Naim Uniti Atom and Uniti Core Review

Deciding to take an extended high-fidelity journey with one brand, while exciting, can also cause trepidation in some audiophiles.

It’s the whole commitment thing. If there’s ever been a group of people less interested in long-term relationships I’ve yet to meet them.

I mean, do you know any audiophile who has stayed together with the first amplifier they ever brought home? Their second… their third?

I thought not.

I’m no different. The longest I ever committed to a brand was five years, and then I had to break it off. In all honesty it had become emotionally complicated, but that’s a whole other story.

So, when I came up with the idea of committing to a number of Naim Audio reviews I knew I needed to truly devote myself to the relationship. No easy feat, as I’m sure you can understand, but one, now that I’ve started down the path of really getting to know their equipment, that I feel more and more comfortable with.

All-in-one courtesy of Naim.

I’m starting with this review of the Naim Uniti Atom (integrated amplifier, DAC and music streamer) and Uniti Core CD Ripper – two of Naim’s entry-level (non Muso all-in-one) units and moving steadily up the ladder through their new offerings in both the XS and Classic Series, all the way up to their Reference 500 Series of components. The idea being that through my steady climb I can better experience, compare/contrast and articulate my sonic journey into something that has become synonymous with British hi-fi: The Naim house sound.

I started with the Atom more than a year ago, but scheduling demands for other reviews, a new baby and a move thrown in on top of it all put back my follow-up until now. In the meantime I managed to write on the Naim DAC -V1, but I have to say that the time in-between first getting the Atom and now was well spent because I came up with idea of the Series climb – and I’m really glad I did.

Let me explain why.

I’ve had a thing for Naim for many years – which I also mention in the DAC-V1 review, I swear I won’t bring it up again – since I first heard the Nait 5i paired with a CD5i at Hi-Fi Centre in Vancouver. I was shopping for my first ‘real’ sound system and while my ears wanted the Naim combo, my wallet could only spring for a Rega Brio-R (had a blast with it), and after that I never got back (personally) to the gear handbuilt by the men and women on Southampton Road in Salisbury. Not because I didn’t want to, but because of the forest for the trees of high fidelity leading me to hair shirt amps built by the likes of Croft, LFD, Sonneteer and Sugden.

What’s in the Box

The Uniti Atom is Naim’s version of the little black box: An $3,295 USD industrial design achievement that is both visually appealing and a tactile pleasure to use with its large, lighted analogue-domain rotary volume control on top (also where the aptX HD Bluetooth antennae is hidden). I don’t think it’s being effusive to say the Atom is packed with cutting-edge digital technology designed and constructed in the service – like all things Naim in my experience – of music first. Not only does it look at home amidst modern decor redolent of the urban, Instagram-savvy digital-audio neophyte, but it has the sonic chops to please even ascetic, basement-dwelling audiophiles. It’s classic Brit hi-fi that 40 years ago would’ve taken up a few racks of space that now rests (heavily) in your hands. Don’t let tags like ‘lifestyle’ throw you off what’s happening under the hood of the Atom; it’s got the beating heart of decades of Naim Audio amplification and music making knowhow under its CNC-fabricated aluminum alloy casework and substantial heatsink fins.

Substantial heat sinks help keep the Class-A/B amplifier section cool.

A quick word on output… While 40 Watts of integrated amplifier power into eight Ohms (derived from NAIT integrated designs) might not sound like much in these days of chips-cheap, Class-D watts, let us not forget the Atom has 40 Class-A/B Watts, which is a different type of Watt from Class D, and to be fair, from Class-A too. I can say without rhetoric that the Atom drove my reference Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers (84dB sensitivity/six-Ohms) continuously at higher volume for several hours at a time without breaking a sweat. It may not impart the deepest or most articulate bass I’ve heard from those transducers (the Harbeths have a 30cm low-frequency driver) but it had balance, was without bloat and most importantly had my head-bobbing.The Atom is fitted with a large, oversized toroidal transformer for its power supply and features “hand-wired analogue and digital circuitry.” Boogie is often a word one reads to describe the Naim sound, and of course PRaT – Pace, Rhythm, and Timing – and the little Atom is adroit at both.

Build, construction, technical and set-up

Svelte industrial design sets the Unit line apart.

The large, five-inch color LED display integrated into the front fascia of the Atom is bright and clear from several feet away, adjusting the volume switches the display to a numeric representation that is legible from across the room. Buttons for power, play/pause, input selection and Naim Radio reside down the right side of the front of the unit, with a single USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack gracing the left side. While a 6.35mm (1/4-inch) jack would have been ideal, I can understand the space and cost-saving decision to make it only 3.5mm, as I imagine the bulk of buyers of the Atom won’t be of the serious headphone stripe, but including a headphone out is a plus in my books, so kudos to the Naim engineers (I listened to it with a few pairs of headphones which it drove without issue, and found it to be punchy, dynamic and possessed of realistic tone and timbral color). The Atom comes with a substantial, well-designed and sleek remote control that, like the Atom itself, has built-in “proximity sensors and will therefore wake up as someone approaches the machine to display music metadata, audio input information and more.” The lighted volume level on the remote, and the unit itself, always corresponds to the other. Pretty swish.

Connections aplenty.

The analog and digital – business – side of the Atom is comprised of inputs consisting of 10/100Mbps Ethernet (up to 32-bit/384kHz, DoP 128Fs wired – internal antennae for 802.11 b/g/n/ac), two TOSlink optical (24-bit/96kHz), one Coaxial/RCA (24-bit/192kHz, DoP 64Fs), one HDMI ARC (optional), one analog RCA and another USB Type A. Outputs consist of one RCA sub/pre (A preternatural obsession with ever-improving power supplies and the ability to add power amplification, the Uniti Atom can also be partnered with the diminutive NAP 100 via the pre out), and stereo speaker jacks (banana only). Gapless playback is supported for all formats: Internet Radio, Windows Media content – MP3, ACC, OGG Vorbis streams and MMS Audio Formats, WAV (32-buts/384kHz), FLAC/AIFF/ALAC up to 24-bits/384kHz, mp3/AAC up to 48kHz, 320kbit (16-bit) and OGG/WMA up to 48kHz (16-bit). DSD goes 64/128Fs. Like other Naim products, the binary signal-path is channelled into a 40-bit floating point SHARC DSP processor before handing data off to a Burr-Brown DAC of the PCM17XX variety.

The Roon interface.

The Naim App for iOS and Android is not fancy and does an excellent job for everything I’d expect an proprietary app to do, with intuitive set-up and adjustment of hardware/software parameters. I used it to set-up the Atom and Uniti Core on my home LAN, and to identify CD-ripping storage locations on a networked USB drive attached to the Roon Nucleus+ I ran for this review. Since the Atom is Roon Ready, and I’ve got all my playlists setup on Roon, so that’s what I used for this review. Ripping CDs through the Core was a no-brainer with files sounding indistinguishable to my ears to that of 16-bit/44.1kHz dematerialized ones off TIDAL or Qobuz. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I want to give a slight uptick in presence/drive to the Core-ripped albums when I compared them to the same ones I had ripped off a PowerBook years ago. Maybe it was because it was so easy to do them through the Core compared to ripping discs in that dark, digital era of a bygone time. According to Naim the “Uniti also gives you the option to sync up to eight Uniti systems or other Naim streamers and play music from any source in multiple rooms simultaneously. Or play different music in every room.” Always a nice option to have when expansion time comes. Multi-room capabilities are cool.

The little Atom can play with the big boys.

COMPANY INFO
Naim Audio
Southampton Road Salisbury SP1 2LN England
info@naimaudio.com
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COMMENTS
skikirkwood's picture

I see the "Add our comment" section here but haven't seen any comments posted on your site in a long time.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Sometimes it takes a day to show up is all.
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