We missed the boat on the latest Naim news, thanks to a rogue website breaking embargo while I was on the flight out to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. So, instead of simply running the same information on the quartet of new Naim Uniti products (replacing the previous quintet), I thought I would try to concentrate on the reaction to the first two models, heard both by a scoop of audio journalists (other collective nouns are available) at the Naim factory, and the first public outing of the same at RMAF.
The first two models to launch were – coincidentally – the first two to be seen both privately and in public. The £1,600 Uniti Atom (replacing the UnitiQute) is a half-width, all-in-one network player, with the large top-mounted controller found in the Statement and Muso, a full-colour 5” widescreen display that extends across most of the front panel. Like all the new Uniti range, the central aspect of this design is a completely new streaming platform, incorporating a 40-bit SHARC DSP chip and Burr Brown DACs and a completely redesigned circuit with significantly greater onboard memory, and improved wireless connectivity. The Atom uses a 40W Class AB amplifier, but can be upgraded with a power amplifier, and features an analogue RCA pair of inputs alongside the coaxial, optical, USB, and RJ45 network connections. Wireless and AptX Bluetooth are available as standard and an optional HDMI connection will be available soon. Atom can connect using AirPlay and Google Cast for Audio, it is comfy talking to TIDAL or Spotify Connect, and can access Internet radio stations.
This is no small change, and required significant investment in time and people to develop. Naim claims this is a two-year project, and required the R&D team expand from seven to 25. As they can all handle 24bit, 384kHz PCM and up to DSD 128, delivering up to 12 separate 24/384 files simultaneously across a network, the file serving has been greatly enhanced.
Atom is joined by the Uniti Core ripper/server/player (£1,650). This replaces the more expensive UnitiServe, building a full platform in its own right running under custom Linux code. The Core comes complete with two USB sockets front and rear for uploading and downloading files, a RJ45 connection for Ethernet connection, and a BNC S/PDIF connection for direct digital audio hook-ups to DACs. The Core does not include a built-in HDD, but instead includes a caddy for a HDD (Naim is building a list of useful compatible drives). This is useful, because not every network user will want internal storage as they may already have a NAS drive for storage.
These two models will be in the stores in the next few weeks and will be followed by the £2,999 Uniti Star, a full-width all-in-one device complete with ripping CD player and music storages, and the top of the range £3,800 Uniti Nova integrated player. These replace the Uniti 2 and SuperUniti respectively, with the UnitiLite model effectively fading away.
The overall look to these new Uniti models draws heavily from both Statement and Muso, pulling away from the design of the Classic line with its curved front and green display. The large, top-mounted rotary controller is also a function of the newer generation products, and is echoed in a sophisticated bidirectional remote handset. This design works well for one-box units like the Uniti range and the Muso models, and it also works well atop the giant Statement preamplifier, but if this is part of a gradual design-change roll out across the range, I’m not sure how it will sit in a rack of electronics. And, with the new Uniti platform in essence out-performing the existing streaming option on a number of levels, changes to Classic models will likely follow soon.
The new Uniti designs are sharp-edged – almost Densen sharp – giving the new quartet a more ‘squared-off’ look than existing Uniti models. And, like the latest generation of Naim products, it looks to ‘float’ on white-lit transparent acrylic than the more traditional four feet of earlier designs.
A small party of journalists were invited down to the Naim factory to tour the new production facility, which will comprise several workstations designed purely for Uniti, with everything built in-house on a jig-based assembly system, rather than more traditional production line techniques. This has helped keep prices similar or even lower than the previous version of Uniti.
Then we were shown Naim’s slightly overdamped listening room for a short demonstration of the first two Uniti products, the Atom and Core, driving a pair of Focal Aria floorstanders. The sound retained the typical Naim bright, clean, and fast sound, was perfectly capable of driving the Focals well even at fairly high volumes in so large and overdamped a room filled with equally overdamped journalists. There were a couple of minor operational glitches in the demonstration, mostly to do with running two networks on one network, but the overall effect was a fast and fun sounding Naim system
Within seconds of the announcement it seems, the UK forums dedicated or loyal to the Naim brand exploded into life. While it would be good journalistic form to lie about this, the reaction – based on nothing but a press release and photos – wasn’t quite as vitriolic as expected, given the fairly substantial changes to the external design. Yes, the usual ‘why is the logo not green?’, the inevitable ‘Julian Vereker will be turning in his grave’ and general ‘the sky is falling’ comments were rolled out, but equally there were many who liked the new look, and felt the products moved the brand more toward the stylistic cues of the Statement and Muso products.
This was, however, quickly followed up by the first public outing of the Atom and Core at RMAF, again driven into a pair of Focal Aria floorstanders. The first public outing is always something of a crucible, and judging by the people I spoke to in the room and around, it seemed like it will be deemed a success. In particular, people seems to love the new interface, and how the larger screen combined with the new top-mount control and the app combine seamlessly to make accessing and playing music almost Sonos-grade easy, but with a sound quality that made the Atom more than welcome in among the high-end audio extremes. One or two show-goers even pointed to the Naim room as being one of the best sounding at the show. I don’t think I’d agree (there were better sounds in about five or six rooms, but the combination of pace coupled with a very natural tonal balance made it a room that many could ‘chillax’ in and the room seemed less like an authoritarian man cave audiophile room and more like a meeting place for like minded music lovers. This is a great sign for the Naim system, in my opinion, as it fits the profile of Uniti perfectly.
The tougher test might just come this week, when the Atom and Core are seen at the upcoming and new Indulgence show at the Novotel London West hotel, in Hammersmith in west London. Here, it will be played to the Naim home crowd, the self-same folk who are the most likely to criticise the new Uniti products for not looking like the old Uniti products. Personally, I think if they can get over that built-in bias, they’ll love them!