If you’re a music lover, you know that the right amplifier can make all the difference in your listening experience. And if you’re considering the Nait XS 3, you’re already on the right track.
This third-generation model from Naim Audio boasts significant performance upgrades, including a built-in phono stage. But what does that mean for you? Do you still need a separate phono preamp?
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits and limitations of the Nait XS 3’s phono stage and help you decide if it’s the right choice for your setup.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of phono preamps and integrated amplifiers.
Do I Need A Phono Preamp With A Nait XS
The short answer is no, you do not need a separate phono preamp with the Nait XS 3. This integrated amplifier comes equipped with a built-in phono stage, making it a perfect partner for turntables.
But why does this matter? Well, turntables require a phono preamp to boost the low-level signal from the cartridge to line level. Without a phono preamp, the sound from your turntable would be too quiet and lacking in detail.
With the Nait XS 3’s built-in phono stage, you can enjoy the signature Naim sound without the need for an additional piece of equipment. This is especially convenient for those who want a simpler setup or have limited space.
But what about the quality of the phono stage? Is it good enough to compete with standalone phono preamps?
According to reviews, the Nait XS 3’s phono circuit topology comprises three stages: the gain stage, passive equalisation, and final gain and active equalisation. This enables excellent noise performance, extended RIAA equalisation beyond the audio band, and great overload headroom.
Additionally, all RIAA equalisation capacitors are ‘through-hole’ mounted film designs, with low microphonic pickup and excellent transient performance. As phono stages are 1000x more sensitive than other inputs, this greatly benefits the sound quality.
Understanding Phono Preamps And Integrated Amplifiers
To understand the importance of a phono preamp in an integrated amplifier like the Nait XS 3, it’s essential to know how turntables work.
Turntables produce a very low-level signal that needs to be amplified to line level before it can be played through speakers. This is where a phono preamp comes in – it boosts the signal and applies the RIAA equalization curve, which corrects for the low-frequency loss and high-frequency boost that occurs during the recording process.
Integrated amplifiers like the Nait XS 3 often come with a built-in phono stage, which means you don’t need to purchase a separate phono preamp. The quality of the phono stage is crucial since it can greatly impact the sound quality of your turntable setup.
The Nait XS 3’s phono circuit topology comprises three stages, which enables excellent noise performance, extended RIAA equalisation beyond the audio band, and great overload headroom. Additionally, all RIAA equalisation capacitors are ‘through-hole’ mounted film designs, which greatly benefits the sound quality.
It’s worth noting that some audiophiles prefer standalone phono preamps since they offer more control over settings like gain and impedance matching. However, for most people, the built-in phono stage in the Nait XS 3 is more than adequate and offers convenience and simplicity.
The Benefits Of The Nait XS 3’s Built-In Phono Stage
The Nait XS 3’s built-in phono stage offers several benefits that make it a great addition to any turntable setup. First and foremost, it eliminates the need for a separate phono preamp, saving you money and space.
But beyond convenience, the quality of the phono stage is also noteworthy. The three-stage circuit topology ensures excellent noise performance and extended RIAA equalisation beyond the audio band. This means that your vinyl records will sound their best, with all the nuances and details preserved.
The use of ‘through-hole’ mounted film designs for all RIAA equalisation capacitors also contributes to the high-quality sound. This design minimizes microphonic pickup and ensures excellent transient performance, resulting in a clean and accurate sound.
The Limitations Of The Nait XS 3’s Phono Stage
While the Nait XS 3’s built-in phono stage is a great convenience, it does have some limitations. One of the main limitations is the equalisation curve chosen, which is custom and treads the path between traditional RIAA and the IEC alternative. This may not be ideal for those who prefer a more traditional RIAA curve.
Another limitation is the lack of adjustable loading. Standalone phono preamps often offer adjustable loading options to match different cartridges, but the Nait XS 3’s phono stage does not have this feature. This may limit its compatibility with certain cartridges or limit the ability to optimize sound quality.
Additionally, while the Nait XS 3’s phono stage is capable of delivering plenty of dynamic headroom, it may not be as powerful as standalone phono preamps. This may limit its ability to drive certain types of cartridges or speakers.
Do You Need A Separate Phono Preamp?
While the Nait XS 3 does have a built-in phono stage, some audiophiles may still prefer to use a separate phono preamp for even better sound quality. However, this is a matter of personal preference and depends on the rest of your setup.
Standalone phono preamps tend to have higher quality components and construction, which can result in more nuanced sound quality. However, they also require more setup and can be more expensive.
If you’re on a budget or new to the world of vinyl, sticking with the Nait XS 3’s built-in phono stage is a great starting point. But if you’re looking to maximize your sound quality and have the budget for it, investing in a separate phono preamp may be worth considering. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which option is best for your needs and preferences.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Phono Preamp
While the Nait XS 3’s built-in phono stage is a great option for most turntable setups, there are still some factors to consider when choosing a phono preamp.
1. Cartridge Type: The type of cartridge you use will determine the type of phono preamp you need. Moving Magnet cartridges are more common and require less gain than Moving Coil cartridges, which require a higher gain phono preamp. If you have a Moving Coil cartridge, it’s important to choose a phono preamp with adjustable loading options.
2. Sound Quality: The sound quality of a phono preamp can vary depending on the components used and the technological bias. Some phono preamps feature tubes, which can provide a warmer and fuller sound quality but may sacrifice neutrality. It’s important to research and read reviews to find a phono preamp that matches your desired sound quality.
3. Budget: Phono preamps can range in price from under $100 to thousands of dollars. It’s important to set a budget and find a phono preamp that meets your needs within that budget.
4. Brand Compatibility: Some turntable and amplifier brands may recommend or work best with certain phono preamp brands. It’s important to research and ensure compatibility before making a purchase.
5. Features: Some phono preamps offer additional features such as adjustable gain, multiple equalization curve choices, or selectable cartridge loading. It’s important to determine which features are necessary for your setup and choose a phono preamp that offers those features.
Conclusion: Making The Right Choice For Your Setup
When it comes to choosing a phono preamp for your setup, there are several factors to consider. If you already own the Nait XS 3, then you can rest assured that its built-in phono stage is more than capable of delivering excellent sound quality.
However, if you are considering upgrading your turntable or speakers, then it may be worth exploring standalone phono preamps to see if they can provide a noticeable improvement in sound quality.
When shopping for a phono preamp, it’s important to consider the type of cartridge you have or plan to use. Moving magnet cartridges are more common and are compatible with most phono preamps. However, if you have a moving coil cartridge, then you may need a preamp with selectable or variable cartridge loading.
It’s also important to consider the pairing between your preamp, power amp, and speakers. Even the best standalone phono preamp may not deliver optimal results if it’s not paired correctly with the rest of your equipment.
Ultimately, the decision to use a standalone phono preamp comes down to personal preference and budget. If you’re happy with the sound quality from your Nait XS 3’s built-in phono stage, then there’s no need to invest in a separate preamp. However, if you’re looking for an upgrade or more flexibility in your setup, then exploring standalone options may be worth considering.