If you’ve been following the reinvention of Naim’s mainstream hi-fi range, you’ll be familiar with the New Classic 200 Series models launched at the beginning of the year, and the combination of NSC 222 network player/preamp and the latest version of the classic NAP 250 power amplifier, which has been a mainstay of the company’s offering for almost 50 years. During that time it’s arguably become a ‘Trigger’s Broom’ of an amplifier, with both the casework and the internals replaced, but it’s shown real staying-power, and is acknowledged as the classic Naim power amp.
The intriguing part of that ‘New Classic’ line-up wasn’t the core components, but rather the presence of an upgrade power supply, the NPX 300: nothing new in having a power supply available, true, but the model numbering hinted at more to come. And in Naim’s online community, where each launch seems to be greeted with ‘Oh right – but what’s next?’, the presence of that power supply was enough to get the rumour-mill into top gear.
The speculation was ended by the arrival of the ‘New Classic’ 300 Series at the German High End Show in Munich back in May, but as is so often the case with Naim launches, the new arrivals asked almost as many questions as they answered, not least concerning where they slot into the company’s hierarchy. You see, rather than going down the same ‘streamer/pre and power amp’ as found in the new 200 range, allowing a relatively neat two-box system to be constructed, the 300s push that requirement out to four units: you’ll need the NSS 333 network player, the NAC 332 preamplifier, and a pair of NAP 350 mono power amps, with a total price of almost £28,000 . If you ignore the massive NAP S1 power amps, part of the company’s Statement amplifier – and at £66,000 each the chances are most of us mere mortals will only dream of owning them! – then the £12,000-a-pair NAP 350 amps are the first mono designs Naim has launched since the NAP 135, another of those classic long-running designs, was discontinued in 2002.
So, the NSS 333, then: it’s the first pure network player to be available in the company’s new styling, and while it’s built on the same streaming platform as everything from the entry-Uniti model, the £2499 Atom, to the flagship ND 555, yours for somewhere North of £34,000 if you chose to run it with twin offboard power supplies, much has been refined within to match the complete restyling. Not that the new look should be skipped over: the redesign is largely successful, giving the New Classic models a crisper, more contemporary look than the resolutely plain black boxes of the remaining – I guess we call them ‘old classic’ – units. Largely successful? Well, some of the Naim faithful aren’t convinced: it’s that white logo on the front panel, marking a major change from the green that became a Naim trademark over decades, that’s got them riled.
I can see their point if they’re planning on matching old and new components in a system, but it’s not as if this whole white logo thing is anything new: the Mu-so all-in-one systems have used it since they were launched in 2014, as has the Statement super-amp launched at the same time, and the Uniti line adopted it when reinvented in 2017, so the adoption of this look for the New Classics is more a case of ‘why’s it taken this long?’ than a gasp-inducing surprise.
Oh, and there’s another change in that some of the New Classics are being made in Slovakia, rather than at Naim HQ in Salisbury, England, Naim explaining this is purely to give the company more production capacity, as the in-house assembly facility is currently running at full whack to keep up with demand. The two locations will be used interchangeably as required by demand, kits of parts are being shipped from the UK to the new production base, and the same quality control will be applied across the board. Panic over...
So what else is new in the NSS 333? Well, while it’s based around the same Naim NP800 streaming card as other network players from the brand, following this are two separate digital boards, one carrying the ARM micro-controller for the whole player, and the other the SHARC digital signal processing. The DSP includes Naim’s own 705.6kHz/768kHz integer oversampling filter, run in digital signal processing, to reduce any digital noise in the conversion process, with twin master clocks, based on 44.1kHz and 48kHz sample rates, for minimal jitter.
Also on this third board is the digital to analogue conversion, and while the Yes, the NSS 333 uses what looks like a fairly old and inexpensive DAC solution, the PCM1719A chip from TI/Burr Brown, but it’s here because Naim feels it’s the best-sounding solution; it’s run with its internal filtering disabled, replaced by Naim’s own filtering solution.
Galvanic isolation avoids interference between the control, digital and analogue sections, and the main internal power supply shuts down when the NS 333 is in standby, with a low-consumption secondary supply keeping the unit ticking over while consuming minimal energy. Alternatively, the player can be powered from the NPX 300, which offers separate supplies for the digital and analogue sections.
As well as playing music stored on a computer or NAS unit, the NSS 333 can also play online content from the likes of Spotify Connect, Apple Music, Tidal/Tidal Connect and Qobuz, while the integration of AirPlay2, Chromecast and Bluetooth AptX allows wireless streaming from phones and tablets. It’s also Roon-ready. The wireless connectivity uses twin diversity antennae hidden away in the player’s heatsinking.
And in addition to its streaming capability, the NSS 333 can also be used as DAC, with digital inputs on two optical Toslink sockets, plus RCA and BNC electrical, and has two USB-A connections – one front, one rear – to which external local storage can be connected. Control of all this is via the Focal & Naim app, but there’s also a Zigbee radio-frequency remote provided, which can be used without line-of-sight to the unit.
Audio outputs here are on standard RCA phono sockets or balanced XLRs, although Naim says it still favours the locking DIN-plug analogue connection it has used for decades, which is also provided here.
Whether used with Naim’s own amps or third-party amplification, the NSS3 33 embodies the company’s latest thinking on how hi-fi should sound, with all the speed, drive and detail for which past products have been renowned, but with an added dose of weight and warmth to balance out what some have viewed in the past to be more about attack than finesse. Not that any of the ‘Naim sound’ has gone AWOL here: in fact, the music is delivered with even greater pace and sale when required, but there’s also a better sense of scale with orchestral or other large-ensemble music. Yes, this makes the new network player a better match with many brands of high-quality amplification, but it does so without making it any less ‘Naim-y’, meaning it should please current owners as well as attracting new buyers to the brand.
It still does that trick of dragging the listener into the music and holding the attention, but it does so just as well with delicate chamber or jazz music as it does with all-out rockers, thanks to a new-found smoothness and fluidity, heard to especially good effect with well-recorded albums, but also more forgiving when the sound’s a bit on the rough side.
To these ears, that puts the new player ahead of the existing NDX 2, as one might hope given the price differential, but it also closes the gap with the flagship ND555 player, at least when the high-end machine is used in its basic single power supply configuration. OK, the ’555 has even more weight and control in the bass, and with fine recordings will still reveal more of the nuances of a performance and niceties such as the recorded acoustic – all that serious hi-fi stuff – but that doesn’t detract from the newcomer as an entirely compelling listen.
Combined with the partnering NSC 332 preamplifier, the new streamer adds a layer of slickness by enabling the two to work together from a single Zigbee remote control, or offering control of the preamp via the Focal & Naim app, using a redesigned version of Naim’s system automation via readily available optical digital connectors to carry the control signals. Beyond that, an all-Naim system would seem the obvious route to follow, with a NSC 332 plus the new-generation NAP 250 power amplifier or a pair of NAP 350 monoblocs. But you could easily combine this player with any number of top-notch integrated amps or pre/power combinations to very good effect.
When Naim entered the network music market with its original NaimUniti model back in 2009, it had novelty on its side as well as its solid audio engineering. Now its network audio players face stiffer competition, but the company has continued to develop its in-house streaming technology, most notably with the platform which now underpins all its Mu-so, ND- and Uniti models, and is now found in the NSS 333.
Here, that streaming capability combines with a subtly re-tuned ‘house sound’ to good effect, with a detailed, richer sound that’ll be equally at home in an all-Naim system or used with suitably revealing amplification from other manufacturers.
The Bangles Eternal Flame
Just to prove the NSS 333 can do the gentle stuff as well as it can bang out full-on rock, this combination of a close-recorded voice and a lush, string-heavy mix is delivered with all its richness very much intact.
Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony
Dramatic from the opening ‘Behold the sea!’, this live recording by the massed Hallé forces conducted by Sir Mark Elder is simply massive and spine-tingling from start to finish, and the Naim delivers all the scale and ambience superbly
John Wilson/Sinfonia of London Oklahoma! Overture
The latest project from conductor Wilson and his hand-picked ensemble is a joyous recreation of the complete soundtrack from the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, and the Naim sounds suitably crisp and in control from the off
Simply, this player offers state-of-the-art sound quality with everything from online streaming services and Internet radio all the way through to hi-res music stored on your home network – it’ll work with files right up to 384kHz/32bit and DSD128, while that Chromecast capability will keep it up to date with new streaming offerings. And that control app still sets the standard in the network audio arena.