Naim Audio

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Naim Audio Limited
Type private limited company
Industry Manufacture TV & radio, sound or video
Founded 4 June 1974[1]
Headquarters Salisbury, England, United Kingdom
Key people Paul Stephenson
Products Hi-fi equipment, Audio-visual equipment, music recording label
Revenue ₤18 million[1]
Owners Focal & Co.
Website naimaudio.com

Naim Audio (pronounced "name") is a British manufacturer of high fidelity audio products for domestic use, based in Salisbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom. Founded in 1973, it is a highly successful and well-established high-end European audio brand. In August 2011, it announced a merger with French loudspeaker manufacturer Focal-JMLab.[2]

History[edit]

Naim began when Julian Vereker started Naim Audio Visual in 1969 and created a sound-to-light box which he hired out to film production companies. His disappointment with the sound of professional recording equipment at the time led him to design his own power amplifier. The company Naim Audio, was incorporated in 1973.[1][3] Sailing against the conventional wisdom dating back to audio pioneer Edgar Villchur that the loudspeakers speakers determined the sound of a hi-fi system, and that amplifiers were simply a means to an end in moving the speakers, Vereker set about to put his ideas into practice.[1]

Amplifiers[edit]

Main article: Naim Audio amplifiers

The first product Naim put on the market was the NAP200 power amplifier; it was soon followed by the NAC12 pre-amplifier.[1] The two-channel NAP 250 amplifier, launched in 1975, is perhaps Naim Audio's most well-known analogue product, as its basic circuit layout was shared by all the company's power amplifiers until the introduction of the flagship NAP500 in 2000. The Naim NAIT, its first integrated amplifier, "one of the most controversial and famous integrated amps in the history of HiFi" has acquired a "legendary" status among integrated amplifiers.[4]

R&D[edit]

In 1983, Guy Lamotte was hired as chief designer. He successfully developed the NA T01 and NAT101 FM tuners and piloted the development of the Hi-Cap power supply and the −5 modifications to the company's burgeoning pre-amplification (NAC42 and 32) and the NAXO active crossover. Lamotte privately worked on a prototype electrostatic speaker design that attracted media attention. It was brought into the Naim fold in 1987, after the Linn/Naim partnership ended.[1][5] Roy George, who attended Southampton University and who was appointed Technical Director of Naim in 1985, is credited with designing many of Naim's iconic products.[6]

Following[edit]

The company, and its products, such as the NAIT, NAC52 pre-amplifier, the ARO uni-pivot tonearm and the SBL (Separate Box Loudspeaker) have also assumed cult status among devotees.[7][8] The company was headed by Vereker until his death in 2000, when Paul Stephenson, then sales director, became managing director.[9]

Design characteristics[edit]

Naim has a devoted following gained through a combination of its products' performance, build quality, upgrade and after-sales philosophy. In terms of after-sales support, Naim boasts they can service all products ever manufactured by them.[10]

Typically, the electronics incorporate over-engineered power supplies to ensure fast and generous current delivery to the audio circuitry. Naim also market independent low-noise power supplies to give its customers easy and effective upgrade paths for their pre-amplifiers and CD players.[1][11]

Internally, the Naim design approach can be seen by their use of materials – the semiconductors, heavy toroidal transformers, their obsessive attention to earthing, screening and isolation from electronic and mechanical interference,[12] through to their preference for XLR connector, DIN connector and the BNC connector for phono (as opposed to the RCA connector used by almost all other manufacturers).[1][4][11]

Until 1989, the company's electronics could be readily identified by their heavy black aluminium casing. Since their replacement by the 'olive' range, the earlier vintages are affectionately known as 'chrome bumper' models[9] Electrically, the amplifiers are matched and designed to be used together. Naim warns against experimentation with other manufacturers components,[13] particularly in the case for some "high-end" loudspeaker cables, whose L/C characteristics were said by Naim to present unstable loads to the high-current devices used inside Naim power amplifiers.[4]

As with other brands such as Arcam and Cyrus, the company's instruction manuals state that "better and more consistent performance will be achieved if the system is left switched on for long periods."[14] Many reviewers have also remarked on equipment sounding significantly better several weeks after being left switched on.[15][16][17][18]

Partnerships[edit]

Page of Naim Audio company calendar, February 1986, with image of founder Julian Vereker in a parody of a Mr Kipling advertising slogan

During much of the 1970s and 80s, Naim adopted a symbiotic relationship with Linn Products, and their names were often mentioned in the same breath. At that time, a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable, Naim electronics and Linn loudspeakers was the preferred combination for many a serious audiophile.[3]

The two companies had almost the same sales and marketing strategy, and shared many of the same retailers/dealers. As an upstart company, the company's founder was active in marketing and promotion – Julian Vereker himself appeared in the company's advertising. The company's emphasis on selling products through comparative demonstrations in a single-speaker environment was a move away from marketing space of the chain electronics stores in favour of small independent retailers [in the United Kingdom].

The two companies diverged during the 1980s, at the dawn of digital audio. This was partly due to the convergence of technology, but also because Naim had significantly fewer dealers than Linn. This presented problems for Linn dealers trying to sell Linn speakers which were specifically designed to work at their best with Naim amplification. Both Naim and Linn began broadening their product ranges and started encroaching on each other's historical areas of expertise: In 1985, Linn launched its LK1/LK2 amplification combination, signalling the definitive end of the partnership. Naim began making loudspeakers and Linn expanded its range of electronic components. In 1987, Naim announced that chief designer Guy Lamotte had been working on a prototype electrostatic speaker design, and that a product launch was imminent. However, the product never saw the light of day, having been axed because of cost escalation.[5] In 1995, Naim announced the launch of the Armageddon power supply for the LP12.

In 2008, Naim partnered Bentley in the "Naim for Bentley" project, an optional upgrade in-car sound system which had a degree of customer acceptance that surpassed expectations of both partners.[1]

In 2010, Naim employed 140 staff. Naim's products are exported to more than 40 countries; half of its £15 million turnover is export. One-third of the business was from CD players.[9] In 2011, 60 percent of sales went to export markets.[19]

Digital audio[edit]

During much of the 1980s, Naim asserted that Compact Disc was a far inferior medium to the vinyl gramophone record. Early discs often lost something in the transfer compared to vinyl, and Naim continued to design their products in this context.[1] However, by 1990 technological advances allowed the production of the Naim CDS, the first CD player considered worthy of the Naim brand. The announcement in 1989 that the company was working on a CD player shocked the marketplace.[3] The CDS CD player's was unusual for a two-box device in that Naim put the digital–analogue converter into the same box as the transport and audio circuitry whilst keeping the power supply separate.[1] The Naim CDS has since seen two major revisions (now in its CDS3 incarnation) since its launch in 1991; while subsequent lower-priced extensions to the line are often used by hi-fi reviewers as references at their respective price points. The CD555, which is the "money no object" flagship priced at £15,000, is heralded by Naim as "the ultimate CD player".

Ownership[edit]

At the time of his death, Julian Vereker held half of the share capital of the company. The other half was in the hands of employees, including Paul Stephenson who owned 16 percent. Vereker bequeathed his shares to be held in a trust of which Stephenson is trustee.[9]

Merger[edit]

On 19 August 2011, Naim and Focal-JMLab announced a merger of both companies. Focal & Co., the new entity that will be formed to own the two existing operations will employ 325 people in total at two sites, in Saint Etienne, France, and Salisbury, UK. Pro-forma annual turnover of the new company is £48 million.[20][21]

According to a Q&A issued by the company, both brands will coexist and continue to operate independently. They promise no management changes, the same customer focus and experience as before. The industrial logic cited as "all about growth – not about finding financial synergies", with the focus on brand development through greater collaboration on R&D projects.[19]

The shareholders of Focal & Co are those that respectively owned the company prior to the merger (namely Jacques Mahul, CM-CIC and the management of Focal and Naim), suggesting the merger being executed by an exchange of shares for shares in the holding company. No ownership statistics and no valuation were mentioned.[19]

Naim Label[edit]

Naim also went into the record business in order to supply Compact Discs which were both technically and musically good enough to satisfy analogue/vinyl disciples. This was to be Vereker's personal project. The first CD to appear on the Naim Edge record label was Electric Glide by Gary Boyle, one of the company's favourite vinyl demo records.[22]

Milestones[edit]

  • 1971, NAP 160, first power amplifier, discontinued 1986
  • 1973, Naim Audio Limited formed
  • 1974, NAC 12, first pre-amplifier, discontinued 1980
  • 1975, NAP 250, power amplifier
  • 1975, NAPS, first pre-amplifier power supply, discontinued 1978
  • 1977, NAXO, first electronic crossover for active loudspeaker systems
  • 1980, Moved to current premises at Southampton Road, Salisbury
  • 1981, Linnk, moving-coil phono pre-amplifier (Manufactured for Linn Products)
  • 1981, NAC A4, Speaker cable
  • 1983, NAIT, first Integrated amplifier, discontinued 1988
  • 1984, NAP 135, first mono power amplifier, discontinued 2002
  • 1984, Hi-Cap, pre-amplifier power supply
  • 1984, NAT 01, first FM tuner, discontinued 2002
  • 1985, Won the Queen's Award for Export Achievement
  • 1986, SBL, first in-house made loudspeakers, discontinued 2002
  • 1989, ARO, Unipivot tone-arm
  • 1989, Range upgraded and new look (olive casing)
  • 1990, NAC 52, flagship pre-amplifier, discontinued 2002, replaced by NAC 252
  • 1991, CDS, first CD player, discontinued 1998, replaced by CDS2
  • 1991, DBL, Loudspeakers
  • 1992, CDI, extended range of CD players
  • 1995, AV1, first AV Processor, discontinued 1999
  • 1995, Armageddon, power supply [for Linn Sondek LP12 Turntable]
  • 1995, Super-Cap, pre-amplifier power supply
  • 1995, Prefix, phono pre-amplifier, discontinued 2008
  • 2000, 5 series
  • 2000, NAP 500, power amplifier
  • 2002, Range Upgraded (Reference range) and new look
  • 2002, NAC 552, flagship pre-amplifier, supplants NAC 252 as flagship pre-amplifier
  • 2005, n-series new range of AV products of which nVi integrated DVD/amp combo
  • 2005, CD555, flagship CD player
  • 2008, Superline, phono pre-amplifier
  • 2008, HDX, Hard Disk Player
  • 2008/9, Nait XS, integrated amplifier
  • 2009, NaimUniti, All-in-one audio player
  • 2009, Naim DAC, Stand-alone DA-converter
  • 2009, Naim Ovator S-600 loudspeaker
  • 2010, UnitiQute
  • 2010, Naim wins Queen's Award for Enterprise
  • 2011, Naim Ovator S-400 Loudspeaker
  • 2011, Naim merges with Focal-JMLab

Source: Naim Audio[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Everard, Andrew (6 June 2013). "A famous Naim for 40 years". What Hi-fi?. Archived from the original on 20 July 2013.
  2. ^ Messenger, Paul (19 August 2011). "Focal & Naim to Merge Operations". Stereophile. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012
  3. ^ a b c Price, David NAIM THAT TUNE. Hi-Fi World Magazine. Archived from the original on 23 November 2010
  4. ^ a b c Cadeddu, Lucio ( March 2003). "Naim Nait 1 - A living legend (1983-1987)". TNT Italy. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b Christian Steingruber (October 2000). "History of the Naim Audio FL1" Hi-fi Answers (via personal website)
  6. ^ Everard, Andrew (19 April 2012). "Naim SuperUniti: moving all-in-one hi-fi forward". Gramophone.
  7. ^ "NAIM CD5I". Classic Rock, pg 96, Christmas 2004
  8. ^ Harrison, Andrew (12 May 2011). "Naim Audio UnitiQute review" PC Advisor
  9. ^ a b c d Quaschik, Hartmut (26 August 2010). "Interview with Paul Stephenson of Naim Audio UK :Once Cult – Now Facing The Future". TNT Germany. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012.
  10. ^ Holgate, David (8 October 2003). "Naim Audio Factory Tour". TNT UK. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012.
  11. ^ a b Taylor, Ced Naim power supplies: mods and upgrades. Acoustica.
  12. ^ Martens, Chris (15 Jun 2013). "Meet Your Maker: Hi-Fi+ Visits Naim Audio". Hi-Fi+.
  13. ^ Quote from product manual: "Some Naim amplifiers are designed only to work with Naim loudspeaker cable and using alternatives may degrade the performance or even damage the amplifier." Naim manuals for download
  14. ^ http://www.naimaudio.com/support/manuals
  15. ^ "Naim Nait 5i". The Hi-fi Journal, November 2009. Archived from the original on 15 July 2013.
  16. ^ Dudley, Art (30 January 2008). "Naim Supernait integrated amplifier", pg1pg2. Stereophile. Pg1, pg2 archived from the original on 30 July 2013.
  17. ^ Loh, Joseph (22 July 2004). "To Naim a tune". The Star (Malaysia). Archived from the original on 15 July 2013.
  18. ^ "Naim NAC 202". What Hi-fi?. [Archived] from the original on [date].
  19. ^ a b c Newsome, Clare (19 August 2011). "Q&A – Naim Audio and Focal merger". What Hi-Fi?. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012.
  20. ^ http://www.focal.com/en/home-audio-loudspeakers/focal-jmlab/focal-and-naim.php
  21. ^ "Passionate about sound, Focal & Naim unite". Naim Audio. August 2011 the original on 13 January 2012
  22. ^ Ward, Phil (June 2001) "A NAIM OF NOTE - Recording For The Naim Label". Sound on Sound Magazine. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012
  23. ^ Product history. Naim Audio

External links[edit]