‘Thirteen grand and then I have to spend a chunk more just to get it to light up?’ The customer was still on the ‘wide-eyed disbelief’ side of incandescence, but it looked like he wouldn’t take too much of a push to get there. Well, fortunately for him the Naim ND 555 network music player appears on the company price-list in two versions: it’s now £13,500 without the 555 PS you need to power it (there’s no onboard power supply) or a cool £20,999 for the ‘Plug’n’Play’ version complete with the second box. I know: “Twenty grand? to play Spotify…??’
There’s nothing new about this separate power supply arrangement, at least in Naim-world: the company’s NAP 300 and NAP 500 power amps both come with offboard supplies, while anyone exploring the upper reaches of the Salisbury preamp offering will discover extra boxes are required. And of course, the same thing applied to the old CD 555 CD player, of blessed memory.
However, for our jaw-dropped customer, there are further shocks in store: like the NDS it replaced, the ND 555 offers the intriguing possibility of adding a second 555 PS if so desired. In that configuration, one power supply delivers juice to the digital section, the other to the analogue circuity. In the process, your £20,999 network player becomes a digital front-end with a price-tag just a couple of quid short of £28,000.
So, with wisps of smoke curling up from recently-vacated boots the only remaining sign of that irate customer, what does this three-box ‘streamer’, the flagship digital product from the Naim factory, bring to the party?
Well yes, it does have a party mode, enabling it to be used with multiple Naim ND-, Uniti or Mu-so units to fill your home with music, but that might just be missing the point of this behemoth of digital audio, reducing it to just something to play streaming music. After all, if that’s all you want – a spot of Spotify or a stream of Tidal – there’s no shortage of ways of making that happen, and for a lot less outlay. However, look at the ND 555 as Naim’s best-ever digital source component – yes, including all those illustrious CD players that went before it – and it begins to make a bit more sense; live with it for a while, and it becomes entirely addictive.
If you’re still harbouring any illusions that this is ‘just computer audio’, and thus plays second fiddle to playing physical media, the ND 555 is likely to dispel them. This is a no-compromise player able to outperform just about any other player on the market (and yes, here I include those that spin big black discs as well as those used with 12cm silver ones). Not only that, but it’s also amazingly flexible, being able to stream a sports commentary from Internet radio one moment, and a high-res DSD128 file the next, and all at a tap or two on the highly-developed Naim app running on your phone or tablet.
The Naim NDS was already a phenomenal network player and indeed remains so, given that you can now pick up a ‘pre‑loved’ one and an XPS power supply for around the £5000 mark with a bit of ‘eyes wide open’ eBay shopping. However, when the ND 555 was announced in the Spring of 2018, it moved things along significantly, both in terms of flexibility and performance.
For a start, it gained the Naim’ New Platform’ at its core: a combination of hardware and software first used in the current Uniti line-up, and answering all the criticisms that time had overtaken the original Naim network offering. Yes, some work had been done along the line to expand the file format capability, but this was after all a design dating back to the first NaimUniti, launched in 2009. With the new platform, the network Naims not only gained the ability to play files up to 384kHz/32bit and DSD128, but also support for a wider range of streaming services, and futureproofing in the form of Google Cast capability, allowing a much wider range of apps to play to them. Roon-ready status appeared, too, opening up yet another way of accessing the players. At the same time, the players’ Wi-Fi was also improved, not least thanks to the adoption of the company’s StreamCatcher buffer, able to hold a whole track, for more stable wireless streaming of high-resolution files (although wired networking was still the connection of choice). The NDX 2 and ND 555 also gained the large full-colour display seen on the second-generation Uniti models, replacing the green-on-black (and somewhat failure-prone) read-outs of the originals.
However, on top of all that came a significant rethink/rework of the digital and audio sections of the players, and nowhere so extensive as in the ND 555. Carried over from the NDS was the ‘floating circuit board’ design, in which whole sections of the player are carried on heavy metal plates suspended on springs, for vibration isolation, and requiring transit screws to be removed (very carefully) during installation. Here it’s in an improved form, with two precision-machined brass plates – each weighing 2.6Kg – tuned using Hooke’s Law for immunity to all vibration above 10Hz.