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Amplifiers

Sat alongside the recent plethora of fully-loaded upmarket integrated amplifiers, Naim’s third-generation, range-topping all-in-one amplifier looks deceptively simple. The digital inputs of the original Supernait went AWOL in the MkII version, and they remain absent here: instead, the 3 gains a high-quality moving magnet phono stage for your turntable, developed purely for this amplifier. 

How’s it all done? Well, much of the design and build is trickled down from Naim’s justifiably famous preamps and power amplifiers, including the hard-wired input connections. These are designed to ‘float’ – and thus avoid the transmission of nasty vibrations to the main circuit boards to degrade the sound – and switched using individual relays to minimise interference with the signal. Those main boards are also decoupled from the chassis, with the volume control in the hands of a best of breed device that helps preserve the signal purity, as is the balance adjustment, with the remote-control microprocessor again isolated from the audio circuitry to preserve signal quality.

Even that phono section is beautifully built: whereas many amplifiers provide a turntable input using a chip-based solution, Naim’s three-stage phono provision – gain, passive equalisation and final gain and active equalisation – pushes any processing noise way out of the audible band and is easily the equal of many a standalone phono amplifier, as well as being isolated from the main amplifier sections to avoid interference. And the company has also found ways to simplify the power amplification stage. The result  is a cleaner, more direct sound with fewer distortions affecting the ultra-low voltage signal from a phono cartridge (which is more prone to outside interference) while the simplification of the power amp stage means fewer components in the signal path – again good for clarity.

Being a Naim, the Supernait 3 offers a range of upgrades: you can add an extra power supply for the preamp stage, or connect additional power amps, either to biamplify your speakers or simply to bolt on even more power. But all that’s for the future: for now, this slimline but substantial amplifier uses a hefty toroidal transformer for excellent dynamics, and the company’s Discrete Regulation technology to deliver smooth, clean energy to the preamp stage, which is designed for speed and dynamics.

This is a pure analogue design, with four line inputs connected either via Naim’s traditional DIN sockets or system-friendly phonos. There is also the option of converting one input into a unity gain feed straight to the power stage – useful, for example, if you want to use the Supernait 3 with an AV processor or receiver in a combined music and movies set-up.

There’s also an excellent headphone output, again custom-built for the Supernait 3, while users combining it with one of Naim’s ND- series network players can use a ‘system automation’ connection to allow the Naim app to choose the Supernait’s inputs and control the volume and balance.

Sound quality

On paper, the Supernait 3 doesn’t seem that powerful for an amplifier at its price-level, delivering just 80W into eight ohms, and 135W into more demanding four-ohm speaker loads, but those familiar with Naim amps will tell you it’s not so much the number of Watts there are, but what the amplifier designer does with them. This amplifier lives up to that maxim with a sound much bigger and more detailed than one might expect from such a slimline amplifier, and the ability to drive even big, demanding speakers with total conviction. Yes, the Supernait 3 can sound a little ordinary at very low levels – which is as much about speaker drivers not shifting much air – but once you’re beyond the ‘9 o’clock’ position on that big volume control, it really takes flight, allowing you to sit back and simply enjoy how much more it makes of your favourite music.

The myth about Naim amplifiers is that they’re built for rock music, and that’s almost all they do. While that may once have been accepted (but probably owes more to the fact that fans of that kind of music liked the lively, punchy Naim balance), the current generation – including the Supernait 3 – has much wider capabilities and is as adept with close-miked jazz as it is with powerful orchestral music, and as thrilling with a solo voice or instrument as with a thundering electronic track. But most of all, this amplifier puts all the listener’s focus on the music, and has a directness of communication that eludes many a more overtly ‘hi-fi’ design.

Living with the Supernait 3

There are only two requirements when putting this amplifier at the heart of a system: one is that you use high-quality sources, whether we’re talking disc players or network audio devices (such as the Naim NDX 2) , and the other is that the speakers should be revealing enough to deliver all the Supernait 3 has to offer. This is Naim amplification made fuss-free – and in a set-up designed to complement it, the sound of the Supernait 3 is totally compelling.

Conclusion

The first Naim Nait integrated amp appeared almost 40 years ago, and Naim has been refining the design ever since. That is much in evidence in the Supernait 3, which is as close as you can get to one of the company’s pre/power amplifier combinations in a single box. Unassuming it may look, with its simple controls and understated styling, but its performance is nothing short of spectacular

Listening notes

Kyle Eastwood Skyfall

Bassist Eastwood – no mean soundtrack composer himself – brings his jazz take to the movies on his Cinematic album. Here Adele’s Bond theme begins with those ominous chords but soon breaks into a high-speed workout, the Naim soaring through the brass solos while keeping the drums and – of course – bass motoring hard.

Janis Ian Better Times Will Come

Now into her eighth decade, Janis Ian shows she’s still got it on her latest album, The Light at the End of the Line, and this track has everything from the sparkle in her voice to an arrangement swinging from country to trad jazz to fuzzed-out guitars  and even sounds from Down Under. The Naim simply adds to the smile on the listener’s face.

Ravel La Valse (Royal Stockholm Philharmonic/Sakari Oramo)

Every element in Ravel’s rather woozy waltz is laid open for inspection by the Naim as the orchestra swells and recedes in this dramatic performance by the RSPO under Oramo. It’s a good dynamic workout for any system, and the Naim’s more than up to the task, swinging and slamming in equal measure

What the press say

Why you should buy it

Quite simply, the Supernait 3 is all killer and no filler. By keeping things simple but purposeful, Naim has created a deceptively flexible integrated amplifier to amaze – and bring any music collection to life

Video review

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