Naim CDX2 Review

When the Naim CDX2 was released in 2003, it appeared that Compact Disc was starting to weaken in the face of competition from SACD and DVD-Audio. So it appeared bold of Naim to launch a new CD player right into the market for high-end universal machines. It seems to be a lot of money to spend on a dying format, at £2,650 + £2,300 for the XPS2 power supply (not required, but recommended). It was installed behind the also-new £4,750 CDS3, which was at the time Salisbury’s best silver disc spinner.

Naim’s head engineer Roy George dedicated close attention to the CD player’s mechanical and electrical features, resulting in a complexly suspended transport and low-mass magnetic clamping mechanism. There was also a new cast and extruded anti-magnetic chassis to defend against resonance and microphonic vibration, as well as a glass-reinforced front-loading drawer mechanism. Internal shielding was improved, and signal pathways between regulated power supply for each level of the circuitry were cut. There were no digital or headphone outputs, and proper earthing was employed throughout. When playing encoded discs, the new HDCD decoder/digital filter was turned on. The eight-times over sampled data was then routed to two Burr Brown PCM mono DACs (one per channel).

All important digital operations were controlled by a separate, completely optimized master clock, with the clock setup and layout engineered to minimize jitter. To reduce spurious noise, the DAC was followed by a seven-pole analogue filter. A CPU running bespoke Naim software directed the SAA7376 servo controller/decoder, which handled all key control duties. The CDX2’s power supply was fully double-controlled, with twenty low-noise, regulated power supplies on the main circuit board, as well as a separate supply on the servo control board and another on the display board. It could be used as a stand-alone, mains-powered computer or with the XPS2 power supply, which had six separately regulated, very low noise outputs, as well as a toroidal transformer and six power regulators.

Even now, the style looks fantastic in a classic Naim fashion, and the 87x432x314 mm casework is of exceptional quality. Its black brushed aluminium finish gives it a sturdy, sleek, and purposeful appearance. The front panel is a study in clear ergonomics, and the CDX2 includes user-configurable outputs, just like the new flagship NAC552 preamplifier. After a few seconds, the basic display fades into sleep mode, automatically turning off for enhanced sound. For smooth integration into residential setups, there are RCA phono and DIN connectors on the back, as well as RC5 and RS232 interfaces.

The CDX2 sounds really lovely — both in a good and terrible sense – without the XPS2 power supply. It has a warmish and fluid bass and a bit splashy yet propulsive treble, and is extremely unambiguous about rhythms in the midband. It’s a pleasant and communicative sound that emphasizes the spaces between musical notes, those rhythmic punctuation marks that give the music its enchantment. It doesn’t sound as polished as some of its more recent price rivals, such as the Marantz SA-12, but it’s far more enjoyable to listen to and altogether more engaging.

We hear an astonishing metamorphosis, one that is far more than the sum of its parts, when we add the XPS2, bringing the price up to £4,950. Bass drums, for example, gain muscle and clout as they increase in stature and gain highly effective grip. Up in the midband, there’s a huge improvement in clarity: low-level detail suddenly takes center stage, vocals are more defined and sharper, and stereo image is significantly more distinct. Treble becomes silkier and tighter, with a significant increase in air and space. As a result, anything you’re playing will have a far more passionate and inspiring presentation. Suddenly, no DVD-A or SACD spinner can match the intensity and passion that this machine can generate.

When paired with an XPS2, this machine is truly exceptional. It’s an enthralling listen, and many consider it to be Naim’s most distinctive CD spinner of the time. Its sheer enthusiasm, passion, and insight are fantastic to hear; the more refined CDS3, even with the XPS2 installed, appears to lose a little of the CDX2/attitude XPS2’s – despite being much more refined. This machine scavenges large amounts of detail and links it together in a logical and naturally melodic fashion, which is why used prices have remained high to this day.