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Naim Audio Super Lumina interconnects and loudspeaker cables

Naim Audio Super Lumina interconnects and loudspeaker cables

OK, I’ll get this out of the way first. I hate the way the ‘Super Lumina’ logo looks. I get why Naim Audio did this (it’s meant to show superluminal motion in action, itself an abstraction of an abstract concept) but it just looks like someone had a progressively broken space bar when writing that name – ‘S U  P   E   R’. I’m staying distinctly Newtonian here.

Many of Naim Audio’s core buyers have an ‘interesting’ relationship with cable. Their loudspeaker cable of choice for the last quarter of a century or so is Naim’s NAC A5; this is the perfect example of a ‘do just one thing well’ design, in that it has excellent ‘musicality’ (a combination of timbral properties alongside – naturally, being Naim – a good sense of musical order and beat), but almost everything else takes a back seat. This sonic signature traditionally dove-tailed nicely with Naim’s equipment, but the limitations in detail resolution, soundstage, and even the tonal balance of the cable began to prove something of an obstacle to ultimate performance, especially in the light of products like Naim’s 500 series and Statement line. Yes, other cable brands are available and many Naim users use other brands (most notably from the Chord Company line), but such is the loyalty to Naim that standard NAC A5 is used in some extremely high-end Naim set-ups. Super Lumina addresses that need to push the cable envelope for Naim’s most loyal followers.

In interconnect or speaker cable form, Super Lumina features silver-plated copper conductors and silver-plated tellurium copper alloy connectors and FEP insulation throughout. XLR and DIN connectors for the interconnects use Naim’s unique Air-PLUG connectors. These feature individually machined and anodised aluminium rings. Aluminium’s non-magnetic properties make it consistent with materials used on the chassis of Naim products, and a highly durable connection to boot, but gold terminals are used on its RCA plug versions. All the shielding on both interconnects and speaker cables uses a non-magnetic tin-plated copper weave, and the cables are finished in a subtle and elegant shade of mid-grey. Super Lumina is also thinner and more flexible than most high-end audio cables. Discretion rules!

Like Naim’s other cables (except for sold off the reel NAC A5 ), Super Lumina is made by hand in the company’s Salisbury HQ. It’s also subjected to the same ‘destressing’ process used by Naim for decades (this means cables get hung like game, and periodically shaken like the apocryphal lamb’s tail). Little gunmetal alloy blocks seal the ends of the speaker cables and those ends can be spade lugs or 4mm terminals.

Naim’s cables must be used both within and outside of context. It’s pointless discussing them without passing them through the lens of Naim Audio equipment, but at the same time it’s also worth checking out Super Lumina in absolute terms, comparing it in a system with no other Naim products, just to see if its scope extends beyond the Naim ecosystem.

In the first case (used in a Naim system), Super Lumina makes a very strong case for itself, and not just at the Statement grade; what it brings to Statement, it also brings to the company’s 500 and even Classic and Uniti lines. And what it brings is speed and leading-edge detail, but without the pinched and pitched presentation that often accompanies those attributes. This makes both interconnect and loudspeaker cables extremely adept at conveying the emotion behind the music. It also brings many of those high-end audiophile properties to the sound without undermining what makes Naim sound like Naim. In other words, use this with a pair of loudspeakers with good imaging properties and the width and depth of the soundstage is more expansive, enveloping and three-dimensional, and the level of detail retrieval and microdynamic shading on offer make a Naim system with Super Lumina considerably more attractive than the standard cable. However, that all being said, Super Lumina is not the richest sounding of cables, and I think that – and the price – make it more of a candidate in the more fuller sound of Classic, 500, and Statement pieces; the combination of Uniti and Super Lumina is exceptionally detailed and focused, but does lack a little body. 

 

An interesting comparison here before we leave the Naim ecosystem is how Super Lumina compares to comparable Chord Company cables, like Sarum T. The two in many respects have much in common in terms of detail, inherent musicality, and pace, but the Super Lumina is the faster sounding of the two cables, where the Sarum goes for a fuller, richer sound. I wouldn’t say one is more ‘engaging’ than the other, but where Super Lumina is more ‘emotional’ sounding. Chord Sarum T sounds more ‘elegant’. The Naim cables (especially the interconnects) are less forgiving of bad recordings, but neither lay the music bare. I can see either keeping a long-held place in a Naim system, and the differences between them are more ‘how do you take your coffee?’ than ‘I cast thee into Hell for crimes against audio’.

Moving out of the Naim ecosystem, Super Lumina fares well too. It faces a much harder task outside of Naim territory simply because there are grillions of cable options available to the listener, and the cachet using a cable by Naim may have for people who use Naim fades fast for those outside the Salisbury Set, but it should not be discounted out-of-hand. Strangely, the cable also seemed to have something close to a change of character, sounding slightly softer, more relaxed, and with a fuller bass. The speed and that leading-edge intensity are still present, but even here these transients are somewhat less present and noticeable. For example, the percussion that underpins ‘La Grange’ [ZZ Top, Tres Hombres, London] still bites and has force, but it’s not simply Frank Beard beating the hell out of a drum kit; there is more subtlety and shape to the sounds, a dimensionality that borders on warmth. 

OK, so the Super Lumina’s change of character is not a major one and reflects more the nature of the systems in which it is used, making this chameleon quality one of simply showing up more of the system, which is a good thing. Those set on using cables as tone controls will find that all but impossible with Super Lumina because the sound depends on the equipment, as it should. 

As with Naim equipment, Super Lumina is not a cheap-system enhancer, a panacea, or a tone control. Use it in that manner and you may find there are better cables out there to meet your needs. Also, aside from leading-edge definition, Super Lumina is a subtle, yet sinuous, and textured performer instead of something immediately impressive and ultimately disappointing. 

Combining the results both in and out of a Naim system suggests that Super Lumina is a remarkably well-rounded cable, especially at top-end information retrieval. It doesn’t spit data at you, regardless of system, and likewise across the board is intrinsically neutral enough to let the basic character of the components shine through. I can see this being something of a surprise for those used to more heavily flavoured cable sounds where the honesty of Super Lumina will be mistaken for a performance change to the system. Some of that comes down to my own initial impressions, thinking – in the speaker cable at least – what was going to be on offer was ‘super NAC A5’. Super Lumina is many things, but not an upgraded NAC A5; not only is the tonal balance different, the rhythmic and timbral properties are not identical, either. It does a lot of what A5 does, but in a different way – not better, or worse, different… like a guitarist who has changed pickups in his guitar.

Perhaps the best part of Super Lumina is the consistency between interconnect and speaker cable (perhaps not so unexpected because both are essential spaced twin conductor designs), but the performance of the interconnect is extremely close to that of the speaker cable. This is an obsession of those companies that talk ‘cable looms’ but this shows Naim is taking its cable responsibilities seriously, too.

 

It would be a shame if Super Lumina only played to the Naim crowd because the interconnect and speaker cables are great in their own right. Although it’s entirely understandable because they work so well in Classic, 500, and Statement products from the brand. Super Lumina is good enough that I ‘sat’ on this review for far too long because I was enjoying its performance so much. This is a cable many high-end brands would be only too happy to call their own. In fact, if they painted over the Naim label and charged twice as much, no one would bat an eyelid in sonic terms.

In short… E X  C   E   L     L      E     N        T        ! 

Price and contact details:

Super Lumina interconnect: From £1,925 (1m DIN-DIN)

Super Lumina loudspeaker cable: From £1,950 

(3m pair, 4mm plugs)

Manufactured by: Naim Audio

URL: naimaudio.com

Tel: +44(0)1722 426600

Tags: FEATURED

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