The Supernait’s digital input section begins with a Crystal CS8416 receiver chip, which identifies the incoming datastream as 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, or 192kHz. Conversion is handled by a stereo 24-bit/192kHz D/A chip from Burr-Brown. As the owner’s manual states, the Supernait’s digital circuitry is designed to recognize stereo PCM data streams only.
Using the Naim’s digital input to play the Del McCoury Band’s cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” from Del and the Boys (CD, Ceili Music CEIL 2006), my impression was of greater-than-usual musical precision. Mike Bub’s acoustic bass line was a model of pure momentum and insistence coupled with truly metronomic accuracy. Bub’s intonation, too, came over as dead right—and I dare say that pitch uncertainties were banished to such a great extent that more timbral clarity was able to come through as well, despite the darker tonal signature.
DAC linearity error, assessed with 24-bit data, was negligible (fig.3), and the Naim’s reproduction of an undithered tone at –90.31dBFS was superb, with good waveform symmetry and a clean depiction of the three DC voltage levels (fig.4). Word-clock jitter, assessed with the Miller Audio Research Analyzer, was quite low, at 367 picoseconds peak–peak.
In many ways, the Naim Supernait offers excellent measured performance. Its D/A section is also good, and not just an afterthought.
(Stereophile, Jan 2008)
For my analytical listening session, I set out to compare the internal DAC against the performance of a budget friendly DAC and a more expensive DAC. The price of the SUPERNAIT is not insignificant, and one can purchase many integrated amps sans DAC and add a good DAC to arrive at the price of the SUPERNAT.
I purchased the Musical Fidelity V-DAC ($299) as the budget contender, and the higher end unit purchased was the Benchmark Media DAC-1 USB ($1295). All comparisons were through SPDIF connections. The DAC-1 and V-DAC were connected via RCA to the SUPERNAIT, white noise was played and relative volumes marked with tape so I could level match them as best as possible.
This DAC comparison would also help me determine what part of the SUPERNAIT’s sound is attributable to the DAC and what is the sound of the “integrated” portion of the SUPERNAIT.
The NAIT’s built-in DAC was both more detailed and smoother overall compared to the V-DAC. The musical fidelity put up a good fight but in the end the SUPERNAIT’s midrange was not only more insightful but clearer with less grain and distortion. The treble on the V-DAC had a trace of digital hash and didn’t feel as extended. The V-DAC bass felt more stressed than the NAIM DAC. The V-DAC didn’t go as deep nor did it sound as fast. The bass lacked the articulation of the NAIM.
Moving up the scale to a comparison with the Benchmark DAC-1 USB, the SUPERNAIT had a harder time. In many ways the SUPERNAIT’s DAC is the equal of the Benchmark. Midrange was equally fluid and detailed, the level of grain/hash/distortion was equally low. Bass was fast and taut, detailed, and with a great percussive attack. The SUPERNAIT bested the DAC-1 USB in terms of that sheer slam factor and leading edge definition. Where things really differed was in the treble. The DAC-1 USB had a noticeably sweeter treble. Cymbals and Hi-Hats had a truer metallic ringing without being grainy or sibilant. There was just a tad more definition and detail in the highs versus the NAIM.
(Home Theater & High Fidelity, Oct 2010)
Just make sure you have something better than the SN, DAC included, before ditching it for something else.