From the launch of the original NAIT (NAim InTegrated) in 1983, Naim has done things a little differently to their competitors. Small in size and never overtly powerful on paper (the original had a marvelously Rolls Royce-esque ‘sufficient’ given as its output), they nonetheless sold like hotcakes thanks to an engrossing sound that, quite separate from the rated output, was powerful and engaging. NAIT’s have come and gone in the ensuing three decades, changing in appearance and more recently migrating to the full width casework. The premise has stayed the same, however – as much of the Naim essence that can be forced into a single box with a reasonable spread of connections. The NAIT XS is the latest in the NAIT family and part of an entire new XS family of products. It borrows heavily from the amplifier section of the larger and more sophisticated SUPERNAIT while shedding the digital inputs and larger casework of its big brother.
One definably new area for the XS and its forthcoming siblings in the XS range is a new board fixing intended to reduce the amount of external vibration meeting these sensitive circuits. Larger Naim components use a bespoke series of floating brass chassis that are extremely effective, but not entirely practical at this less rarefied end of the market and this ‘bayonet’ type mount is intended to give the XS some of the same attributes at a more realistic material price point. As ever, Naim has expended considerable effort in making the chassis as inert as possible while other features such as the ‘wobbly’ sockets on the rear panel continue as before to reduce the effects of the outside world on the inside of the unit as much as possible.
Power-wise the XS produces a claimed 60 watts into eight ohms, rising to 90 into four ohms with the almost obligatory sense that the reality of those numbers is rather higher. There are six inputs which offer the option of connection via either DIN or RCA phono. While the latter is a useful nod to compatibility, experience suggests that the DIN inputs are still Naim’s preferred connection and sound the better of the pair. One of the inputs carries power for the Stageline phono stage and another is shared with a 3.5mm input on the front panel for quick MP3 duties. There is also an AV bypass for placing the XS in a multichannel system. A system driving remote control is also supplied.
The accompanying FlatCap XS is simple by contrast. A refinement of the earlier FlatCap, it offers two 24v outputs that have benefitted from Naim’s studious attention to power regulation. Usefully, these outputs are multi functional – they can be used to provide power to exclusively to a Naim preamp or one apiece to other equipment. As tested here, the FlatCap had one output powering the preamp section of the NAIT XS while the other was diverted to my own Stageline S phono stage which is normally powered by the smaller off board iSupply in a non-Naim system. Both units are in the same slim chassis and in keeping with the XS range sport the new anodized finish. This, coupled with the standard Naim build quality gives the pairing a very solid feeling indeed. There are no front panel power controls on either of the units so they were plugged in and left on.
The NAIT XS arrived some time before the FlatCap XS, so I had a useful period of time to listen to the amp on its own. This sample unit had seemingly led an active life up to this point and seemed to be well run in. The legendary Naim warm up period seemed truncated as well, the XS sounded pretty good within an hour and did not really change behavior after the first day – in the case of the XS at least, your introduction to Naim ownership need not require the patience of a BBC wildlife cameraman. Operation of the XS is simplicity itself as controls extend to the input buttons and a volume knob, all of which have a reassuringly solid feel.
First impressions were of an amplifier that has great civility in its presentation. This should not be confused with a dullness or lack of sparkle however. The Nait XS is instead able to reproduce detail and attack extremely well but without tipping over into harshness or stridency even under provocation and considering that my time with the XS coincided with my purchase of Invaders Must Die by the Prodigy, there was ample scope for it. The classic Naim virtues of timing and low end grip are still present and correct and few amps anywhere near the price of the XS will give anything like the sense of intensity and drive that any up tempo recording has. The bigger Naim amps drive lower and harder still as will some other more costly amplifiers but the XS is certainly no slouch in this regard. There is a sense that music starts and stops instantly with no bloat or overhang impeding the silences that make musical peaks so much more profound.