Q&A with Doug Graham of Naim

I recently sent 5 questions to Doug Graham, Naim Audio's International Sales Manager, and he was kind enough to respond to all of them. Naim Audio, as you more than likely know, have an extensive product line that includes each piece of the hi-fi puzzle from front end to speakers and everything in between. Naim has also developed an extensive product line centered around what they prefer to call 'streaming audio' as opposed to 'computer audio'. As the Editor of AudioStream, I won't argue the point. The Naim streaming audio product line includes Hard Disk Players/Music Servers, Network Players, DACs and All-in-one Players.

Naim appears to be addressing both the audiophile community as well as trying to draw in those people looking for better sound quality from their streaming media in a simple all-in-one device. With this in mind, I focused on the broader marker and the wide net Naim is casting. Without further ado, let's get on with the Q&A:

What are the most common misunderstandings people have regarding computer audio and streaming music?
That it's difficult. Also, I think that the term 'computer audio' conjures up what people believe is 'low-fi. This may have been true 5-10 years ago but things have changed remarkably in this time. I think that the term 'streaming audio' is a much more correct term than 'computer audio' as this really does sound like a pain and I think drives people's misconceptions that it's not really high-end hi-fi! The only real pain is the time to rip your music BUT once done and backed up the performance and user experience can be incredibly satisfying.

"The re-discovery of your music collection makes life exciting. A journey re-visited."

Do you think we’re reached the point with computer-based audio where people are focusing on the music instead of fussing over the technology? If so, what would you say got us over the hump and if not, what do you think it will take to get us there?
A couple of years ago consumers and even some vendors were really struggling with the interface. When you went round a show or to a retailer all anyone wanted to talk about was the interface. It seemed that as long as you could control a device and get a sound then it was job done. No one was talking about performance! Now, given that applications/interfaces have developed and work seamlessly, performance is back on the agenda. It also has taken a while for the message to percolate through that 'streamed audio' is incredibly powerful. Suddenly being reminded why you bought that particular CD that you only played once is fantastic—because you can find it easy on say an iPad App, or it pops up when you use the random play facility. The re-discovery of your music collection makes life exciting. A journey re-visited.

I think that the 'hump' is being well and truly scaled but I really think that retailer education in how to present this powerful proposition needs to be ongoing. Great audio is still one of the best-kept secrets on the planet.

Can you talk about any new products coming down the pike from Naim?
Yes. In a vague fashion ☺ Given the fact that we are already successful with music performance in the digital domain and we see this as a key to future success we will continue to develop the range of streaming clients, DAC's and All-in-one products to meet what we believe will be high demand. In February we will launch our top-of-the-line NDS streaming network player at the Bristol Sound and Vision Show. We have a programme of product development for the next 3 years. We recently launched an update for Uniti/Unitiqute and NDX that allows 24/192 files to be streamed. So we look after customers who invested in Naim.

Metadata, or the lack of it, appears to be an ongoing issue for people ripping music to a hard drive-based music library. Even with access to multiple online databases, there’s an issue of completeness and consistency that often necessitates some sort of manual intervention at times on a track to track level. Do you see a solution on the horizon that will offer accurate and complete tagging information that doesn’t require some amount of manual data entry?
No one is going to deny that there are some issues in retrieving metadata for some CD's ripped. But it's a very, very small amount of discs that either report wrong or that there is no metadata available. The situation is improving and will continue to do so. It's not in any way a deal breaker. Obviously, when cloud streaming becomes de rigueur (might not be that far away) then the data one gets will be complete.

"...music IS the panacea to the media driven lives we lead."

Where do you see Computer Audio in 3 years?
I see ‘Streamed Audio’ to be completely accepted as a quality medium. When you consider the performance development of CD players since their first appearance in the 80’s it looks like the same investment in search of greater performance will be applied to streaming. Also, it’ll have invigorated the audio business as the drag through of customers who are currently just dipping their toe in the water with inexpensive solutions get turned on by the power of controlling, finding and playing their music their way and realise that music IS the panacea to the media driven lives we lead. Creating a world of emotion in your head by listening to music offers escape, satisfaction, relief, joy………we all like music. Right?