Sometimes a product doesn’t have to be first or even the best to be a category disruptor.
The Naim Uniti Atom network amplifier is such a product; and before the people behind this excellent product get their knickers in a twist over my opening statement, they should take comfort in knowing that I think it’s the “best of its kind” with a few minor nitpicks. The Uniti Atom redefines what a network amplifier should be and what it does exceptionally well within its power limitations should keep it near the top of its category for years to come.
Most reviews leave the “nitpicks” to the very end after pages of superlatives have been thrust upon the reader, but I’m going to break with tradition and focus on the two items that I think could be better about the Uniti Atom – which some might find very minor.
Negativity in a review?
I do it out of love for a brand that has been one of my absolute favorites for 30 years.
The Naim Uniti Atom does not come with an internal phono stage and I found that confusing and somewhat unacceptable considering the price of the unit.
Most of the consumers considering the Uniti Atom will do so because it offers one of the smartest integrations of streaming platforms (and support for Roon and Chromecast) available today. It took less than 5 minutes to have the unit connected to my network and working with Tidal, Qobuz, and Roon.
That level of set-up ease has a lot of value. Consumers don’t want to spend all afternoon fretting over network connection issues, wonky apps, and overly complex set-up procedures.
Not everyone wants or needs a phono stage in 2020. A singular focus on digital audio isn’t a bad thing – just reality for a lot of consumers.
That being said…
Naim has been offering excellent phono sections for almost as long as I’ve been alive, so it was strange to discover that the Uniti Atom requires the end user to supply their own. I respect that real estate is tight inside the chassis (9.6”W x 10.4”D x 3.7”H) and that the Uniti Atom includes one analog input on the rear panel – something I took advantage of during my recent phono pre-amplifier survey, but I suspect that some users will find that to be odd.
Naim dealers likely offer turntables from Rega, Pro-Ject, or Thorens which creates an opportunity for them to build a complete system around the Uniti Atom and that reality has to include a phono pre-amplifier.
My other nitpick only raised its head during my experience driving the PSB Alpha P5 loudspeakers with the Uniti Atom; a pair of loudspeakers that I didn’t think were overly difficult to drive.
Naim has a history of being conservative with its power ratings; a reality that applies to NAD amplifiers like the C 316BEE integrated amplifier as well. The Uniti Atom is rated at 40 watts per channel (8 ohms) and I know from personal experience that the reality with medium to high-sensitivity loudspeakers is that Naim gear is a lot more powerful in practice than the specs on paper would suggest.
The Uniti Atom is a class AB amplifier (the heatsinks never really became that hot when I drove it very hard for 15-20 minutes without interruption) and it can handle itself just fine when pushed.
But for some odd reason it didn’t love the PSB loudspeakers (85dB, 8 ohms) when I used that configuration in my office system. I had to turn the volume way up to achieve meaningful levels and the loudspeakers worked perfectly fine with other amplifiers later that day.
An odd turn of events that didn’t reoccur with any other loudspeaker at my disposal including the Focal Chora 806 which is now being offered as part of a package with the Uniti Atom and is a solid choice for a myriad of reasons which we’ll cover in another forthcoming review. Needless to say, the Focal/Naim pairing has a lot of synergy.
Say my Naim…
Industrial design is important. With so many network amplifiers entering the market, a component needs to stand out. Both aesthetically and sonically.
The Uniti Atom does so with clean lines and a clear 5” color TFT panel that lit up my dark office at night and was ever so responsive to every command.
I could spend all day adjusting its tactile volume dial on the top panel (and I did…;-) which is the best of its kind on any audio product available. It’s a brilliant piece of industrial design which even attracted the attention of my better half who is an award-winning industrial designer with a strong disdain for what she calls “boring” audio components.
The real panel is rather busy; Naim hasn’t skimped on inputs (2 USB Type A for flash drives, 2 x Optical TOSLINK, 1 x Coaxial RCA, and 1 x HDMI ARC) or outputs (1 x stereo output for connection to an external power amplifier or subwoofers). Two pairs of loudspeaker sockets for use with banana pins adorn the middle of the rear panel, and there is a single Ethernet 10/100Mbps jack for connection to your home network with a cable. Wi-Fi is supported by an internal antenna.
Just because you know my Naim doesn’t mean you know my story…
I purchased my first piece of Naim gear in 1999 and have regretted selling my NAIT 3 ever since.
There was something about it that I’ve not heard all that frequently in the 20+ years I’ve been reviewing hi-fi components; the ability of a component to accurately reproduce the flow and pace of the music.
Naim equipment has always excelled in that department; my Croft Acoustics Phono Integrated Amplifier does it well but perhaps not with same degree of color added to the mix.
I’ve never listened to a piece of Naim equipment and docked points because it doesn’t recreate the world’s largest soundstage; it does the pace, rhythm, and timing thing so well that you focus more on how it gets the blood flowing and engages you with almost every piece of music that you put through it.
The Uniti Atom does that exceptionally well. Probably better than most of the network streaming amplifiers that I’ve listened to over the past few years.
Does it infuse recordings with too much warmth to obscure detail?
Not so much.
Does it ever go off the reservation and have you reach for the remote (nicely made remote if you decide to use it over the app on your smart device) to turn the volume way down?
With the exception of the aforementioned PSB Alpha P5s, the Uniti Atom was consistently great with the Q Acoustics 3050i, Wharfedale Diamond 10.1, and Focal CHORA 806 loudspeakers and it would be relatively easy to expand that list.
If you value access to more music that you can possibly imagine (loved listening to Israeli Army radio late at night in Hebrew through the Internet Radio feature), phenomenal pacing, an engaging midrange that works with all genres of music, and want something that will take 5 minutes to set-up – the Uniti Atom is hard to beat. It’s not inexpensive but a brilliant piece of industrial design that positions Naim well for the future.
A forward-thinking audio classic well worth the money.