Way back in the day when Exposure were the only real competitor that Naim had in the UK, both companies made a lot of half width black boxes. They were all ugly and, in the case of Naim, strangely connected little things that sounded very entertaining while not appearing to be too bothered about neutrality and bandwidth. Since that time both brands have changed ownership but Exposure has retained its manufacturing, test, and assembly facilities in West Sussex... not far from its original base near Brighton.
Last year Exposure returned to the half-width scale for its XM range, headed up by the XM5 integrated amp but also containing the XM7 preamp and XM9 monoblock power amps, XM3 phono stage, and XM HP headphone amp. Clearly there’s an appetite for the more petite in the market for separates even at this relatively high price per cubic centimetre. Rega, for example, makes the Brio for £698 with a phono stage but no DAC while Cyrus has its One with phono stage and Bluetooth but again no digital inputs at £699, and NAD, Marantz, and Rotel offer amps with both facilities at both higher and lower price points but in slightly bigger boxes.
The £1,236 XM5 claims to be an amplifier for all seasons thanks to the inclusion of an onboard digital to analogue converter and a phono stage, which in the age of the vinyl revival is probably a good idea. It’s for moving magnet cartridges only and is marked as aux/phono suggesting that with a bit of under lid fiddling this input can be a regular line type, but apparently that is not the case; perhaps the word ‘aux’ is provided for markets that don’t want a phono stage! Otherwise there is a single line input and an AV input. The DAC has optical and coaxial inputs for S/PDIF connections to the TV or a CD player, albeit the coax ones are both on BNC sockets, which is a proper 75 Ohm connection, but not one you’ll find on many affordable sources. I presume that the USB input connects to an XMOS receiver chip as the amp comes with Windows drivers for that protocol; Mac users can just plug and play.
The XM5 has a linear power supply based on a 200VA toroidal transformer and the spec claims that, “Only high quality resistors and capacitors are used in the signal path”. The output devices are Toshiba bipolar transistors, which doesn’t mean that they have a split personality. The casework is not as fancy as some, but pretty tidy with a brushed aluminium front panel that sports buttons for scrolling through the inputs and a motorised volume pot. The remote handset is very much off the shelf and fully buttoned up, but volume is picked out in green which helps; it also has individual input selectors. Be careful with the AV input; it bypasses the volume control and goes straight to the power amp, so can only be used with sources that have their own volume adjustment, such as AV processors.