Naim Uniti Atom All-in-One System Review
Is this the standard by which all such systems must now be judged?
What is the Uniti Atom?The Naim Uniti Atom is the first and most affordable member of the new Naim Uniti range of all-in-one systems. It is intended to build on the success of the original Uniti line of products that date all the way back to the original Uniti which launched nearly a decade ago. At the time, this was a very radical departure for Naim and it wasn’t entirely clear just how much of a market there was for such a device. The answer turned out to be “a considerable one” and we find ourselves in a position where the high specification all-in-one system is one of the most keenly contested market segments of 2017.
What makes the Uniti Atom noteworthy is that the products it replaces – and it sits somewhere between replacing both the UnitiQute2 and the UnitiLite – were still entirely competitive with most new arrivals when they finished production. This is a contestable point but, in some regards, this is the first truly second generation product that this category has seen in the time it has been running. Has the effort been worthwhile and does the Atom move the game onward as a result? We’ve looked at some deeply capable products of late and the competition has never been fiercer.
There is also the minor detail that the Atom and its brethren were formally announced nearly a year ago. What was supposed to be turning up for Christmas 2016 has slipped quite a bit in the meantime. As we shall see, the Atom is extremely well specified – has Naim been able to harness all this potential and create a product that does everything it says it does in a reliable and user friendly way?
The Uniti Atom is a streaming based all-in-one system. This in itself should not come as too much of a surprise as this has become the de facto arrangement for most systems of this nature and Naim was amongst the very first companies to make such a product. Behind this simple statement is a specification that allows the Uniti Atom to do more in a wider context of systems than almost anything else I’ve tested.
There is also a rationalisation to how the Atom goes about performing these roles. When the original Uniti was designed, Naim effectively took the various boards from existing products and combined them. The result was a relatively complex product that was quite busy internally. Naim was able to refine this over time but the basic – ever so slightly piecemeal – design stayed consistent. The Atom and its larger brethren have been designed from the outset to perform their various functions via a single integrated board that has been developed for the task.
This board allows the Atom to stream material wired and wirelessly up to 24/192 and DSD. This is joined by internet radio, Tidal and Spotify support, AirPlay and Apt X Bluetooth. All this is tied together by an updated version of the existing Naim app which is available for iOS and Android and controls all the other members of the Naim streaming family. This allows for simple setup of multiroom with multiple Unitis or indeed any other member of the Naim range.
There are two additions to the specification though that are noteworthy. The first is that the Uniti platform now has Chromecast built in. If you have an existing group of such devices, the Atom will join them and work alongside without any issue. Senior figures at Naim back at the launch of the range expressed the belief that access to these various means of streaming material to the devices hopefully starts to head off the need to natively support every streaming service imaginable. It also makes for some intriguing multiroom possibilities too.
The second is that your Atom can be ordered with an additional board that supports HDMI ARC. At a stroke, this means that the Atom has a much easier job of communicating with up to date TVs and should have an easier time being used as the means of boosting their audio performance. The review sample doesn’t have this board fitted unfortunately but it should be available to consumers for an additional £100.
This optional connector is joined by a useful selection of other connections. The Atom has two optical and a single coaxial digital input and this is joined by a single USB A connection that can read thumb drives, directly interface with iOS devices and act as a charging point for other units if needed. This is joined by an analogue output that has adjustable sensitivity to better partner with the wide variety of things that might be connected to it. An analogue preamp completes the rear panel socketry, whilst another USB-A connection and a headphone socket can be found to the front. One intriguing final detail in connectivity terms is that the mains cable Naim supplies in the box has been designed by Naim for the job and has their distinctive floating pin system.
The amplification that powers the Atom is derived from the entry level integrated amplifier in Naim’s separate range, the Nait 5Si. The power output is quoted as 40 watts which compared to some of the figures being posted by Class D equipped units seems neither here nor there but it is fairly rare to run out of puff with a Naim amp even when the figures seem lower than some of the competition. The speaker terminals are 4mm sockets only which means that your speaker cable will need to be terminated in plugs to work correctly.
The last area where the Atom brings something new to the party is slightly unexpected. With a well developed app to hand, it might seem odd for Naim to have put as much effort as they have into a remote handset but the Atom comes supplied with a bi-directional remote that doesn’t depend on line of sight. The two way communication allows for volume to be displayed on the remote and for multiple Atom’s to receive the specific information commands from specific handsets.
DesignFor years, Naim equipment was black with a green logo… and that was the summation of the brand’s styling aspirations. To be clear, I really like Naim’s ‘Classic’ line but equally I would count myself amongst the people surprised at where the company has gone in the last few years. The twin prongs of the flagship Statement pre and power amp and the Mu-So all-in-one systems delivered an aesthetic that was new and really rather lovely. In fact the Mu-So Qb remains one of the most elegant objects on the market.
The Uniti Atom builds on the styling cues of the earlier products. The result is a product that has shades of classic Naim with all the new details at the same time. The large rotary volume control on the top is still a wonderful device to interact with and encourages you to leave the iPad on the sofa and go and change the volume on the unit because you can.
The control has to take second place to the front panel display though. The display will show a variation of what you see via the app – a menu tree that moves to album art as you make your selections. What I am not sure will come across in the photos is how gorgeous the display is. The depth of colour and contrast to album art in particular is just wonderful to look at on the Naim. In an absolute performance sense, stuff like this doesn’t matter but it helps make you feel like you have chosen something a bit special.
This sense continues with the way that the casework is assembled. Naim has been clever here in that judged entirely dispassionately, the casework is no better assembled than the very solid efforts from Simaudio, Auralic and Leema but the styling of the Naim with fewer visible fixings and more use of parallel edges makes it feel slicker and more modern than key rivals. This is helped by the remote that feels better than anything else in the category and a control app that dispenses with queue systems to work in a way that is utterly self-explanatory.
The result is a product that has shades of classic Naim with all the new details at the same time
How was the Uniti Atom tested?The Naim was connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner and placed on a wireless network taking a server feed from a Western Digital MyBook NAS drive. It was initially connected to a pair of Neat Momentum 4i floorstanders before moving to a pair of Neat IOTA standmounts. The wireless network also allowed for easy access to Tidal and Spotify. The app has been tested via an iPad Air and Motorola G4 Android phone, the latter of which has also worked for Bluetooth testing while the iPad has been used for AirPlay testing. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF as well as some internet radio and Spotify use.
Sound QualityConnecting an £1,800 all-in -one to a pair of speakers that cost roughly double that when they ceased production and are not entirely straightforward to drive, might seem like a slightly pointless undertaking. That the Atom gels happily with the large Neat floorstanders is an early demonstration that this is a system that offers capability beyond the bald figures. Listening to the 24/96 download of Underworld’s Ova Nova, the Atom delivers the Naim trademarks. There is a sense of propulsive force underpinned by tight and detailed bass that is classically Naim. The 40 watts of available power is more than enough to control the speakers perfectly. Compared to the sheer heft that the resident Naim Supernait 2 can generate, there is the faintest lack of depth to the Atom but judged against rivals, the sheer flow of the Naim is entirely competitive.
What is interesting is that the Atom moves the game on from Mu-So and, to a more subjective extent, the Classic range as well. The Mu-So models are fantastic performers but there is a sense of their processing in action when you listen to them. Freed from having speakers on board, there is a spaciousness to the presentation with both the large and the small speakers that gives the Atom an effortlessness that is deeply appealing. Moving into audiophile cliché territory and listening to the 24/48 remaster of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush performing Don’t Give Up, the Naim isn’t good for an all-in-one, it’s genuinely good full stop.
This slightly greater sweetness is allied to a better sense of soundstage and stereo width than might have been associated with Naim products of old. This means that larger scale pieces like the Cinematic Orchestra’s Manhatta have the space they need to really convey the multiple instruments and their relationship to one another. What is extremely useful is that this ability is retained even at low volume levels and equally, unless you really birch the Atom, it stays smooth and controlled.
Another area where the Atom strikes an interesting balance is in how it handles both high res and compressed material. With the members of the Mu-So family, there is the sense that they have been setup to work with compressed material to the slight detriment of really getting the best out of high res. The Atom feels much more neutral in terms of this balance. Spotify and decent internet radio stations still sound good but there is a sense of ability with high res that ensures that people looking for some ‘serious HiFi’ won’t feel short changed by the Atom.
Naim’s desire for the Atom to be a source agnostic platform seems to have been achieved admirably. Chromecast is not a big part of my listening arrangements but some tests sending material via various devices works extremely well. AirPlay and Bluetooth have been bulletproof in use and the overall characteristics of the Atom stay present across all the inputs. Connecting a Sky HD box via coaxial digital also allows the Naim to show that broadcast TV is equally as well handled, suggesting that the HDMI connection should be very useful indeed if you want your Atom to work as an all-rounder.
The Naim isn’t good for an all-in-one, it’s genuinely good full stop
- Refined yet energetic performance
- Extremely comprehensive features
- Excellent build and aesthetics
- Fractional lack of bass weight
Naim Uniti Atom All-in-One System ReviewIn the time between the Atom being announced and finally hitting the market, this sector has become a critical one for many manufacturers. In a sense the delay meant that the spec of the Atom was fully known to rivals, thus giving them time to ‘get ready’ for the arrival of the Atom. Some of the shock value has been lost in the meantime.
It is a testimony to how impressive the Naim is that even after a year of waiting, this is still a product that feels like it has moved the game on. This is the smallest and most affordable of the Uniti products – one that costs significantly less than some of the models we have looked at – but it still manages to compete on pretty much even terms. The addition of Chromecast support and the HDMI input are not, on their own, revolutionary but they help to create a product that is a superbly judged balance of flexibility and sheer performance. It’s been a long time coming but the Uniti Atom is here now and it is unquestionably a Best Buy.
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
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