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XPS2 power supply
as reviewed by John Brazier
When I first heard about the XPS2 power supply for Naim gear, I presumed that it, like all of the outboard power supplies I have come across in the last ten years, was merely an accessory. I have usually found that outboard power supplies make a difference, more often than not for the better. At one time, I used an external DAC with my CD player, and when the inevitable "upgrade itch" needed scratching, I looked no further than the power supply designed for that DAC. It was a decent investment at $249. The music sounded essentially the same, just more meaningful, and the darkness between notes got darker. It was the same music, just better.
My review of the CDX2 CD player was my first experience with Naim, and to say that my experience was favorable would be an understatement—I purchased the player. In preparing for that review, I spent a lot of time on Naim Audio's web forum. The first thing I learned was that many people have a near-maniacal passion for things Naim, particularly in Europe. The second thing I learned was that while there is a solid market for Naim CD players in non-Naim systems, you almost never see Naim amps or preamps in anything but all-Naim setups. The vast majority of the posters to the forum seem to feel that (aside from speakers) it is blasphemous to use Naim products in anything other than an all-Naim system. If you share that sentiment, you are called a "flat-earther," while everyone else is call a "round-earther." This makes no sense to me. If I believe that an all-Naim set up is the only way to go, why would I associate my opinion with a narrow-minded way of thinking? Oh well.
Part of the reason so many people are passionate about Naim is because of the company's well-conceived and well-implemented upgrade path, which makes it easy for the Naim owner to make slow yet significant upgrade steps for relatively reasonable amounts of money. Nearly all Naim electronics have inputs for Naim-designed-and-built power supplies. Preamps, CD players, and integrated amps all benefit from this scheme. I cannot attest to the improvement a Flatcap, Hi-cap, or SuperCap power supply may make to a Naim preamp, but I can attest to the metamorphosis the XPS2 created with my CDX2.
The XPS2 is a hefty black box that perfectly matches the CDX2. I am not very technically savvy, but I am infinitely curious, so I sought the help of the Naim forum folks to understand how it works. Unfortunately, after reading the explanations, I couldn't understand much beyond "It cleans up and reinvigorates the power before sending it to the CD player." I talked someone into posting a topless photo of the XPS2 to assure myself that I wasn't buying a magic elixir, and yes, there is a lot going on inside. If this is not enough technology for you, I suggest that you head to the forum. Most questions can be answered there.
There are several Naim power supplies, and until recently the XPS2 was at the top of the heap. Earlier this year, Naim introduced their new reference CD player, the CD555, and its corresponding power supply, the PS555, which sell for $19,500 and $7500 respectively. Compared to that, the XPS2, at $4750, sounds reasonable, right? Not to me. I had a hard time with the concept of a $5350 CD player accessorized with a $4750 power supply. As it turned out, the problem was thinking of the XPS2 as an accessory. After listening to it, I can tell you: IT IS NOT AN ACCESSORY.
The XPS2 did not make the CDX2 sound better, or different—it completely revolutionized the CDX2, turning it into a state-of-the-art player. Perhaps, in consideration of the new CD555, I am using the phrase "state of the art" too freely, but I hope the point is made. The CDX2 is energetic and ambitious, while the CDX2/XPS2 combination is fit and confident. If the CDX2 sounds digital, the combination sounds analog. If the CDX2 sounds like solid state, the combination sounds like tubes. In many respects, the CDX2 is unrecognizable once it is tethered to the XPS2.
Most immediately noticeable was the bass extension. I recall a posting on one website or another, in which the poster attached a photo of his all-Naim rig driving a pair of Sonus Faber Cremonas. He mentioned that the most recent addition to the system was the XPS2, and I questioned him about it. The most he could say was that he thought it may have added some bass. I was a bit taken aback until I learned that he had walked into his local audio salon and left with most of his setup on a whim, unlike most of us, who labor over our systems. Nevertheless, I often think about this fellow and everything he is missing. If I thought that the most the XPS2 had to offer was a bit more bass, it would have been back on the brown truck before the logo dimmed. Luckily, that was not the case. With the XPS2 installed, the CDX2 has deep, tight bass. Whether the recording is bass driven or not, the bottom end is deeper and tighter than ever before. No matter where I am in the apartment, when the "thump" hits, it sounds like something hit the outside of the building. It is that convincing.
For the first month or so, that did seem to be all it had to offer, and I felt a little gypped. Could this be all there was for $4750? After that, I got on with the holidays, and in early January had my eighteenth reconstructive surgery from the accident I had back in September 2004. After going nearly six weeks without doing much critical listening, I sought out some forgotten recordings that had new life pumped into them by this front end. I uncovered Norah Jones' first CD, which had been buried underneath other CDs that had accumulated at the foot of my rack. It had been perhaps a year since I had last spun this disc, and nothing about it jibed with my recollection of how it once sounded. Jones was embodied in my living room like no other performer had ever been. Her voice was clear, yet tinged with warmth and smoothness. The entire recording had such an uncanny sense of realism that I was motionless for fear that if I moved, I might miss something!
To say that this new front end sounded like analog may have been a bit presumptuous. I haven't owned a turntable in thirty years. What I meant to say was that this front end sounds so far from anything digital that it must in fact be analog. During the five years I have been writing for PFO, I have reviewed six CD players, and the one thing they had in common was the digital quality of their sound. Some, like the two Carys with tube output stages, sounded less digital than the others, but I never felt compelled to use the word "analog" to describe them.
I thought it might be interesting to cut and paste my original impressions of the CDX2 and juxtapose them with my listening impressions of the CDX2/XPS2 combination. Excerpts from the CDX2 review are in italics:
I now heard a new organic-ness. I was drawn to the smooth, sweet organ coming from the left side, which harmonized with the acoustic guitar coming from the right channel. Then, to snug it all together, the female voices beautifully bridged and intertwined. Previously, they had sometimes failed to harmonize. Now, the voice, organ, guitar, and drum kit harmonized beautifully.
Now, the piano was again wonderfully reproduced, but sounded more like an actual piano in my living room. Also, I no longer had the sense that the guitar and piano were merely sharing space. It now sounded like they were sharing DNA. The music was unified in a way it had not been with the CDX2 by itself. Drake's voice had a special quality this time around, one I attributed to the CDX2/XPS2 combination's handling of the highs. There was no "digital-ness" to the sound of his voice.
Now, there was more body. More realism. The image of the singer was so full-bodied and front and center that it was uncanny. The guitar notes had more intensity than before, and the voice and the guitar worked better together, to create a more solid and meaningful whole.
The bass continued to "muscleculate," but was now more present than it had ever been. It also seemed to have a bit more "tune"—it sounded less like an amplified low frequency sound and more like music.
The most obvious aspect of the sound of the CDX2/XPS2 combination is its truly organic presentation. All of the discs I revisited took on a more human element. Instruments took on something extra as soon as they were touched, hit, or blown through. Do you own a CDX2 and have the upgrade urge? Don't sell it in order to invest in another player—simply add the XPS2, and enjoy the CDX2 all over again. I certainly am, and this XPS2 is going nowhere. John Brazier
XPS2 power supply