The sound of generations

Hi everyone,

Silly question warning!

As an owner of an SN3 with HiCap DR with an eye on the fabled “upgrade path”, I’ve been reading lots of user reviews on gear further up the Naim food chain. Something interesting repeatedly comes along to derail the usual 282/250, 252/300 … suggestions : older gear.

Many of you seem to regard older generations of Naim gear at least as highly as more recent ones. But it’s very difficult to find a resource describing how the sound has evolved over the years. So a newb like me, with no dealers in my neck of the woods, would have a lot of difficulty deciding what to look for in the classifieds.

Does anyone know of a resource describing the “sound of generations”? Or would anyone be interested in volunteering descriptive information (in objective terms, system context …) so that we might assemble one?

What does a chrome bumper sound like compared to an olive or a classic or … ? In any other circle, people in white would put me in a jacket with my hands tied for asking that sort of question, but would it ring a bell in those erudite fora? :wink:

Thanks in advance. Don’t hate me.

Cheers.

… may not be discussed on the forum.

Nothing has markedly changed in the “classic” era, and that’s 20 plus years.

As someone who started back in the 80’s with chrome bumper Naim, then moved on to olive and finally to classic, I would say that the main thing is that the sound has become more balanced over the years. It’s incredibly difficult to convey things like this in writing as different people may place different interpretations on it. But I’ll have a stab at it.

Chrome Bumper: Very dynamic and rhythmic. Uncompromising - not kind to poorer quality sources or recordings. A bit hard and relentless.

Olive: Much as above, but with a touch more refinement and forgiveness.

Classic: Much more refinement and more attention paid to ‘classic’ hi-fi virtues. Perhaps sometimes at the expense of some of the sheer drive and dynamics of the earlier gear.

Just my own interpretation. I’m sure someone will be along to trash it before long.

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I’ll go along with that. You can also mix n’ match of course. I have a CB 250 and a Classic 282 in my set-up for example.

There are lots of threads on this, but they may take time to find, and @anon33182107 's summary looks pretty good to me.

My stab…

In Olive, the in-demand boxes second-hand are probably the 72, 82 and 52 pre-amps, plus 140 and 250 (or 2 X 135 mono) power amp, plus Hicap or Supercap power supplies. I have owned all except 135s over the years and would still recommend all those on sound per £.

I’d personally rate a 72/Hicap/140 combo as better than modern Naim amplification up to about Supernait 3 level, and am happy to own an olive 52/ Supercap/ 250 - a bit more music and a bit less hi-fi precision, but very similar in enjoyment to a more recent 252/ Supercap/ 250 combo.

52s are hard to find and not getting cheaper. However an 82/Hicap/250 combo is broadly comparable to a more modern 282/ Hicap/ 250 combo and costs vastly less because 82s are cheap and plentiful.

In all those cases, the family differences will be evident. At the margin, and at given quality level, olive amplification is generally felt to be at least as musical and involving as recent Classic boxes, but to have marginally less grip on bass and marginally less fine detail and tonal neutrality. All those differences get a bit bigger when the modern kit in question has the DR upgrade.

For now at least, Naim no longer offers DR upgrades to old boxes and olive boxes can’t have it anyway. However, amps and power supplies with lots of capacitors do wear, and old amps sound duller and then increasingly unpleasant if they really need a service. Timing depends on use, but most of us reckon that anyone buying power amps and PSs in particular that have not been serviced in over a decade should probably budget on getting it done sooner rather than later.

Modern ‘Classic’ kit that is not DR-ed is increasingly cheaper than DR-ed kit, but those who particularly want more neutrality and detail often reckon the extra is worth it.

Before olive there were the chrome bumper models, and their pros and cons were IIRC just like olive, but the cons were a bit more noticeable - more boogie than neutrality, not ultra-quiet in background, not as good as peers at precise stereo images, and more unforgiving of bad sources or recordings.

Personally, the only time I would ignore older options is when the new options have demonstrably new tech, which really means streamers. For convenience, flexibility and sound quality, I avoided old streamers and went straight to NDX2, but even there some will be happy with the extreme value available on older kit (as long as you don’t want Qobuz, for example).

If you like the ‘Naim sound’ from modern kit, I’d be surprised if you don’t like olive kit or modern but pre-DR kit too. However, I wouldn’t encourage you to buy olive (or chrome bumper) if you have never heard any at all - the whole family difference may not suit you. Of course, if you are ok with selling on eBay, you can probably sell any mistakes for little or no net loss beyond some postage, but it is a bit of a faff if you don’t do it often.

This is a Naim-operated site, and we should not discuss here any cables that could be regarded as Naim-to-Naim, as Naim regards using them as ‘unauthorised modifications’. If people do insist on commenting here (a mistake I made myself) it just forces Richard Dane to spend time removing it.

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Wow, so much information so quickly. Thank you very much, everyone !!

Plenty to read here.

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From my reading over several years as a member of this forum, yet never having heard a Naim amp for real, I formed the impression that the famed/infamous and never described “Naim Sound” was one where the critical focus on timing above all else caused a distortion of the sound (I don’t mean harmonic distortion as the term is most commonly used, rather a change in some aspects of the sound relative to a pure signal unchanged in all but amplitude). As years went by and knowledge/experience/technology improved, and as higher range (in relative terms more expensive) amps were developed, the other aspects of the sound could be improved while retaining the critical focus on timing. The result presumably is a more balanced sound (within whatever limitations of speaker demand etc), so less of the “Naim Sound”, but more accurate.

(One day I may get to hear one, though whether even the 300 would be adequate is another matter.)

Interesting take, thanks.

In the right environment, the 300 is lovely. I’ve only heard one, but seriously wanted to take it home.

Thank you, Robert. Most kind of you.

Early/mid 70s bolt down 12/160 has a warm midrange and is musically very coherent to my ears but perhaps not everyone’s. Voiced for vinyl. Not heard mid-70s bolt down 12/NAPS/250 but supposed to be similar warm midrange but with more grunt.

Chrome bumper gear in extruded casework (think I’ve owned it all except the NAP135) is more rhythmically ‘driven’, with deeper bass (on the CB160 at least), and doesn’t have the valve like midrange. Voiced for vinyl played on an early 80s spec LP12 with Linn speakers. Final CB preamp (NAC 62) adds more detail resolution but not quite as engaging.

Only familiar with the 72 pre which was more detailed with faster leading edges than the CB 32.5 it replaced. Again, more resolution and pace, but a bit less groovy. NAP180 / NAP140 / Nait 2 are all small steps back over the 160 / 110 / Nait to my ears. Didn’t directly compare the CB and olive 250. From then on the olive amps were voiced more for digital sources and I’ve not owned them.

Different ears…

To me, olive amps were never ‘voiced more for digital’, and I thought the 72 a little gem with great boogie and pace but also a bit more clarity & neutrality than earlier pre-amps. One man’s meat, I suppose…

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The 72 was definitely a high spot for me, and probably never bettered. I later owned an 82 and then a 252 but somehow neither seemed to quite hit the spot like the 72 did. The 72 replaced a 42.5 with my HiCap and 110 and I remember being thrilled at the improvements it bought.

I was a little disappointed that Paul S had 500 x 3 active at home instead of 72/hicap/140. Maybe back when they were current!

A used 82 is much better value for money than a new 282. A used 282 would have to be deeply discounted to compare with the 82 on a VFM basis. I understand, not having heard the comparison, that the 52 and the 252 are much more different from each other.

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82 - agreed.

52 - isn’t as clean and controlled as a 252 imho, but is still a very good amp technically and sounds compelling.

The fact I looked for one to replace my 82 for ages and have no plans to find a 252 tells you what I think of a 52. More people would probably have a 52 if only there were more available on eBay.

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I moved from an olive 180/102 to a 202 and then 282/250. Main thing I noticed was the slight glassiness to the treble of the olive gear, became a darker and more organic sound with the classic. Strings in particular have a much more natural tone with the classic gear.

Yes, I basically said the 72 was voiced for vinyl by saying the amps that followed it were then voiced with digital in mind. I thought concensus was that the wider olive preamps were voiced for digital, or perhaps a compromise between CD and vinyl, starting with the 52…

Maybe not voiced for digital sources but voiced for the tastes of a more digital crowd?

Digital and vinyl in the early 90s sounded a lot more different than they do today, esp an LP12. A Klimax LP12 sounds broadly similar to a Klimax streamer these days, in overall balance. I think the 90s saw a big shift to ensuring that systems worked really well with CD as vinyl was in steep decline. I know Naim were making a few LP12/turntable products in the early 90s but I doubt they saw much future in vinyl. It was sll about the lovely compact disc.