Naim Uniti Atom
FOR Class-leading insight; precise timing; looks beautiful AGAINST Nothing particular of note “From the coffee coaster volume dial to the LCD front panel display, Naim has nailed the crossover between lifestyle product and premium hi-fi”
There comes an age where it’s no longer a compliment to be told you look older than you are: and that usually begins some time after you’re legally old enough to buy an alcoholic drink in a bar.
However, we doubt very much whether Naim will be overly disgruntled if we say that its previous line of all-in-one streaming systems looks older than it really is. Because it’s only when we sit one next to the youthful Uniti Atom that it looks more than one generation behind.
In truth, that would be the case with just about anything you place alongside the Atom – like the less-than-attractive friend you keep in the circle to make yourself look better, only in reverse.
While some people might prefer a unit that blends into the room, there’s no averting our gaze from the Uniti Atom – it truly is a triumph of design. From the pleasure of playing with the coffee coaster volume dial on the top (which is almost enough in itself to justify buying this system) to its full-colour LCD front panel display which exhibits album art, Naim has nailed the crossover between lifestyle product and premium hi-fi.
You may find the Uniti Atom being described as a streamer, but that’s doing it a disservice. In effect it’s a mini-system, to which you need apply only a suitably talented pair of speakers. The on-board amplifier is Class A/B derived from the NAIT integrated amps, which Naim says is a challenge because of a number of technical difficulties in terms of production and integration, especially in so small a unit, but its efforts are richly rewarded in musical performance.
Naim claims it runs 40W per channel into 8 ohms. It powered our reference pair of ATC SCM50 speakers with room to spare; so a more likely pairing – a pair of £600 standmounters, say – should be child’s play.
As for connections, the Uniti Atom has a kettle-lead berth for the new Naim mains cable. Dubbed the Power-line Lite, it has floating pins aimed at ensuring a better
connection, while its decoupled mechanical design is intended to stop harmful vibrations travelling from one component to the next.
The speaker terminals, with ethernet connection and USB input, are next along the line, but what happens next is dependent on your budget. For an extra £100, you can have a Uniti Atom with HDMI input. Naim says this is galvanically isolated to ensure no noise from the TV power supply is passed through to the Uniti Atom. Our test unit came without but, given the uniformity of the rest of the Naim’s talents, we’d struggle to envisage it straying far from the general character.
Naim has placed its digital inputs above two analogue connections – one as an input, with three selectable sensitivities (1v, 2.5v and 6v), and another as preamp out. As for those digital inputs, you get two optical beside one coaxial. By contrast, the front of the Uniti Atom is relatively bare, with only another USB port and headphone output to the left of the LCD screen.
As well as being able to store music and pick up media stored elsewhere on your network, the Uniti Atom benefits from having Google Chromecast, Tidal, Spotify Connect and Internet radio built-in, with further wireless connection available via Airplay and Bluetooth.
Naim also gives you plenty of options when it comes to controlling the Uniti. First, Naim has included its redesigned remote control in the box: marginally larger than the one with the last generation of Naim products, it is also flashier.
From the glossy plastic used for all but the back and the tip – which, be warned, carries smears and fingerprints like lipstick on a dress shirt – to the backlit buttons and volume signifier on the navigation wheel, it's an appropriate partner to the Uniti Atom’s own aesthetic.
To the point, faster
However, we would mostly expect people to use Naim’s control app, through which you can connect to your streaming accounts and root around your music collection held on other devices.
It is also through the app you can connect the Uniti Atom as part of a multi-room system. So, for example, you could plug a turntable (you'll need a phono stage) into the analogue input and have the same record playing in up to five rooms throughout the house.
We have plenty of experience using this particular app to control our reference Naim NDS/555 PS streamer, and now support has been added for this newest line of models, we are happy to say we find it equally intuitive. Only now it shows more options in line with the Uniti Atom’s extra services and functions.
The new colour screen, which is around twice the size of that of its predecessors, serves only to make the menus easier to navigate and getting to the point of playing your music faster.
We begin playing The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free, and a couple of minutes later we’re trying to work out how we could get our hands on almost double that so we can take a Uniti Atom home for ourselves.
Opening the door
The most immediately noticeable upgrade from the Unitiqute 2 is the level of clarity and insight. The former is still a capable product, which has found a permanent home on our personal hi-fi racks since we reviewed it two years ago, but even compared to the Unitiqute 2, this is like opening a door and listening to the music from inside the room.
From the opening brass parps of It Was Supposed To Be So Easy to the hazy tremolo synthesizer hook of Blinded By The Lights, via percussive snaps and Mike Skinner’s iconic conversational vocal, you can almost feel the textures running through your fingers.
And to say it sounds lean here does not mean the Uniti Atom is lacking in weight, it just doesn’t carry any excess fat. Okay, so the kicks don’t quite thump you in the heart, but the balance is spot on and there’s more than enough low-end here to interrupt your neighbours’ viewing of Coronation Street.
Timing was a forte of the last generation of Naim’s all-in-ones, so we’re pleased to find none of that is sacrificed this time around. The steady kick and snare rhythm in Blinded By The Lights is so precise you could set your watch to it, as it’s entwined with those off-kilter tremolo synth chops.
Meanwhile, similarly accomplished dynamics act as midwife for the subtle inflections of Skinner’s vocal – a level of expression that rivals can so easily miss, mistaking his nonchalantly casual delivery for pedestrian boredom.
Our misguided attempt to wrongfoot the Uniti Atom with a grander arrangement via Tidal in Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No1 in Fsharp Minor, goes down as well as a camel at a swimming gala. The Naim is entirely unfazed by the scale of the recording, the speed or intensity at which the musician's fingers are working or with organising an orchestra around him. Even though we've chosen two such diverse pieces of music as these, the Uniti Atom treats them both with the same level of insight, regimental timing and contouring dynamics.
The only method of input we could say demonstrates any true difference in character is the analogue. Using that, the level of clarity is marginally less sharp, and instead the Uniti Atom offers up a performance which could generally be described as warmer overall.
But this is fundamentally a product built to a digital blueprint, and those who covet what may be described as a more traditional analogue sound from such components will see that only as a positive.
In a way it would be easy to play down the significance of just how great a performer the Uniti Atom is, in that it’s what we have come to expect from Naim. But even given those high standards, if you end up buying one and you fail to be at least a bit excited once you’ve got it home then, frankly, there’s little hope left for you.
We can’t stop gazing at the Uniti Atom – it truly is a triumph of design
Naim's redesigned remote control is larger and flashier than previous ones
For an extra £100, you can have the Uniti Atom with an HDMI input