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NAP 250 DR
Reviewer Edgar Kramer
s one of the longest running
companies in the industry,
Naim Audio not only offers a
very complete set of products
– from source to speakers and
everything in between – but
has the resources to employ
a well-staffed R&D department (led by Steve Sells
– see interview p18). This result is an ongoing
schedule of products that continue to display
the company’s reputation for individuality and,
in recent years, an especial penchant for combining
its traditional analogue strengths with intelligent
digital features – as evidenced in the impressive
multitasking app-empowered and Bluetoothequipped NAC-N 272 preamplifier/streamer/DAC
supplied to pair the power amp under review here.
And if further evidence of Naim’s ambitions
were needed, what better proof than the recent
project to produce an absolute ‘statement’ of the
company’s highest engineering capabilities in a
preamplifier and power amplifier combination that
was effectively budget-unlimited, no holds barred.
The result of thus letting it rip was the
near-$360,000 ‘Statement’ tour de force landmark
pre-power combination (see Audio Esoterica #32014), the pinnacle of Naim Audio’s achievements
in amplification. But such a peak presents a
problem. Having manifested your greatest artistic
creation, what next? The challenge, of course,
is then to bring aspects of the new technology
trickling down into more affordable bread-andbutter products, within the obtainable scope of
the bulk of Naim’s ardently loyal client base.
Very discrete
One of the key technological aspects of the
Statement amplifier was Naim’s decision to
engineer its own output devices. In Naim’s
view, standard-issue transistors possess limitations
in terms of power and thermal saturation unsuited
to the all-out Statement design. So, in conjunction
with a specialist semiconductor manufacturer,
the company went about creating its own
transistor, the NA009, with high tolerances in all
aspects of its construction.
This ceramic-insulated NA009 transistor has
now been implemented in the NAP 250 DR
power amplifier too, as has the extremely quiet
Discrete Regulator (DR) from the flagship product,
now in the NAP 250 and added informally to its
nomenclature (it’s still listed as just NAP 250).
GAIN: +29dB
3Hz-50kHz (-3dB)
L/R 4mm ‘banana’ sockets
80W per channel, 8 ohms
SUPPLIED: standard
87 × 432 × 314mm
WEIGHT: 15.8kg
PRICE: $8000
WARRANTY: Two years
CONTACT: N.A. Distributors
on 02 8005 0670
Naim states that this new DR implementation
lowers noise by up to 30 times compared to
the previous-gen NAP 250, while also lowering
dynamic impedance, which provides a more
steady current supply to meet the speakers’
demand. While this is, in the main, a review of the
NAP 250 DR, sonic comparisons to the non-DR
version will serve to provide some context both
to owners and to interested readers.
The NAP 250 DR’s specification for power
output is 80 watts into an 8-ohm load, while the
frequency response is quoted as 3Hz to 50kHz
within a -3dB envelope. The input impedance is
18-kohms while the amp’s gain is 29dB.
Typically for Naim, connectivity is… different.
Firstly, only banana connectors need apply at
the amp’s speaker outputs, with the almost
flush sockets accepting neither spades nor bare
wire. Then there’s the lone XLR input —it’s not
a mono amp, rather the pins 2 and 3 are wired
to conduct the stereo channels. Naim provides
the connecting cable wired for its preferred
XLR arrangement at the amp’s end and DINterminated at the preamplifier end – so using
anything other than a Naim preamp is not
possible unless you obtain an appropriatelyterminated cable for transferring your preferred
preamplifier’s twin output (whether RCAs or
XLRs) to the single XLR input on the NAP 250
DR. Regardless of the claimed benefits this
arrangement may provide in principle, it’s…
somewhat limiting.
So, in order to facilitate this review Naim
Audio’s Australian distributor (N.A. Distributors)
supplied the NAC-N 272 preamplifier with the
appropriate DIN-XLR cable, while the rest of the
system’s regular loom remained as per reference.
Auditions started with the previous-gen NAP 250
in order to ascertain the original’s sonic signature.
And yes, let me state this straight off the bat,
the clichéd PRaT descriptor does apply here. The
NAP 250 jumps at rhythms in a most propulsive
way – across the frequency range, not just in the
bass response. So there’s an impression of attack
and speed in the way that drums, for example,
fire towards the listening seat. The snare and
kick drum crisply and tightly pulse energy and
establish an engagingly fast rhythmic pace. Also
on offering were superb low level detail retrieval,
good separation of dense mix layers and an
overall smooth tonality. Bass power was good, if
not hat-blowing, while the NAP 250 presented
excellent image accuracy laterally within a very
wide if somewhat shallow-ish soundstage.
On an operational level, our sample NAP 250
displayed a noticeable turn-on ‘thump’ via our
reference 91dB-sensitive Wilson Audio speakers.
Your speakers’ sensitivity will determine the
volume of the thump.
Enter NAP 250 DR. No more thump – first
thumbs-up. Subsequent and numerous thumbsups came via both subtle and not-so-subtle sonic
improvements over the NAP 250. For starters,
the new amp has a noticeably more dynamic
presentation, with contrasts in musical amplitude
being both more pronounced and real-sounding.
Several of our dynamics torture tests (featuring
well produced drums, powerful orchestral, rock
and World Music recordings) showed the DR
could just as well stand for ‘Dynamic Range’ when
compared with the straight NAP 250.
One surprise came via Argentinian progtango “Sera Una Noche” where the NAP 250 DR
showed a clean set of heels to its predecessor in
the way it handled treble decay with instruments
such as bells and cymbals in a number of
tracks throughout this revelatory recording.
The DR beautifully conveyed the harmonics
and delicate detail of upper high frequencies
while maintaining superb timbral signatures
throughout the bandwidth.
The soundstage on the NAP 250 DR is now
also deeper and seemingly more layered, while
its width and image placement are on par. In our
room, there was most definitely an impression
of increased distance between the vocalist and
instrumentalists in live recordings, as well as an
increased sense of the venue’s ambience.
The transient attack and ‘speed’ noted above
for the NAP 250 are maintained with the NAP 250
DR. The superbly-captured snare on “Like a King”
and “Whipping Boy” from Ben Harper’s Welcome
to the Cruel World snapped with terrific projection
while cutting through the solid bass foundation
without impinging on the clarity of Harper’s
subtle vocals. Appropriate weight and emotional
Power amPlifier
connection were given to Johnny Cash’s aged
and deep growl on “Hurt” from American IV: The
Man Comes Around. And although the track
may seem simple enough for any competent
amplifier to reproduce effectively, it’s an astutely
balanced one that can produce clarity in the
vocals juxtaposing the crescendo as it builds
to accentuate the sentiment behind the lyrics’
message. Similar findings applied to Patty Larkin’s
“Winter Wind” from Angels Running, where Larkin’s
voice is present and floats on a platform of warm
and full-bodied guitar chords.
The one consistent factor with both
amplifiers (but more so, to a considerable extent,
in the ‘DR’) is the connection with the music
being replayed – immersion in the performance
and the listening experience; it took conscious
efforts to don the ‘Reviewer’s Hat’ in order to
compose these evaluations. These amplifiers
invite listening and involvement.
Naim does things in a distinctively individual
way; from the minimalist styling carried across
all its products to the circuitry and proprietary
connectivity. There’s a clear statement here:
‘follow us on our path and we’ll take you to the
music’. And indeed, with the NAP 250 DR, that’s
exactly the destination. And really, what more
can you ask of any amplifier...
naim’s new ‘super lumina’
cables feature high
quality conductors and
bespoke ‘air-plug’ connectors
manufactured in-house.
trickled down from the
statement flagship, naim’s new
na009n transistor was custom
manufactured for the new
range of amplifiers bearing
the ‘dr’ denomination.
There’s a clear
statement here:
‘follow us on
our path and
we’ll take you to
the music’.
EDGAR KRAMER: It’s clear that
serious trickle-down has come from the
Statement amplifier to the NAP 250 DR.
What have been the benefits compared
with the pre-DR NAP 250?
STEVE SELLS: It’s benefitted in two
areas – the high current regulated
power supply, and the new NA009
output transistors in the amplifier and
DR power supply. The actual circuit of
the power amplifier hasn’t changed,
except for a little tuning to the new
power supply and transistors. The
result is incredible clarity throughout
the audio band, and more perceived
power. We think of amplifiers as
having one input – the audio input
signal. In fact they have many. They
are susceptible to vibration, electromagnetic fields (RF), magnetic,
temperature and power supply noise.
Any noise on the power supply will
ultimately appear at the speaker
terminals, albeit very attenuated.
There are two primary types
of noise that appear on amplifier
power supplies. There’s the noise
the power supply makes itself and
the noise the amplifier imposes
on the power supply as it drives
the speaker. The new DR power
supply – the DR stands for ‘discrete
regulator’, made from individual parts
– addresses both of those. The actual
noise of the power supply is 30 times
quieter thanks to the DR design.
It also maintains a more constant
voltage under heavy speaker driving
There are many schools of
thought in designing amplifiers and
their power supplies. You can either
design the amplifier to reject supply noise, or
alternately make the supply quieter. To make
the amplifier reject the supply will require more
components – and the extra components can
be detrimental to the sound. By making the
power supply better, the amplifier can remain
simple and tuneful. The new NA009 power
transistors from the Statement amplifier are now
fitted to the NAP 250 DR. The new transistors
have a better thermal connection to the
heatsink. This reduces temperature fluctuations
in the transistor silicon. The temperature
fluctuations cause the transistor’s characteristics
to dynamically change. The new transistor also
has no ferrous materials – they have copper legs
– and the lack of ferrous materials makes them
mechanically quieter. Ferrous materials are more
susceptible to magnetic forces. Due to the high
currents in amplifiers there are many unwanted
magnetic fields generated.
EK: Can you tell us a little about the circuit
technology in the NAP 250 DR and the major
differences between this and the non-DR version?
SS: As I said, the amplifier circuit on paper looks
identical, just a few component values changed
to tune it to the new power supply and new
output transistors. But the power supply is
completely new – this DR power supply is a
smaller version of that found in Statement
NAP S1. A regulated power supply can be
thought of as an amplifier with a DC voltage
at the input instead of a musical signal. The
DC signal is multiplied by the power supply
amplifier to the required voltage needed to
power the audio amplifier circuit. The DC
reference in a DR supply is a 7-volt buried
zener diode, the quietest voltage reference you
can get. They were invented in 1970 by refining
standard zener diodes from the 1950s. The
buried zener is powered by the output of the DR
power supply itself, and this technique makes
the circuit very low noise and simple.
EK: We have to ask about Naim’s cable preferences!
DIN connectors as well as standard RCAs and, in the
NAP 250 DR, a dual-channel-configured XLR. What
does the DIN offer that the other connector types
don’t, and how does this fit in with the new Super
Lumina range of Naim standard cables?
SS: There are two main areas of difference
between RCA and DIN. One is vibration control
and the other is signal ground quality. RCAs,
while excellent, are made completely rigid. Any
vibration picked up in the leads due to sound
waves appear at the contact point. With DINs the
pins in the sockets float – the same vibrations in
the leads are now absorbed by the floating pins
and the contact is therefore mechanically quieter.
Most RCAs have a large contact area for the
ground connection; the DIN has a gas tight ‘point
contact’. Secondly there is only one ground in a
stereo DIN lead and two in an RCA lead. The two
ground connections form a loop and so are more
susceptible to noise pick-up.
The Super Lumina cables take the connectors’
mechanical principles to the ultimate conclusion.
We can also make detailed choices such as
ensuring plugs and sockets have similar contact
material. The similar contact material removes any
nonlinearity in the contact points due to galvanic
scale differences. Super Lumina cables also have
newly-developed wire using advanced insulators
and differing diameter conductors.
EK: You could say that Naim has been almost
stereotyped with the PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and
Timing) sound descriptor. Have the multigenerational circuit refinements leading to the
current amplifiers purposely kept this sound trait?
What other inherent sonic qualities do you aim for
at the design stage?
SS: By keeping the amplifier essentially
unchanged and improving the power supply
we were able to not only keep the renowned
Naim sound but enhance it.
EK: Has being part of the same entity as Focal
changed some of the design philosophies or aspects
of your amplifier design – perhaps to benefit or
promote amp/speaker synergies?
SS: Working with Focal has allowed our design
teams to exchange ideas, to refine what we both
do already. Having the Grande Utopia at Naim
for tuning was also great fun. The big Statement
amplifiers are incredibly fast and have enormous
current delivery capability; they make the big
speakers sing, and their scale is captivating.
EK: So what have the lessons been from the idea
exchange, given two very different disciplines of
loudspeaker and amplifier design?
SS: Amplifiers and speakers are very different
disciplines of design, but both benefit from a
deep understanding of physics principles. For
example material science, thermal distortions
and eddy current minimisation. It’s also interesting that we have common ground between
some of our speaker philosophies. Probably the
most notable is that for very high performance
speakers, separate boxes for the drive units can
add considerable clarity. Naim has nearly always
incorporated decoupling between drive units,
and this can be seen on the Utopia speakers too.
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