating parameters. On the latter point, Naim have traditionally taken the route of “bandwidth limiting” the signal, to ensure that ultrasonic signals do not upset or limit amplifier performance.

All Naim’s preamplifiers, from the first NAC12 of 1974 right up to the current flagship of the range, the NAC552, have been designed to have a frequency response flat to within +/- 1dB between the critical 20Hz -20kHz audio frequency range and to offer “perfect stability under all working conditions”.

When designing the first Naim preamp, Vereker saw switched filters, loudness and tone controls as unnecessary impediments to good sound. He felt that their inclusion could never improve the quality of the original signal and always resulted in a loss of information. Instead he looked to design something with excellent stability, high overload margins (over 7 volts!) and with outstanding handling of music transients. The phono circuit had a linear first stage with relatively low gain, followed by RIAA equalisation which was split into two parts, active and passive. This way, complete theoretical and practical stability was attained, with a much wider open loop bandwidth than usual. Exceptional overload capability was thus maintained right across the entire audio frequency range.


Amen to that


This reminds me of my older gentleman fellow hifi nut. He has many years under his belt as an audiophile and was at one stage in a sort of an argument among his friends that no pre is better than a pre. Happens that he CD player has a volume knob. For years, he went with the CD player direct to amp sort of configuration. A couple of years back, I lent him my active pre. After a couple of weeks, he decided to buy the pre from me. Swallowed his pride.


I would like to have a listen to a system based around Max Townshend’s Allegri Reference passive pre, which has attracted some very favourable reviews.

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I has a listen to a borrowed Townsend Alegri while my 552 was being DR’d and serviced. Id been using my old 72 to substitute the 552. My conclusions were they the Alegri sound clean, clear but rather two dimensional and lacking musicality. The 72 on the other hand sounded slightly grubby, two dimensional but bursting with musicality and a liveness that the Alegri simply missed altogether.


Hi Clive,
It’s quite a thing, the Allegri Reference. I had one to try when considering a new amplifier.
I compared it with Chord’s new Ultima Pre 2, feeding an Ultima 6 power amp. All interconnects were balanced from source to power amp.

Much as I really wanted to prefer the Allegri Reference, the money went on the more expensive active pre-amp for reasons of sound quality.

In a different system with a different power amp, the decision may have been the other way around. We’ll never know.


Best regards, BF

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Put simply,if you have a naim amp, it needs a naim pre to be at its best.
But if you move away from a naim amp, then this can open other very good ways.