The Naim sound ... what is it?

Last night I spent some time listening to @Filipe setup with @Grahamino. And a very pleasant evening it was too.

My first impression was that the sound was not very Naimish - but when pressed I could put my finger on why. Filipe’s system is musical, warm and worthy of foot tapping, and it is not tiring to listen to at all. So what did I mean and was I missing something?

Listening to the Goldberg variations now I think my system sounds brighter, perhaps because my room acoustic is harder (solid stone floor, lathe and plaster walls, low ceiling). I can settle with being different, but what do other people think of in terms of the Naim sound?

1 Like

This is an interesting topic to discuss.

By suggesting there is a Naim sounds one has to hope that there is not colouration of the music behind the Naim sound. I would hope my equipment only gets close to the sound of the recording.

That said I think that the standard Naim cables do endow the music with a darker sound, which I tend to think of as a lack of harmonic richness. It’s two years since I upgraded to full SL so I can hardly claim to remember and I have no desire to revert. SL to my ear improved the bass and high frequencies that I so like. My Sopra 2s are also fairly neutral.

Brightness, often heard with piano music, is an excess of sound which masks the more important characteristics of a note. It is very tiring on the ears. Dullness is going to the other extreme.

Our brains are designed to compare sounds against our memories. There is an emotional reaction to music which increases the more the various different instruments can be isolated from one another to comprehend the composers intentions, the sound of the instruments and the artistry of the musicians. These dimensions created in our brain are often very subtle and therefore easily obscured. When a system is described as musical we are rating how much we react.

Warmth is a subjective measure of harmonic complexity in a sound possibly produced by a number of instruments .

Detail is a property of a soundstage which allows us to identify and place the position each instrument.

Foot tapping is the ability to easily pick up the beat. It is most obvious in the bass notes which need enough weight.

There are properly other terms as well and I have just tried to give my understanding.


Thanks Phil - a good read and excellent explanation of the vague and subjective terms I used. Back in the day when I was a profession acoustician, trying solve noise problems in poorly converted apartments in Victorian properties, my thesis was on the comparison between subjective and objective effects from changing speaker stands. It will not be surprising to learn that a real time analysis of the sounds reveals the frequency improvements when the speaker stands are firm and rigid.

Perhaps one answer to question about the Naim Sound is here. Earlier in the year I asked about PRAT, (pace, rhythm and timing - PRAT ... what is it?) here is one contributor’s response (thanks @jan-erik_Nordoen).

Martin Colloms piece about pace, rhythm and dynamics sums it up well (_link_ ).

“In high-end audio, we are often too busy examining the texture of the bark to see what kind of forest we are walking in.”


As several musicians have said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, and I’d put trying to describe the Naim sound in the same category.

I come at it from a totally different perspective to Phil - to me a good hifi system sounds real, engaging and has the ability to stir the soul. It’s nothing about definition, image, prat and other stuff, which is just audiophile claptrap.


The bottom line … thanks for putting it so succinctly @hungryhalibut

@hungryhalibut, I was only trying to put together some definitions that might help answer Steve’s (@Camphuw) question. The music we listen to is what stirs the emotions. Our HiFi has the ability to make or break the connection.

Steve raised the point about the Naim sound when he visited on Monday. I only know my system so I’m curious to know what I’ve done to not have the Naim sound. I don’t really feel I’m missing anything though.


Experiencing a variety of other systems over time I’d say most of them sound like HFi. My system sounds like music. Clearly that is not specifically a Naim effect but from what I have heard over the years it is not exclusively related to how much cash is spent and to a fair degree about design philosophy.

Some of the worst systems I have heard seem designed to be ‘impressive’ rather than musical. Not a criticism I aim at Naim.


Good point Phil - your room acoustic is so different from mine that I was blind sided. I will be Listening to the Ry Cooder later today to see if I can pinpoint what I meant. I appreciate the thought you put into your responses @Filipe.

Thanks @BruceW for your observation. I am beginning if this is about the impact an active system creates?

The other evening with (@Filipe and @Grahamino) I touched on the impact a 6x135 isobarik setup made on me in the 1980’s. This was at the Hamish and Roger set up at the Sound Organisation just outside Borough Market, opposite Southwark Cathedral. I can’t recall the exact event, but I do know that I was determined to build up to a Naim active system. It took 15 years.

1 Like

I thought it was a Frank Zappa quote? Maybe others were quoting him?

Naim Audio have the knack of wanting you to just listen. And come back to it for more. I think that’s a major part of their success. They are also good at making upgrades with real improvements.
Also there good residuals in the upgrade path or if you have to sell. A lot of hi-fi kit has poor resale value.
Its nearly always repairable right back to the early days.
A bit off topic, but I like the understated style .Naim don’t do bling.


1 Like

I think that sums it @Douglas

The following link seems to provide the answer with a list of citations …

Retrieved from the Quote investigator, 11:37, 18th April 2019

There is no Naim sound. Naim equipment tends to be unerringly musical in how it portrays timing, emotion, puts the emphasis on music not HiFi, but you can’t, for example, point to a 250, then to a 500 and say, “oh yes, these have the Naim sound”. They don’t sound remotely similar. Ditto just about any combination of components you can think of. If Naim does something consistently and exceptionally well, its timing. All systems that time well are not Naim.

In the OP, you comment on how your system sounds different to someone else’s. Which one has “the Naim sound”? Back in the 80s, when I spent a lot of time in dealers, I would describe “the Naim sound” as hard, forward, lacking warmth but rhythmically bang on the money. Some of my friends/colleagues had Naim systems which sounded variously awful to my ears. Was I hearing “the Naim sound” or was I merely hearing some poorly set up systems?

After I started using and loving Naim digital sources (this Century), I visited a friend’s home, where he had an Olive system with SBLs off the back, fronted by a CDS. Pure magic. Nothing but music. It didn’t sound like anything except music. You can call that sound anything you like. So long as I can listen to it.


I hadn’t realised so many people had used the phrase.

1 Like

I like it Harry … as a famous boxer might have said :notes:

I have sought clarification of what is the ‘Naim Sound’ a number of times and from different angles over the period of my membership of this and the previous forum, my impression of what it is has coalesced over time.

The discussions in and around the following posts in the ATC SCM40 thread ( and the Is the preamp a thing of the past thread ( are pertinent.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.