Where next?

Hello All,

Over the last several years I’ve substantially upgraded my entire setup to:
Auralic Altair (my first streamer - streaming has been a complete revelation, reignited my love for music and, ultimately, has led to this post!)
Naim Nait XS2 (from Nait 5 - significant improvement)
Quad Z-3 speakers (from Tannoy Precision 6.2 - huge improvement)
(Note: Not a huge room, the Quads are not bass heavy so don’t overpower the space, but I’ve no essential need for floor standers, and indeed might benefit from stand mounts, although I’ve never auditioned any high end models - I’m afraid I fell for the ‘stand mounts are a downgrade’ mental trap.)

My question is simply: What next to upgrade?

In fact it’s not an entirely simple question because I’m looking to get something that will last - with a view to then bringing the other components up to that same level over the next several years into my final setup (barring a lottery win!). That’s the tricky part, I feel, not getting something that’s going to be too ambitious or crazily, pointlessly out of balance, but being a bit ambitious for the long haul.

Which is basically saying I don’t want a gentle, incremental increase because I no longer intend to continually upgrade the components in rotation.

All of these were bought ex-demo, so excellent budget wise, and I remain very receptive to ex-demo/used or older models, but happy to buy new if it’s worth it.

This setup looks really pretty balanced to me, at least on paper, with possibly just the Quads slightly more thirsty for better stable mates - although the XS2 punches above it’s price, I suspect.

Budget wise… I’m honestly not sure. That’s part of the problem, really - where and how much would be needed to give a meaningful uplift in sound quality (yes, I know: ‘meaningful’???). That said, I suppose I have something around £3-4k in mind, but… We’re all hifi fans here, so… :slight_smile:

So… what order would you upgrade things? And what would you recommend as a target level to aim for? All very hypothetical, I know, but… that’s why we like this hobby, isn’t it? :smiley:

The most obvious candidate to me is the Auralic - it’s slightly dated now, and I assume streaming technology improves/cheapens quicker than other components, so bigger advances and bang-for-buck in modern streaming boxes? But I’ve no idea what’s out there, unlike other components where I’ve a more intuitive sense of what’s around. And unlike other components I don’t have an intuitive sense of where the price breakpoints are for streamers, nor how separate transports/DACs measure up.

Where next for amplification? XS3? Supernait 2? Bite the bullet and go NAP+NAC (plenty of second hand)? Power cap for the XS2?

The speakers least eligible, I feel, both because they’re the most recent upgrade and also because they slightly leapfrogged the others spend-wise. They’re the things I feel most comfortable living with, and may even be keepers, but that’s the kind of thing I’d like your input on.

Cabling wise I’m reasonable - NAC A5 speaker cables and the original Naim Din interconnects that came with my first Nait 5 (I think olive??). These are things I may incrementally improve over time, but no desperate rush, to my mind.

No special power leads, and I confess I’m uneasy/skeptical of the return on these - although I’ve no desire to spark a debate on specifically that front. I’ve read of so many folk saying they heard an audible difference that I believe it’s true, but I’ve simply never auditioned different power cabling myself, so I don’t feel urgency around them.

Your wisdom, knowledge and reflections very welcome!

(Oh, and actually my immediate next step, in fact, is likely to be some room treatment. I realised I have now accumulated thousands of pounds’ worth of kit so it seems foolish not to invest some effort and (comparatively) lesser spend here. Separate post on that to follow, possibly.)

Many thanks in advance
Mark

You will get loads of recommendations for various Naim products but I think if you want a meaningful up lift you might be very disappointed.

My understanding is the Altair has a built-in pre-amp? If so the pre-amp part of your Nait is redundant unless you have other sources?

There is a new Altair G1 which is getting very positive reviews.

You don’t say how are you sourcing streamed music. I probably sound like a broken record here but perhaps software is the best solution – I would recommend roon as the music software provider and then to use home audio Fidelity to supply filters that you can add to Roon to sort out any room issues you might be having.

I have a relatively high end Naim system (552 preamp into 300 power amp) And I certainly achieved the same uplift as a major black box upgrade (as we call them) by adding the convolution filters to sort out my room issues.

Everyone else will tell you you need an NDX2 and indeed it will probably sound better than your current system but certainly I think you might be disappointed by how close you are to the law of diminishing returns.

.sjb

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I know nothing of the Auralic. But if looking to improve using Naim boxes I’d try the NDX2 and Supernait 3. I bought these last year having changed from other Naim stuff and have been delighted with them. A nice thing about the NDX2 is that you can add a power supply and really lift its performance. And you can link them together so you can control the volume and inputs using the app or the NDX2 remote. See if you feel the extra cost is justified.

I wouldn’t worry overly with fancy wires but do make sure you have a decent stand and ideally dedicated mains.

I started a thread recently about the Nait XS2 vs SN3. I have a SN3 on home demo this week and it is a huge step up from the Nait

Thanks for the speedy response, sjb!

I use Qobuz (which I love) controlled via Auralic’s Lightning DS software (which has much internal frequency control available). It’s interesting that you mention the software adjustments - it’s something I’ve been curious about but not investigated, but intuitively felt I could likely get a good return on. I’m not inherently intimidated by the acoustics, nor at getting a proper calibration mike and going at it, but it can feel overwhelming. Really intriguing to hear you feel you got a box-upgrade’s worth of improvement just from that, though. Something I’ll definitely dig into.

The amp is also part of an AV surround setup with the surround amp using the Naim’s AV bypass to drive the front speakers.
I’m hazy on the Altair’s preamp and how that fits into things - I just have regular RCA-DIN connectors and I’ve disabled the Altair’s internal volume control. Can you actually bypass the Nait preamp completely? Would that be worth trying??

It’s also, being completely candid, actually very reassuring to be reminded of the law of diminishing returns - and especially that I may be nearing it (or indeed at it, for my ears). I’ve been utterly delighted with the system as is, and the performance (with all the flowery lingo) is leagues away from whence I came. I’m not obsessive about this stuff, and I don’t have an offshore bank account, and whilst there is an inevitable urge to seek the next rung I’ve deliberately never auditioned an ultra-high end system specifically never learn what I might be missing!

Thanks for the down to earth reply, I really appreciate it - it’s prompted some reflection :+1:

Mark

Thanks @hungryhalibut.

The NDX2 is indeed (as sjb also noted) one of the possibilities. My hesitation really is on how much the other components would need to be brought up to get the most from it, and whether that feels realistic.

The prospect of a few grand now on a streamer, and a few grand in another couple of years on an amp and then sticking there (or possibly twisting a few years after that for speakers) feels ok. The possibility of living with the uneasy sense of feeling I’m not really getting the most from the NDX2 unless I spend a good few grand on the amp and then needing to spend another few grand on the speakers is where it all starts to get tense. I admit there’s some psychology in there, but conversely the NDX2 might be overkill for my needs.

Streaming’s the area I’m least up to date with, really, so I’m interested to hear what thoughts folk have.

There’s your answer, leave here now with your sanity and wallet intact!

.sjb

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Cheers @elverdiblanco.

Good to hear you’re getting a huge uplift over the XS2 - a big price step up, to be fair, so not unexpected, but there are differing views on XS vs Supernait ‘flavour’, so that’s good to know (will check out your thread).

I grew up prioritising the source so my gut feel is to upgrade the streamer first, but I’m very open to having that challenged – I don’t know if that’s still the broad audiophile philosophy, never was but I just picked it up somewhere!, or has since been debunked and it all just depends on circumstance.

In any case, I figure if I upgrade the streamer now by the time I come to upgrade the amp there may by XS/SN 4s (with consequent second hand 3’s on the market, too!) :slight_smile:

Lol!
I admire your faith in my strength of will :upside_down_face:

Welcome to the forum Mark!

When I first got here I spent a few months exploring the different threads when I decided I wanted to move up in the food chain. I started with a Nait XS 2 (70 W) and a Cambridge Audio CD player and a pair of Kef LS50 speakers. That did not last to long and I soon had a ND5 XS streamer and ProAc D2 speakers which I was a very happy with for awhile.

I have had the urge to upgrade and now have a completely different system which can be viewed by performing a mouse click on my picture above this response.

All of my upgrades were after doing a lot of reading here on the forum as well as review sites. The most important piece to the pie was having a great dealer that I could visit and talk with along with arranging a demo in his listening room and being able to listen at home prior to making a final purchase.

The forum is great for advise and direction and the search function is something I have used and highly recommend to read up on different pieces of equipment you may be interested in, lots of history here and in the archived forum.

I loved my upgrade to a SN 2 from my XS 2 as well as the moving up to the NDX 2 and eventually adding a HiCap DR to the SN2 and a XPS DR to the NDX 2.

It can be a fun journey and at your own pace…

Good luck…

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I really wouldn’t worry about it. It’s when people start with really expensive speakers that things often go wrong - they need a bigger amp to drive them properly, which in turn shows up the source and that needs changing. Your system is perfectly up to showing the benefits of a better source - whether Naim or otherwise. My system has a £12,000 source, a £3,500 amplifier and £1,500 speakers and it works well. Do I feel the need for a £20,000 amplifier to get the best from the source? Definitely not.

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I have 2 sources, a ND5 XS2 and a Michell Syncro turntable feeding through a Rega Aria phono stage. The SN3 has definitely given both of them a good uplift on sound. I’m actually very pleasantly surprised at how much better it is.

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Well the most difficult part of the Hi-Fi challenge has been met, you have speakers that work in your environment. I don’t know your source so can only comment on your amp. A SN either 2 or 3 is a no brainer or if not 2nd hand 282/200(preferably DR version for powering the 282).

Regards,

Lindsay

PS: Don’t worry about the wires until at least the electronics are sorted but @hungryhalibut makes a good point about dedicated mains.

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Are you really invested in Naim? If you are then the NDX2/SN3 does seem like the way to go. You have A5 and you know your speakers work well with Naim. Two shelves of Fraimlite and dedicated mains and you are away.

Downsides? Naim is expensive and upgradeable. I also happen to believe these are upsides, but you need to decide that for yourself.

Thanks all, very much appreciate your input.

@seakayaker I actually did a fair bit of research here when I upgraded to the XS2, but I was clearer myself what I needed/wanted then. I recall how valuable it all was, so came back to post myself because I’m hazier on where streamers fit in and upgrade paths in that area. My gut feel is that an SN3 will be the safety net upgrade - i.e. unless anything else leaps out (come the relevant moment) then barring a poor audition this’ll be the way I go.

@LindsayM I do like the idea of a 282/200 combo but the simplicity of one of the integrated amps may be too tempting. Down the road after the source, happily, so I can kick that can down the road for now :slight_smile:

@stuart.ashen Not committed to Naim by any means, so I’m keen to hear of other streamers (is that permissible on these forums?).

Mark, I don’t think you would regret picking up a SuperNait and you would appreciate the overall upgrade vs the Nait XS 2. If you are not using or planning to use a turntable you may want to see if you can locate a used SN 2 which my help money wise in upgrading the streamer or other components.

A fun hobby with lots of options! …good luck with your search, demonstrations and decisions.

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Welcome to the forum!

As the Aurelic is a good streamer and pre-amp, you’d really be looking at the NDX2 in the Naim range as a significant improvement I think. Given it’s a pre-amp as well, you could run it into any power amp. But if you want to stay with the Naim sound, then starting by moving to a SN and upgrading the streamer to a network transport only (like the NDX2) would be a good and well balanced system. Unless you want to go separates……

Thanks @Mike_S
The Nait is part of an AV setup, so I don’t think I could rely solely on the Altair.

I suppose something that hasn’t happened here (which occasionally does) is any fairly broad consensus, other than possibly the NDX2 (no specific recommendations for the ND5 XS2) as being the obvious Naim source upgrade.

I think a call to my local hifi dealer and a couple of hours’ auditioning will be what decides things. That’ll also let me contrast source upgrade vs amp upgrade.

@hungryhalibut I was really interested to read about your spread of spend across source/amp/speakers. You’ve reminded that the traditional wisdom is sometimes only that: traditional, and ultimately its the ears that should decide.

Thanks again everyone :+1:

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Sorry, I missed the bit about the AV set-up, in which case I think the SN2/3 is a good option unless you want the separates. I wouldn’t think the ND5 XS2 would be a big lift over the Altair, so would suggest aiming for an NDX2 later on as finances suit. You can also add a HiCAP power supply to the SN later on as a nice upgrade.

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Normally the SN3 is better vs the XS2, but personally I would compare first on my system if I was in the OP case. I say that because I read here that some, or at least one member, don’t remember, preferred the XS vs SN. ( the search part may help).
Ndx2 seems a good choice, but I will be tempting to add an XPS DR after. Then the temptation can continue with better electronics, and so on.
Another upgrade, less expensive, would be to add an Ndac to the Auralic. An upgrade for 1k, very significant.