Hands on: Review of the Naim Solstice Special Edition
Naim Audio was founded in 1973. Initially, the company only built amplifiers, but it wasn’t long before other parts of the hi-fi chain joined them. There were cables, tuners, a tonearm, and numerous speakers.
Over time, it reached a point where it was possible to have a Naim branded top-to-tail setup, including equipment mounts and even the recordings to play on them. But there was a blatant omission in the company’s production that is finally being filled with the introduction of the Solstice Special Edition turntable package.
After almost five decades of waiting, we’re finally getting a Naim turntable. The Solstice is a fascinating mixture of clever technology and uncomplicated operation. The introductory series of 500 pieces is only available as a package that includes the turntable (complete with arm and cartridge), a phono stage and its own power supply.
You will also receive a bespoke accessory kit that includes the essentials like a digital stylus, spirit level and hex tools for setting up the deck, along with a special Naim production and a book on the company’s history and the development of the solstice. The price for all of this beauty is Â£ 16,000 ($ 20,000).
It is currently not possible to purchase the individual components of this pack individually, but if it goes down well we would be surprised if the individual components were not available for purchase. We will see.
The Clearaudio connection
The skills required to design, develop, and manufacture a turntable are different from those required to manufacture audio electronics.
Naim admits that Clearaudio made the deck, arm and cartridge, but the company also points out that everything is made to its design and specifications. The Solstice isn’t just a renamed Clearaudio product.
In fact, only the Solstice’s main floating magnetic bearing reminds us of Clearaudio’s products when we look around the deck – pretty much everything else on the Solstice looks bespoke.
For reasons of performance, we can certainly not complain about the use of the magnetic main bearing. It’s a clever design that literally floats thanks to the strength of the magnetic field and gives great results in high-end decks like the Clearaudio Innovation that we’ve been using as a reference for many years.
The minimal contact between the surfaces means that the mechanical noise level is extremely low. An optical sensor is also integrated in the assembly, which sends signals back to the brushless 24 V DC motor to ensure speed stability.
The art of isolation
The solstice “suspension” is unusual. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see a traditional spring-loaded sub-chassis system here, but Naim took a completely different route.
The deck’s 47-layer plinth core was designed to be resilient to allow some degree of mechanical decoupling of the main bearing and arm from the rest of the turntable structure. The aluminum top and bottom plates are used to rigidly connect the arm to the main bearing, and other plates reinforce the layered core of the base where compliance is not required. Even the feet are specially designed to filter out certain frequencies.
The chunky aluminum plate is rounded off by a felt mat and has no fashionable extras such as a clamp to hold the record. No lid is included as standard, but Clearaudio offers dust covers for its own decks that do the work for the solstice.
The Aro tonearm lives on
The original Aro arm has long enjoyed cult status and this new version aims to build on its sonic strengths. Comparing old with new, it is obvious that the Mk2 has a leaner build and improved usability.
The arm tube is now made of carbon fiber instead of the original aluminum alloy, and the preload mechanism uses magnetism to apply force rather than the basic string and weight arrangement as before.
In terms of usage, Naim has made great strides with the Mk2, which offers easy height adjustment and greater compatibility with a wider range of cartridges. There’s even a cartridge lift mechanism that was optional on the original.
The Aro Mk2 remains a unipivot design, which means it feels a little less secure than a traditional gimbal alternative. Once the pen hits the groove, any excessive jiggling simply doesn’t matter.
Equinox MC is Naim’s first cartridge
With all the excitement, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Solstice package also includes Naim’s first pickup, the Equinox MC. This moving coil is based on a high-end Clearaudio design, but the fact that it uses a specially machined aluminum body, boron cantilever, and microline stylus makes it a Naim product.
That is never a doubt when we get to the phono stage and the partner power supply. These are integrated in a stylish new housing, with only the power button on the top of the Solstice power supply being the only distinguishing feature.
That’s until you see the backs, where the phono stage has separate inputs for moving coil and moving magnets and rotary controls for charging settings and the power supply only has a couple of sockets.
The phono stage is compatible with a variety of moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and, unlike previous designs, is easily adjustable so you can fine-tune the performance of the cartridge. Inside is a low-noise Class A circuit that uses the lessons learned from Naim’s most powerful Statement Pre / Power to maximize performance.
We take the lid off and as usual with Naim products, the attention to detail in the making is really amazing. We are consistently impressed by the care taken in tightening the various cables and the neatness of the circuit layout.
The partnering power supply unit has separate power supplies for the phono stage and the turntable. Like the phono stage, it uses the company’s much-touted DR control circuitry to ensure a clean, stable, and low-noise power supply.
We heard the Solstice package in Naim’s newly renovated demo room. It hooked up to the company’s Statement Pre / Power combo (Â£ 160,000) and a pair of Focal Stella Utopia Evo EM floorstanding speakers (Â£ 95,000).
When you judge a product by price, the Solstice package looks pretty easy in such a company. But start listening and the story is very different. It is impossible to give a safe judgment on a product that is in an unknown system and space, but we get the impression that the Solstice is a very competitive performer.
For starters, the turntable doesn’t feel like it’s holding back the rest of the system. When we listen to a range of music from Johnny Cash to Faithless, it’s obvious that the deck is digging up a lot of details and being able to organize them into a cohesive and musical whole.
The system has a high level of transparency, which makes the production and recording differences between the albums clear. It’s a fast and clear sound with a lot of attack. We have no problem with bass, power or punch, with the system showing impressive grip and control at low frequencies.
We enjoy the enormous extent of the sound and love the ease with which the system dynamics go from key point-like quiet to borderline uncomfortable. Of course, those luscious amps and speakers play a central role in this, but we think the Solstice turntable deserves a lot of the credit.
A final judgment has to wait until we have received a sample of the solstice in our test room and connected it to a reference system that is well known to us. Until then, we can only say that the omens are indeed very good.
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