Naim DAC-V1 Review

Naim has been on the home audio scene since the early ’70s when Oxford born and self-taught designer Julian Vereker brought the NAP200 power amplifier to market after his disillusionment with then current pro-audio offerings. The NAC12 preamplifier soon followed and the rest, as they say, is history. The most venerated of the company’s products, the Naim NAIT (Naim Audio Integrated) amplifier secured its place in the pantheon of high-fidelity milestones in 1973 and since then, as far as I can tell, there has been nothing but a steady stream of carefully thought out and realized products built with sonic excellence and musical enjoyment at the fore of their designs.

Full disclosure; I’m a huge fan of the Naim house sound and it’s legendary PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) along with their outstanding build quality and emotionally involving – and uncomplicated – circuit architecture. I was first exposed to the brand several years ago when I started my initial forays into more serious hi-fi system building: I wanted a Naim 5i integrated, but funds couldn’t stretch quite that far at the time. In between then and now I wandered around from used solid-state integrated amps like Sugden, Sonneteer and Rega to low-power SET amps and high-efficiency speakers with a strictly vinyl front end to my present setup focused on digital streaming; a tube preamplifier and solid state monoblocs with big three-way loudspeakers. But I always think back to how captivating the sound of that 5i was along with every other piece of Naim gear I’ve heard in the intervening years, which brings us to the Naim DAC-V1 ($2,595 USD) under review here.

The Goods

Slightly smaller than a half-chassis, the “Small Audio Converter” V1 is a rock-solid piece of kit, which gives away the quality of the casework, power supply and electronic innards as soon as you lift its 10 pounds of chassis up to place it on your rack or shelf. It boasts all the digital and analog credentials you’d expect from a DAC with a Naim badge affixed. It sports six digital inputs (one BNC, two coaxial RCA, (DSD 64/128 and PCM 24-bit/192kHz) two optical TOSLINK – up to 24-bit/192kHz – and one high-speed asynchronous USB input – DSD64/128, 24-bit/384kHz – along with fixed or variable RCA and DIN analog output (use the V1 as a stand alone DAC in ‘fixed’ mode or with a volume limit on the preamplifier section or as a preamplifier/DAC connected to mono blocs in ‘variable’ mode). The V-1 also sports a single-ended, Class-A headphone amplifier with 6.3mm output, that when activated, engages the preamplifier’s amplifier circuitry to drive the headphone output and disengages all other outputs.

A small, sturdy and simple remote control is included to access setup options/functions and to help you if you’re not inclined to use the six input buttons on the front fascia which share real estate with a display which presents menu options via remote access, input selection, volume and sample rate.

Naim engineers chose to employ a digitally-controlled analog volume dial (feel is firm and precise) to go with their 40-bit SHARC DSP chip which handles the filtering and oversampling involved with the circuit architecture. Since Naim chose an asynchronous DAC for the V1 (utilizing the DAC’s internal clock rather than a source clock), rest assured that the lauded PRaT of the company is clearly present in this digital converter. Accessing the unit’s settings menu via the remote handset opens up a plethora of options from preamp output and custom-naming of inputs to headphone volume limits and USB volume control to name but a few, I left the bulk of these settings at default, but you will want to check them out and make your own decisions based on what you see and more importantly hear from the DAC.

The Set up

For this review I hooked-up an Aurender W20 music server to the DAC-V1 via its USB input and a McIntosh C2600 tubed preamplifier via its RCA output. This in turn was sewn-up to a pair of MC611 mono blocs feeding Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers. All digital, analog and speaker cabling was a mix of TelluriumQ Black, Ultra Black, Silver and Diamond. AC cabling was PS Audio, as was clean power which was supplied by a Power Plant 20.

Naim Audio
Naim Audio Ltd Southampton Road Salisbury SP1 2LN England
+44 (0) 1722 426 600

geoffalter11's picture

Hi Rafe,

I am extremely interested in the DAC-V1. As a dedicated desktop headphone amp and DAC, do you feel it is a great solution? I know very little about it outside the few reviews online, and have no ability to demo one. I would listen solely using USB from iMac running Roon. Thx, Geoff

Rafe Arnott's picture
If you read my review, then you know how I feel about it... I think that if you're not into tube rolling and looking for a long-term investment in a simple, easy to set up and sonically enriched headphone experience (that you can also run as a preamp/DAC into a power amp for two-channel flexibility) then you'd be hard pressed to do better than the Naim IMO.
geoffalter11's picture

I did read your review. More than once. Several places that carry the DAC V1 only have 1 unit and haven't heard it as they don't have demo units. Some of them told me to go a different route as DAC tech changes so rapidly. So,I was looking for a bit more to help me understand. I cannot demo before buying as I don't live in a city with brick and mortar shops carrying Naim products. Thank you for responding. It would only be used with headphones. It would be paired with a Pathos Aurium when not used as an all-in one. Thanks again! I enjoy your reviews. Especially your article on the 5 must hear DACs. I want to hear them all...