Technical & Editorial
- Written by Rick Schmidt
- Published on 02 November 2009
In my recent review of the Primaluna Dialogue Two I complained that tubes require maintenance. I didn't complain much as Primaluna does a great job of minimizing those requirements. I should have held my complaint for my solid state gear. That's right, even power supplies require maintenance. That's the message that Naim is sending out with their Recap Tour. That's 'Recap' as in 'Replace the Capacitors'. They also replace voltage regulators and transistors used in the power supply. Naim performs this service (for a fee) on their stand alone power supplies such as my XPS, as well as their amps and preamps. They recommend this service be performed every 8 to 10 years. Typically the unit to be serviced is sent back to Naim. If you live in the US it goes to Naim USA in Indianapolis, not over the pond. On October 27 Naim kicked off it's first ever Recap Tour, sending the person who does this work, Patrick Flanagan, to you. Saving you shipping costs and throwing in a 10% discount on the service.
NAIM Audio Recap Tour Schedule:
Oct 27th & 28th Stereotypes Portland OR
Oct. 30th & 31th Tune Hi-Fi Seattle WA
Nov, 20th Innovative Audio NYC
Nov, 21st & 22nd Accent on Music White Plains NY
December 3rd Audible Elegance Cincinnati.
Jan 28th AVSF San Francisco CA
Feb, 12 & 13th Audio Alternative Fort Collins CO
March 5 & 6th Dallas Audio Concepts Dallas TX
March 17th Whetstone Audio Austin TX
Additional tour stops are planned for NYC, San Francisco, Raleigh, NC and Dallas.
I know that capacitors wear out. I learned this with my old Edge M4 amplifier. This thing had a couple of ginormous caps for the power supply. I don't know the actual capacitance but they were about the size of beer cans. When I first acquired the amp, on those occasions when it had to be switched off, the 'power on' indicator LED would continue to glow for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably two minutes. As the amp and myself grew older that time became less and less. Then, the left channel became less and less. That amp is waiting for me to replace those capacitors. The wait probably seems like an eternity.
I thought about taking my M4 to Stereotypes here in Portland to be Recap'd but instead I took my Naim XPS which powers my CDS2 CD player. The Recap regimen for an XPS is to replace 12 capacitors that filter the power supply output, 6 large reservoir caps and 6 voltage regulators. Cost, $450. I asked Patrick what a failing cap does to the sound, "there is a loss of bass control, also, the attack of a piano (for instance) might be ok but then the note will fade out, decay too soon". He went on to say that Naim makes certain improvements in components and component selections so a "Recap'd" product might sound better than the original.
I bought my CDS2 used so I'll never know what it sounded like new but to do my best before and after comparison I gave a listen to Amy Winehouse's Frank. This is a great record, owing more to Erykah Badu than to Motown (as the followup Back to Black did). But, I sure wish I had it on vinyl. The CD is clean but ultimately a bit fatiguing. There is some piano on a couple of tracks. I tried to pay close attention to how it sounded. Did it sound like a real piano? No. Also, I noted how when the music got busy, with multiple instruments at once, the sound was even more fatiguing, the lines between the piano, guitar and voice got a little fuzzy.
Ok let's get 'er done!
Meet Patrick Flanagan, Naim Service Manager just getting started on my XPS.
Here getting a little supervision from Naim's distributor in the NW, Bob Pelland.
I couldn't hang around to wait for Patrick to finish, and I'd already been accused of hanging over his shoulder while he was trying to get some work done. Guilty.
Not only that, I was hovering over the workbench, a lot. Amazingly Patrick was not deterred in his efforts, at least not that I could tell. He may have cursed me later. If he had time. The work continued until 9pm with one piece still left to go. Since the next stop on the tour was the next day in Seattle that piece was boxed up so that it could be done up there and then shipped back to Portland. If you are planning on taking advantage of this Recap tour, book your slot early.
I picked up my XPS the next day and after no break in whatsoever, I played that Amy Winehouse again. Yes! A clear improvement in exactly the areas that I had been looking for. I'm glad to report that the difference was not subtle, not a 'lowering of the noise floor', not that there's anything wrong with that. Rather it was more authority, especially when the music got complex, authority that revealed hidden texture in bass notes and kept the instruments from blurring into each other. The piano that I was focusing on was more real, not the most real I've heard but I think that is a function of speakers, and not always in a good way. What I could hear though was overtones as the various notes of a chord struck and held, beat against each other. Did not hear that before. Also Ms. Winehouse's voice was just a bit more sweet on the high notes. Here's hoping she just quietly gets over her personal problems and gives us more of this amazing music.
Also on the Recap tour Naim is demoing their new DAC and one-box solution the Unity. The fact that Naim is playing in this arena is making Naim-nuts around the world slightly giddy. For years Naim led the industry in anti-DAC rhetoric. Jitter over the S/PDIF connection was only one of the reasons that they would cite in denouncing DACs. So thorough was their conviction it seemed like even thinking about a DAC might lesson the sound coming from your CD player. Well now we'll see because I'll be reviewing the new Naim DAC as soon as they'll let me have one.
This DAC will accept up to an amazing 762kHz/24bit input on it's USB connection. But, in honor of Naim's fastidious roots, the USB connection is Type A (flat, rectangular) rather than the typical Type B (square). The reason being that power is also conveyed on Type B connections. If that is power from your computer, not so good. There are a host of other innovations in the DAC that I'll get into in the review. If there's to be any justice in the digital world, this DAC should sound better than my CDS2. I asked Pat Flanagan what he thought and he wasn't so sure. Seems like DACs still suffer by being in that separate box. It will be interesting.