Although Naim has created a wide range of outstanding and ambitious products over its long history, the company’s most iconic product may be its most humble: the Nait integrated amplifier. This diminutive integrated exemplifies skillful design, music before specs, and the value of minimalism. The Nait is a microcosm of everything that’s great about high-end audio in general, and about Naim in particular.
Introduced in 1983 at a price of £253, the Nait was an instant sensation. It produced just 13Wpc from its diminutive shoebox of a chassis, but oh, what watts they were! The Nait’s sound quality was the antithesis of typical inexpensive solid-state amplifiers of the day, which were generally hard, bright, grainy, flat, and lacking musical involvement. What made the Nait such a revolution wasn’t so much its rich and refined smoothness, but rather a healthy dose of some ineffable magic that allowed it to communicate music to the listener in a way that even certain mega-priced electronics couldn’t muster. Competing integrated amps of the day reproduced hi-fi sound, but the Nait gushed glorious music.
The Nait remained in Naim’s line until 1988 when it was replaced by the Nait 2 ($795 at introduction). The updated version got a power bump up to a whopping 18Wpc. Happily, none of the Nait’s enchantment was lost in the translation; the Nait 2 actually improved upon its legendary predecessor. The inexorable rise in output-power expectations prompted Naim to create the 30Wpc Nait 3 in 1993, the 50Wpc Nait 5 in 2000, and the Nait 5i in 2003 ($1695 at introduction). The 5i was a ground-up redesign, with a motorized Alps potentiometer that provided remote control. As with its predecessors, however, the 5i was based on the same architecture as its progenitors with a passive preamplifier stage followed by a power-amplifier stage with higher gain than is typical. The 5i also featured a full-sized chassis.
My first review assignment as a rookie reviewer back in 1989 was a survey of three inexpensive integrated amplifiers that included the Nait 2. I’ll never forget the experience of hearing the Nait 2 after first carefully auditioning the other two contenders; it was, as the British say, chalk and cheese.
I revisited the Nait with a review of the 5i in Issue 183 (August, 2008) of The Absolute Sound. In that review, I concluded, “The new Nait 5i extends and expands upon the 25-year tradition begun with the original Nait. This latest version is the best-sounding Nait yet, combining the modern virtues of dynamics and transparency with the classic qualities of ease and musicality that characterized the first Naits.”
Naim created many better-sounding amplifiers than the Nait, but I don’t think that any other product in the history of audio has brought more musical pleasure to more listeners for less money than the Nait.
Did You Know?
The Nait has won more Editors’ Choice Awards from The Absolute Sound than any other product in the magazine’s history.