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Reviewer: Laurent Thorin
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Linn Ikemi CD player
Integrated: Vecteur I 6.2 i
Speakers: JCT Acoustics Héritage
Cables: Hi-fi Câbles & cie Thot interconnects, Hi-fi Câbles & cie Super Maxitrans Speaker cables.
Power Cables: Hi-fi Câbles & cie Powertrans Plus
Stands: JS Audio three-tier rack, Acoustic System Speaker Stands
PowerLine conditioning: dedicated mains spur
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System Platinum, Gold Special, Silver and Basic resonators, Acoustics Sytem diffusers. Acoustic System TopLine interfaces
Room size: 13' x 12' x 7,5' section opens on a 33' long living room, hardwood floor on concrete, painted brick walls.
Review component retail: €560

The new stage in Naim's optimization process is a - power cord. But coming from this idiosyncratic UK manufacturer, it wouldn't be anything of the expected sort, naturally. So here we have an exclusive look at this novelty. Naim without doubt is a famous company but surely the very last in the charts to make any marketing concessions whatsoever to the general concept of tweaks. They haven't mentioned cables in 20 years. Nor component supports. So Naim freaks, like all other audiophiles who eventually turn tweakers, looked to Mana Acoustics' fantastic stands to satisfy their itch to fret, worry and improve. Eventually, Naim launched their own Fraim, a first concession to the tweak contingent's "I want it better" chase.

But now Naim grew jealous to keep any improvements to its equipment tied to Naim itself after having long since cultivated an upgrade path within its power supply expansion concept. This birthed the Hi-Line, a custom interconnect with ultra-quality proprietary DIN connectors but also WBT NextGens for the commoners dabbling in RCAs. And it was quite enlightening to observe how differently Naim approached their first cable assignment from the competition. To them, the connectors seemed the most important part of the job. Perhaps that's because, even though they use quality conductors of course, they have always and vehemently rallied against the high-end deliriously exotic materials obsession. To learn more, I asked Roy George, Naim's chief designer in Salisbury, to tell me the story behind their new power cord.

Why did you decide to design a power cord?

We have always understood that the power cord is a very important part of the system. Our standard power cord is the best off-the-shelf type for a Naim system, selected from very many available types after hours of listening tests. After our extensive work with our recently released HiLine interconnect cable, controlling microphony effects of the connectors we found were every bit as important as the cable itself so our challenge was to introduce this thinking into the PowerLine.

Why do you decide to design your own connectors?

Really, this is just part of Naim's design philosophy. A system is only as good as the weakest part so we wanted the best possible connectors. We were sure our experiences and ideas when designing the HiLine would be applicable to the mains connectors. The decision to design and make mains connectors was a significant step. The cost of designing and tooling a plug to pass the very stringent certification process was time consuming and expensive but we think the resulting plugs are a significant step forward.

Do you consider the previous cable not to your standards?

There are certain characteristics that we are looking for in a hifi system and we have had the opportunity to listen to many mains cables from the after market over the last few years. Although these cables may have advantages in other systems, they didn't improve on the standard Naim cable in ways that we think important in a Naim system. We set out to improve on our existing cable which to date was our reference.

Is an export PowerLine inferior to a UK PowerLine since it benefits from only one Naim connector, the IEC?

All I can say is that the UK plugs available to us were degrading the performance of the PowerLine and this directed us towards designing our own UK mains plug. The plug we have designed is a big step up from the rest. The plugs we have found for the PowerLine versions for the non-UK markets were selected in listening tests from the well-designed ones available. The selected plugs made the rest-of-world PowerLine leads perform at a similar level to the UK version. It is so difficult to do a fair and unbiased comparison so I wouldn't be able to say whether the UK or non-UK versions of the PowerLine was better and of course in the end, the customer can't choose. I would like to think the UK plug is at least slightly better after we have spent so much time and effort on the design, although the big benefit you have in Europe is the lack of fuse directly in the mains plug.

Is the PowerLine okay for non Naim equipment?

Absolutely, yes.

I noticed your floating design. Is there any common point with the floating circuit boards in some of your electronics ?

We have learnt a lot about how vibrations interact with and affect the electronic components in a hifi system. This knowledge has been applied throughout the whole range of Naim products and not just in the more expensive products with more obvious solutions, such as the suspension systems in the 552 preamp and 555 CD player. The techniques we have used in the electronics were directly applicable to the cables, the HiLine and now the PowerLine. This is a common thread - knowledge gained in one project can influence improvements of other products, which are apparently not closely related.

Would you say that the conductors themselves are less important or is it 50/50?

It is difficult to attribute numbers to the various elements of the PowerLine. The performance of the cable was not much above average when using commonly available IEC connectors but when the high-quality IEC connector and mains plug were fitted, the cable was obviously exceptionally good. The cable needs the good connectors and the connectors need the cable to show the potential of each. This refers back to the idea that the performance of a system, the PowerLine in this case, is determined by its weakest part.

You designed an interconnect, now a power cord - are you working on a speaker cable?

For some time, we have considered how we might design a speaker cable that improves on the NACA5 in every way. I'm sure our experiences with the HiLine and PowerLine will give this research some extra impetus.

As Naim also told me, the PowerLine's unique design is the result of hundreds of hours of experimentation, research and listening aimed at identifying and optimizing the critical elements of audio mains cables. Mechanical energy transmission, eddy current propagation and conductivity factors were all identified and numerous steps taken within the design to eliminate any negative influence. The PowerLine itself is custom manufactured with 4mm² cross-sectional copper conductors, individual dielectric insulation chosen for its sound-enhancing electrical properties and a final rubber sleeve that provides high levels of inherent mechanical damping. The IEC plug features floating pins that align for enhanced contact area. The stripped cable ends are secured by specially profiled clamp screws and the cable is both decoupled and clamped by an ingenious die-cast component that includes measures to suppress case eddy currents. The PowerLine mains plug features a thermoset resin case to enclose the same electrical and mechanical elements. The UK PowerLine is launched with this specific mains plug while both EU and US versions are equipped with a luxurious Furutech rhodium-plated Schuko or US plug.

And the sound?
According to Naim, the PowerLine is a sort of universal mains cable perfectly adequate for sources, preamps and power amps. So I tried it on my CD player and integrated amplifier which are very different from a power consumption perspective to see how it performed. It was clear that while the PowerLine was effective in every situation, the bigger difference was with the integrated amp's beefier power supply. Even though the result was very good with the Linn Ikemi CD player, I clearly felt that its switching power supply with its lack of massive current need didn't demonstrate big gains over my regular Powertrans Plus from Hi-Fi Câbles & Cie - perhaps a resurgence of the old antagonism between Naim and Linn? Needless to say, on the amp the PowerLine proved a contender. Its core quality is wide frequency response with great, deep and very controlled bass. This register appears clearly treated with incredible texture. You can follow any bass line with the sort of evidence that's not so frequent. Impacts are very physical. You really feel the power and slam. The midrange is completely open and with a fantastic sensation of energy yet no stress. The treble is luminous, clear, extended, again free of stress but very persuasive. The rhythmic abilities of the PowerLine are fine as you would expect from any Naim product. The beat is so well established that you can't confuse it with any melodic line. If you want a foot-tapping product, this is it. Finally, the imaging criterium isn't the least of it. Each disc is reconstituted with a very honest and natural scale. The PowerLine is not blowing up the soundstage but keeps everything on a very human size. Its main points here are precision, pinpoint positioning and an almost tactile feel of the scenery.

For its first bout with mains cabling, Naim delivers a great product that is simple, elegant, consistent and very well constructed. The research direction behind it is very interesting as the team put the mechanical challenges at the top of its priorities. It's a great thing that cable manufacturers begin to consider this matter. When they succeed, we'll be halfway up that mountain to success. In a globally crowded market, Naim presents an original product at a very sensible price. Thumbs up!

Quality of packing: Excellent. Cables ship in an aluminum box with synthetic foam.
Reusability of packing: Of course to store a lot of little things.
Quality of owner's manual: Good but unnecessary.
Condition of component received: Excellent.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect.
Website comments: Informative with good quality pictures.
Warranty: N/A.
Human interactions: Professional, helpful and friendly.
Pricing: Competitive.
Final comments & suggestions: None.
Naim Audio website