Super Test Stereo Amplifiers – Sonic Boon (Part 3) – Naim Nait 5i, Onix A-25

Naim Nait 5i

Naim’s Nait 5i has remained essentially untouched for close to six years, making it the veteran here. But as the saying goes, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it, and the Nait 5i is certainly testament to that.

Although it’s one of the pricey amps on test, it is the entry-level option for Naim and comes with some somewhat entry-level features to match. Unlike more generous amps from Arcam or Pioneer, you’ll only get four analogue inputs, a single pair of speaker’s outputs and, uniquely, two DIN inputs as well.

Those in hope of more inputs or a phonon stage for a turntable, for example, will need an outboard unit, but would do well to listen to the Nait 5i first before dismissing it on this basis alone.

Naim Nait 5i

The simple front panel distinguishes the 5i from many more fussy-looking amps on the market, with the Naim logo taking pride of place in the center, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and four source buttons on the right (complete with green LED light to show which is selected), and a volume dial, placed rather unusually (for right-handers at least) on the left. It’s a solid, well-built amp, and the design really appeals.

The 5i retrieves the subtlest details and shows off changes of tempo with real confidence. It’s this refinement, dynamism and transparency that make it great for long listening sessions

Punch and dynamics abound A listen to Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi is enough to demonstrate the pure weight that lies behind this amp. It’s a solid, assured sound that packs a punch in the low frequencies, and reaches high up into the treble, relaying the high synth notes with clarity and poise.

Vocals are handled with importance and pushed to the forefront with impressive transparency, though the Nait 5i is overall a more forward sounding amp than the likes of the laid-back Arcam anyway. While this presentation creates a less spacious sound, it emphasizes the 5i’s excellent timing, keeping records on their toes and oozing excitement.

The Naim combines punch and dynamism with lovely refinement – it’s a winning formula

The 5i’s dynamic skill is another strong point, retrieving and relaying even the subtlest details and showing off changes of tempo with a real confidence – no matter what genre you throw at it.

It’s this combination of refinement, flexibility, dynamism and transparency that makes the Nait 5i such a great companion for long listening sessions. Its large sound belies its stated power rating of 50W per channel, and its outstanding ability to change its character to suit the material shows just what your extra cash will get you.

Whether it’s attacking a bass-heavy track or portraying the sweeter side to a potentially harsh-sounding violin solo, the Nait 5i is an enthusiastic performer and arguably the best sounding amp on test.

Of course there is that high price tag to contend with, but if you’ve got a budget towards the top end of this test’s price range, this is an amp that should certainly be on your shortlist.

The Nait 5i is an enthusiastic performer and arguably the best sounding amp on test

Make sure you run in it

Some products only need overnight for them to their best when fresh This Naim, though, required far longer – a couple of weeks, in fact – so take this into account when demoing.

Rating: 5/5

For: Dynamically strong; excellent bass control; good rhythm; detailed sound

Against: A little lacking on the spec sheet; not the most spacious presentation

Verdict: A strong all-round performer at the top end of the price range

Naim Nait 5i specs

  • Type: Integrated
  • Power: 50W
  • Tuner: No
  • Inputs: Line level x 4
  • Outputs: Speakers
  • Phonon stage: No
  • Tape Loops: 1
  • Tone Controls: No
  • Remote Control: Yes
  • Finishes: 1
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 7 x 44 x 31cm

Onix A-25

We’ve not heard much from Onix in recent years. Once a British hi-fi brand, born in the homes of a duo from Brighton in the late 1970s, it’s had pockets of success ever since before going quiet for extended periods of time.

Now in the hands of an overseas investor with a European distributor, Onix is back with the A-25 integrated amplifier – created to mark the 30th anniversary of the brand’s classic OA-21 amplifier.

Onix A-25

Taking on the distinctive, but minimalist design for which Onix’s early high-end models were known, it certainly stands out from the rest of the amps on test here. As such, it’s bound to be a love-it-or-hate-it design for most… and we happen to love it.

Like the Cyrus 6a (earlier in this test), the Onix takes on a relatively unusual half-width design (something Onix says it did first), with a solid, metal constructed chassis and a black high-gloss front panel.

This amp strengths lie in its midrange, treble and a commendable handling of dynamics – lingering notes let you follow every layer as they fade into silence. It’s a really finessed sound

The large gold volume dial sits in the middle of this panel, with a gold power button on the right and a mode-select button on the left. Above it, you’ll find a blue LED underneath whichever source is selected. And that’s it.

Stripped down design (and sound)

A similarly simple approach occurs round the back, with just three line inputs at 30W per channel (including one balanced XLR input), pre outs and a bypass input for sidestepping the volume controls when using it as a power amp in an AV setup.

And in a bid to keep things really simple, there isn’t even a remote control (Although if you’re loath to get out of your seat, there’s a version of the A-25 that works with its own proprietary remote – yours for an extra $90).

Get the Onix up and running with a play through of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Worth from Director’s cut and it’s immediately obvious that this amp’s strengths lie in its midrange and treble. The keyboard introduction has a sweetness to it that’s almost palpable, and brims with detail. The reverb effect on the notes is conveyed with a commendable handling of dynamics too, allowing you to follow every layer of the lingering notes as they fade into silence.

The Onix favors refinement over bass punch, so bear that in mind when demoing

When it comes to bass, though, it’s easy to hear where the A-25 falls down. With all that concentration on the mids and treble, it seems to neglect the lower frequencies, leaving it feeling a little lightweight and ultimately lacking wallop, to use the technical term.

Overall this creates a leaner, more delicate sound than the amps with more heft behind them, such as the Pioneer A-70 (next) or Naim Nait 5i (previous).

However, for listeners who value subtlety over muscle, the Onix A-25 is certainly an amp to consider. Place it in the right system and it will really shine.

Onix A-25 is certainly an amp to consider. Place it in the right system and it will really shine.

Remote control optional

There are two versions of this amp. The one here is a get-up-and-twist-the-knob model – you can’t use any remote control with it at all. For $90 more, though, Onix produces a couch-potato version with a wand. We want.

Rating: 4/5

For: Strong midrange; sweet treble; delicate handling of dynamics; good separation

Against: Lightweight in the lower frequencies; leaner overall sound

Verdict: A little lean in the bass, but a good choice for those who value finesse over muscle

Onix A-25 specs

  • Type: Integrated
  • Power: 30W
  • Tuner: No
  • Inputs: Line level x 3
  • Outputs: Preamp, speakers
  • Phonon stage: No
  • Tape Loops: No
  • Tone Controls: Yes
  • Remote Control: Optional
  • Finishes: 1
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 9 x 20.5 x 35.5cm