You can chart the rise and fall of source popularity by looking at the variations in the three iterations of the Naim Supernait. The original version of Naim’s largest integrated amplifier launched in 2007 with an onboard DAC. The inclusion of a DAC reflected the demand for enthusiasts at the time wanting to upgrade their CD players in what was effectively the second wave of DAC mania. The next iteration, 2013’s Supernait 2, was a line-only affair, reflecting a more purist analogue approach where digital and analogue were considered best kept apart. For the Supernait’s third coming this evergreen amp has sprouted a phono stage just in time for the second age of vinyl. At the press launch one wag pointed out that when Supernait 2 appeared without this facility, Naim said that including it would be problematic. The company claimed the sensitive nature of a phono stage would pick up hum from the transformer, and even that its inclusion could compromise the potential of the line inputs. Designer Steve Sells took this on the chin and said that now there was “a desire to do it”, which probably means a commercial imperative. Naim has found ways around the problems by careful placement of the phono stage, essentially putting it as far from the transformer as possible. Given that numerous other brands have achieved this without too much difficulty does suggest that it’s not exactly rocket science.
The Supernait 3’s phono stage supports moving magnet but not moving coil cartridges. Naim argues that a moving coil cartridge option introduces a plethora of loadings that are unwarranted given the demands of modern vinyl lovers. Those looking to combine the Supernait 3 with a moving coil cartridge have the option of using a Naim Stageline or Superline phono stage (for which a 24V output is available). You can, of course, use any other make of MC phono stage.
The MM phono stage has a standard 47kΩ impedance and 470pF of capacitive loading, again a typical figure which should work with virtually all moving magnets. Naim has chosen its own response curve for the RIAA LF EQ section, which is between the classic and IEC curves. The company described this curve as delivering “a good bass performance with enough very low frequency roll-off to protect the critical mid-band from rumble induced intermodulation.” In the Supernait, the phono stage is mounted on a separate board and uses through-hole capacitors with low microphony. This is because with 30dB of gain, a phono amp is considerably more sensitive to vibration than regular line inputs.
Only the eagle-eyed (with their gripping hands) will notice the difference in appearance between a Supernait 3 and its predecessors because the change is limited to that phono stage input. Elsewhere, the Supernait 3 has four line inputs that use both RCA phono and Naim’s preferred DIN sockets. These include an AV input that can be set for unity gain, turning the integrated into a power amp for surround duties.
There have also been some significant changes to the power amplifier based on research in Naim’s Salisbury HQ into our perception of different types of distortion. This research suggests we are more able to adjust for harmonic distortion than for timing errors: this has been Naim’s raison d’etre since the beginning, but it now has evidence to back up its claims. As a result, Naim’s electronics design director Steve Sells and his team increased second-harmonic distortion in the Supernait 3’s power amp stage, in order to create a circuit that is twice as fast as its predecessor. Specifically, the Supernait 3 removes the cascode stage used in the Supernait 2 (to protect the more delicate devices used in lower level signals) in favour of a single higher power transistor. This approach is not dissimilar to that used in the NAP DR power amplifiers and derives ultimately from the mighty Statement.
Naim continues to use Reed relay input switching with a ‘shock absorber’ capacitor and constant current supply for a smoother DC supply. It retains the Alps Blue Velvet motorised volume pot from the Supernait 2. As before, power transistors are insulated with 4mm ceramic (rather than mica) for reduced capacitance, and the PCB is specially mounted to reduce microphony as much as possible for a fixed position design – the bigger Naim products have suspended PCBs. The input sockets are wired rather than fixed directly to the board and the Powerline Lite mains cable connects to a wobbly IEC inlet and has a degree of decoupling in the 13A plug. The large toroidal transformer (as used in the Supernait 2) is aligned for the lowest radiated field in the direction of the phono stage. There is also a large toroidal mains transformer (also as used in the Supernait 2) with excellent power delivery and fast recovery. The output rating remains the same at 80W per channel. You can upgrade the Supernait with a HiCap power supply for the preamp section, but those looking for ‘more’ usually end up buying a separate pre and power amp. Naim’s well-known upgrade path is popular with Naim users because of its products impressive residual value. Headphone users will be interested to note that there is more current available from the Class A amplifier so it will drive more challenging cans.