ATOMIC POWER

In the Atom, Naim de­liv­ers im­pres­sively on the New Uniti con­cept of jus­tadd-speak­ers hi-fi play­back, stream­ing and am­pli­fi­ca­tion...

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Naim’s new Uniti all-in-one so­lu­tions marry hi-fi and high­tech. First out, the Atom!

UK-based Naim Au­dio has been fa­mous for its am­pli­fi­ca­tion since its first prod­ucts back in the early 1970s. Three decades later Naim was also quick to recog­nise the fu­ture of file-based and stream­ing mu­sic, and most re­cently it has en­joyed great suc­cess with its Mu-so and Mu-so Qb wire­less speak­ers, ac­claimed for both their sound and their styling. Mean­while that early strength in am­pli­fi­ca­tion has been main­tained and ex­tended by the ex­tra­or­di­nary $325,000 State­ment am­pli­fier.

Now comes the New Uniti range, which in one way is an up­date of the com­pany’s pre­vi­ous all-in-one sys­tem so­lu­tions. But in an­other way, the new se­ries brings to­gether ev­ery­thing Naim has ever learned — the wire­less, mul­ti­room and con­trol el­e­ments of the Mu-sos, with the solid hi-fi am­pli­fi­ca­tion de­vel­oped over decades, and even trickle-down tech from the de­vel­op­men­tal fil­lip of in­vest­ment in the State­ment. Equip­ment Mind you, it took Naim a while to get them fin­ished… there was nearly a year’s de­lay as the lat­est tech­nol­ogy was li­censed for use and fi­nalised for op­er­a­tion. First out was the Core, a CD rip­per and mu­sic server that can act as the repos­i­tory of mu­sic for a whole home, able to de­liver 12 in­de­pen­dent mul­ti­room high-res streams if so re­quested. Then came this unit, the first and small­est of the all-in-one so­lu­tions — the Uniti Atom.

The Atom is es­sen­tially what we’ve re­cently come to call a smart am­pli­fier. It of­fers 40W of Class-AB power to your speak­ers, along with a com­bi­na­tion of phys­i­cal in­puts and built-in stream­ing op­tions. Its fo­cus is more dig­i­tal than ana­logue, with just a sin­gle stereo ana­logue in­put on RCA sock­ets, but then two op­ti­cal and one coax­ial dig­i­tal in­puts, and two USB slots to which USB stor­age can be at­tached for play­back.

So far, so con­ven­tional — but there is the op­tion of hav­ing an HDMI socket (our sam­ple didn’t) to plug into an ARC-equipped TV HDMI in­put to play TV sound as well. Oth­er­wise an op­ti­cal con­nec­tion would be your next best op­tion for plug­ging in TV au­dio.

But phys­i­cal in­puts aside, it is the stream­ing that makes the Atom and its Uniti brethren so in­no­va­tive and ac­ces­si­ble. Dur­ing the Atom’s visit it may have be phys­i­cally lo­cated in one room, but it seemed om­nipresent. Wher­ever we ac­cessed mu­sic — on the mu­sic room com­puter, on our Chrome­book, the iPhone, a tablet — there was the Naim Atom as a play­back de­vice wav­ing at us as if say­ing ‘Play to me! Play to me!’ Ap­ple users can stream to it with Air­Play, An­droid users with Chrome­cast, Win­dows users with UPnP. With Spo­tify Con­nect it pops up in Spo­tify ready to take over your stream. The Blue­tooth im­ple­men­ta­tion in­cludes not only the higher qual­ity aptX codec but the newer aptX HD, which can stream only mildly lossy 24-bit files.

Or you can use the new re­vised Naim app (see be­low op­po­site), which pro­vides in­put se­lec­tion and con­trol along with easy ac­cess to Tidal, in­ter­net ra­dio, and for stream­ing from mu­sic col­lec­tions that have been shared via your home net­work.

All these dig­i­tal sources are pro­cessed by a 40-bit SHARC pro­ces­sor be­fore the dig­i­tal-to-ana­logue con­ver­sion by Bur­rBrown DACs and fi­nal Class-AB am­pli­fi­ca­tion.

Per­for­mance

So it’s quite the of­fer­ing for such a com­pact unit on pa­per — and what a stun­ning piece of work it is in the flesh. It pos­i­tively reeks of high build qual­ity, and on top is Naim’s es­tab­lished con­tender for world’s best knob (be­low), hot from its star turn on the Mu-so range, with its il­lu­mi­nated seg­ments and de­light­ful tac­til­ity grafted onto the top. Down the sides of the brushed black alu­minium cas­ing are finned alu­minium heatsinks (in­spired by the State­ment flag­ship am­pli­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, says Naim).

And on the front is a full-colour five-inch LCD dis­play. This is used with great sub­tlety, kept largely mono­chrome when you’re se­lect­ing in­puts and set­tings, nice and clear from a dis­tance, but burst­ing into colour when show­ing al­bum art­work from stream­ing mu­sic, or sta­tion idents from in­ter­net ra­dio. It has a prox­im­ity sen­sor which wakes the dis­play as you ap­proach, though to be hon­est we didn’t go over there much, given the ease of both the Atom’s app con­trol and the high-qual­ity phys­i­cal re­mote, which also bursts into back­light­ing mode at the slight­est of move­ment (tap the table with your foot, on it comes). This re­mote uses Zig­bee (two-way) RF to talk with the Atom, so no need to point it, or in­deed even for line of sight.

In­stal­la­tion was al­most as sim­ple as a con­ven­tional am­pli­fier — plug in your sources and give it Eth­er­net net­work­ing if you can, set up the Wi-Fi if you can’t.

One point to note for some may be the speaker ter­mi­nals, which are ba­nana-only holes, rather than bind­ing posts, so don’t be hop­ing to use bare wire or spades. “Bare wires

can be ugly,” said N.A Dis­trib­u­tors when we asked about this, “and the pos­si­bil­ity of wires short­ing to­gether is real. Spades al­ways present the op­por­tu­nity of a lose con­nec­tion. Not good at a high cur­rent join.” Also a note next to these sock­ets says ‘Warn­ing: Do not re­place sup­plied loud­speaker plugs with in­di­vid­ual 4mm plugs’. We plugged in our usual ba­nana-ter­mi­nated ca­bles but we did query this also, N.A Dis­trib­u­tors not­ing that “Naim rec­om­mends its own speaker ca­ble be­cause of the cor­rect in­duc­tance/ ca­pac­i­tance per me­tre. It is de­signed for the amps and as such works har­mo­niously with them. And is fac­tored into the ac­tual out­put stage de­sign.”

There are so very many ways to play to the Atom, and one of the first we tried was to use voice con­trol to ad­dress the Uniti Atom, thanks to its built-in Chrome­cast. We re­named the Atom as sim­ply “the Hi-Fi”, and then could say to our Google Home, ‘Hey Google, shuf­fle Crowded House on the hi-fi’, and Spo­tify’s re­sults would flow from the Naim. (Even­tu­ally. The pro­cess­ing time to ac­tion such Google Home/Spo­tify/ Atom com­mands was around 35 sec­onds from com­mand to mu­sic; quite the pause com­pared with nine sec­onds to play mu­sic on the Google Home de­vice it­self.)

For play­back from our main iTunes Li­brary, we used the Re­mote app on an iPad and se­lected the Naim from the Air­Play menu (as pic­tured on the iPad, be­low left). Our high-res files were sent no prob­lem, with art­work on the Atom’s dis­play (or if none, a mas­sive Air­Play sym­bol). But we had some of the same files at­tached to the Naim di­rectly via a USB drive, and switch­ing from one to the other, the di­rect file re­play was cleaner and more de­tailed than the Air­Play stream — which could be be­cause Air­Play down-re­ses ev­ery­thing to CD qual­ity, or sim­ply be­cause in the end, a wired con­nec­tion does de­liver ben­e­fits by re­mov­ing all the va­garies of wire­less stream­ing.

In­deed we had both the USB drive of high-res files in the rear, and a USB stick of test files at the front; both soon ap­peared on the Naim app ready for se­lec­tion. The test files sailed through, ev­ery­thing from WMA, MP3, AAC and OGG up to Ap­ple Loss­less, FLAC and AIFF (these three to a re­mark­able 24-bit/384kHz), WAVs to 32-bit/384kHz, plus DSD64 and DSD128 via PCM-en­cap­su­lated DoP.

More to the point the Atom breezily played through our high-res al­bums, its front panel show­ing track in­for­ma­tion for the WAVs and adding art­work for the FLACs. And how good did it sound! The fairly hum­ble power rat­ing de­liv­ered full con­trol of our main ref­er­ence speak­ers, while the file con­ver­sion was won­der­ful. To hear an old clas­sic like The Ea­gles’ New Kid

in Town (24/96) spun into a stu­dio-crisp sound­field, every tight hi-hat tap, every lay­ered har­mony re­vealed, it was like hear­ing the al­bum for the first time.

Com­plex­ity didn’t con­fuse it, nor dy­nam­ics de­feat it; we had a blast play­ing the DSD files of the ‘High Vi­bra­tion’ bonus SACD of Yes, rev­el­ling in Bru­ford’s per­cus­sion and Kaye’s or­gan work on Some­thing’s Com­ing, and later Trevor Horn’s pro­duc­tion on Leave It slam­ming out from the a capella sec­tion into a chunky but hard-edged Alan White beat.

This com­bi­na­tion of sepa­ra­tion, de­tail and more than ad­e­quate power plays well to acous­tic record­ings. The Naim de­liv­ered an im­pec­ca­bly tight but full ren­di­tion of Acous­tic Alchemy’s highly de­tailed

Mar­rakesh, and of course we were obliged to play Naim’s own re­lease of An­to­nio For­cione & Sabina Sci­ubba’s ‘Meet Me In Lon­don’ (24/192 re­mas­ter), from which we greatly en­joyed every fin­ger slide and gen­tle vo­cal nu­ance of Night Train.

We also had our TV plugged into one of the op­ti­cal in­puts of the Uniti Atom, and en­joyed sound­tracks de­liv­ered through our stand­mount speak­ers with power and clar­ity be­yond any sound­bar (and with­out the pro­fu­sion of sound­bar EQ modes to get in the way); the Atom’s pre­outs dou­ble as a sub­woofer pre­out should you wish to aug­ment things or en­joy a movie-level low-end.

Naim makes it easy to re­turn to a pre­ferred phys­i­cal in­put af­ter a Chrome­cast or Air­Play ses­sion be­cause se­lect­ing the ‘In­put’ key on the re­mote or unit it­self takes you to the last used phys­i­cal in­put, rather than de­fault­ing to the top of the list and hav­ing to step down. This pleased the mis­sus since she could re­s­e­lect TV with one but­ton and no need to peer over at the dis­play.

Tidal and Spo­tify are both ac­ces­si­ble from the app (see left), and in­ter­net ra­dio too. Favourites can be saved from any­where and sub­se­quently ac­cessed from a Favourites menu or us­ing the ded­i­cated but­ton on the re­mote or the unit it­self.

The app also of­fers ‘Servers’, which seemed to in­dex a whole bunch of con­tent from pre­sum­ably our UPnP shares, though since we could find no way to browse by folder, and it doesn’t re­veal its sources, we’re not sure. It was also a bit ran­dom in in­dex­ing as­sorted ProTools source files and other stray bits of au­dio on hard drives. In­deed we thought the lack of in­for­ma­tion via the app as a lit­tle sur­pris­ing, given that Naim’s pre­vi­ous app was pos­i­tively in­for­ma­tion-crazy, adding sleeve notes and band im­ages drawn from the web — all that seems to have gone now in the ser­vice of

Speaker out­puts Net­work­ing In­puts Ba­nana only, by Naim com­mand! The com­pany also rec­om­mends us­ing its own speaker ca­bles (see main text). Eth­er­net or Wi-Fi net­work­ing en­ables Chrome­cast, Air­Play, Spo­tify Con­nect, TIDAL and DLNA play­back. Just one...

Naim Uniti Atom all-in-one player

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