Naim DAC-V1 review
I’ve been waiting for a few months now to write this review. The first time I have seen that Naim will release a headphone dac/amp/preamplifier combo I was really really intrigued and curious.
I’ve been bothering the guys from Jack for over 2 months now: “Did it come? Did it come?”
Well finally it came, and here it is on the review bench, and I must say it looks just awesome!
The build quality and the design really impressed me. I don’t care for the looks too much but with this one I really loved it.
The enclosure is thick and the main part is made from one piece making it rock solid.
It has a green led screen that goes very well with the green Naim logo, especially at night.
This unit is the first headphone dac/amp I have reviewed that has a remote control. At first i didn’t gave it much importance but I got used to it now. If you use it as pre-amplifier/dac with speakers it really comes in handy.
Also you can pause the songs or get to the next/previous song with the remote (it worked great with foobar). When I have 2 virtual machines opened and 2 active remote desktop connections, i don’t interrupt my work just to go to foobar and change the song, I just press the next on the remote. That is pretty awesome from my point of view 😀
I have read a lot of great things about it, so I expected something special from this box.
One thing that stood out was the fact that it uses the technology from Audiophilleo for async USB. I have heard some very good words about AP2, and I have recently tested the Audiobyte Hydra which showed me what a good USB interface can do with your system.
Jan 8 2013: Audiophilleo’s best-in-class integrated graphical user interface and USB interface technology is licensed by NAIM for the just-released DAC-V1.
Naim explains more about Async USB here.
I think more audio companies should follow Naim’s example here, as this was a very good move.
Hope that Burson realizes the Tenor is not so good and start using something else in the future.
The volume control system is a modified version of the circuit from SuperUniti which seems to use an good, expensive analog domain electronic switches.
The DAC section is similar to ND5XS and SuperUniti.
So, yes I had a lot of expectations from it.
When I first listened to it, I have observed immediately that the usb input is quite clean and nice but the sound did not impress me beyond that. It was harsh, no enegergy, no impact and lacked dynamics. This saddened me but I knew that some audio gear really need a good burn in period, so I put it in the oven.
After 20h it was a little better but still not good enough. I was starting to wonder about this awesome looking black box .
Waited some more and did not touch it until it reached 50h. Well things got better. Some of the harshness was gone, the sound was clearer, fuller.
I still thought it can do more, so after more burn in it reached 100h+.
Oh yeah…this is what I am talking about. This was a really stubborn little bastard.
I still think it needs some additional burn in but the sound now was quite awesome.
Now lets get to how it sounds.
The tests have been done with Audeze LCD2, Sennheiser HD800, Focal Spirit One, Chord Power Chord, Chord USB Silver PLUS, Audiobyte Hydra, Burson Conductor.
Coldplay: Parachutes – High Speed
The sound was very airy, clean & relaxed. The guitars tickled my ears . The sound was continuous and poured musically. I felt the superior USB input. I really liked the natural tone and texture of the voice.
Silent Strike – Asian Paper Circus & Without Warning
The soundstage was quite deep the instruments had a full life in that depth. Really loved how the instruments were disappearing and reappearing in that depth. The sound had details but not pushed to your face, the were a little in the back letting the sound to flow smoothly. The piano notes in the back had a really nice extension without any distortions.
Hanz Zimmer : The Dark Knight Rises – Mind if I cut in?
You know how I was really really impressed on this song with Conductor + Hydra? Well, the experience came close to that in some ways. The piano had clean & precise notes. The sound-stage was again very good, the instruments had good layering and positioning.
Andre Rieu: Dreaming – Air (J.S. Bach)
I really love classical music on Naim DAC V1. It is very airy with a good soundstage, good instrument separation and a very smooth and musical presentation . The sound really flows directly to your heart sometimes with it.
Leonard Cohen: The Future – Light as The Breeze
Leonard is my reference in voice reproduction and the Dac V1 did quite well on this subject. The voice was warm, visceral and quite natural. The voices behind, in the chorus were very well layered and completed Leonards voice in a way that the song gave me goose bumps. The instruments played smoothly making way throughout the scene and the voices.
AC/DC BallBreaker – The Furor ; Boogie Man
Does DAC-V1 know how to rock? Well It can, it is a natural born rocker. These song really impressed me with the it. The guitars had a very good extension and body. The PRAT was very good, and the drums had a lot of impact. I got stuck here. The presentation was so good I am going to say this is one of the best rock presentation I have heard. I just loved it. Some really had banging happened here while listening to these songs.
Infected Mushrooms – Wanted To & Poquito Mas
After burn in it really turns out that the DAC-V1 is not bass shy at all. The more time I spend with it, the more I like it better. The bass had a very good impact especially with HD800. The bass could use a little more extension and more control.
The amplification from DAC-V1 hasn’t got too much power as the demanding LCD2 started clipping at 85% . Up until 85% you get enough volume but lacks a little control. I still enjoyed LCD2 with it though. The menu from the V1 has a feature that enables you to set a volume limitation, so you could avoid clipping with this to hide it .
With HD800 it was better. I could feel they were driven better than LCD2 were.
I am sure some of you are asking yourself how is it compared to Conductor.
Conductor has a better amplification, more controlled and articulate sound with better dynamics, larger soundstage, more details, bigger impact and bass…
However the presentation from DAC-V1 is different and still very enjoyable. It has the specific smooth round sound of Naim. It has musicality combined with energy but still being smooth.
You can listen to it for hours without getting tired. The usb input from Naim is clearly superior from the one in Conductor, offering a cleaner sound out of the box and that made me enjoy some of the songs in the tests more than with Conductor.
The sound is detailed but the details are a little in the back letting the sound flow smoothly.
Considering the fact that it has audiophielleo technology inside, I was curious to test it against the Hydra. I am not sure if the DAC-V1 has the full AP2 inside of it but in my tests the Hydra was clearly better than the USB input from the V1.
- good USB interface inside that offers clean sound
- a nice combination between smoothness, energy & musicality
- good sound-stage and airy sound
- very good build quality and very good design
- good instrument separation and positioning
- remote control
- could use more power at the amplification
- a little too pricey
These said, I really like this new product from Naim and their approach in designing it.
Guys I recently found out that I haven’t tested the Naim DAC – V1 properly just as DAC, as I have the feeling that it is intended to be a DAC first and then a headphone amplifier.
The review will be updated as soon as I have the time to do some proper tests.
Burn in? Give me a break with that snake oil. I could see maybe burning in headphones or speakers, something with actual moving mechanical parts, but a solid state device? If you knew the first thing about electronics you’d know that makes absolutely no sense.
And yet I’ve noticed differences. It doesn’t happen with all devices, but some change their sound after a while. I don’t claim to know much about electronics, but I’ve encountered lots of people that think they know everything.
Sorry Sergio, but burn-in is a thing. Have encountered it many times and most dramatically just recently. Easy to hear with my new Sanders amplification, which leaves everything laid bare. Was demoing an Oppo UDP205. Sounded very disappointing out of the box. Played it for a few hours, and although I think it has significant shortcomings as an audio source, it was dramatically improved from when first fired up.