The HDX will rip more accurately than discs ripped in burst mode, but so will any other ripping software using secure ripping. Bit-perfect is bit-perfect, whichever way it arrives. I ripped the same file using the HDX, Exact Audio Copy and iTunes (all in WAV) and compared the results – they were identical.
A more disputed claim is whether there’s a need to store in WAV, as many servers now use lossless compression and there’s no notional difference in sound quality between the original and lossless form (if there was a difference, it wouldn’t be ‘lossless’, goes the logic). Many – including Naim, it seems – reject that concept as a matter of course. If you receive FLAC or MP3, AAC or even WMA files, the HDX will cope with them, but there’s no pathway to rip discs in anything other than their original form.
Connection is easy, although a little different from most hi-fi systems. The usual phono connection to a preamp (DIN if you are a Naim user), the big Burndy link for a power supply or maybe a S/PDIF link for digital. But then, there’s the connection for a screen and an Ethernet connection for linking to a router. There’s no wi-fi connection and Naim recommends linking the HDX to the outside world using a wired connection. Generally, the IP connection is straightforward, and up and running in seconds.
We tried to floor the HDX by feeding it a very broad range of discs. Some of them were designed to check the speed and performance of the rip – discs that look like they’ve been read by a cold chisel instead of a laser – and others that challenge the abilities of the database software. In both cases, the HDX acquitted itself well. The scratched discs took longer to rip than clean ones, but the result was the same. The player has a limited lookup table built-in, but when going to AMG (and, failing that, FreeDB) it can load up details and album covers with about a 98% certainty (of the first 100 discs I loaded up, only Popa Chubby and Schoenberg tripped it up, and even then it served up album and track data).
Using and abusing the player as much as possible rarely threw out problems and the player required a hard reset twice in two weeks of stern punishment – at the same time a feeding discs into a PC caused it to crash out, making a tweeter ripping chirp every few hours. A hard reset takes a long time to power down or boot up, though and if you are used to pressing play a few seconds after powering up a CD player, the HDX will leave you disappointed… there’s a several minute long gap between turning the thing on and getting the menus up and running.
We played the HDX through a thoroughly non-Naim system (a Sugden A21SE amp and ProAc Studio 140 loudspeakers) and compared it with a Cyrus CD8se CD player with PSX-R power supply and to a PC with a DAC.
There’s a distinctive ‘Naiminess’ to the sound of the HDX. It has that beat-driven musicality that makes the player prove so seductive at playing rock music. And, with a few hundred CDs loaded up, that ‘seductive’ turns into track after track of air guitar around the living room. There’s also a directness and precision to the sound that’s the antithesis of vinyl, and even challenges CD on the timing and solidity stakes.
What the Naim HDX does – and does brilliantly – is cope with the architecture of the music, at once making music seem more integrated and delineating the spaces around the notes with as much finesse as the notes themselves. In that respect, it plays music with the economy of a BB King, which is a rare treat.
It also makes music a great deal of fun. We all have our guilty secret recordings that we feel the need to wig out to; forget the surface intellectualising of listening to genteel Mendelssohn, this is the bad-boy stuff you never quite got over as a teenager. You can guarantee the Naim HDX will make you reach for that CD and rip it. Which is why the next recipient of my review sample will had to clean out all the AC/DC, Muse and Van Halen tracks off the HDD. And the joys of being able to reach for Back in Black, Stockholm Syndrome or Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love in a matter of seconds any time of the day or night is something to relish… and something your neighbours will seriously come to hate you for.