A tremendous Amplifier
The Naim Supernait 3 is an 80w per channel analogue integrated amp (into 8ohms), with 4 analogue inputs for CD players, streamers and so on, with a moving magnet phono input, but not a moving coil type. Not a lot of power then? Well you’re wrong possibly – it’s all about ‘slew rate’ Naim hint at, which I cover in my video review (see embedded video below)
The rear DIN plugs, typical of Naim gear, accompany the RCA inputs, and there is variable volume analogue outs for adding a sub or other power amp if you wanted to use the Supernait 3 as a pre amp. Considering how good the amp is already, possibly though, as unnecessary as a top 90s Blaupunkt stereo in an old beat-up car of a similar period.
The volume dial is meant to be used manually and by remote motorised operation, and a balance knob features off centre, albeit with no centre locating notch. Figuring where the central point is, has (at least in my odd mind) mental similarities to watching a 12” subway roll being cut in half only to obsess and ponder if it was cut….exactly in half. No biggie really, but you’d prefer if you knew where the middle is.
There is pleasing glassy anisotropic plastic input buttons, a 1/4” class A powered headphone socket – untested in this review for reasons of time…. after all the ‘meat and veg’ of this amp sits at the King’s table of HiFi use anyway.
An AV bypass function is there for home cinema lovers allowing the AV amp to control the Naim’s volume, which you set with an inset rear switch and using relevant inputs. Knock it on in two channel mode and maximum gain to your speakers means kissing goodbye to the exact same speakers, so be careful.
Mirroring other reviewers, it would be helpful if Naim took the constructive criticism already given and looked at the manuals because they are badly presented and written – illegible small annotations, illogical layout, and confusing prose about connections. Straining before taking a picture on my phone to blow up the small icons in some pictures, I was hoping my Grandfather’s glaucoma genes wouldn’t be ‘protein subscribed’ at that very same moment.
Also…. the PDF manual schematics downloadable on their website don’t use scalable vector graphics, which don’t loose resolution on scaling, but lo-pro JPEG’s instead. Manuals can be read to decide whether to buy, so another reason to make manuals clear.
This amp has been tweaked up from the first two Supernait iterations. The absence of digital inputs and DAC, unlike Supernait 1, might niggle in a digital world. Particularly for those who may want to exploit a dependable inbuilt DAC, serving the purpose of bolting on of an inexpensive streamers digital output, where many believe in the philosophy nowadays of ‘chucking streamer expense’ but have already ‘full freighted’ on an amp, like this Naim.
That all said, whether Naim’s reported assertions that it would affect sound quality can be given credence, when other amp brands with inbuilt DAC’s are replete sonically, is possibly moot to the point that a very accomplished outboard DAC or streaming DAC is a must for an amp of this class for streaming audiophiles – most of us. Just like the Hegel H390 (and Kinki Studio EX-M1+ featured in the video too) can benefit from an improved DAC. But whilst they may want you to buy their own streamer (like the ND5 XS 2 or NDX 2) not everyone can pull the trigger for affordability reasons.
The Naim hums when turned on – no not that way – alas a natural electro-mechanical character of large toroidal transformers. But like the Hegel H390, it is slight and only noticeable in situ with ear at amplifier, it settles down to nothing there, and at the listening position with music playing…..
Also transformer hum can be dependent on and differ between households based on household appliances DC emitted into the mains.
But I am picking triffles for the sake of sarcastic amusement, as is sometimes my style. This is not to say this is a bad amplifier at all. Quite the contrary, these are all relative minutiae and the sound quality of this amplifier is the acid test anyway – a test, to put it sternly in more austere HiFi parlance, ‘the writer has already fully experienced’ and ‘I can report’….it’s fantastic. See the full video on this score. I’ve already waxed lyrical so I won’t again here.
You can use outboard Naim power supplies – see here, although cost is pushed up again. Whilst sizing your rack real estate, the Supernait 3 is already like your family hatchback – compact – and the fact you get lots of sound for small size, is another bonus.
A correction about the NAD M33 (in my video)
I feel such a smuck that I’m having to do this because not only am I a bit of a perfectionist, but I feel I should, because I pride myself on correcting myself if I’ve made mistakes, which trust me happens when you spend so much time editing videos. Matters can easily be overlooked as the number of variables to consider can be large. Annoying too because it’s not something that would normally pass me. That’s my excuse anyway.
OK I’ll own up… you know the Dirac settings of the M33…..well you’ve got a setting….and you press the display to go into that setting – oh come on, get to the point Simon!… So, these Dirac pre-set settings stay in the memory of the amp even if you haven’t used it for some time, which I hadn’t considered possible, and you have to turn Dirac off to compare these amps à la ‘zero Dirac’. Clearly, well…I didn’t do that. Whoops.
…Again it’s odd, I didn’t think the M33 sounded that rich tonally, but just commenting on the differences and then having made the video, being forced to confront a difference of opinion of Michael, a perceptive subscriber, I started to doubt myself too. Essentially the Dirac setting in use for my video was to make the amp depart decently from its base sound and with lots of tonal richness, so let’s start again!
NAD M33 – sound comparison to the Naim Supernait 3
It’s perhaps as unjustly annoying as a pen leaking at King Charles III’s visitor book signing, for a Dirac amp not being used as such in a comparison to a non-Dirac Naim amp in a ‘straight’ amplifier shoot out.
But not everyone will want to use the Dirac capability and this amp’s Eigentakt amp modules are already of such high quality and design status, and with display finger swooshing streaming loveliness, this amp is competitive already. Being all ‘word saladey’, Dirac is then perhaps just ones table salt addition to chef crafted foodiness. Nonetheless, Dirac is an important feature and making a strong statement this amp doesn’t necessarily sound like it does ‘straight out the box’ – well not in my case with the wrong Dirac pre-set, but I digress.
NAD M33 REAR PANEL
Essentially though in a straight comparison to the Naim, with my PMC twenty5 23’s the NAD M33 has noticeable treble of the type you find in highest frequencies of ride cymbals. It’s all there and presents music faithfully and realistically, not in an annoying way but in etching out music. In contrast the Naim’s treble is more subtle, it pervades the mids in the sense of it blending in more.
But when music gets dynamic, NAD’s highly damped class D modules come into play and the music rides along more authoritatively than the Naim, particularly in bass, there is more body to the sound and like the Hegel v Naim comparison, the soundstage opens up. Music is more dynamically on/off, whilst again in comparison to other amps I’ve mentioned in the video, the Naim is thicker set with its bass, more dispersive but less taught in this dynamic way. It is slight though.
The M33 gets its sound out as if all the major frequency bands are stacked on top of one of another and fairly uniform throughout the musical stage. The Naim however is more focused in its mid band, the texture and timbral information is more apparent there. This gives an impression of greater resolution in its overall sound. With the stand out mid range and thick bass, music appears more separated too. The Naim’s fluidity I talked about in the film contrasts a more uniform and relaxed NAD approach.
So far as speaker matching goes, both these amps represent similar tonal qualities but in different ways – the treble etching of the NAD becomes more apparent as you use speakers of the ilk of my PMC’s. And similarly the Naim presents more treble ‘air’ when used with the same speakers but only on some recordings. It means that in this straight ‘out of the box’ Dirac-less shootout and like the Naim, the NAD is suited to the KEF LS50 Meta’s and Buchardt S400 MK 2’s tonally relaxed qualities more, especially as volume is raised. But the fact Dirac is there, essentially makes the NAD a very flexible offering if you are prepared to put the time into the tuning set-up.
Group comparisons, especially with competitive HiFi gear like this, is a case in point of analysis of small changes and with speaker matching and personal preferences in the mix, clear winners on the score of sound quality are hard to pick out. Even with additional opinions of what constitutes best, even mine or others, ultimately you need to hear yourself…..