Naim Audio NDS. The birth of the SuperStreamer?

Music servers and computer audio
Naim Audio NDS Digital Network Player
Naim Audio NDS. The birth of the SuperStreamer?

The tale was under embargo until today, but at the beginning of the week Naim Audio launched its new flagship streamer, the £6,250 Naim Audio NDS. It will be shown to the public for the first time at timed, closed room demonstrations at the Bristol Sound & Vision show in the West of England at the end of this week. A handful of invited journalists had a briefing and preview at Naim's Salisbury HQ.

The new NDS has been designed to improve substantially on Naim's existing NDX network player, using cost-no object technologies hewn from the company's 500-Series. This includes no built-in power supply; the user can choose anything from the comparatively inexpensive XP5 XS power supply right up to one or even a pair of 555 PS supplies, because the supply feeds can be split into separate analog and digital feeds, each driven from its own power supply using the large Burndy PSU cable.

The digital and analog boards are split and also resting on individual suspended brass sub-chassis, each with a 4Hz resonance designed to maximize mechanical isolation. Unlike the previous NDS, the data buffering is now performed in-chip rather than in RAM, and this has meant a reworking of the DSP algorithm and lowering the chip's power draw in the process.

Moving forward into the past, the NDS calls upon the Burr-Brown PCM1704 'sign-magnitude' digital converter chip, which is an expensive and relatively rare chip from the late 1990's, highly prized by DAC designers in part for its 120dB dynamic range. The custom code in the NDS' SHARC chip gives the streamer 16x oversampling IIR modified Butterworth filter, using 40-bit, floating point processing. The streaming section of the NDS is fully screened, and of course the master clock has vanishingly low jitter.

An extensive technical briefing paper and a press conference with a lot of engineer face-time (a rare thing in press conferences these days) demonstrate just how sure Naim is of its new NDS. With it comes the promise of additional functionality to the Naim app family, including (at last!) playlists. Track scrubbing (fast foward and reverse) is still in the development stages, because the protocols that apply to one format do not apply to others, and a robust method of track scrubbing is still illusive across computer audio. AirPlay is also not included on the Naim platform at this time.

Following the lengthy presentation, the invited audience were given a chance to listen and compare the new NDS (with a 555PS) to an NDX with a XPS power supply and even a ND5 XS with a XP5 XS power supply (the power supplies are optional upgrades on the NDX and ND5 XS). The three streamers were played through a 500 Series system, including three 500 power amplifiers and an active crossover driving Naim's Ovator S-600. The total cost of this system... a lot! Even the NDS combination on its own was close to £12,000.

Nevertheless, two things emerged from the demonstration. First, active drive really puts those Ovator S-600 into a different league. Second, each successive step in the streamers. Although the basic model sounded extremely good on its own, moving up the Naim rungs made significant improvements in performance. The move from the already highly respected NDX to the NDS (playing a Richard Thompson track) gave voices greater body, more natural presentation and vocal clarity, and greater life to the already lively sounding guitar sound. The NDX was already extremely natural and enjoyable, but this raised the game still further.

How much further... you'll just have to wait and see. Fortunately, Hi-Fi Plus has secured an exclusive review of the NDS later in the year.

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