Naim Audio ND5 XS 2 Network-Attached DAC

hfncommendedThe entry-level model in Naim's new network music player range may look simple to the point of anonymity, but its performance could make it the true star of the lineup

No display, no power supply upgrade route, not even a remote handset: at first glance, the most striking feature of Naim's £2299 ND5 XS 2, the junior model in its revitalised network music player range, could be everything it hasn't got. After the striking looks of the 'new Uniti' models, with which it shares a software/hardware platform, and the large full-colour displays of the pricier NDX 2 [HFN Sep '18] and ND555, the ND5 XS 2 gives away little about its functionality.

Available in a choice of vibrant colours – no, only kidding, it's just in black – its blank face is alleviated only by the usual green Naim logo, an unmarked USB-A port to which memory devices and personal players can be connected, and a standby button. The new model almost appears to have been designed to be hidden away in a rack and just left to get on with its job, which is exactly how you use it.

319naim.appKeep It Simple
In practice line of sight is not needed for remote control, as all the set-up and operation is achieved using the Naim app (for iOS and Android) running on a tablet or smartphone. This follows a growing trend in 'computer audio' devices where, if a box is designed to be operated using an app, there's a lot that can be left out hopefully freeing up more of the bill of parts for components contributing positively to sound quality. In the case of the ND5 XS 2, however, there was a more prosaic consideration – the slimline XS series casework means there's simply no room for the colour display fitted to the likes of the NDX 2.

Is that any hardship? Not really, given that so much of the functionality of these network players is reliant on the company's highly-developed app. Indeed, the two units I currently run – a NaimUniti on my desk and an NDS in my main system – have been used for several years without reference to their displays. I'll also add that Naim describes the ND5 XS 2 as its entry-level streamer, a term it uses in place of 'network music player', and to my mind something of a misnomer as a streamer should be all about the supply of content, not its delivery.

Otherwise, the ND5 XS 2 is just as well equipped as the other models in the company's range, at least in terms of the file formats and services it can handle. That's down to the major component shared across the latest Uniti and ND- products, specifically Naim's 'platform for the future', designed not just to update the products' compatibility, but also to ensure they remain abreast of any future developments in this sphere. This is the in-house network/streaming/signal processing 'heart' of the product which facilitates everything from DLNA/UPnP music over a home network, to online services from Internet radio to the likes of Spotify Connect and Tidal. It also enables direct wireless access to the unit using Bluetooth and AirPlay while a recent firmware update has now upgraded this to AirPlay 2, with its extended multiroom capability.


Soft And Hard Inputs
In addition to these 'inputs', the ND5 XS 2 also offers a range of more conventional 'hard' connectivity. As well as the front-panel USB Type A port, there's another to the rear, perhaps best used for the permanent installation of a local music store, which the unit can expose to other network players when its 'server mode' is selected by the user.

Meanwhile digital inputs run to two optical and two coaxial, including one on a single RCA socket and the other using Naim's preferred BNC connection. So the ND5 XS 2 can also be used as a DAC for external legacy sources, in which role it performs more than acceptably, even if its target role is rather more 'this century'.

Analogue outputs are on both RCAs and the usual Naim DIN (for which a cable is supplied), with a single BNC providing the digital output option, while networking is handled by an Ethernet socket and a pair of stubby rubber Wi-Fi antennae, with a third, even stubbier one, supplied for the aptX HD-capable Bluetooth. A final connection, marked 'IR out' enables the ND5 XS 2 to control input selection, volume and muting on a compatible Naim amplifier, and the player is supplied complete with the company's 'floating pin' Power-Line Lite mains cable, which is now standard across the range (at least for units requiring a UK mains plug).

Best Practice
As with all the Naim network products, unused inputs can be turned off in the app, thus greatly simplifying the graphical interface, and the same method is used to choose which outputs are enabled. It's possible to have both sets of analogue outs and the BNC digital out functioning simultaneously, but for the best performance it's best to select one and stick to it. Similarly one can select between fixed and variable analogue output level, although Naim suggests the variable setting is only to allow AirPlay 2's volume settings to work, and that the ND5 XS 2 shouldn't be considered as a candidate for 'straight into a power amp' operation.

Naim Audio Ltd
Supplied by: Naim Audio Ltd
01722 426600