The Naim Supernait 3. It has a Soul.
By Steve Huff
My Video Review of the Supernait 3
The Pass has been my favorite integrated for a long while now and while I have not heard everything that is out there, I have yet to find something that offers up a better sound for my tastes.
The Naim Supernait 3 Integrated Amp
I was recently sent a Naim Supernait 3 to check out from The Music Room (tmraudo.com). I was asked to listen to it for a while, and review if I liked it enough to do so. In the past I have reviewed the lower cost Naim pieces like the Naim Atom and Naim Nova. I loved those pieces but as this hobby does, they moved on as I heard pieces that had better synergy with my speakers.
I used to really enjoy those all in one pieces as they had beauty and boogie. Just hook up your speakers and plug it in. Simple and sleek.
My First Naim Experience was Circa 2000-2001
Many years ago at an audio shop in Phoenix AZ (I believe was called “Audio Nuts”) I had my first Naim experience. It was with an early Naim integrated called the 5i. It was setup with some small speakers that were made to be used with it and it sounded so full, so palpable, so musical. Wasn’t about imaging, soundstage or wow moments but rather it was about a palpable musicality. Music you can almost seem to touch and feel.
At that time I could not afford more audio gear that I already had but I did think about that integrated from time to time, even going back to the shop to hear it again and again.
The 5i was the first Naim piece I have ever heard. It made a lasting impression in me way back then.
Sadly the owner of that shop passed away in a freak accident at the Grand Canyon, and the shop was closed down. It was sad as he was such an amazingly nice guy who had an extreme passion for what he was doing. It was a shock to me when I heard the news.
After that I was not able to hear another Naim piece as there were no dealers local to me at that time. None that I knew of anyway.
I always had that memory of that sweet full and dense sound of the little Naim. Back then I remember thinking “this sounds more soulful than what I have at home”. I loved the simple style and muted green lights. It was classy in looks and sound.
The Supernait 2
When the flagship Naim integrated called the Supernait 2 came out, I was not looking for any more audio gear as I was happy with what I had at the time. Even so, I did get a change to check it out and hear what its was all about. I really enjoyed it but it was a time when I could not buy any new gear, so I did not get overly invested in the audition. I kept telling myself…“I can not afford this, so there is no chance Steve”.
Even so it was very nice indeed and retained that signature sound I remembered from the little 5i. Musical, beefy, and while not excelling in all out transparency it had that something special about it. The Bass was all over the soundstage yet at the same time the treble was just sparkly enough to make things very “right”. It was extremely musical and brought me back to that day at the Audio Nuts store. It was charming indeed.
The Supernait 3
When the Supernait 3 came out in 2019 just a few years ago it did catch my interest as the reviews were all pretty stellar. I read up on it back at launch and boy did it sound like a pretty sweet integrated amp. I also remember thinking that there was no way that little skinny box could beat what I had at the time!
This HiFi thing is not only a hobby, but also a game of “find what works”. That game can get expensive, and frustrating at times but it’s all part of the journey. You guys know what I am talking about here. It’s also part of the fun of this hobby.
So here we are in September of 2022. The present day.
I finally have the chance to review the Naim Supernait 3. I was excited to finally settle down and hear Naim’s flagship integrated. I also figured there was no way it could compete with the big Pass Labs XA 60.8 monos and XP-22 pre I have here. I was curious to see how it sounded compared to the little Enleum AMP-23R I adore so much. To be honest I did not think it would compete with either of those two.
Well, I was wrong. SPOILER.
So wrong in fact that this integrated has now become my #1 favorite integrated amplifier for sound, surpassing pieces costing double and even triple its price in this area for my likes. It does compete with the big guns as well, if and only if you like the sound it produces. I do because that sound is effortless, substantial, beefy and also brings forth qualities I have yet to hear in any other amplifier.
I tested the amp with four sets of speakers. My Fleetwood Deville SQ, the Klipsch Heresy IV, the Buchardt S400 MKII and the little inexpensive Emotiva B2+. It made all of them play beautiful music, in that unique Naim way. I will explain much more in this review, so sit back, relax and settle in.
The Supernait 3 is not perfect though, and I have a couple of nitpicks about the way some of the design choices were made. Even so, these do not effect the sound of this amp in any way nor are they dealbreakers. Maybe in some weird way it adds to the charm of this very unique black box.
When the package arrived from The Music Room (who is an authorized dealer for Naim) it was shortly after I received the HiFi Rose RA180 Integrated from them to review. You know, the one that looks like a steampunk Nagra Swiss army knife? These two integrated amps could not be more different in looks and sound.
The HiFi ROSE RA180 is unique in design for sure!
The Rose is Blingy, the Naim is classy.
The Rose is Class D (or AD) and the Naim has a Class A preamp stage and a class A/B (Maybe it is class B, I am not 100%) amp stage.
The Rose has all kinds of tweak-able features. The Naim is pretty basic besides its built in phono stage.
The Rose has a wide open transparent sound that leans to the brighter side of neutral. The Naim has a density and big power to the sound and sounds bigger and more present.
These pieces look different and well, they also sound wildly different. Which one you prefer would be up to your tastes and the synergy with your gear and eye.
I will say that the Rose is more transparent and brings up a wider soundstage. It sounds more “audiophile” though it does have some of the Class D character that is evident when you listen for a couple of hours. Class D can be phenomenal for so many reasons but I have found that after a coupe of hours I often times tire of the sound. With some music, some Class D amps can sound thin or dull. That has been my experience so far but the Rose RA180 is indeed the best Class D I have heard to date and I am still evaluating it.
The Naim on the other hand is quite simply the most beautiful music making integrated amp I have ever heard. I can not believe it took me this long to hear this piece.
One more thing, this integrated amp is all analog. There are no digital inputs and no built in DAC. It is old school in that sense but also designed for maximum sound quality. I love integrated that are not full off fluff as the sound usually is a bit nicer without other electronics stuffed inside of the box. When you include a DAC inside that means it will become outdated within 3-4 years. Leaving the DAC out allows us to pick and choose the DAC we like best. That’s a win for the SN3.
Being such a slim design this thing really packs some weight at about 30lbs. It’s heavy for its size but not crazy heavy like some others. It is substantial in build and nothing about this piece looks cheap or feels cheap. That is because it is not. Naim uses quality parts inside of this amp and even isolates the electronics from the massive toroidal transformer (that is made in Ireland) to avoid noise or buzzing, and it works.
This amp is silent as a mouse after the initial power up. During power up you will hear the transformer buzz a teeny bit but after 10 seconds it delves down into complete silence.
The dials and buttons feel better than what I have seen on some integrated that cost $12k or more. I remember having a McIntosh MA8000 and one of the cheap plastic knobs fell off. That was a $10k + amp and the dials felt sort of cheap to me. I loved that integrated at the time but for the money it seemed a little overpriced for the parts they used (the dials and switches).
Keep in mind the Supernait 3 retails for $5600 and Naim has been at this audio thing since 1973. They have their fans, their detractors and those who are obsessed with the Naim sound. Some say Naim is like a cult, but that is not the case at all. It’s beloved by those who love the sound because there is nothing else like this Naim sound.
UH OH! Quirk #1.
When I placed the SN3 on my cabinet I was confused as the speaker inputs are backwards. Meaning, when you face the amp, typically the left speaker cables will go on the left side inputs and vice versa. Here, they are swapped and you must criss cross the cables to put them in (see the video at the top for details on that). I found this to be very strange indeed and have no idea why this was done in this way. To me it is a design flaw though not a fatal one. The right inputs should be on the right side, right? Not a problem but I found it strange.
That was one of the things I did not like. It does not effect the sound but I wish these were swapped to the correct position.
The speaker inputs will also only accept banana plugs and they were too small for my very heavy Cardas Clear Reflection cables. I was afraid the big cables would damage the little inputs so for the evaluation I pulled out my Nordost Blue Heaven LS that I have had for years. I enjoy these cables as they are a bit more airy and open from the Cardas but they lose out a bit on the Cardas golden glow. Even so, not an issue as these differences are minor in the grand scheme of things, I enjoy them both. The Nordost are a touch more open and detailed, the Cardas fuller, richer but also a touch darker.
I found that I preferred the Blue Heaven with the Naim and even my $39 cables sounded sublime with this setup. Yes, I highly recommend these $39 cables. They are fantastic.
The input jacks will not do well with heavy speaker cables, so those with big fat heavy cables should maybe look elsewhere unless you want to swap to lighter cables.
After I set up the speaker cables I plugged in my now reference DAC, the DCS Lina and Lina Clock. The Naim Supernait does not allow for XLR cables so it’s only RCA or their preferred DIN connectors (when hooking up to other Naim gear). Seeing that I have a variety of RCA cables I decided to use my Cardas Clear Reflection for the connection to the DAC and even a a $500 Fluance Turntable.
Once that was done it was setup and ready to rock and roll.
I set the volume to a low setting and noticed one more thing I disliked. The balance control. Why do we need this in 2022? What would we need a balance control for in a $5600 integrated amp?
Looks wise It’s nice and is the same size dial with subtle green light as the volume but there is no center click stop. This means if you are off just a touch you will not have an even signal from left to right. It is really necessary for imaging and soundstage to have equal volume from both sides. I set it to the middle by eyeballing it the best I could but I wish they had a click stop for the center to give one confidence that they are in the right spot.
Again, not a dealbreaker as once set you will not have to change it. I must have set it to correctly to the center as the music was lovely without any balance issues. I just do not understand why we need a balance control on this amp.
Built in MM Phono Stage
The Supernait 3 also has a built in Moving Magnet phono stage and from past experience these “built ins” are usually subpar and lacking in drive, bass and tonality. I did hook up a basic turntable to it to start out with. It’s a lovely punch way above its weight budget table from Fluance. For the money it’s a great table that looks great and sounds great with included cartridge. You can see it HERE.
So I was all set up for streaming through the Lina DAC and playing some vinyl with the $500 Fluance.
I like to stream with Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz as sometimes a combo sounds just as good with Spotify as it does Tidal. Not all high res music sounds superior to CD quality! I believe that music is about the music, not so much what bitrate it streams at. There are times I prefer the Spotify stream to the Tidal stream, and vice versa.
I started with Spotify connect playing some music I know well from Strand of Oaks’s album called “In Heaven”. The first song called “Galacticana” is a treat as it expands to the boundaries of the walls in a well setup system. In the right system this can sound very 3D as well. The guitars can be heard in detail along with a very gorgeous and full recording quality. In a nice system this track is huge, wide open and magical.
When I cued it up I was very surprised by what I heard. I have heard this song with a few amps and integrated amps yet I never heard it like this. In fact it usually sounds close to the same with every amp I have tried it with.
With the SN3 I said “WOW” as it was absolutely gorgeous. I will try and explain the sound as best I can.
There was a palpable presence to the music that reminded me of that first experience with Naim and the little starter integrated back in 2000, but it was so much bigger and so much better.
It was somewhat transparent but perfectly done and not overdone. There was a sweetness to every instrument and it sounded as if every sound, vocal and instrument was beefed up a bit, yet all was separated perfectly. Bass was present within the entire soundstage and it had a lower midcentric focus that plumped up the sound, but in no way was it sloppy, bloated, slow or muffled. It was clear as a bell but sweet and full. This was a very soulful rendition of this song I have heard so many times. The guitars were not so much in my face but they were ever so present with a solidity and crispness to them.
There was indeed a holographic soundstage. Not quite to the level of the Pass Labs XA 60.8 and XP22 but it was close yet different. In fact, in this system with my Deville SQ’s (I dare to say) sounded better overall than even the Pass Stack to my ears! It’s that synergy thing again. The Pass is amazing but it’s a little more delicate and not as powerful and present as the Naim with the Deville SQ’s.
The Naim has body and mid bass that fills out the music, making it sound like real music rather than thin versions of music. The Pass does this as well but the Naim brings music forth that feels and sounds palpable, real, alive.
The Naim also has a feeling of power and sounds more powerful than even the 200/400WPC HiFi Rose RA180 I have here. It’s that transformer at work. The Naim and drums are incredible. Drums are tough to reproduce with impact, dynamics and dynamic range. The Naim has that dynamic range, the ability to go rom soft to loud in an instant. This means drums will kick you in the chest if you dare to turn it up. Live performances sound very ALIVE with the Naim.
Some expensive audiophile amps are so refined that when you turn them up high they sound bigger rather than louder, but sometimes these amps do not covey the impact of drums or guitars as well. The Naim goes loud and even with the volume at 9AM 0n the dial I was hearing that impact, drive and effortless sound. It is incredible that such a small little amp can deliver this much impact with body, soul and detail.
The Naim has a soul.
No matter what I played it was extremely pleasing to the ear with a toe tapping fullness and beautiful treble. Sure, really bad recordings will not transform into magic here, but they sound better than they do on other amps I have listened to.
The treble of the Naim… it was ever so present and just right. Not sharp at all but it also wasn’t even close to dull. I would say it was tamer than the Enleum AMP 23R but quite a bit more sparkly and present than the Pass Labs, which is more laid back (The XA 60.8). The INT-250 from Pass has a more sparkly treble and is more comparable to the Naim, but it doesn’t have the same midrange sound as the Naim, nor the density in the treble.
The Naim was just “sweet” and that is the best word I can use to describe it. There was chime and yet it never overstepped the boundaries crossing into fatigue territory. Amazing.
This integrated amplifier puts out 80 WPC into 8 ohms and 130 WPC into 4ohms. Some will say “that is not enough power” and to that I say HOGWASH. This amp sounds more powerful than even the HiFi Rose RA180 and that is a wattage beast. This amp delivers that current because of the power supply and quality parts throughout. It is not a more powerful amp on paper but this thing sounds big, badass and in control.
It drove every speaker I have here with ease, but the speakers I have here are quite easy to drive (though the Buchardt’s are 88db). I have a thing for easy to drive speakers as they always sound effortless and with the Naim, effortless is a key word here. Music just melted from the speakers in an extremely musical way. Instruments have weight and come out into the soundstage as they should. For example, listening to a beautiful Piano aldbumby Stephan Moccio called “Lionheart” had me at attention through the entire album.
When the piano was gentle, it sounded gentle. When he hit the keys with force, the instrument would swell and come forward a bit making me feel that force. This is a beautiful album and I enjoyed listening to every track in one sitting during a late night listening session. This showcases the dynamic range of the Naim. These same tracks with the Rose, Enleum and even Pass do not have this kind of soft to loud transitions, not this dramatic.
I ended up buying this album at Amazon. I like to support artists when I find a good piece of work that I enjoy.
The preamp output stage of the SN3 is Class A as is the built in Headphone amp. Yep, it even has a head amp built in. I think this Class A preamp out really adds to the sweetness and “just right” sound to the music.
In fact it’s quite a large and powerful sounding piece with dynamics, energy, gusto and as I said already, soul. Some may say the mid bass is a touch full but after hearing this next to other modern day integrated amps I would say that this is how it is supposed to be.
Music to me sounds better with a solid foundation. It sounds richer and more soulful when it focuses on more than the treble and upper mid details. It sounds better when it is not trying to sound impressive and wow out of the gate. It is this that brings the big impact to the drums and allowing the full weight of the Piano to come through.
This is a natural sound that touches that emotional part of your brain. As you can tell, I was REALLY liking this integrated.
As for details, this is not the master of micro and macro details that float in space. In fact the Pass does that better as does the Enleum and Rose. The Pass in a gentle way, the Enleum in an energetic way and the Rose in a more analytical way. The Naim does this but in a more subdued way.
I could listen to this integrated for 24 hours straight and not get bored or fatigued. That is not easy to do! In fact day after day as I listened I wondered if I would tire of the sound. I never did but what did happen was that the more I listened the more I fell deeper and deeper into the sound.
Making The Swap to the Buchardt S400 MKII
After a few days I took the Deville’s out and placed in the Buchardt S400 II’s (my review here). I am very familiar with how these sound with the Enleum AMP 23R and the Pass Labs gear. They are really fantastic speakers for the money and I do not believe one can do better for what they cost. They look amazing and sound fantastic for their size.
When I fired them up with the Naim they sounded fuller than they did with the Enluem. There was also a presence and again, that palpable realism, that soul, that beauty I adore so much.
The mid bass was fuller and the speakers were warmer than when I had the Enleum hooked up to them. Depending on your tastes you may prefer one over the other. If you prefer big and dynamic with warm mids, plump bass with sweet treble the Naim is the ticket. If you prefer speed, a more wide open sound that is more exciting and more detailed, the Enleum is the way to go. There is no “best” here, nor is there a “right of wrong”.
After a couple days with the S400 I’s I brought over my Klipsch Heresy IV’s and again, a great match up. The Heresy’s are loud, proud and full of life. They are not the most refined sound when compared to my Deville’s or the S400’s but they sound very alive with the Naim and again, the bass was filling in more than with other amps. The Heresy IV’s are a touch brighter than my other speakers but the Naim handled these well.
As for Dynaudio? The Naim is often paired with Dynaudio at shows, and they are a superb synergistic match. Yes, these will drive the Heritage Special and Special 40’s without issue.
IMAGING and SOUNDSTAGE
The imaging of the Naim is fantastic. It is more natural than surgical so you will not have those instruments floating in space far into the room. The Pass Labs does this better as does the HiFi Rose 180 but after really comparing these carefully the Naim sounds, dare I say it, more musical and groovy.
The SN3 sounds more natural as it doesn’t worry about separating each instrument in an analytical way like the Rose. It does so in a way that is very pleasing and again, lets you focus on the music while allowing you to hear each instrument clearly but they are not separated in an exaggerated way.
The soundstage is wide and has some depth but again, it is not overdone. It is beautiful to hear and unlike any other integrated I have heard. It’s as if the goal of Naim was extreme pleasing musicality. It does detail, air, holographic 3D soundstage but it’s done tastefully and on a smaller scale than some of the more audiophile amps. This makes the music sound realistic.
The best way I can simplify the sound of the SN3 is that it sounds like real flesh and blood artists performing for you. It’s as if you can feel the sweat and energy of the performers. Dynamics, energy, detail and a fullness at the same time. The bass is extraordinary. If you like bass, check this integrated out.
As I sit and listen I can imagine easily what the more pricey seperates from Naim must sound like. I can only guess but my guess is that they are more refined, more audiophile and even bigger sounding still.
As it is though, the Supernait 3 is all one would really ever need unless you are going down the rabbit hole of curiosity and perfection. It really is that good and kept me up until sun up on more than one occasion. Just listening and enjoying the Naim sound.
Let me be clear.
If you love fast, detail, and surgical imaging this is not your amp. If you prefer ultra see through transparency, this is not your amp. The Enelum and Rose do indeed do these things better.
If you just love music and want to hear the soul of the music without spending 5 figures to get there, the Naim is going to be hard to beat. Heck as I hinted at earlier, this sounds better to me than some amps that cost triple its price. It does deserve a decent DAC as the better you supply it with the music, the better it will sound, but you can add a better DAC years down the road. That’s the beauty of not having one inside.
Let’s Spin Some Vinyl.
I had my budget Fluance table and Ortofon Blue cart that it shipped with all setup and ready to spin some records. Truth be told I have soured a bit on vinyl in the past few months due to the cost of everything these days. I decided to invest more in to my digital front end which is how I ended up with the DCS Lina setup. Even so, I still have records and three tables of varying prices but ni longer buy expensive albums. I also can enjoy the lower cost tables as much as the pricey ones.
I started with the $500 Fluance.
When I started playing a live LP from Eva Cassidy I was impressed. I expected the thin sound that I usually get from built in phono stages. Nope, this was big, detailed and mighty impressive. For a built in preamp this is remarkable. I mean, it is really good for being a built in deal. It will not beat a nice $2k dedicated phono pre, and it is limited to MM and high output moving coil carts but for most of us, this would be more than good enough. You would have to spend at least $2k to best this built in.
After a couple of days I swapped the $500 table for a Technics 1210G with a Sumiko Amethyst MM cart. Ahhhh, this was heavenly my friends.
It was alive, had presence and energy but still had that fullness and sweetness. This was insane to me that the built in stage was this good. I also have a couple of Pass Labs phono pre-amps here that could do even better but with a unit like the SN3, it is meant to be enjoyed as is I think. For those who can be happy with a simple MM cartridge : )
I am bowled over by this unassuming integrated amp. I really had no idea it was this good though many have told me it was and asked me to check it out. To those of you who did, thank you!
Debby Heard it and…
My wife Debby sat with me and listened after hearing me play “Right on Time” by Brandi Carlisle from her new “In the Canyon Haze” edition. This is not an “audiophile recording” but I do not feel we should have to cue up only certain music for our system to sound good.
A test of a good amp for me is that it should sound pleasing even with non audiophile recordings and it should sound magical with great recordings.
Debby sat down in the “sweet spot” and she was seduced by this little box just as I was. She has heard almost everything I have had in here. She has shed tears listening to the system at various stages. She has become someone who had no idea how good music could sound to now wanting to listen with me,
She loved the little Enleum for its energy and expansive sound, it did make her cry when she listened. She loved the Naim just as much for its body and musical flow. She said “it sounds just right”. She mentioned the Enleum was brighter but the Naim sounded more realistic and bigger.
The Bottom Line
There are many reviews for this integrated amp online. It is not new as it launched in 2019. Every review I could find raved about this piece again and again. I now understand why and I am joining in on the praise. The Supernait 3 is classy, built very well and sounds unreal good.
With that said, it’s not going to give you the surgical detail and transparency of some other integrated amps. It’s not going to make your ears bleed from an overly extended treble nor will it have a thin or lean midrange to enhance upper frequency details.
The SN3 brings music with a solid foundation, more so than the Pass Labs XA 60.8 mono’s. It has power and offers up a large sound that easily fills my room with gorgeous music. The Dynamic range is fantastic and when you hear a live recording with big drums on this you will understand what I am saying.
Now that I have heard it I can not un-hear it and this integrated will be what I use to judge all others who come after it into my space. Yes I have heard much more expensive integrated amps and I have owned a few of them. I deserve a kick in the rear for not hearing the Naim sooner.
It’s not really meant for “audiophiles”, rather it is for music lovers who want to hear music with soul, life. presence and power. It’s for those of us who want to listen to all music rather than only audiophile tracks. It’s for those of us who want an emotional connection to the music while also having that foot tapping boogie Naim is known for.
The Naim NDX2 sits atop the SN3. This would be a perfect combo with streamer, DAC and AMP! I hope to audition the NDX2 soon.
This is a very nice and big step up from the Atom and Nova without question. Next level stuff. As for the 3 vs the 2, from memory the 3 sounds richer, bigger, more palpable and has a special quality about it that I believe is a step up from the 2. With that said, I have not heard the 2 in THIS system with the gear I now have so do not take that as gospel. For all I know the 2 is just as good but I do not have one on hand.
One thing I love is that this is an all analog amp. No digital inputs or DAC inside. This is am amp you can turn on in the dark and while enjoying the gentle green glow you will hear music that is about as beautiful as you have ever heard.
It proves we do not need crazy expensive gear to enjoy beautiful music. While this is not some $300 200 WPC receiver from Best Buy and comes in at $5600, there is no 200 WPC receiver that can even get close to what this amp does for your music. Just not possible.
As it is now, it is the best power solution I have heard with my Fleetwood Deville SQ’s, but this is always an ongoing journey. If you have a set of Deville’s I urge you to demo this amp as there is magic to be had with this setup. It brings flesh and blood music to the Deville’s.
Wether I used the fancy DCS Lina DAC ad Clock or a Bluesound Node it sounded musical and rich. Of course the DCS helps with the magic but it’s not a necessity here.
If you want to check it out you can visit the Music Room as they are an authorized dealer. They sell so much quality used gear and new gear as well. If Naim sounds like it is up your alley, check them out HERE.
Just to note, I make no money from them for this but they did help me out with a review unit for a while. I fell hard for the Naim so I am working out a trade deal with them to see if I can keep this Supernait 3. I really can’t afford to purchase it right now so we will see if I can grab it via a trade of some kind. The music room buys gear as well : )
Keep in mind I am not saying this amp is “better” than the Pass Amps or even Enleum. It’s just different and depending on your speakers and upstream gear there may be “better” for you. The Pass seperates are world class to me, they offer more air and they are more holographic for sure. They offer up similar traits to the Naim but in a more gentle less impactful kind of way. I love the Pass Gear and it will remain my main reference but when I want to just sit without the Class A heat or the power usage, the Naim is a gorgeous alternative and offers its own unique vibe that I do not like any less. (maybe more).
This is why it is so important to audition gear, While I try to describe to the best of my ability what I hear from a piece it doesn’t mean you will like that sound. If what I wrote here in these 7000 words then you should really audition this integrated amp. : )
The Naim Supernait for me, is the integrated amp that all others should aspire to be. Simple, powerful, small, magical, classy and beautiful. It also runs cool even when left on 24/7 as I have.
UPDATE: When I hooked the SN3 to my Klipsch LaScala’s which are 109 DB efficient there was some buzzing that was audible from my listening seat. The Pass Labs and Rose piece were silent. The Naim amp does not put out noise to my other speakers. Also, there is some kind of issue with my Cardas speaker cables and this amp. When I use those cables into the Heresy IV or LaScala there is a massive buzz and it’s loud. Hmmm. This amp sounds rather special but it is quirky!
FEATURES OF THE SUPERNAIT 3
- Class A headphone amplification
- Alps Blue Velvet volume control
- Reed relay input selection
- Ceramic insulators for the power transistors
- Galvanically isolated microprocessor control section
- Microphonic-isolating PCB mounts
- Giant toroidal transformer.
- Silent black background, no noise.
- Remote control.
- MM Phono Stage
- Big drive, dynamics and realism.
UPGRADES FROM THE 2
The upgrades in more detail:
- The Naim R&D team has found a way to more than double the speed of the voltage gain stage, which in turn doubles the rate at which the speaker output stage can react.
- The second gain stage transistors have been optimised, so they no longer need to be shielded by a cascode stage transistor. Removing the cascode means less amplifier stabilisation is required: that doubles the slew rate and delivers an uplift in sound quality.
- The phono circuit topology comprises 3 stages: the gain stage, passive equalisation and final gain and active equalisation. This enables excellent noise performance, extended RIAA equalisation beyond the audio band and great overload headroom.
- All RIAA equalisation capacitors and the RIAA resistors are ‘through-hole’ mounted film designs, with low microphonic pickup and excellent transient performance. As phono stages are 1000x more sensitive than other inputs, this greatly benefits the sound quality.
- Input impedance is 47kΩ in parallel with 470pF capacitive loading; the gain is perfect for 5mV moving magnet cartridges.
Listening to “Sandman” by America with the Naim SN3 really showed me that this amp does treble in a dynamic way. The guitar is crisp, clean and bold. It has that presence that jets out into the room but again, that bass line is there in the background layered behind the guitar. That bass line is smooth, tuneful and detailed. I hear every note. The voices jet out a little from the speakers as well providing a nice performance with superb natural imaging. When I slip in the HiFi ROSE RA180 the song gets thinner and wows me more with a wider soundstage but it loses some of the magic that the Naim brings. It still sounds fantastic but when you hear them side by side, for me the Naim wins easily.
This album with Jan Bang is full of interesting sounds, effects and can be very holographic in some systems. With the Pass Labs seperates the album is 3D, airy and magical. It doesn’t have the boldness of the Naim though. The Naim doesn’t have the full on holographic presentation of the Pass.
The Pass is a shade darker in tone and softer, less impactful. The Naim SN3 presents this work in a different way from any amp I have here. Track #2 “Asphalt Lake” really brings the bass beat that resides underneath the music to life. I can feel it in my bones if I turn it up but the mid-range and treble stay clean and extended. It’s that warmth in the mid and lower mids that really fills things out and makes everything sound so good.
When I plug in the HiFi ROSE RA180 I hear every sound in all directions, and it is a more 3 dimensional performance. At the same time, the Rose does not convey the weight of each instrument in the way the Naim does and the Rose is a touch flatter sounding.
Each amp sounds different here but the Naim is the most pleasing and real between it and the Rose. I may prefer the $20k pass labs stack here but I enjoyed the SN3 presentation just as much. That says a lot about the capabilities of this little amp when you have speakers that are not a hard drive.
“Groupie Love” by Lana Del Rey is always a treat. This song has a wide soundstage and sounds and whispers that come from all directions in some systems. When the chorus kicks in everything sounds so big and expansive.
The Naim doesn’t offer the widest stage of the amps I have here, nor the most detail but it still has enough on tap to reveal what is in this recording. It has a velvety kind of presentation with fantastic imaging with the SN3 running the show.
The Rose sounds phenomenal with this track, even bigger and more transparent but again, not as palpable or “reach out and touch it”. I am splitting hairs here though. All depends on if you want a more dense kind of presentation or a leaner more see through kind of thing.
The Pass is gentler, wider, taller and more 3D and not as impactful as the Naim.