April 10, 2011

What is in this Naim? The Naim Uniti All-In-One Audio Player

A lot is in this Naim.

It is a CD player.

It is a tuner.

It is DAC with 4 digital inputs (!), 2 coaxial and 2 optical.

It is an iPod dock, catering to the i-generation.

It is a USB music player. There is a USB slot at the front panel, you can plug in a thumb drive or a HDD.

It is networkable, so you can use it to stream music or play music from the net.

It is a pre-amp (however the pre-amp output is limited to Naim’s DIN style connector, so its compatibility with others is limited, unless you get a pair of interconnects customized with DIN to RCA termination).

And to round it up, the Naim Uniti is also an integrated amplifier, giving out 50w per channel into 8 ohms. With its pre-amp output, you can also bi-amp your loudspeakers by adding a Naim power amp if you so wish).

The Naim Uniti is complete as it is. So, you just need to add a pair of loudspeakers, and you’d have a very decent music system.

The line level inputs and outputs at the back of the Naim

I started by evaluating the Naim Uniti as a CD player. No, in fact, when I started, I wanted to use the Uniti as a digital player cum pre-amp, by-passing my own pre-amp. I thought that with a shorter signal path and just a pair of interconnects instead of 2 in the chain, that should be the best sounding set up for the Uniti. But alas, the pre-amp output was using the DIN connector, and I did not have a pair of compatible interconnects, so I had to ditch that idea.

Back to the Naim as a CD player, since it has single-ended output only, I needed to change from my Audioquest and go back to my trusty Wireworlds. There I came to another road block. The RCA ins and outs on the Uniti are spaced rather close – it is nothing out of the ordinary, it is the British hifi style. However, the tight spacing meant that I could not get my Wireworld Eclipse interconnects, which has chunky RCA connectors that Americans so like, to plug into the RCA outputs. I had to resort to a pair of those red-and-white interconnects that were thrown in with my Marantz DVD player.

I listened for a few days this way, as the Uniti was left to burn in. The sound was not objectionable. It was in fact quite enjoyable and was improving as the days go. However, there was a lisp in the treble that never went away. I thought that was the characteristic of Naim, then it struck me that it could be the interconnects. I rummaged through my cable box and found another pair of Wireworld, the Lunar, Wireworld’s entry level model, they could fit into the Uniti with its much less chunky RCA connectors.

Well, the lisp was gone for sure with the Lunar, and there was further improvement to the sound, the slight dryness to the sound which I attributed to the Uniti was also eliminated. This experience confirmed that the Uniti ought to be paired with a good pair of cables and it deserves some care from the owner.

The swing-out CD tray, note the small puck beside the spindle, used to weigh the CD down

I enjoyed operating the swing out CD tray on the Uniti. You manually pull open the smoothly operating tray, which swings open in a curve, lift a small pug from the CD spindle, put the CD on, put the puck back, which is held down magnetically, push the tray back in, the Uniti reads the CD, and you are on.

As I alluded to earlier, the Naim Uniti’s sound was quite enjoyable. It was musical. Though the listener’s musical enjoyment would come from a direction different from others, as the major contributing factors are the pace, rhythm and timing stuff that Naim is so famous for. Yes, the Naim portrayed PRAT the foremost, whether it was fast or slow music, it was always exhilarating, never boring.

The Naim sound was lean, and I meant this in the best positive way. There was no excess anywhere, no warm fat bass, syrupy or chunky mid, or saccharine sweet high. The Naim just got on with making out the music notes as they should be - it sounded natural and it sounded right.

Next, I tested the Naim Uniti as a USB player. Big E lent me some of his ripped CDs in AIFF format and some high res music files in 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC format. You could use either a thumbdrive or a USB HDD to connect to the Uniti’s USB port on the front fascia. Well, I discovered that the Uniti did not recognize AIFF format, and it would play the 24/96 FLAC files but not the 24/192 ones (I believe it could play MP3 and WMA file formats, though I did not try them).

I had to plod on nonetheless. Playing high resolution 24/96 FLAC files via a thumbdrive or a HDD via the Uniti was easy. Navigation via the file system was done with the remote and the Uniti’s nice, much bigger than usual display window.

Plug a thumbdrive into the USB port...

...the Naim Uniti reads the file directory for a few seconds, and the filenames come up in the sizeable display window

The high res material had an edge over CD. Though I did not have anything duplicated on both high res and red book to do direct comparison, I heard certain consistent qualities from all the 24/96 FLAC files I played. The sound was richer; the music sounded more ‘continuous’ and smoother; there were better details, for example the setting in which an acoustic recording was made could be better discerned.

The sturdily built Uniti remote

I did not try out the other source capabilities of the Naim Uniti, mainly because I did not have the infrastructure to do so. However, I believe the Uniti will turn in an equally musical performance with an emphasis on PRAT on all of them, and the higher res digital you go, the better it will sound.

The strangest design feature, shouldn't the loudspeaker output on the left be labelled and wired for the right channel, and the output on the right for the left channel?

As a last step I tested the Uniti as a complete unit, i.e., playing CD/USB and using its amplifier section to drive my loudspeakers. Here, I discovered something really quirky (to me at least). The left/right loudspeaker channels were wired reverse from the norm! I initially thought it was a mistake, but no, the labels were right. Can some Naim user tell me the rationale behind this?

The 50w per side amplifier section has the same sound characteristics as I described early for CD and USB – lean, excellent PRAT, musically enjoyable. However, it could not push my EgglestonWorks speakers to satisfyingly high levels. I decided to bring it downstairs and use it on a pair of Sonus Faber Concerto bookshelf speakers, which turned out to be a much better match. And there it was letting me enjoy exhilarating music for a few days.

For its asking price of RM15,000 (list), the Naim Uniti simplifies the music lovers’ life, distilling the functions from many boxes into one. As we always say, simple is beautiful, isn’t it?

I am sold on Naim’s house sound. It’s musically enjoyable and my listening sessions usually turned into a 1-2 hours affair. Now I know what all the fuss is about.

Naim is carried by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439406.

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