When the Naim CDX2 was launched in 2003, it seemed that Compact Disc was beginning to falter, faced as it was with an onslaught from SACD and DVD-Audio. So for Naim to pitch a new CD player right into the market for high end universal machines seemed an audacious move. At £2,650 plus £2,300 for its partnering XPS2 power supply (not essential, but recommended), it appeared to be rather a lot of money to lavish on a dying format. It took its place behind the also new £4,750 CDS3, which was Salisbury’s best silver disc spinner at the time.
Naim chief engineer Roy George paid extensive attention to both mechanical and electrical aspects of the CD player, so an intricately suspended transport and low mass magnetic clamping system was used. There was also a glass-reinforced front-loading drawer mechanism along with a new cast and extruded anti-magnetic chassis to protect from resonance and microphonic vibration. Improved internal shielding was featured, as were shortened signal paths separating regulated power supplies for each stage of the circuitry. Correct earthing was used throughout and there were no digital or headphone outputs. The new HDCD decoder/digital filter was only activated when playing encoded discs. Eight-times over sampled data was then sent to two (one per channel) Burr Brown PCM mono DACs.
A separate, fully optimised master clock controlled all main digital functions, and the clock configuration and layout were engineered to minimise jitter. A seven-pole analogue filter followed the DAC to remove spurious noise. All main control functions were handled by a microprocessor running bespoke Naim software directing the SAA7376 servo controller/decoder. The CDX2 had a fully double-regulated power supply with twenty low-noise, regulated power supplies on the main circuit board, plus a separate supply on the servo control board and another on the display board. A stand-alone, mains powered machine, it could also be used with the XPS2 power supply which sported six separately regulated, ultra low noise outputs, featuring a toroidal transformer and six power regulators.
The styling looks good even today in a classic Naim way, and there’s no denying the exquisite quality of the 87x432x314 mm casework. It’s very solid, sleek and purposeful looking in its black brushed aluminium finish. The front panel is an object lesson is clean ergonomics, and in common with the new flagship NAC552 preamplifier, the CDX2 has user-configurable outputs. The simple display goes into sleep mode after a few seconds, automatically switching off for better sound. Round the back there are both RCA phono and DIN sockets, and RC5 and RS232 ports for seamless integration into home installations.
Without its accompanying XPS2 power supply, the CDX2 sounds very nice – in a good and a bad way. It is quite explicit about rhythms in the midband, and has a warmish and fluid bass and a slightly splashy but propulsive treble. It’s an enjoyable and communicative sound that makes a virtue of the spaces between the musical notes, those rhythmic punctuation marks that give magic to the music. There’s a sense that it’s not as polished sounding as contemporary price rivals such as the Marantz SA-12, but it is certainly more satisfying to listen to and altogether more involving.
Adding the XPS2, taking the price up to £4,950, and we hear an incredible transformation, one which is far more than the sum of the parts. Bass grows subtly in stature, gaining really useful grip; suddenly bass drums get muscle and clout, for example. Up in the midband there is an incredible increase in clarity; low level detailing suddenly moves centre stage, vocals are better defined and clearer, and stereo imaging is far better defined. Treble gets silkier and tighter, and gains a good deal more air and space. The result is an altogether more stirring and uplifting presentation of whatever you care to play. Suddenly, no DVD-A or SACD spinner comes close to the power and the passion that this machine can summon up.
Properly partnered with an XPS2 then, this machine achieves greatness. It becomes an electrifying listen, one that many believed to be Naim’s most characterful CD spinner of the period. Its sheer energy, commitment, and insight is wonderful to hear; the more refined CDS3, even with the XPS2 fitted, seems to lose a little of the CDX2/XPS2’s attitude – even if it is a good deal more refined. A great way to hear CD, this machine scavenges vast amounts of detail and strings it together in a coherent and naturally music manner – and that’s why used prices remain high to this day.