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Say My Naim: A Global Hi-Fi Success Story 50 Years in the Making

Naim Audio’s Brand Ambassador, Jason Gould answers our questions about the past, present and future of the iconic British high-end audio brand.

Naim Audio 50th Anniversary 1973-2023

2023 has been a year of milestones for a number of high-end audio brands but Naim’s 50th anniversary feels very different; especially for those of us who started our high-end journey with the British manufacturer more than 25 years ago.

Is Naim Audio the British equivalent of McIntosh? I think so. Both brands have a cult-like following that extends to all corners of the globe. The approach might be different but we know more than a few audiophiles who own both brands.

Say my Naim

You know you want to. Say it twice. Naim. Founded by Julian Vereker MBE (1945-2000) in 1973, Naim Audio have been one of the linchpins of the high-end audio movement for almost as long as I have been alive. It is not a brand that creates feelings of ambivalence within the audio world; audiophiles either love or hate it.

Naim Founder, Julian Vereker
Naim Founder, Julian Vereker

From the launch of its first products; the iconic NAP 200 power amplifier and NAC 12 pre-amplifier, Naim Audio have been troublemakers – in the best way possible. Everything about the industrial design, choice of DIN over RCA connectors, and decision to do things “right” vs “first” was part of a bigger plan. 

Julian Vereker rubbed some people the wrong way. Sign of an entrepreneur and rebel. It should not shock anyone to learn that one of his greatest passions was racing cars. Naim’s products have always had a particular look (the infamous Naim green) and feel – I rather love the look of older Naim kit with its switches and volume knobs. Vintage Naim equipment does not come cheap and there is a huge demand for it.

Naim Audio NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier Angle

The response to the recently introduced Naim NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier proves that to be true. All 1,973 units will be gone before the end of the summer (I ordered one on the first day) and that’s rather remarkable considering the state of the economy and the high price tag.

It certainly doesn’t look like anything else. The original NAIT integrated amplifier was introduced in 1983 and it certainly bucked the “blowtorch” trend that was popular with amplifiers made in America and Japan at the time.

The idea that “more is more” didn’t fly very well with Julian Vereker. 

His biggest concern was sound quality, and something our British friends like to call “PRaT” (pace, rhythm and timing). The music coming out of your loudspeakers couldn’t sound very good if the components creating that sound were incapable of getting those things correct.

One of the knocks against Naim under the tutelage of Julian Vereker, was that their products didn’t play well with others in the sandbox. I think there was some truth to that, but it didn’t really impact how their amplifiers made music with a lot of different loudspeakers. 

Naim Ovator S-800 Floorstanding Loudspeaker
Naim’s last flagship loudspeaker, the Ovator S-800 was released in 2009 and discontinued in 2017.

Naim built their own loudspeakers for a long time, and while many who have belonged to the “cult” for many decades built very satisfying systems around those loudspeakers – I was always more impressed with how Naim equipment worked with other brands; particularly Spendor, Harbeth, Wharfedale, ProAc, Rega, Tannoy, Rogers, Neat, and Graham Audio. 

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Vereker passed away in 2000 and things started to change; Naim components were suddenly offered with RCA input jacks and the company began to focus more on high-end digital playback, network amplifiers, and home theater components.

The marriage to Focal, one of the largest high-end loudspeaker brands in the world, took a lot of people by surprise and there were certainly some valid questions about how the two legacy brands situated across the English Channel from one another would work together and grow.

Has it worked?

Naim Audio Brand Ambassador Jason Gould

Naim Brand Ambassador, Jason Gould, joined me to discuss the first fifty years, the legacy of the late-Julian Vereker, streaming, and why the brand is well-positioned to grow rather significantly over the next decade.

You can listen to the podcast here which is an expanded version of this interview.

When did you get started at Naim Audio?

Started in the Hi-Fi industry in the 1980’s as a salesperson at a high-end hi-fi store based in the UK, Bristol. Joined Naim as a sales representative, covering the South of England and Wales. In 2017, I became the Brand Ambassador for Naim, which encompasses sales training for the UK dealer network, presentations and sales support.

Naim is celebrating a historic milestone in 2023. What does it mean for the employees and company?

It is a very proud moment for the employees and the company. A company which has been instrumental in the way that the global industry has strategized the hierarchy in system precedence and engineering and customer care. This something all our employees has offered over the last 50 years of the company’s existence.    

How has the company evolved since the passing of Julian Vereker in 2000?

The company has become more diverse in its approach to design and innovation.

How has being a part of a much larger company with Focal changed Naim’s approach? Both in terms of design/sound goals, but also how Naim’s products are now marketed and sold.

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I think our approach is much more system solution orientated and has a greater appeal to a market which is not just for hi-fi enthusiast, but also for people that love music and want the best performance without any jargon attached to their experience. We’ve prioritized ease of use and customers want that.

The NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier has generated an enormous amount of interest. Why do you think that is? Are there plans for other “vintage” Naim products going forward?

Naim Audio NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier Closeup
Naim Audio NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier

The NAIT 50 is a tiny explosion of nostalgia, not to mention its very unassuming size in relation to its performance. Regarding plans for further vintage products, there are none. I do think, however, that the NAIT 50 is crying out for a streamer inside a similar chassis.

Naim surprised a lot of people with the Uniti Atom Network Amplifier. How did it impact the business model going forward? Can we expect an active wireless loudspeaker offering the same performance level of the Uniti Atom in the near future?

Naim Audio Uniti Atom
Naim Audio Uniti Atom

Streaming revolutionised our business and sat a whole new audience in front of our offerings. I believe that any company that doesn’t embrace the streaming format and offer a complete system solution is potentially in a very precarious and niche marketplace.  

Looking at current trends within the industry, active streaming loudspeaker solutions could be an interesting venture, something very elegant and sleek in design.

One of the biggest failings of other streaming products has been the poor execution of the control apps required to make them work properly and allow customers to better integrate their existing music collections. How has Naim succeeded where others have clearly failed?

The Naim App has benefitted from our full-time app department, who constantly monitor customers dislikes, likes and suggestion, making for a more intuitive experience.

The “Focal Powered by Naim” retail strategy appears to be a success so far. Why do you think that is and have traditional Naim/Focal dealers pushed back against the concept in markets where the respective brands have sold well with other competitive electronics and loudspeakers?

Focal Powered by Naim Timonium
Focal Powered by Naim Timonium

Overall, the most powerful message that Focal Powered By Naim Stores offer, is the global message of two leading brands working in harmony.

I think that the traditional retailer still has a traditional concept of keeping several high-end brands which they believe in, which in their mind creates more of an unbiased shopping process for the end user. I think for this reason, a FPBN shop-in-shop is probably a better approach for them.   

How has the market changed for Naim? Is the traditional Naim customer still the focus or has the new retail and product strategy (headphones, streaming, CI) created a new pool that is very different?

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Great question, the interesting thing is that Naim still very much has its customer which is still hungry for bigger better Naim system products and at the same time is moving very rapidly into the luxury lifestyle marketplace, a whole new additional market to us, a sleeping giant which has been very rapidly awoken.

Naim launched its first turntable and with a lot of fanfare. How has the table performed in the market and are there plans for less expensive turntables, phono preamplifiers, or cartridges?

Naim Audio Solstice Turntable System Special Edition
Naim Audio NVS TT Solstice Turntable Special Edition

The Turntable was very much launched from an aspect of vinyl popularity and was kind of a homage to Julian Vereker and his love for the format. It was also a nod to the ARO tone arm which was discontinued back the early two-thousands.

There are currently no plans to explore more entry level turntables, however we have recently launched a matching phono stage and power-supply to accompany our 2 and 300 series product range, shipping late September 2023.  

What makes Naim gear different? How has the brand managed to keep the loyalty of its base for 50 years?

Naim is unique in that it has kept to its tradition of upgradable and scalable systems; this allows customers to grow and evolve their musical experience when budget allows. Its for this very reason that our latest range of products has a vast amount of backward compatibility.  

Naim makes everything (or almost everything) in the UK and France(?). How has the company been able to do that successfully and do well financially when so many of its competitors manufacture their products overseas for a lot less money? 

Our customers care about performance and that is something they are willing to pay for. Building things by hand in the UK and France remains a very prestigious hallmark of the entire lineup and it is not something we are willing to compromise on.

Where do you think Naim is headed as a company? 5 years? 10 years?

Perfecting and fine tuning an already very competent brand. Greater focus on simplicity and elegance of its ranges, something we have already begun.

Will we see active Focal loudspeakers powered by Naim electronics in the near future?

Maybe, currently our best performance solutions are still high-end hi-fi and passive high-end loudspeakers. We’re not ruling it out.

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What are some of your favorite Naim products? Why?

Our first real high-end CD player, the CDS. I was involved on the retail side in 1991 when it was launched and it enabled us to enjoy CD playback on a very different level. I wouldn’t say as much as the best turntables that we enjoyed but it offered something unique that other CD players didn’t offer.

I also love the NSC222; which incorporates a mini-ND555 streamer with a statement level pre-amplifier in a single chassis. The performance level of this component is incredible.

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