Entry-level excellence

Naim regards the CD5 XS as an entry-level player. But as Malcolm Steward discovered, its performance tells a completely different story

The Naim XS series, which includes the CD5 XS, is more than just a simple evolution of the previous X series models. Each component is said to have been engineered to work harmoniously with the rest of the range and providing significantly enhanced overall system performance.

Naim also regards the XS range as a superb introduction to its Reference series models by offering what it says is genuine high-end performance at an affordable price level.

Broader horizons

The CD5 XS CD player was completely re-engineered in the transition from its previous incarnation as the CD5x. Naim revised or replaced nearly every element of the design except for the mains transformer and the disc mechanism, which was borrowed from the more costly CDX2 player.

Perhaps the most noteworthy inclusion, though, was the introduction, for the first time on a Naim CD player, of a digital output alongside the traditional analogue connection. The appearance of the digital output at around the same time as Naim delivered its first stand-alone DAC hardly seems a coincidence, even though the capabilities of the multi-input, multi-frequency DAC far exceed what is necessary for handling the 16-bit /44.1kHz S/PDIF output of a CD player.

Nonetheless, it seems that many people are still buying the £1,790 CD5 XS and using it with the DAC. At a total price of £3,785, the combination is only £460 more than a CDX2 CD player and £2,340 cheaper than a CDS3 player – without its mandatory power supply.

The DAC does, of course, open the floodgates to all sorts of digital media, which makes it and the CD5 XS look like a very tempting combination.

The player follows Naim’s well-established minimalist approach and comes housed in a zinc and extruded aluminium case, designed to keep external vibration and ‘noise’ at bay. The analogue output can be accessed through RCA connections, as well as the traditional DIN socketry, which makes it easier to integrate into a non-Naim system or modify its performance. The digital output is less potentially compromised and exits the player through a 75-ohm BNC connector.

As well as auditioning the CD5 XS through an all-Naim system, we also tried the player with the budget Cambridge Audio DACMagic for anyone whose spend is capped at £2,000 for a CD player package.

We played this through a Creek Evolution 5030 amplifier and Cabasse Iroise 3 speakers to assess its performance in a completely non-Naim set-up. This provided thoroughly satisfactory results, which is good news for Naim, who clearly wishes this and other XS products to reach outside its established customer base and attract new buyers into the fold.

The CD5 XS introduced improved speed, control and precision to the sound of this secondary system that easily ought to attract those looking for more hi-fi attributes. The additional expression and communication it brought to the system ought do the trick for those more taken by the music than by the presentation. In particular, the Naim player brought with it an increase in rhythmic urgency, pace and dynamic expression that enhanced our enjoyment of a wide variety of musical genres.

Painstaking detail

Naim has always had a reputation for painstaking attention to detail when building components. This even extends, for instance, to specifying the exact positioning of .the cable ties on each of its wiring harnesses. This is just one of those seemingly, anally retentive obsessions for which Naim is famous: depending upon your perspective, for being either ruthlessly fastidious or hopelessly deluded. Combine such tiny differences, though, with a host of others and they add up not only to ensure absolute consistency in production, but also to exert a much more significant influence over the performance. It is not unlike the Formula One grid where the fastest and slowest cars are often separated by little more than a second. Under such circumstances, a couple of thousandths of a second assume massive importance.

One of the most immediately noticeable fine-tuning measures with the player is the ‘loose’ sockets on the rear panel. The mains, DIN and BNC connections are ‘selectively decoupled’ to float within the casework and so prevent vibration in those cables from passing through and interfering with the electronics within the enclosure.

Although few people regard nearly £1,800 as an insignificant trifle, the CD5 XS is not expensive in the Naim scheme of things where the top of the range CD555 will set you back over £16,000. Certainly, several listeners, who were unaware of what was playing, estimated the cost of the CD5 XS – particularly when auditioned with the DAC – at well over £5,000.

Adding sparkle

We listened to the CD5 XS in two modes: primarily as a stand-alone player through its analogue outputs, and as a transport feeding the Naim DAC, which currently appears to be a very popular combination with buyers. In the first set-up the player exhibited all the expected verve and musical communication one associates with Naim CD machinery. As one also expects from the company’s contemporary players, there was a delightful openness and a rich tonality evident on all voices and instruments, which, along with the timing and dynamic precision, truly brought the music and its performance to life.

Through its digital connection into the Naim DAC, the performance initially appeared to have gained another octave at the lower extreme, which not only reinforced the realism of the presentation by providing a solid foundation for the rest of the instrumentation but it opened up the opposite frequency extreme, too, adding sparkle and vitality to drum kits and mandolins, for example.

In effect, the DAC demonstrated that the CD5 XS integral DAC could not extract maximum performance from this highly accomplished ‘junior’ player. Through the DAC the music also received a boost in the refinement stakes, the sound acquiring the sort of finesse and polish one normally associates with much higher-end machinery.

Using the CD5 XS in both a very revealing high-end Naim system and in a mid-fi set-up with a Creek integrated and Cabasse loudspeakers it was quite clear that the player far surpasses the performance one expects from typical ‘entry-level’ models. This capability is completely genre-agnostic: it does not matter whether you appreciate blues, metal, or folk music mixed with chamber orchestra, the performance retains the same intrinsically musical qualities and conviction. We tried them all and the CD5 XS performed consistently throughout.

All-round sound

The performance of the CD5 XS is genuinely impressive: it is persuasive and wholly convincing in a manner that escapes many other players. It manages to convey that rhythmic plausibility for which Naim has long been famous and, like its stable-mates in the XS range, the CD5 XS presents music in a more all-encompassing fashion and will, therefore, appeal to listeners who have viewed the ‘Naim sound’ as being focused on pace, rhythm and timing. Transparency, detail, timbre and imagery have now joined that list of attributes.

LIKE: Compelling and refined, especially through the   digital output and DAC
DISLIKE: There is very little not to like about this highly accomplished player
WE SAY: Its composure and openness results in a musical performance that is extremely seductive

TYPE: CD player
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 430x70x300mm
• Switchable digital/analogue output
• Upgradeable through power supply
• Alternative upgrade with Naim DAC
• Digital output through 75-ohm BNC connector
TELEPHONE: 01722 426600
WEBSITE: naimaudio.com