A few years ago though, the situation changed. Having released the all-in-one Uniti system which fitted in the conventional casework, Naim released the original UnitiQute that had a form factor reminiscent of an older NAIT. While the size was retro, the spec of the UnitiQute wasn’t. A 24/96 kHz capable UPnP streamer with digital inputs and amplification on board, the Qute dispensed with a CD mechanism and all front panel controls which was a slightly bold move in 2010. Indeed, when I reviewed the original Qute, I felt that although it performed superbly, it was a sufficiently tricky product to try and explain as an abstract to someone. As such, I didn’t know how successful it would be. Proving that I’m especially poor at predicting the future, it did very well.
Now, with further small size Naim components on the market- the DACv1 and NAP100 that Steve Withers reviewed recently- and other members of the Uniti family have been introduced and tweaked, the Qute has now been upgraded to a V2 version. Three years on from the original Qute, the market is much more familiar with streaming clients but as a result of that, the competition is rather more serious than it used to be. Does the Naim stay competitive? Does it justify its existence with the formidable UnitiLite available for £450 more?
This is not to say that there haven’t been changes under the skin. Naim has long been about incremental changes and improvements to products and lessons learned during the development of other designs. This means that the board supports 32/192 kHz files and UnitiQute 2’s are being supplied with the new v3.21 operating software. As we all offering some minor bug fixes, the real improvement is that you can now search and skip within tracks- something that sounds superficially simple but in reality is seriously tricky to do. This will be rolled out to other Naim streamers in due course. Other goodies include a ‘party mode’ function where up to five Naim UPnP devices can be synced together.
Internally, the digital board has been changed to a four layer design with revised earthing arrangements. Some of the power supply developments that have gone into the Naim external power supplies have found their way into the Qute 2 as well. Each one of these changes individually is a small improvement but cumulatively they all stack up. Of course, the amount of 32/192 kHz capable music available is negligible (although Naim are doing more than most companies to generate a supply of material) but this digital capability should extend to better performance with standard resolution material as well.
The feature set stays the same as the previous models but this isn’t a bad thing. As well as the UPnP section, the Naim has the same excellent internet radio system that the other streamers are fitted with and this includes the ‘Naims’s choice’ section which does include some useful stations. Unlike the other Uniti’s, the Qute 2 is equipped with a DAB/FM tuner board as standard. Around the back, the Naim comes with four digital and a single analogue input as well as a digital output and an analogue preout which has looked like a more interesting connection ever since the identically sized NAP100 power amp was released. The UnitQute 2 remains the only Naim product I’m aware of that has no DIN connections on the back of it which makes it a little less alien to people more used to conventional connections.
The UnitiQute also continues to make use of a 30w (45 into 4 ohm) class A/B amplifier. This is not the biggest figure in the world but Naim amp generally seem to have grunt beyond the bald numbers thanks to good power supply arrangements and in reality the UnitiQute 2 didn’t seem to be under any significant stress during the review phase- and if you really needed more welly, the NAP100 is now available. The real world output of the Naim is a case in point about why I am constantly irritated by amps that claim huge outputs into massaged figures that by comparison don’t sound anything like as loud.
The same limitations that were present in the original UnitiQute are effectively still a factor in the new version but time and progress is other areas is alleviating some of them. There are no physical controls at all on the chassis which means that you don’t want to lose the remote but given that the vast majority of Qute’s are likely to find themselves controlled by tablets or smartphones these days, this is not too much of an issue. Standard Naim oddities like the socket speaker connections that only accept bare wires via an adaptor and the complete absence of a standby button are present and correct here too so if they annoy you on the £1,150 UnitiQute 2, they’ll still be annoying you on £40,000+ of 500 Series equipment.
Positive aspects of the breeding show through as well though. The build quality is exceptionally good. The standard non magnetic and heavily damped casework feels absolutely excellent and the glowing logo is excellent too. This might be ‘baby Naim’ but it still feels like high end hi-fi. The n-Stream control ap is still lovely and adds to the experience. Of course, it still doesn’t if you are an Android customer but it is possible that N-Stream might migrate to that platform in time.
Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC from my NAS drive and various internet radio stations. I have also connected my Sky HD box to the Qute and listened to some test files off my iPhone 4 (the USB connection is also Lightning compatible).
The good news is that even though the UnitiQute 2 is Naim at their most compact, these basic traits are still present but the interesting thing is that even compared to the UnitiLite, the next family member in the Uniti series, the Qute 2 moderates these tendencies slightly. This is still a piece of equipment that sounds clean, fast and agile but there is a slight smoothness to the performance that gives the Qute 2 a sonic character more in keeping with other products at the price point. Even if you have historically disliked Naim equipment, I suspect that nothing the UnitiQute2 does is likely to offend. This is a clever balancing act to achieve. As a Naim fan, the Qute 2 sounds enough like its big brothers to keep me happy but it should also win over the less committed at the time.
This means that the Naim is an even handed and generally entertaining performer. The detailed improvements have taken the performance and eeked a few extra percent out of it. This means that although it is small, the Qute 2 sounds convincing with a wide range of music. Even through the tiny Neat Iota, the sound is full bodied and surprisingly powerful. Voices have a weight and texture that is genuinely impressive for a selection of equipment that takes up so little space. Switching to the Audio Note AN-K’s which are rather larger and the sense of scale increases. Pairing a high sensitivity speaker designed for valve amps with an offering from the high priests of solid state might seem like an odd match but it works surprisingly well. The 30w amp is, in the best Naim fashion, powerful beyond the bald numbers and you have to drive the bolts out of it before it shows any signs of hardening up.
The Naim is a genuinely practical device as well. The digital board has a performance that is indistinguishable from the UPnP board. As it seems just as happy with PCM as it does SP/Dif, the Qute is a convincing hub for giving a bit more welly to TV’s and PVR’s. As with the UnitiLite, the N-Stream ap allows for control of volume and input selection so using the UnitiLite with other devices doesn’t mean resorting to the remote (which although perfectly serviceable isn’t a patch on the UPnP controller). Given the state of modern TV speakers, using the UnitiQute2 as a booster as well as a seriously talented stereo system makes a great deal of sense.
The drawbacks to the UnitiQute 2 are reasonably limited. At £1,150 the Qute 2 can be confused with superficially similar but less capable compact designs- although all it really shares with them is a form factor- and because if has no buttons, you don’t interact with it in a way to experience how much more solid it is than cheaper rivals. The performance is perfectly acceptable at low levels but with the Neat Iota’s and Mordaunt Short Mezzo’s it became clear that it really benefits from being driven fairly hard to sound as good as it can (the Audio Note’s seem less affected but given that they are eye wateringly expensive to buy new and fairly bulky, they probably aren’t the ‘normal’ speaker you are likely to use). If you have noise sensitive neighbours or other similar considerations, this might be something you want to take into account. The lack of an Android version of N-Stream does mean that you really need to be an Apple user to see the unit at its best.
The only other real problem for the UnitiQute 2 comes from its own family. The UnitiLite is £450 more than the Qute 2 but the performance boost from the larger amp that the full size unit possesses gives you more grip and a wider choice of speakers to partner with it. There was a time when I would have said the CD drive was a useful bonus too but such is the progress in streaming, I’m more of the opinion it is a bonus feature than a key purchasing decision in this day and age. The UnitiQute is an excellent device and gives a convincing dose of the Naim philosophy- the UnitiLite is the full hit though and if this is to be your main system, beg, borrow or steal the extra.
- Superb audio performance across all inputs
- Excellent build quality
- Well developed software and control ap
- Sounds best when pushed loud
- Can look pricey compared to some competition
- UnitiLite is only £450 more
Naim UnitiQute 2 All-in-One Streaming System Review
If you are looking for any night and day difference between the original UnitiQute and this latest version, I can tell you that there really aren’t any. What Naim has done is take a unit that was already very good and make it incrementally better. The UnitiQute isn’t cheap but it is a superbly built, very flexible design that- most importantly- sounds superb. The competition is getting tougher- not least from its own bigger brother but the UnitiQute 2 is an excellent bit of kit. If you are looking for a compact system that makes few concessions to true high end performance, you need to look at this.
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