The Naim Nova Review. End Game Integrated Potential?
By Steve Huff
It’s been an amazing time for audio and us HiFi enthusiasts over these last few years. So many cutting edge products that blur the lines between cost vs performance are among us, and one of those pieces is the Naim Nova. It’s a product that is not cheap at $6000 but I will argue that it’s well worth the cost to those who love music and enjoy high quality music reproduction without worrying about matching gear like DAC’s, Pre Amps, Streamers or even cables. This Nova has all one needs built in besides speaker cables and speakers and it’s optimized to deliver the Naim kind of vibe with an ease of use rarely seen in this world.
My daily routine? Wake up, make my coffee, listen to music in my listening seat while I write for a while, then shower and get to the rest of my day. This is daily. Then usually at around 11pm I settle in for some serious listening, once everyone else here is fast asleep. I usually go for 2-3 hours and then hit the bed, ready to do it all again the next day. Sounds boring to some, but during these Covid times it’s the best I have come up with and with review units starting to trickle in here and there, I am enjoying it all immensely.
From Atom to Nova. What ARE The differences where it matters?
Not so long ago I reviewed the lovely Naim Atom and said it could be my “HiFi Product of the Last 20 years”! Yea, I found it that impressive. Not because it is the best performing integrated in audio ever, but because it is the best piece of HiFi I have ever experienced within that price range and even up to $5-7K. We are talking of a $3300 all in one with the Atom, and for that money you will not find better for an all in one solution. Massive value for the money with that Atom.
The Atom and the Nova that I am going to write about below, are in all reality, fully integrated amps that feature all one needs to get listening to some high end beautiful music. Music with rhythm, drive, punch, space, imaging and all of the things that make a great system sound phenomenal. I have to stress right now that this will far surpass any receiver and especially any AV receiver you may find at any big chain electronics store, even one that sets you back a few grand will not touch the Naim pieces for sound quality and overall general quality.
This Nova is on a level that has it hang in the company of some impressive names in HiFi. It is made by Naim after all, an audiophile legend. These pieces are not dumbed down, or less than integrated amplifiers we may see from Luxman, Levinson, Devialet and others who are associated with really high end performance. In other words, the Naim Uniti range is high end in build, in sound, in features (though not UBER high end) and in its ability to seduce you with its design and ease of use, and yes, even the sound which is what it is all about. BTW, I have been listening to the Nova side by side with my ($20,000 more expensive) L2i SE integrated amp, from Vinnie Rossi. No, the Nova can not beat my L2i SE for sound or build but can it get close when it comes to sound? It can, but again, it is vastly different in its presentation. Even so, my L2i SE is going nowhere for many reasons ; )
I only Review what I love
If an audio piece sounds sterile, flat, dull or boomy it can never recreate that magic from the music we feed said piece. I avoid this kind of gear, and do not review bad value pieces. Bad reviews? I do not like to waste my time on things I do not enjoy. So when I review a piece of gear, it means I really like or love it. When I get a piece of audio gear to try out..if I feel it’s not worth the cost it never gets mentioned by me. Same for cameras. I love Leica but for example, feel their new rumored M strays from the M philosophy. I wouldn’t want one even if it was $1k vs the $8k it will cost, if rumors are true. With audio gear it’s the same, so you will not see me hyping products that I do not 100% love.
The Nova brings the Goods
The Naim Nova is the highest offering in the Uniti line from Naim. It starts with the Atom, moves to the Star (which includes a CD burner) and the Nova, which offers the most refinement, power and best parts built inside to bring what the Atom offers and taking up several notches.
Atom: Fun but SERIOUS. At only 40 WPC of Class A/B it felt more like double that. Even so, this little guy shocked me for what it offered and did for the money. Crustal clarity, superb instrument separation and even some rendering of textures that I never heard in an all in one at this price level. No big fat sound here, more of a fast, punchy, lively rhythmic sound which is NICE. Bass can be on the light side with some speakers, so choose the pairing wisely. The Atom rocks with Klipsch Heresy IV’s.
Star: Versatility with CD burner. Not the same transformer as the Nova below but it does bring 70 WPC in class A/B. I was not able to try the Star.
Nova: Audiophile Quality Refined, more pronounced Bass. Better parts inside (transformer) and most power. 80 WPC Class A/B that I feel can drive most speakers made today. This one sounds sweet and with more punch than the Atom as well as digging deeper into the recordings. A smoother yet more defined soundstage over the Atom as well.
The Nova is almost double the cost of the Atom but brings a better transformer, and more power. It brings a larger case, and inputs that are more versatile and easier to get to. It’s a bit warmer in sound as well as having an ability to paint a larger musical image than the Atom.
When the Nova arrived I was evaluating (and enjoying) the B&W 705 S2 speakers that I have been getting addicted to, pushing aside the Special 40’s. After listening side by side with several other speakers these 705 s2’s stood out for so many reasons as being my favorite bookshelf speakers (so far) with not only the Naim but the Vinnie Rossi. See my 705 S2 review HERE.
Yep, I preferred the 705 S2 sound over the Dynaudio Special 40’s, Dynaudio Emit 10, Klipsch Cornwall IV, and some lower end Elacs I have here for comparisons. It took me hours (over a few days) to set them up and get them locked in, but when they were dialed in they truly wowed me by taking anything I fed them with and making it sound simply magical. They are the only bookshelf speaker I have had in my listening room for the last 10 years that do well with everything from jazz to rock to metal to new age to classical to vocal. I find it liberating that I can jam some Led Zeppelin, Megadeath and then move over to Dean Martin or Agnes Obel with almost no compromise. Others have gotten close but these just have that sound that I associate with the sound in my head. I’m sure there are other speakers that can do this in my room, but they cost much more than the $3000 that these go for. So for now, these 705’s have stolen my heart even if they are $3000 speakers from B&W that are made in China rather than the UK. I just can not bring myself to take these out of the system!
If I can be honest, what this system really showed me was that I do not need to spend more than the cost of the Nova on an integrated amp, as for me, this is as just about as good as it gets in my room. Notice I said “Just About”. Sure, it has met or exceeded many more expensive pieces all while bringing a musical flow to my room that I have never quite experienced before I tried the Naim gear yet it can not reach the depths of my L2i SE. Even so, do we need to reach those depths or is just listening to beautifully reproduced music enough? For most of us, it is more than enough to reach 85% of an apex for 1/5th the cost. ; )
With that said, my Vinnie Rossi L2i SE excels over the Nova with deeper tighter bass, more warmth, refinement, holographic imaging and depth. It’s like a tube SET amp with balls and such a deep silence and lack of noise music appears to emerge from space. Nothing like it exists on earth as it uses DHT tubes in the pre amp. So my Vinnie is special and for it’s price it better damn well be. With that said, I prefer the Naim Nova to most other integrated amps I adored here from Luxman, Devialet, Line Magnetic and others. It’s not just all about the sound though as I admit, there are other amps for this cost that can sound better but you do not get a streamer or a dac with them. Rather the freedom one gains from something like the Nova is part of the magic. All in one, and all optimized to work well together means it’s going to sound very good. But to be clear, after days of side by side, my Vinnie Rossi is going nowhere and as good as the Nova is, it can not replace my L2i SE as I am an obsessed audio guy who now has a bond to the L2i SE. It does deliver after all, the best sound I have ever had in my room. ; ) The Nova is up there though, and for much less cash outlay.
REALITY CHECK: The fact that I can even compare these two pieces shows just how special the Nova is ($6,000 vs $26,000).
The Naim Sound
I have always read about Naim from those who have discovered them well before I did. Naim has a solid following and now I know why that is. The Atom and the Nova are the most musical high end integrated amplifiers I have ever tested up to about $10,000. That says A LOT. What I mean by most “musical” is that they just have an effortless flow and do not exaggerate anything while bringing music into your space. It just flows like water from a faucet. You can’t stop it once it starts and it does so with ease and grace and without restriction.
There is sparkle but that brings life to quite a bit of music. There is a wide soundstage and imaging though it’s not cut out or defined as it is with some higher end pieces. For comparison, my L2i SE paints a much broader picture. Like it’s using a thick brush where the Naim uses a thinner brush to paint the sonic landscape. The Rossi brings more trails to the notes, as if they hang in space for a smidgen more than the Nova, which presents an image that is thinner in the midrange vs the Rossi and presents the music as it is rather than what it could be.
There’s some weight to the sound but it will not be mid bass heavy or even full sounding, as the Nova does not exaggerate any frequency. There is sweetness in the highs and a deep solid musical bass that fills out the hollowness some amps or integrated amps can bring. The Uniti line has the same “Naim House Sound” that is in their higher end separate pieces and what a beautiful sound it is. Spacious, wall to wall, layered and did I say SWEET? My L2i SE brings a bigger soundstage that is deeper and higher and more 3D but the Naim for $20,000 less brings more fluidity and energy.
The beauty of the Naim Nova is that it is a plug and play device. Just power it up, hook up an ethernet cable to it (or go wireless), add some speaker cables and speakers and let it update the firmware. Bam. You now have a complete all in one but this one doesn’t sound like one of those cheap all in ones. It sounds as good as most high end amps I have had through my listening room. Sounds better than some, and different of course but if I could sum it up in one word it would be “complete”. Lacking in nothing sound wise or feature wise.
There is no need for any added accessories unless you want to use ROON, in which case I would suggest a Roon Nucleus or a DIY version. I have a Nucleus (my review) and love it as I can use it direct into my Vinnie Rossi L2i SE DAC and use it as my core for ROON. I have become a huge fan of ROON, and can not go back to using basic apps anymore. For me, it’s Roon for life with my digital music!
My setup for this review is simple:
$15 Ethernet cable
B&W 705 S2 Speakers
Nordost Blue Heaven Speaker Cables
Raven Audio Power Cord (so worth the small cost)
My $26,000 Vinnie Rossi for comparison.
To be clear… I have no audio advertisers here, no sponsored posts are allowed here and no affiliate links to audio dealers. If I recommend something here, it’s because I truly adore it and feel it is worth it’s cost. So you can rest easy knowing I am not motivated by sales or money here and am not “selling” you on something to make a quick buck for myself. I make nothing from these audio reviews. Sucks for me, but works better for you who read them.
Back to the Naim Nova. It’s a beauty and can power so many speakers and offer so many flavors depending on speaker choice.
You heard me say the Nova offers a punchy sound, it does. But it is not mid bass heavy or even full in the mids when compared to the L2i SE. So for example listening to the latest Norah Jones release, the Nova renders the scene with a thinner mid bass which means Norah’s voice is thinner and set back a tad. On the Rossi her voice is full, larger and floats in front of the speakers, right in the middle. I much prefer the Rossi here but when I switch over to something like Jewel’s “Family Tree” track the Nova brings the clarity/sparkle to the acoustic guitar strings, and her voice sounds heavenly and sweet. The Rossi made her vocals a bit warmer and larger but I lose out on some of that excitement in the strings. Billy Idol’s “Kings and Queens of the Underground” is a gorgeous track by the long lasting punk rocker, one of my faves from him of all time. A retrospect of his life, fame and fall.
On the Nova this track is so clear I was hearing those things I never heard before. Layers of instruments, a haunting solid center vocal where I could hear the weathered Idol’s voice still trying it’s best to rock out (and he does). On the Rossi, this is larger, more organic and more 3D. It envelopes me within the performance. The Nova has me swaying and enjoying the performance as it has more energy to it. I enjoy both presentations but some would say the Nova sounds thin in comparison. That’s it though, when comparing it direct it sort of does but on it’s own without that comparison you would not notice it. Those who put clarity and pace above all would choose the Naim. Those who put warmth and substance above all else would prefer the Rossi. The Rossi brings the “Human Touch” where the Naim brings the Boogie. But again, I stress…the Naim Nova is $6000 retail and my Vinnie Rossi as it is retails for $26,000. I enjoy both immensely.
While the naim is also word class for what it offers, you can get better if you spend a lot more, and you will need to spend ALOT more to better it. It’s easy with everything inside working effortlessly together and it offers features such as the LCD to display album art, being able to be used as a Roon endpoint, being able to stream almost anything to it that you can imagine and it sounds truly high end to boot.
No tweaks needed. No obsessing over tweaks or what you could improve. It’s not meant for that. It’s a plug and play that is also a true high end audio piece. This means no headaches, no stress, no worry about your system. With 70 watts of class A/B power on tap, it will and can drive most speakers very well. It drives the 705 S2 very well once you give them some volume, and these are not an easy load to drive.
So yet again we have a very special piece of HiFi that I feel is worth every penny of that $6000 it costs. It can indeed be an end game for 95% of music lovers. The only ones who want more are those who want to tweak, make changes to a DAC or Pre Amp. The obsessive audiophiles. If you just want amazing sounding music, and you do not want to worry about cables, DACS, tubes, pre amps, or streamers then the Naim Nova is it. You can’t get better for this money. The class A/B 80 Watt amp section delivers that sweet organic sound that is smooth, wide, and realistic with vocals that can be scary real at times. It has a musical flow that is never harsh or edgy or digital sounding. It has punch and drive, even with my hard to drive speakers.
During my time comparing it to the Vinnie Rossi the only issue it gave me was that the gorgeous display screen would go black at times. That meant no album art, nor the volume would display. A quick restart fixed the issue but it happened three times over 10 days. I wold hope Naim is working on a firmware update to fix this issue as I have read others who have been seeing the same issue. Other than that not one issue or hiccup and for me, that issue is fixable so not a deal breaker. The sound, and the complete package this Nova offers make it worth the occasional restart if need be.
Basically this is like the Atom on steroids. Bigger in size, bigger in sound, bigger in power and bigger in cost. Both are highly recommended by me, and even with the Nova here I still could be happy with just an Atom and some speakers like these $500 wonders HERE. Good times, good sound. No need to spend a fortune ; )
As for operating the Nova, you can read my Atom review HERE which goes over the basics of these pieces. They are the same in operation and how they work. They use the same display, same connections (though the Nova brings more inputs and outs as well as nicer layout of these I’s and O’s), same remote, etc. The beauty of the Naim Atom, Star and Nova is that you can stream Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz on their own, using their own apps. You can use the Naim app to control them all in one place. You can use Roon for all of your streaming and serving of music from hard drives. You can hook up a hard drive to the USB port on the back of the Nova and stream music from that. It has chrome cast built in, as well as Spotify connect. Airplay as well. Hook up a turntable with a phono pre amp and it sounds gorgeous. All of this is here and it’s easy as pie to connect and play anything.
I use mine with Spotify connect and Roon when I want to stream Tidal and Qobuz. I have a hard drive with a couple thousand songs that is plugged into the mix so it’s all easy to access. The Naim app, which is not needed but is useful, has been improved over the years and while it’s not as feature rich as some, it’s useful and gets the job done if that is what you end up using.
Either way, doesn’t get easier or cooler than these Naim pieces which allow you to step into true HiFi sound without any worry or stress about matching up gear. The Nova is one of the best pieces I have had the pleasure of using and testing and I can not stop listening when it’s on. A strong sign of a truly great integrated amplifier.