The NAC-N 272: Naim's New "Smart-Box" System Controller

by Roy Gregory | February 15, 2015

he annual Bristol hi-fi show, a dealer event but also the UK’s best-attended audio exhibition, has become the traditional platform for Naim Audio UK product launches. Following hard on the heels of CES, it is often the home market’s first chance to see products in the flesh that they’ve only read about. But this year, with the show almost upon us, Naim gathered the UK press for a little pre-publicity on their latest product and something that isn’t a carryover from CES. The NAC N-272 is a combination network streamer, DAC and analog preamp built into the familiar Naim slim-line chassis. As such it represents both a source and a control unit, a role further extended by the option to include a DAB/FM module.

Priced at 3300 (or 3600 with the DAB/FM option) Naim envisage the NAC-N 272 satisfying dual customer groups: those who want to upgrade from Uniti-based systems and those who want to add a network streaming facility (as well as a preamp upgrade) to an existing Classic-series separates system -- without increasing the box count. That latter brief in particular is a demanding one, requiring the close cohabitation of substantial digital processing and interface electronics (including Bluetooth and UPnP compatibility) with sensitive analog circuitry. Naim has employed its proven SHARC processor and proprietary floating-point filter software in conjunction with a Burr-Brown chipset to provide decoding for the six S/PDIF digital inputs as well as the Ethernet, wireless and USB connections. The NAC N-272 is also DSD 64x and Spotify enabled. The digital circuitry is separated from the analog section using opto isolators, and all signal-processing functions shut down when one of the three analog inputs is selected. The volume control is a resistor-ladder design based on the one developed for the S1 preamplifier, and all analog inputs and outputs are relay switched for complete isolation from parallel connections. Connect your headphones to the front-mounted socket and the current drive to the output stage automatically increases by a factor of five, ensuring that the NAC N-272 user shouldn’t need a separate headphone amp.

Considerable care and engineering effort have gone into maintaining the NAC N-272’s sonic performance, including the substantial toroidal transformer with its four independent windings and the widespread use of through-hole components in place of SMT devices where the latter impacted sound-quality -- particularly interesting given the crowded real estate inside the unit and the space-saving benefits of SMT circuitry. Of course, the NAC N-272 can be upgraded using any of the XP-series external power supplies. Installing an XP generated substantially wider dynamic range, increased focus, weight, presence and transparency, representing impressive value for money.

But having said that, perhaps the true appeal of the NAC N-272 lies in its ability to act as both source and controller in a high-quality two-channel system. Just add a network connection, a power amp and speakers and away you go. Could this be the ideal solution for a digital native seeking an audio system with separates-style sound quality? Naim certainly thinks so.

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