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Naim NAIT XS3 Integrated Amplifier Review

Nothing succeeds like XS

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

16

Best Buy
Naim NAIT XS3 Integrated Amplifier Review
SRP: £2,199.00

What is the NAIT XS3?

The Naim NAIT XS3 is an integrated amplifier. It is the middle of the three models that Naim currently makes and very much bridges the gap between the entry level NAIT 5Si and the Supernait 3 that is the first rung in the ‘Classic’ Series of components. Over the years, Naim has worked hard to keep the price of the entry level components as competitive as they can and this meant that as the price of the Classic components crept up, a gap opened up between them so that the XS Series of components came into being.

At one point, the XS Series was a full range in its own point. In additional to an integrated amp, there was a streamer, CD player, pre and power amp, streaming preamp and external power supplies for both analogue and digital sources. As part of the wider simplification of the range, Naim has slimmed this down to the ND5 XS2 and the Nait XS3 you see here with the Flatcap XS power supply (that has use outside the XS range) being the survivors. We’ve looked at the ND5 XS2, so it’s time to see how the partnering amp stands up.

There’s always a degree of variation to testing a middle model. Sometimes, it very clearly feels like a gently enhanced take on the entry model, others seem like the top model has been artificially reined in. On a few occasions though, the model in the middle makes the most sense, getting close to the performance of the bigger model at a more satisfying price. Where does the XS3 end up in this ranking?

Specification & Design

Naim Nait XS 3
Naim NAIT XS3 - front view

The XS3 was launched at the same time as the Supernait 3 and has many of the same refinements added to the design as the big amp does. This also eliminates the cascode circuit that has been part of Naim amplifier design for a very long time indeed. Doing so has the same boost to the slew rate as the Supernait 3, which should help what has always been a lively sounding design sound a little faster and more immediate.

The other big addition to this generation of XS is the phono stage. This seems to be exactly the same circuit as the one in the Supernait 3 and this is not a bad thing as the performance of it in that context demonstrated. As with the Supernait 3, it is a moving magnet only design but when the price of the XS3 is judged against the Supernait 3 (£2,200 versus £3,500), it feels more in keeping with what rivals are up to relevant to the sort of turntables you are likely to partner with. Like the Supernait 3, you can also add the Stageline range of external phono stages too.

Elsewhere, there are some other similarities to the specs. You get a headphone amplifier and the choice of both DIN and RCA connections for the bulk of inputs (and, if you can use DIN, I would suggest that you do as it seems to work better on any Naim amp or preamp). If you look inside the XS3, the same fastidious approach to layout and componentry that the Supernait 3 has can be seen here too.

Perhaps an equally valid question is what you don’t get in the XS3 that you do in the Supernait 3. The most visible on paper difference is that power is down by ten watts to 70 watts and you no longer get a balance control. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that neither of these is enormously significant. Like most Naim products, there are options for the price of the XS3 that can put far more power up a pair of speakers but in any test I can perform in a semi detached house in the south east of England, there is plenty of power on hand. The balance control is even less of an issue. I have actually found in the time I have had Supernaits here that the lack of ‘indent’ for zero balance adjustment has had me making tiny and futile adjustments to the control to ensure it is ‘right.’ Here that’s not an issue.

Naim Nait XS 3
Naim NAIT XS3 - rear view

More significant perhaps are the internal differences. Unlike the Supernait 3, the XS3 does not have a Dynamic Regulator section of the preamp power supply. These have been trickling down from the flagship Statement pre and power but currently stop at the Supernait 3. Some of the isolation arrangements that the larger amp benefits from are also missing.  How much this matters to you will depend in no small part how much £1,300 means to you. Both Naim integrateds are from the traditional school of design and will need source equipment to function and, £1,300 buys a fair amount of that.

There are some aesthetic differences though. Let me go on record and repeat that as far I am concerned, the Supernait 3 just looks ‘right.’ In the metal, it combines proportions and design to great effect. It manages to convey that it is not inconsequentially expensive, without being showy or vulgar. The XS3 has the same building blocks as the Supernait 3 but uses the slimline casework shared with the Si. On a purely subjective level, I don’t think it looks as smart as its big brother. The proportions are a little less assured and the aesthetic is less convincing. The reduced height means that the RCA connections are arranged on their side which is less easy to wire blind. It would be a stretch to call the XS3 ugly though and it is every bit as well made as the bigger amp.

Of course, like the bigger amp, it faces some stiff competition from other Naim devices even before other brands are considered. At £2,200, the XS3 is £1,400 less expensive than the Uniti Star but that £1,400 has to be spread quite thin to cover off the functionality that the Uniti offers and it won’t cover the asking price of the ND5 XS2. Naim argues - reasonably convincingly - that the audience for these products is different but putting myself into a real world context for a minute, it’s still extremely hard to ignore how talented the current all in one devices are and the value that they represent.    

Naim Nait XS 3
Naim NAIT XS3 - remote control

How was the NAIT XS3 tested?

The XS3 has been used connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner and on a Quadraspire QAVX rack. Partnering equipment has included a Chord Electronics Mojo and Poly and a Hugo2 and 2Go all running as Roon endpoints from a Roon Nucleus, the Auralic Altair G1, the Vertere DG-1 and a Michell Gyrodec with SME M2-9 arm and Nagaoka MP150 moving magnet cartridge. Speakers used have been the Focal Kanta No1, Acoustic Energy AE500, Neat Ministra and Mission ZX-3. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Qobuz, Tidal and some vinyl.

Find out more: Audio Formats - What Does What and What It All Means

Sound Quality

Naim Nait XS 3
Naim NAIT XS3 - side view

Unlike the Supernait family of amps, my time with the NAIT XS family over the years has been more limited. I looked at the original XS many years ago but then never really even listened to the XS2. The XS3 arrived as bit of a blank slate but the continued availability of a Supernait 3 sample helped to get a degree of context to the performance, as did the use of the revealing Kanta No1 for initial testing.

What these devices help to reveal is that the XS3 is able to deliver a number of the refinements to the Naim presentation that we first saw in the Supernait 3. With all of the speakers that I have connected to it, the XS3 manages to create a space and three dimensionality that is hard to reconcile with older Naim devices. The huge sound of So Heavy I fell through the Earth, the opener to Grime’s Miss Anthropocene is delivered with a level of front to back depth that would have felt impossible even with the previous generation of Naim amps. What is interesting about this is that I had, with - I freely concede - little engineering basis, felt that this was down to some of the preamp refinements in the Supernait 3. The XS3 does without some of these changes but still has an openness that is notable.

The key area where the XS3 has to give some ground to its big brother is the bass response. By any normal standard, the XS3 is very good indeed - its time here has included testing it against five amps at a similar price point and it shone in this regard - but where the Supernait manages to have moments of driving some of the speakers used for testing to a point lower than it ‘feels’ the speaker should be able to go, the XS3 simply drives them to a point you might more reasonably expect them to bottom out.

Naim Nait XS 3
Naim NAIT XS3 - inputs, rear

Outside of this, the XS3 continues to demonstrate virtues that are cut from the same cloth as its bigger brother. The phono stage has the same tonal consistency and linear gain that it does on the bigger amp (and partnered with the Vertere, the result is genuinely one of the best quasi affordable analogue combinations I have listened to in a long time). It is still free from unwanted noise and as effortlessly propulsive as it was elsewhere and good enough to work with a decent selection of similarly priced turntables. I would also say that the headphone amp - while still feeling occasionally short on headroom - feels more at home in an amp that costs £2,200 than one at £3,500.

Then, there’s the more intangible element. Crucially, the XS3 retains the character that the brand has worked so hard to cultivate. It is fast, dynamic and unfailingly good fun. It is important to stress that these qualities don’t mean it is simply some sort of ‘rock weapon’ (unfailingly good though it might be at that). My time with the XS3 coincided with discovering the work of modern classicist Poppy Ackroyd. Listening to her work Quail on the XS3 is a joy because it’s so wonderfully immediate. The dynamics of her looped strings and clever percussive sounds positively leap out of the mix. It positively fizzles with energy and used with speakers like the Acoustic Energy AE500 or Neat Ministra that respond to this energy makes for a sublime listening experience.

It is also important to stress that it is one that is free from fatigue or aggression too. One of the very first products I ever reviewed was a 152 XS Pre and 155 XS Power combo over a decade ago. This combination had the same excitement and punch available but there were times when listening to more delicate material that it felt as though it didn’t want to do it and was throwing the material at you rather than presenting it correctly. To listen to the XS3 is to experience a product that has retained the enthusiasm but learned the art of control while it does so.

Verdict

Pros

  • Sounds brilliant with a wide selection of material
  • Very well made
  • Useful feature set

Cons

  • Not quite as potent as the Supernait 3
  • Crowded rear connections
  • Faces stiff competition from all-in-one rivals

Naim NAIT XS3 Integrated Amplifier Review

For the avoidance of any and all doubt, the Naim Supernait 3 is the best integrated amplifier that Naim makes. It takes what made the preceding Supernaits so compelling and proceeds to make it ever better. If I reviewed it again tomorrow, I’d write the same things. What I would also now have to take into account is the existence of its precocious little brother.

Simply put, the XS3 is £1,300 cheaper than the Supernait 3 and, while value is subjective, I don’t feel that the gap between the two amplifiers is as big as that gap in pricing is. It would buy a Chord Qutest or a significant chunk of an Auralic Altair G1 and give you a system that offered truly sparking performance (and would not require you to look at significantly different speakers to partner them). In this case, the middle product is one that feels like a slimmed back version of the flagship, only one where that slimming back feels, at times, of no consequence. Even against the all-conquering Unitis, it feels like it does more to justify its existence. The NAIT XS3 is an absolute star and an unquestionable Best Buy at the asking price.  

Best Buy

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of use

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Audio quality

.
9

Value for money

.
9

Overall

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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