It seems that we live in an age where less (in the way of audio equipment) is seen as more (in the domestic acceptability sense). Linn has been using this approach and has honed almost all its systems down to one box and a pair of speakers. The key to this is powered loudspeakers; you are never going to cut down on boxes unless you start combining them, and active drive does this in one fell swoop. It also brings with it the undoubted advantages of eliminating passive components between amplifier and drive unit, conferring a considerable advantage in driver control in the process.
It seems that the good burgers of Salisbury are interested in whether this approach has legs because the idea for this system came from those quarters. Now that they have a not entirely un-Linn-like streamer/preamplifer in the NAC-N 272 (albeit not their first, there is a NAC-172N as well) all that is required is a decent active speaker with onboard amplification. But, this is not something you can find in the Naim speaker range, nor in sister company Focal’s wide selection of domestic speakers. There are a couple of pro Focal models, but they are not the prettiest things and have domestically problematic elements like upward firing drivers.
So a call was made to a company with an unrivalled reputation in active speakers, ATC, and its SCM-40A active floorstanders were chosen as a suitable partner. It’s not the first time the two brands have been combined, but I doubt there are many dealers who stock both, which is where we in the reviewing fraternity have our uses. I am a fan of ATC, and feel that its range of speakers and electronics offers tremendous value in the general scheme of things, and I haven’t found many power amps that match ATC’s for sheer grip either. But the company has never been all that fashionable with the pace, rhythm, and timing brigade that holds Naim as the epitome of its creed. So the question is; can the addition of a Naim preamplifier give ATCs what it takes to boogie?
First, though, the hardware: the NAC-N 272 inhabits Naim’s Classic series aluminium casework and comes in standard or DAB+/FM tuner versions. It has analogue and digital inputs, plus USB for sticks or iPods, offers Spotify Connect and Tidal music services, and will also receive Bluetooth aptX from your smartphone or tablet. The primary source however is the built in streamer; connect the RJ45 socket to your network and it will stream material stored on nearby drives or internet radio stations. The 272 was the first Naim product to stream DSD, a feature that has been applied to the rest of the range since its launch a year ago but one that must have sent ripples around the flat earth at the time. Naim’s marketing deparmentt is ‘Man’ enough to admit that it doesn’t convert DSD natively, but at present it’s not clear whether there are any streamers that do. Instead it resamples it at 40-bit/768kHz prior to conversion. DSD conversion is limited to DSF and DFF 64 formats, so not the higher-rate options found on dedicated DACs.