Naim Uniti Star All-in-One System Review

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Insert ‘Star’ song reference here

by Ed Selley Jun 9, 2018 at 9:50 AM

  • Hi-Fi review

    24

    Best Buy
    Naim Uniti Star All-in-One System Review
    SRP: £3,499.00

    What is the Naim Uniti Star?

    The Naim Uniti Star is the middle model of three Uniti all in one systems that Naim has brought to market to replace the original Uniti family. Given that even at the end of their lives, the old Uniti models were still effortlessly competitive with the relevant competition, the new models needed to be pretty impressive. Thankfully, when we looked at the Uniti Atom, we found it to be staggeringly good. Of course, that’s great for the Atom, potentially not so great for the Star. If the Atom does everything you might reasonably expect an all-in-one to do, what does the Star do for an extra £1,500?

    The answer to this, as we shall cover, is quite a lot. The Star is rather more than an Atom with a bit more oomph and it might in fact be the most sophisticated item in the all in one category next to the very clever (and more expensive) Convert Technologies Plato. The Star has some abilities that aren’t shared with other members of the Uniti family or indeed other Naim products. Combined with what the Uniti platform does already, it’s quite an impressive proposition. ‘Impressive’ is not automatically interchangeable with ‘Must have’ though. Is this very clever box of tricks just what need and can it justify its existence over its precocious little brother?

    Specification

    Naim Uniti Star Specification
    Large aspects of what the Star can do are transferred directly over from the Atom and for the avoidance of doubt, this is no bad thing. The new streaming module is 32/384 and DSD capable alongside offering native support for Tidal and Spotify. Not a Tidal or Spotify user? No problem. Naim has fitted the module with AirPlay and ensured that it is Chromecast compatible. If you can persuade the streaming service to work on a smartphone or tablet, the Star can receive it via those means. In the specific case of services like Qobuz, it is technically possible to stream via Chromecast at sample rates that include the use of high res files although the stumbling block in this case is more likely to be the slight shortage of compatible hardware to send it from. You also get Naim’s excellent internet radio system as well.

    This module is supported by a selection of digital inputs which covers the usual suspects - and indeed some not so usual ones. There are two toslink and two RCA coaxial digital inputs which are all 24/192 capable (although the maximum sample rate for the toslink will depend on the partnering equipment) but these are accompanied by a BNC connection coax - a fairly rare sight in 2018. Not everything is legacy though. The Star is fitted as standard with an HDMI connection that can receive the audio return channel from a TV. This ensures that even if your set has no form of digital output, you can still ensure it plays nice with your AV equipment. This connection is also available on the Atom but is a £100 surcharge whereas it is included in the cost of the Star.

    Where the Star really takes a swerve from the functionality of the Atom is on the ‘other side’ of the casework (literally, as we’ll cover in a bit). Firstly, the Star has a mechanism built into it. Put a CD in and you can listen to the good ole silver disc and party like its 1999. As you might expect though, Naim hasn’t limited the functionality to playback. The CD can be ripped via unique ripping software to WAV or FLAC, tagged and then stored on USB drive (two USB-A connections are fitted for this purpose) or to an SD card - for which an SD card slot is provided. It might seem bonkers to consider storing a reasonable music collection on an SD card but with 256gb coming in at around £80, you could realistically store your ‘high use’ music on something like that and put the CDs away.
    Naim Uniti Star Specification
    The software of the Star additionally allows it to serve this music around to other devices on the network. This might seem slightly abstract in functionality terms but starts to make sense when you consider Naim’s other products. If you buy a Star as your first serious streaming product, you can use it to get into the business of ripping and tagging material (and if the Star gets it wrong - which it doesn’t very often - you can still retag it over network). You can then help yourself to a couple of Mu-So Qbs and use the Star as the feed for all of them. In terms of bringing people into your ecosystem it’s a bit of a doozy.

    All of is this is partnered with a 70 watt class A/B amplifier. As well as being considerably more grunt than is available to the Atom, it is partnered with a very substantial power supply indeed which means that beyond the basic numbers, it should be able to handle most things that you might reasonably partner them with. In standard Naim fashion, connection is via 3.5mm plug only on a single set of terminals.

    The remaining functionality of the Star is not quite as exotic but useful nonetheless. There’s a 3.5mm headphone socket, a pair of stereo inputs - one of which is on Naim’s preferred DIN connection. This is of more than abstract interest because pretty much the only thing that the Star can’t do internally is connect directly to a record player so if you want to keep it Naim, you can connect one of the company’s Stageline phono stages via the DIN connection (although, it is important to note, you can’t power it via this particular DIN connection) and still have an RCA left over. Finally, there is also an RCA preout which will allow you to attach a power amp or sub.


    Naim Uniti Star
    When I reviewed the Uniti Atom, I noted that the single most important aspect of its construction was that it simply felt slicker and more modern than rivals. The use of materials, the industrial aesthetic and the general way you interact with it makes the competition seem a little old hat - yesterday’s news if you will. The good news is that the Star continues this trend… but there is a caveat to this.

    Where the Atom is a half width device, the Star is a full width one, clocking in at 432mm wide. Rather than looking like a big Atom, Naim has elected to build the casework with a visible divide in the middle, almost like the Star has a sort of nautical bulkhead arrangement. The first time I saw it all the way back at the launch, I wasn’t keen and indeed I wasn’t the next few times I saw it either. The thing is though, it seems to have grown on me. The deliberately asymmetric design has virtues that make for a more visually interesting object and the Star will sit on a piece of furniture and look very elegant while it does so.
    Naim Uniti Star

    It is helped in this by the same basic principles that help the Atom. The lack of visible fittings and fastenings and the sheer quality of the casework is something you can only appreciate in the metal and the large horizontal volume control remains a truly lovely thing. There are no protrusions or aerials which further helps the lines. Above all this though, I still think it is the display that really lifts the Uniti family over the competition. There really is nothing else I’ve encountered in two channel audio that has the depth of colour and sheer vibrancy of this unit and it lifts the experience over and above peering at some poorly contrasted smudgy mess.

    This is complemented by the control options. The Naim control app has been honed into a truly lovely piece of software and it works well on both Android and Apple. No less useful is the presence of a remote. It might seem weird in a world of app control to have such a thing but able to instantly pause the Star when somebody calls you on the device you’d otherwise be using to control it is not to be underestimated. The remote’s functionality is interesting too. It uses the Zigbee control protocol so it pairs with a specific unit and can be used out of line of sight. It’s also a very pleasant piece of industrial design in its own right.

    Naim Uniti Star
    You can then help yourself to a couple of Mu-So Qbs and use the Star as the feed for all of them

    How was the Uniti Star tested?

    The Naim was placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack and powered off an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas Mains Conditioner. It was connected to my wireless network giving it access to the outside world and a Western Digital NAS drive. Testing of the analogue input has been done via a Michell Gyrodec with SME M2-9 arm and a selection of cartridges into a Cyrus Phono Signature Phono Stage. Some brief testing of the HDMI and optical inputs was undertaken via a Panasonic GT60 Plasma. Speakers used have been the Dynaudio Special Forty and Neat Momentum 4i. Test material has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, Netflix, Tidal, Spotify and some vinyl.

    Sound Quality

    Naim Uniti Star Sound Quality
    There’s a fair degree of expectation unboxing the Star and getting it up and running (a process that should be achievable by any literate being over the age of seven). Put simply, there hasn’t been a bad sounding Uniti product since they started arriving a decade ago. The Atom is capable of going toe to toe with rivals that cost quite a bit more. The Star therefore, needs to deliver.

    The good news is that it does. Anyone familiar with where the Naim sound has evolved to over the years will be completely at home with what the Star can do. Many moons ago, Naim products could be seen as being slightly forward and periodically edgy. This is something that the company has gently polished out of the presentation. Unless you were to partner the Star with something savagely bright (and right now, I honestly cannot think of a speaker with a presentation that is so off kilter to fit this bill), the Star is supremely refined.

    What is important though is that Naim has managed to do this without affecting the immediacy and sheer drive that their products have always demonstrated. Playing Boards of Canada’s Telephasic Workshop via the Star into the Dynaudio Special Forty is an absolutely fabulous experience. The deep and rapid beats are delivered like a boxer going at a punchbag. Each beat is a potent, perceivable force that starts and stops with real alacrity. If you are sensitive to timing, the Naim is in as fine a form as ever.
    Naim Uniti Star Sound Quality
    There is more to the Star than breaks and beats though. Naim has never elected to use the ESS Sabre in its products, preferring instead to go with Burr Brown. Whether it is because of this or something totally different, there is a way that the Naim handles voices and high treble that is different - and subjectively at least for me - more pleasurable. I’ve described it in the past as ‘darkness’ but that’s slightly misleading as there is no lack of energy or detail. It might be better to describe it as a lack of embellishment and it makes the Naim tremendously easy to listen to for long periods. There’s all the required transparency to show the difference between the sublime recording of Fink’s Sunday Night Blues Club and the ferocity of Asian Dub Foundation’s Tank without doing either a disservice.

    Connecting anything to the digital inputs of the Star, including the HDMI socket, or ripping it to the drive, results in a very consistent overall performance. Using the Star for TV viewing is a very satisfying option as that controlled but detailed presentation works wonders for extracting voices from congested mixes and making them easy to follow and the basis of the whole performance. If you need an all-in-one to work as something to handle the TV side of things, Naim has pulled a very smart move with the HDMI connection.

    Going out the other end and attaching a turntable to the Star does a fine job too. Behind the decoding, the amplification of the Naim has that same punch, drive and togetherness to ensure that anything you play through it will be fundamentally together. At the same time, there is enough neutrality that the wider soundstage and airy presentation that the Gyrodec possesses is there in the final mix as well. Ultimately, the Naim will happily do justice to any turntable you are realistically likely to connect to it.

    As a server, the Naim is also perfectly capable. Obviously, the system is setup for audio (although you probably could use it for terminal document storage if you really wanted to) but it has no trouble serving two different tracks to other devices while doing something else itself. I still don’t know how many people will use this feature but there’s no doubt that it works well.

    Naim Uniti Star
    Connecting anything to the digital inputs of the Star, including the HDMI socket, or ripping it to the drive, results in a very consistent overall performance

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Outstanding sonic performance
    • Huge future set
    • Superbly made

    Cons

    • Uniti Atom gets extremely close in some performance areas
    You own this Total 1
    You want this Total 3
    You had this Total 0

    Naim Uniti Star All-in-One System Review

    Another month, another fairly comprehensive argument against building a separates system. In a way, there’s a tiresome predictability to what I’m going to type next. I could assemble a collection of bits to mimic the functionality of the Star. I could do it for the same money and it would undoubtedly offer greater scope for upgrade but that would miss the point. The way that the Star does all it offers in such a completely cohesive way is part and parcel of the appeal. It sits on a shelf looking cool - and I genuinely mean that - it’s a truly lovely piece of industrial design - and it delivers on every facet of performance that Naim believes matters.

    In fact, it does these things so well I’m not honestly sure if it was my money that I’d go for a Naim Nait XS 2 and upcoming ND5 XS2 (£3,979 as a pair) over the Star. In fact, the only faint weakness the Star shows is also at Naim’s own hand. If you understand ripping and storage already and your speakers are a fairly easy drive, you might be tempted to save £1,500 and plump for the Uniti Atom. When the only real competition you face is from yourself, it’s a fairly clear indication that the Uniti Star unquestionably takes after its namesake and is indisputable Best Buy.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £3,499.00

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    9

    Connectivity

    10

    Ease of Use

    10

    Sound Quality

    9

    Features

    9

    Value for Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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