Naim CD5 XS CD Player Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 31 March 2010

U.K. based Naim has had a steady following since their inception in the mid 1970's. They have been a constant on the high end audio scene and are known worldwide for their broad product line that includes amplification, CD players, loudspeakers, cables, DAC's and Music Servers. They are also known for making long-lasting products as many Naim legacy products are a decade old and still strong. Naim is also known for only discontinuing products if they feel the design can be improved upon; not for marketing purposes.

Naim is famous for being quirky, for lack of a better term. For years their components were produced with only DIN connectors.  Instead of the usual phono or XLR connectors, they believed in the superiority of the DIN connector. They also prefer customers utilize an all Naim system. They finally relented a few years ago and Naim components now offer standard methods of connection. Naim is also known for superb power supplies and highly regarded case work; available only in black.

Naim just introduced their XS series of upgrades to a few of their components, including preamplifiers, amplifiers, CD players and tuners.  Under review here is the CD5 XS, an upgraded CD5x, introduced in 2004. In that six year time span, the CD5x was well reviewed and I decided to purchase it several years ago as my reference. When available the CD5x retailed for $2995.  I later upgraded the player after I auditioned the Flactcap 2x external power supply. When I got wind of the CD5 XS, I immediately set out to arrange a review sample.  I also thought it would be quite interesting to compare a component to its direct predecessor, an opportunity reviewers don’t often get.

Front panel view

Changes & Upgrades:

According to Naim, the CD5 XS uses technology and developments from costlier Naim players up the line; the flagship being the stratospherically priced CD555.  Naim says the unique swinging door transport that any Naim user will be familiar with is borrowed directly from the CDX2, roughly double the cost of the XS. Naim also says the transport is “a low inertia, resonance-controlling device that ensures rigid coupling and mild damping without adding to the task of the drive servomechanism by increasing rotational inertia.”

One of the main reasons I was most interested in reviewing the XS, is Naim boldly states, in references to its XS series of updates, that the  “CD5 XS CD player has probably seen the most changes on the journey from its CD5x predecessor. Almost every element, with the exception of the mains transformer and the disc mechanism, is new or significantly revised. Fundamental elements including the critical analogue circuitry have been updated to extract yet more music from every CD. Also new in the CD5 XS is the inclusion, for the first time on a Naim CD player, of a transformer coupled digital output that provides the choice of digital or analogue signal output.

Yes, you read it correctly, Naim now offers, for the first time, a digital output from one of their disc spinners. For many years Naim stuck to their guns in saying that they saw absolutely no need for a customer to output a digital signal from one of their digital players. Naim had taken great pains to insure they were designed correctly for superb analog output. Their thinking may have changed as they have just introduced their first DAC, called the Naim DAC.

The digital output is defeatable as either the analog output or digital output is usable at one time. Naim had a very good position in the past claiming that a digital output was a compromise and could be detrimental to overall performance. Yet not so as the current product landscape uses modern circuit layouts and low noise chips dominate the marketplace.

To make things even more interesting, Naim has decided to include only a 75 ohm BNC connector for digital out. The more common Toslink and Coaxial digital connections are not present. Naim is working under the premise that the BNC the best possible digital audio interface, if engineered correctly. It should be noted that many high end Digital Audio Converters, including the new offering from Naim, offer BNC as a connection option.

The XS also includes a brushed aluminum face place attached to the classic black Naim chassis.  The brushed face plate is nice, but admittedly, it is hard to notice since the midnight black Naim uses as their color of choice obscures this cosmetic enhancement somewhat.

Set up and Listening:

After I broke in the XS for about 48 hours, I decided to do a bit of A/B comparison with my CD5x. At first, I had a hard time telling the difference between the two. It should be noted I used identical cables, but that my 5x was set up with a Shakti Innovations Shakti Stone, Symposium Rollerblocks Juniors, and, most importantly, connected to a Flatcap 2X external power supply; a major advantage. The two players were tonally similar; after all, I did not expect Naim to depart from the CD5x’s superb, neutral musical vibe. Things got a lot more interesting when I unhooked the CD5x and installed the XS in its place, with the Symposium, Shakti, and Flatcap enhancements. It was evident the XS leapt quite a bit ahead of the CD5x without needing a critical ear to hear the differences.

Specifically, the XS was more engaging. All of the attributes of the 5x that drew me in initially were there, but to a higher, more refined degree. The biggest difference was probably in the high frequencies, which were smoother, silkier, and less digital sounding. As a matter of fact, the sound reminded of players costing significantly more than the XS. In other areas, it excelled as well. Sound staging was superb, again rivaling players priced way above. I absolutely loved the tight, controlled, and articulate bass reproduction.

One of the discs I spun that really got me into the XS is the new live release by the White Stripes, Under Great White Northern Lights, a rocking, raw, document of the Stripes 2007 Canadian tour. The XS gave me a 7th row perspective, with the real, legitimate excitement of a live performance. I wanted to clap along and raise my lighter! Live albums are hit or miss these days, either awash in fake reverb, too much audience ambience, and even worse, come off as a "you had to be there" recording. Not so here.  The XS showed me that Jack White and company chose to showcase their freaky live show for those of us who were not there in a realistic and matter of fact manner.

slide loading

The 30th Anniversary Edition of the Springsteen ultra classic Born to Run was in heavy rotation at the time I received the review sample.  I dearly love this album, and the new remaster brings the vision of Bruce and the E Street Band into the 21st century with the great sonic care of Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering.  It also includes two excellent extras, a making of video and a complete performance by the group at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1975.  The XS beautifully kept pace with the timeless song cycle committed to tape 35 years ago. It also allowed me to hear distinct differences between this 2005 release and the mid 90’s Gold Disc version, itself a superb remaster.  I felt the new version had a bit more sparkle and detail, but it did not win out by much.

The XS was superb on new recordings as well. Jamie Cullum, a British pop jazz artist I adore, just released his fourth studio album entitled, The Pursuit. On it, he mixes originals, covers of timeless standards, and even modern songs, such as Rhianna's "Don't Stop the Music." Cullum's superlative piano playing, singing, and arranging were well served by the XS, with the mixes sounding vibrant, new, yet un-digital. Another disc that really showed me how nimble the XS was at serving a variety of recordings was Broken Bells by Broken Bells, collaboration between Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse and The Shins James Mercer. It is a marriage of psychedelic, indie rock and electronica. I was surprised how "live" it sounded, and not like studio patchwork. The great songwriting is the main attraction and the XS had me reaching for multiple plays of this disc.

A few final musical highlights included the new Jimi Hendrix release, Valleys of Neptune, a hodgepodge of various studio performances left in the can, and an older release entitled South Saturn Delta, a collection of odd tracks from previous posthumous releases that were finally mixed and mastered correctly by Eddie Kramer. Hendrix’s Stratocaster and Marshall’s combination had bite and presence, as good as I had ever heard, having been a Hendrix fan for a good 25 years now.  His driving rhythms and late 60’s style studio productions were transported to 2010 and made to sound as relevant as ever. The XS was a fantastic conduit for the vision of Hendrix, Kramer, and the current gatekeepers of his legacy.

Conclusion:

I know that many are saying the death knell for Redbook only disc players has been soundly struck. However, I may be in the minority who disagree. Recent releases by a variety of artists have reached into the millions, and the major labels have abandoned high resolution physical media like SACD and DVD-A. There are some, such as myself, that have a rather large collection of standard compact discs, and have no plan to discard them. Hence, a high quality Redbook player still has a market in my opinion. Naim has an outstanding reputation for digital, even while ignoring SACD, with their players enjoying quite a following. But even Naim has seen the need to look towards the future, with their DAC and HDX hard disk player recently hitting the market.

I would bet that Naim feels if they are going to continue to offer disc players, they are going to do it right, at least “right” according to Naim. That means a proprietary disc loading mechanism, cleanly laid out circuits, upgradeable power supplies and fairly priced to market. My sweet spot for a CD player is roughly $3000. I see no reason to spend more, unless you really must have a universal player, balanced outputs, digital inputs or bragging rights. I cannot deny I am bit biased in my review of the CD5 XS as I really adore my CD5x, its predecessor. However, Naim had that player on the market for six years, an eternity in today’s market. Circuit improvements and other tweaks don't necessarily mean sonic improvements. However, in this case, I believe the XS is a leap forward.

Front Slide view

One item that should be addressed is that along with the rest of the XS updates, is the Flatcap XS, but I have it on very good word that the update is strictly cosmetic, so the brushed aluminum faceplate matches the other components is the series. The circuitry is identical, and so is the connectivity. The Flatcap series can also drive additional components as well.

I want to be clear that the Naim does not attempt to divert from the overall fundamental character of the previous player, they just built on its strengths.  Naim offers a five year warranty on their disc players as well, which is on the generous side of things. For those readers who are in the market for a Redbook only player just over three grand (MSRP: $3150), with the ability to upgrade via the Flatcap external power supply, I seriously recommend an audition of the Naim CD5 XS.


Specifications
  • Audio Outputs: Analogue via DIN & RCA.
  • Line Output Fixed: 2.1V rms at 1kHz
  • Digital Outputs: S/PDIF via 75Ω BNC
  • CD Formats: Red Book
  • Disc Compatibility: CD, CD-R
  • Physical Dimensions (mm): 432 x 301 x 70 (W x D x H)
  • Weight: 6kg
  • Color: Black
  • Finish: Anodised fascia, painted cover
Reviewers Associated Equipment System 1:
  • CD Player: Naim CD5x with Flatcap 2X
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Perreaux Eloquence 150i.
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands.

Reviewers Associated Equipment 2:

  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • DAC: CIA VDA-2 with XPS
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Revox A722
  • Speaker: Spendor S5e, Spendor S5R
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio/Element/RS Cables
  • Accessories: Atacama Stands





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