Naim Audio has a solid history making serious amplifiers and diverse audio components. More recently it’s staked out new ground with network audio servers and players, but the Naim Audio DAC-V1 is aimed squarely at anyone that prefers to make a direct connections between their computer and hi-fi. See all audio reviews.
It’s able to accept up to four traditional digital sources, with inputs to decode the audio from CD, DVD and Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, games consoles and DAB radios. Visit all Audio accessories reviews.
But the main attraction here is the asynchronous USB input, to feed a D-A convertor (DAC) that can accept stereo digital audio up 24-bit and 384 kHz sample frequency. Even the best hi-res audio files usually top out at 192 kHz but the extra headroom here allows some future proofing, as well as upsampling possibilities from the playback PC or laptop. Take a look at all Audio and music reviews.
This particular shoebox case style is not new to Naim Audio; it matches exactly that of the one-box UnitiQute music centre. A substantial all-metal component, this powder-coated box maintains the brand’s impeccable build quality.
The simple yet functionally stylish front fascia has a smooth-turning volume control to the left, six domed input buttons to the right, and a green OLED display nearly filling all the space between.
A small but well-formed remote control takes care of all the essentials – volume + and –, direct input selection, display on/off, as well as basic transport controls that can be used to control a PC’s music player through the USB bus.
Do note though that despite the classic pre-amp looks, it’s a purely digital unit, with no analogue inputs for other sources.
Initial setup is straightforward. Microsoft Windows was never designed for high-resolution audio but the DAC-V1 can work with USB digital audio up to 384 kHz sample frequency after installing a third-party driver. Mac OS X will recognise and support the Naim DAC-V1 without adding any kernel drivers.
There are no controls over the sound quality, such as switchable digital interpolation filters, although other options include customisation of input name, disabling volume control to create a fixed-level source component, adjustable maximum headphone volume level, and display dimming.
A handy feature is the BitPerfect Menu, where you can check if the bitstream from your PC is indeed bit-perfect or has been meddled with by, for example, a software player’s volume control.
Sold separately but matching the DAC-V1’s lines is the NAP 100 power amplifier, at £650. This 50 W stereo amp connects to the DAC through Naim’s long-preferred DIN cable, or can be used more universally with other kit through its stereo RCA phono inputs.
Naim Audio DAC-V1 and NAP 100: Sound quality
Not only do the two boxes look right sat together – they also gel rather well with their combined sound quality. We tried the Naim Audio DAC-V1 and NAP 100 over an extended period with a variety of audio sources and loudspeakers.
Least-best fit was perhaps Rogers LS3/5A speakers which here lacked in-room presence and much in the way of musical communication; the Naim combo was far happier with other stand-mounted speakers like the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 and KEF R100.
The overriding impression of this combination’s sound was of smooth confidence. Like all the best Naim components there’s less fuss and bluster made about the fripperies of audiophilia, more focus on playing tunes.
The S/PDIF inputs proved useful for hooking older sources but best sound was undoubtedly through the USB input – especially with better-than-CD music files.
We used Audirvana Plus to play 16- and 24-bit material, as well as 1-bit DSD downconverted to 24-bit/352.8 kHz.
Overall, the soundstage was a little narrower than some systems might describe it but the freedom from treble edginess made for a veritable listen-all-day experience.
Bass was found to be a little opaque in timbre, and treble seemingly reined in through the ultrasonics which tended to draw focus to the music rather than the minutiae of low-level detail.
Splitting the two units, the DAC-V1 seemed to be responsible for the super-smooth, rounded sound, with audibly a certain ceiling to its high-frequency reproduction.
This was even more apparent through the handy 1/4in headphone output, which had the general effect of making headphones sound a little dry yet very civil. Some listeners may prefer the greater insight from less editorialising digital pre-amps.
The NAP 100 power amp, on the other hand, may have had the more extended bandwidth of the two. That was our impression when judged with wideband analogue pre-amps and high-resolution sources like 24/96 and DSD digital music.
And late-night listening even showed a little breakthrough of, ironically enough, Smooth Radio FM, at a very low volume; enough to warrant powering down overnight in a quiet room anyway. There is a ground-lift switch available on the DAC-V1 although this made no change in either of its positions.
Used in another location, there was no such issue and we’d wager it’s unlikely to affect most people’s installations.