There's minimalist and then there's seriously minimalist, and it's arguable that Naim has come close to crossing that line with the CD5i. Its display, that shows either track number or time, but not both, and no 'pause' button (never mind fast forward or back) on the front panel, could make any user grit their teeth. Just make sure you don't lose that remote control!
On the other hand, one has to admire the upside of that minimalist approach, especially as Naim has so attractively illuminated the buttons and its own logo. What's more, the swing-arm disc-loading method is far the best anyone's come up with since CD's inception.
What you might not guess is that practically the entire player is contained within the swing arm. Beneath the mechanism (mounted on simple but ingenious silicone rubber supports for vibration isolation) is a circuit board carrying enough circuitry to provide an analogue output.
This is passed down a ribbon cable to the single external circuit board where it is filtered, buffered and passed to the sockets (RCA phono and DIN). Of course, the power supply stuff is separate too and, this being a Naim, the PSU is substantial with a large toroidal transformer and generous smoothing capacitors. It's also upgradeable with an external super-supply.
Audio output is available on Naim's favoured DIN socket or more conventional phonos, and using the remote it is possible to select either or both. There's no digital output (another typical Naim touch) and this does limit options for connecting recorders or a remote DAC or such.
With Naim's reputation resting not least on the business of rhythm and timing, it's more than a little surprising to have to report that timing was just about the only area of this player's performance that attracted any criticism.
No one suggested that it was seriously lacking, but a couple of comments compared it unfavourably to rival players. If that was the downside, timbre was very much the up. Across the all-important midrange, this is an admirably neutral player that maintains a consistent policy of honesty as regards the tone of different instruments and voices.
Of course, that skill implies good detail retrieval as well as tonal honesty, and there's no doubt that Naim has achieved that too. It's not quite first class and as a result stereo imaging isn't always ultra-precise, but our listening panel felt that a good balance has been struck between an analytical approach that could result in rather 'dissected' sound and overall musical listenability.
There was some difference of opinion over the CD5i's bass - one listener thought that it seemed slightly compressed and lacking control, while another described it as "huge". These aren't necessarily incompatible views, though, and our subsequent sighted listening did confirm that with very deep bass sounds this Naim can occasionally slacken its grip.
When that happens, the slightly overblown quality that results can make bass sound, paradoxically, both excessive in level and lacking true substance. But it's really quite a mild effect. Treble, meanwhile, attracted no specific comments at all from our listeners, a sure sign that they liked it! Richard Black
The one feature of this player that is substantially below par is arguably irrelevant - with no digital output, it will never matter that the speed is some way outside the usual specification, at 280ppm fast. What's more important for audio quality is clock stability and this seems fine, with jitter conforming to the usual pattern these days of near-ideal performance.
For the most part, distortion levels are very good. Noise is a little on the high side, but Naim's attention to power supply details is vindicated in the amazingly low level of hum harmonics, about as low as we've ever seen from anything with a transport mechanism. Frequency response has a tiny lift in the treble, which is probably not an issue, and rolls off in the ultrasonic region a little slower than most. In fact, Naim's oversampling filter is an unusual one that has an asymmetric ringing pattern, a detail which doubtless contributes to the sonic mix.