The Naim NAIT (Naim Audio InTegrated) amplifier has a long, distinguished and, in its early days, misunderstood, history. Always a different design from most mainstream integrated amplifiers, no official output power was ever quoted for the early NAITs. If you asked the people at Naim all they would simply tell you was that it was ‘sufficiently powerful to drive most loudspeakers.’ Again illustrating its difference and non-conformity, the early models also had a slightly confusing balance control, which, having no indicated central position or other such markings, relied totally upon the listener’s ears for setting it accurately.
I briefly owned a first version NAIT, which I used with a pair of the original Linn Kans, before upgrading to a NAC32/HiCap/NAP250. That model could adequately power those inefficient, current-hungry loudspeakers but its replacements showed that, in truth, it was losing out to the far more advanced and expensive amplifiers in terms of dynamics and control – especially if you listened at the sort of sound pressure levels that I appreciate. Nonetheless, it was no slouch and it stood head and shoulders above many of its more costly contemporaries, which wilted at the mere sight of the Kans. Like the other Naim amplifiers of the day, the NAIT excelled in musical terms – albeit on a slightly reduced scale – and would comfortably drive loudspeakers that caused other amplifiers to sound lumpen and distinctly unmusical.
The latest iteration of that classic design, the Naim NAIT 5i, represents a significant advance over its predecessors, at least in terms of its appearance and usability. Gone are the old shoe-box casework and the peculiar controls to be replaced by a sleek, regular width – 43cm wide – aluminium case with just a volume knob and four input-selector buttons gracing its facia. There is no balance control and, guess what, it even has a rated output nowadays: a healthy 50W into 8-Ohms. The unit features both DIN and RCA phono inputs, which make it easier to integrate if you have other, non-Naim, components in your system. It even has remote control.
What hasn’t altered over the 23 years since the original NAIT first graced my equipment table, however, is this little Titan’s ability to punch well above its weight. In combination with my regular Naim CD player and a modest selection of loudspeakers from B&W, Castle, and Neat Acoustics, it consistently delivered an outstanding musical performance along with a hi-fi presentation that stood comparison with much more expensive designs, giving solid imaging and natural tonal colouring of the highest order. In particular, though, I was struck by the NAIT 5i’s ability to convey music’s timing information, such as the delicate interplay between bass and drums in jazz and rock recordings, and its deftness at presenting detail in a coherent fashion rather than throwing it in your face.
One important consideration, however, proved to be the length of time it takes the NAIT to warm up and deliver its optimum performance: straight out of the box it can sound a little steely and thin but given a decent run-in period – I’d suggest a couple of weeks rather than a couple of hours during which it is left permanently powered up – it develops into one of the finest ‘small’ amplifiers that not much money can buy. Very highly recommended.