NAIM SUPERNAIT 3 integrated amplifier – definitively REVIEWED

The Naim Supernait 3 integrated amplifier has been upgraded and fully lives up to its historic pedigree!

Sound Advocate Highly Recommended

In the six years since the last Naim NAIT integrated amplifiers were released, Naim’s research and development team have worked on a range of improvements for their most recent version of their integrated amplifier series, the Supernait 3. The latest results include an upgraded power amplifier section for the SUPERNAIT 3, delivering greater power reserves as well as more detailed intimacy, drive, and neutrality to its musical delivery – whether driving loudspeakers or some of the finest headphones currently available.

More of these updates include a built-in moving magnet phono stage, which will now enable vinyl enthusiasts to sincerely swoon about as well as enhancements for streamers and CD players. Happily, they all have kept that signature “Naim” sound within its heart of hearts.

I first met the late Julian Vereker, founder and engineer of Naim, around 1973 at a NYC audiophile show. After some interesting and intense conversation, I became well aware of his dedicated passion for sound as well as his supreme technical expertise. Some years later, I started using an early version of his NAP 250 power amp in my system. I used this amplifier as a reference for several years.

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original NAP 250 power amp

During much of the 1970s and 1980s, Linn Products, Ltd adopted a tight working relationship with Naim Audio. As Naim expanded, their provocatively inceptive advertising technique and unprecedented quality amplification pushed both companies into stratospheric profiles within the audiophile community. The Linn-Naim combination all but became a household staple in the upscale hi-fi world.

In the following decades, Naim’s catalog of first-rate amplification continued expanding on their own, now with a plethora of CD, digital/streaming/amplifier combinations as well as some outright and provocatively designed separate components.

Yet, despite this integrated amplifiers age, the previous generation was still arguably one of the best-integrated amps at its price, and not unexpectedly, the Supernait 3 has not changed in that respect. What Naim has accomplished is to make the unit more beneficial and much better, particularly as to its sound quality!

In its latest incarnation, theSupernait 3’s has developed a few new features but it is by no means the only area where things have changed. The black metal casework feels strong, and hefty as the amp weighs in at almost14kg. The Naim is a beautiful-looking amplifier and it feels like the top-notch audiophile product which it most certainly is.

Specification and Design

The Supernait 3 is the largest of the Naim integrated amps and though you may initially think that the units 80 watts may be lacking in power, you will most certainly be underestimating the reserve watts that this guy has to offer. I will call this the “Naim proclivity”, for as I found out, the Supernait 3 was endowed with a hefty power supply within its guts. Amazingly, this transformer can draw as much as 400 VA from the mains, which is the same as approximately 400 watts! It therefore can compare to many integrated amplifiers I have evaluated- ranging upwards to 300 watts or more!

The Supernait 3 is a class A/B amp that theoretically will produce 80 watts into an eight-ohm load. Comparatively speaking, for the same price, you could well buy a Peachtree Nova, (class D) which has 200 watts more or a Wyred4Sound mint, which at an even lower price will offer up a minimum of 100 watts per side.  On the other hand, the Naim does not snare headlines by any means. The unit contains a huge toroidal PSU and the standard of its components and layout is an unconditional work of art.

The pre-amp has a single ended Class A output stage, doubling as a headphone amplifier while the power amplifier’s power transistors use ceramic heatsink technology that minimizes capacitive coupling to the chassis for optimum sound quality.

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inside

All of the Supernaits’ inputs are all mechanically decoupled and hand-wired to decrease noise and interference whilst the internal switching employs ultra-low-noise, constant current sources which are derived from the electronic design of their NAC 552 preamplifier. (BTW- f you have the opportunity, you must audition Naim’s truly dazzling, flagship Statement Series Pre and Power Amplifiers!

The Supernait 3 utilizes 4mm banana speaker sockets, which while appropriately fitted, will take a bit of work when applying some of the latest thicker audiophile cables currently available. The design team has chosen the option of avoiding Spade connectors, which would also have been of great help, particularly to users (and reviewers) who have a few sets of high-quality loudspeaker cables sets and formats.

The line outputs of the Supernait are variable, with Preamp (DIN) bi-amp (DIN) and an RCA pair for Subwoofers if need be. Unfortunately, if you want to separate the Naim preamp or power amp section to use with another set of components, you will have to do so using the DIN connectors, as there is no RCA option here for such use. I performed all of my listening with a few pairs of reference high-quality interconnects.

naim supernait 3 integrated amplifier

Though some purists may frown upon a balance control on an integrated amplifier, I find that if applied correctly, it can uniquely correct some otherwise great recordings that may (?)…have been engineered with the soloist a bit too far off-center. The Supernait 3 incorporates a Full Alps Blue Velvet balance control which does a splendid job right from its excellently built and easy to use remote control handset. However, I do wish the Naim engineers would have set the control with a fixed lock center position—letting one know the absolute correct center positioning.

As a side note, consumers may question the lack of a digital input in the Supernait 3. Some high-end manufacturers include this with their products. Naim Audio rightly believes they do not condone digital circuitry interfering with their exceptionally-tuned analog ones.

Besides, they currently produce a plethora of separate DAC’s, streamers, and add-on, offering some of the highest quality of sound reproduction capabilities. This will allow the individual to choose the DAC of his choice and I believe this was a wise decision made on their part.

PREPARATION AND SETUP

Not having used a Naim amplifier in my personal listening room(s) in over 30 years, I had no preconceptions of what this amplifier would sound like in my given system. Going forth, The Supernait 3 was used in its full incarnation along with an Audio Note CD3.1×2 player; DAC’s from Wyred4Sound, Prism Sound Callia and a recently received Border Control SE-i.

My vinyl source consisted of the SOTA comet 5 and Dynavector high output moving coil cartridge. Last, but not least, loudspeakers this time were the Audio Note AN/ED’s, Quad ESL-63’s,  Spendor SP1 and BC1’s.

I recently have been straying back and forth between my Wireworld Eclipse 8 and the Silver Eclipse 8 cables (review forthcoming) after some inconsistent amplifier/speaker detection was observed with the latter, although the Wireworld 75ohm starlight digital coax has remained a solid reference now for a few years.

The Audio Note Lexus cables and interconnects (for the AN/ED loudspeakers) were used along with the Inakustic LS-4004 loudspeaker cables as well as my profound Inakustik AC-3500P power station. This power conditioner has been a consistent and primary staple now for a few years and arguably, being my most dependable system component. (The Supernait loudspeaker connections prevented the use of my wide, flat ribbon Silversmith Fidelium Cables).

AUDITIONING

As is typical of the finest audiophile components, Naim rightly states that the Supernait 3 needs some good break-in time. In my case, this was approximately 2 weeks and as expected, the amplifier began to sound better and better as the evaluation went along.

Ironically, the old-time Linn Sondek phrase, “garbage in, garbage out” was initially, most appropriate with the Supernait 3 even after some break-in time. Average to very good CD and ripped CD-r files initially showed a tendency towards some high-frequency hash- or you may say, “illumination” in its sound presentation. This was particularly noticed on the Spendor SP1 loudspeaker. Days and weeks passed and eventually, the Supernait was finally coming into its prime.

Mind you, this integrated amplifier takes no prisoners—high-quality program files and source material will bring the Supernait to its utmost magic and prowess– but show it some music that may be somewhat manipulated or strangled to death by the recording engineer, and it will reproduce most if not all of its blemishes, right to your face! This is most definitely the hallmark of a well-designed and accurate piece of audio equipment. 

The Supernait 3 when fully worked in is a delicate yet surprisingly lively amplifier that has outstanding transient impact, while still maintaining its superb subtlety and balance, a boatload of musical intimacy, (a term I would rather describe as letting you ‘feel’ the music in your soul rather than pace or timing); superb concert hall spatial depth and ambiance, and a tight, well-controlled bass response on all the loudspeakers mated to it.  Furthermore, the Supernait 3 has a rather deceiving quality that many Naim owners have been enchanted by. This may be its everlasting trademark.

In describing this quality, most users will find it abundant on pop or acoustical music program sources. For me, it crossed over to some of the best recorded classical and orchestral music as well. The Naim makes you feel like you are involved in the musical performance, even, as mentioned above, as it deciphers some less than outstanding program material.

Yes—it will display the “outskirts” of the “garbage” of some recordings, but in a way that makes you forget about some of the program sources’ pitfalls. So, in a sense, some amplifiers will thrill you immensely in countless ways, but you may find the garbage must be disposed of immediately, while the Supernait 3 will make you aware of these shortcomings, but NEVER make you want to “throw away” the CD or vinyl recording you may be listening to.

The Naim just allows your aural senses to accept the musicality of the recordings overall. In a sense, the prisoner may be locked up, but the music it is reproducing gives your senses the need to keep listening- at any cost! This is the beauty of the Supernait 3 and in this sense, it is a dissimilar beast to many of its relevant peers.

The Supernait will adoringly exhibit well-recorded male and female vocals and choral music while maintaining a terrific sense of stereophonic image localization. Admittedly, this took a decent break-in time but if you’re listening room is close to within a good balance of direct to reverberant sound, the Naim will adhere to soundstage images like glue within their exact spots, both laterally and depth-wise. (One must always be aware of the particular loudspeaker’s ability to accurately reproduce the soundstage of a particular live performance, although that should not be confused with precise, proportional localization of specific instruments and/or performers on that stage).

Some excellent program material, both in CD or ripped PCM digital sources as well as quality vinyl sources gave the Supernait a superb workout during the listening sessions. A few extreme examples have been included here. All of these works incited the Naim to show a glowing, yet minuscule touch of vibrancy on orchestral strings, though by no means prominently pushed forward in the soundstage. Solo and piano concerto works (Tchaikovsky) were exemplary in exhibiting that tactile piano transient speed and natural tonality—neither too bright nor too reticent, while horns and brass were displayed nicely within the layers of depth deeply beyond and behind the given speaker boundaries; including a generous hall acoustic with Simon Rattle and Mitsuko Uchida- live featuring the loudspeakers used in the auditioning. The Supernait consistently presented bass guitar and double orchestral bass or kick drums, with a low and distinct pitch and was indisputably quite powerful and formidable giving music that authoritative underpinning. 

As we move to some acoustic pop recordings, I was intrigued by this amplifier’s ability to move your soul with these exemplary recorded program sources. (Supreme Stereo Sound Maestoso Classic Sampler) while some beautiful female voices (audiophile female vocals 2009 ) were reproduced with a natural, smooth, and never to forward or recessed quality. and the various guitar, wind, and percussion instruments displayed complete uniformity and a wonderfully easy, musically entwined audible presentation. If you have the chance, try obtaining a sample of this extremely well recorded and musical presentation by Uncompressed World Accustic Arts Recordings with your present system and by all means, the Supernait 3. You will be extremely impressed!

WISHFUL REVISIONS?

Naim would do users great favor by making its admittedly comprehensive instruction manual a bit easier to understand as its signs and usage symbols can be a bit confusing. The first four or five pages are conveniently displayed for the Supernait 3 while the rest of the manual pertains to their other products. Not a big deal here at all.

As mentioned above, the balance and remotely controlled volume control are uniformly exquisite but I WISH that the centralized or “default” setting on the former had a “locked center” making it known that both channels are formally equal in channel output

Naim Audio advises that the ultimate sound quality from the Supernait will be with their DIN connections, so I can only presume that the unit’s most formidable sound and musicality can only be even more improved when using the aforementioned cables. It would be a wise investment, to say the least!  As such, separating the preamp/power amp sections will only be attainable with good quality DIN connectors. (Maybe invoke a set of RCA’s as well for using a separate pre-or power amplifier…. Naim engineers are you listening?). Other than that, a moving coil phono input would be nice—and worth an additional few bucks for such a fine product as this! 

SUMMARY

As you can see, I have a truly musical passion in my heart for the Naim Supernait 3. Not many integrated amplifiers in the history of hi-fi can match the lineage of the Supernait 3 or its predecessors. The amplifier offers superb sound quality, beautiful aesthetics, and unprecedented build quality.

Many enthusiasts (myself included) are looking for an all-in-one amplifier system that can become a mainstay without worrying about matching, mating, and piling up separate components and cables (my gosh!) along with their not so inconsequential interactions within your presiding system. Heretofore, separates only was the ultimate goal of most “audiophiles” — but believe me, things are changing a lot!

After having auditioned this unit for many months, I can undoubtedly say that the Naim Supernait 3 is a chieftain among integrated amplifiers, and is undeniably an exceptional buy at its price point. It is highly recommended!

Naim Supernait 3 integrated amplifier ~~ $4990. USD

FOCAL NAIM AMERICA
313 Rue Marion
Repentigny, QC J5Z 4W8 Canada

USA: (800) 663-9352
Canada: (866) 271-5689

www.focalnaimamerica.com

www.focal.com

www.naimaudio.com

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