Introducing the Naim Uniti Atom
So let me explain…
I’ve dealt with combined audio systems before. I suppose I’m a bit biased against them, but for no good reason. Audiophile purist snobbery perhaps? Maybe my issues hearken back to my youth, when brick and mortar department stores like Montgomery Ward or J. C. Penney (remember those?) offered up early versions on the cheap from manufacturers such as Yorx, Sound Design, and others I’d rather forget. You may recall these things: a built-in tape deck, turntable, tuner, volume control (with tone controls, no less) and an amplifier, all packed into one box. If it was your lucky day, they might have even thrown in a pair of useless speakers. I bought one of these for my then-girlfriend (later wife…) to take with her to college. Convenient for setting the dorm room mood, but otherwise not much to look at or listen to. I think my girlfriend’s version had a cardboard rear panel no less.
But have no fear, my audiophile friends! Things have gotten exponentially better in recent times. Remember the awesome PS Audio Sprout 100 I reviewed recently? Yep, it’s a perfect example of a modern all-in-one audio component. Compact and well built, the Sprout has killer functionality, great build quality, a good amp section, and all at a more than fair asking price. I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing it, and I bought the review sample for my son, who is now out on his own. My older daughter has the previous generation Sprout as well. It’s a perfect solution for the discerning young adult music lover; one who couch surfs and carries everything she owns in the back of her Subaru.
But what about us older Gen-X folks who maybe want the same level of integrated convenience in an even more versatile and refined box? Something that screams “high-end” to our friends over wine, cheese, and dinner, but without going full-on blue-meter McIntosh?
I think I’ve got your answer.
What’s your Naim?
If you’re still with me, I’ll remind you that the subject of my above recommendation and object of my current desire is Naim Audio’s Uniti Atom combination music server/DAC/preamp/amplifier.
The Uniti Atom is designed and hand-built by Naim Audio, located in Salisbury, England. Naim is one of the Grande Dame companies of English audio kit, and is especially known for its amplification products. Most well-heeled audiophiles are well aware of the Naim Nait, an integrated amp design that’s been around for decades in constant revision. It shows up on nearly everyone’s “best of” list, year after year. You can still buy one today in its most recent iteration.
Naim products are known for bullet-proof build quality, excellent sonics, reliability, and good value. I can assure you that you get all of these attributes, and more, when you get your mitts on the Uniti Atom.
Who’s your daddy?
The basis of the Naim Uniti Atom is the same amplifier technology that goes into the Naim Nait integrated amplifier, and that’s some great heritage indeed. Now in its 5SI configuration, the Nait has been with us since 1983. Today’s Nait 5SI puts out 60 watts per channel, and like its forbears, is well known for its tonal accuracy, precise rhythm and timing, and engaging soundstaging characteristics. That the Uniti Atom is a chip off the old block is therefore great news, even if the Atom only provides 40 watts per side. Add in all of the other great features and versatility, and I think the Atom’s stock goes up considerably.
Is he rich like me?
The one apparent downside to Naim’s Uniti Atom combo device is it price: $3295 here in the States. That’s a fair bit of money to pay for what most folks would simply categorize as a “lifestyle” piece of audio gear. But before we become too quick to judge, let’s take a look at what the Uniti Atom actually has packed within its compact, but rather attractive chassis.
There’s a lot of capability here. You get a really good Burr Brown-based DAC section, a preamp, and an amplifier, as well as a comprehensive software interface that lets the Uniti Atom work as a full-fledged music streamer and server. It can interface to an external computer and hard drive, pull files down from the cloud, and stream tunes from services such as Tidal and Spotify. There’s also an endless choice of streaming radio. To me, that’s what “lifestyle” audio is all about: streaming the media I want when I want; such are the advantages to living in the 21st century. If you want to go old school, you can do that too: there are analog inputs for your CD player or turntable (just be aware that you’ll need an external phono stage).
So the value is there. I know plenty of audio nuts who would poo-poo the Uniti Atom but think nothing of dropping a similar amount on a separate DAC, preamp, or amp. But then again, I suppose that’s part of the fun of being an audio nut. The Uniti Atom is the logical solution for everyone else.
In my house
I could go into great detail about what the Naim Uniti Atom can (or can’t) do, but I won’t. The full list of capabilities is just a few mouse clicks away. What I will do is tell you what role it has played in my personal enjoyment over the last couple of months.
First off, the Uniti Atom never made it into one of my upstairs evaluation rigs. It didn’t have to. I set it up in my living room, attached a pair of speakers, and that was it. Done. It’s a “lifestyle” item, and that’s exactly how I utilized it. Streaming music was the order of the day for me, both from the included Tidal application (I’m a subscriber) and lots of internet radio.
The user interface was super accessible and intuitive. I ended up using the well-designed back-lit remote (one of the nicest ones I’ve encountered) for streaming radio stations, while I used my iPhone with the installed Naim app for controlling Tidal. Certain operations can also be accessed from buttons on the front panel of the Uniti Atom, but why bother? The one device-mounted control I really did enjoy playing with was the big top-mounted volume knob, which just begs to be touched and spun. Volume can easily be controlled from both the remote and the iPhone app, but what fun was that? LEDs encircling the knob lit up as it was rotated, just adding to the thrill of the operation. This thing just begged me to get my arse up off the couch and engage directly with the Uniti Atom.
Oh, have I mentioned how attractive the Uniti Atom is to look at? To me, it looks more like a piece of functional art than a boring stereo component. It’s modern, streamlined, and very cool; almost a conversation piece for the living room. I love its shiny black lucite front panel with its well-illuminated display, which shows off (among other things…) source status, volume, and high-resolution album art.
Does it sound good?
So far, we’ve determined that the Naim Uniti Atom is classy, cool, and easy to use. It also does a lot of different things. But what you really want to know is if it actually performs at a decent sonic level, right?
In short, my answer is an unequivocal “yes”!
I initially had some trepidation about the Uniti Atom’s sonic prowess, as components that promise too much capability in a single, small package often seem to come up short in the performance department. Not this guy: the Uniti Atom is a scrappy little mite that packs a big sonic punch. The seemingly paltry 40 watts per channel I mentioned earlier play a lot bigger than the specs would suggest. No matter what speakers I used, I was able to fill my living room with big, sultry, full-bodied sound. Even dynamic soundtracks, symphonies, and stadium rock all came merrily to life at higher volume settings.
I used the Uniti Atom with a plethora of speakers, including the Sonus Faber Sonetto 2 (review here), Amphion Argon 3S (review coming soon), Fritz Speakers Carbon 7 SE (review), and Omega Super Alnico Monitors. All of these speakers are bookshelf/stand-mount models ranging in approximate price from $2300-$2600 per pair, making them comparable bedfellows to the Uniti Atom cost-wise. All of these speakers also performed admirably when driven by the Atom, even as their impedances and efficiencies varied considerably. I found the Uniti Atom did a fine job of letting the specific sonic characteristics of each speaker shine through while simultaneously coaxing some of the nicest sound I’ve heard from each. Not bad for a 40-watt powerhouse packed into a box of unprecedented functional versatility…
Dealing in specifics
Of the speakers I used with the Uniti Atom, the ones I spent the most time listening through were the Sonus Faber Sonetto 2 and the Amphion Argon 3s. Either way, the impression I got from the Uniti Atom was that it was all about a subtle combination of finesse, power, and get-up-and-go. Musical pacing was spot-on, as might be expected from a British amp with a heftier-than-normal power supply. Just as importantly, I found that tonality was honest and unembellished, much like that provided by my beloved ATC studio monitors (also of British origin). I really can’t imagine anyone being offended by errors of addition with this box; it’s straight-up honest and proud of it!
With the Sonus Faber Sonetto 2
I’ll admit readily that I spent the most time listening to the Uniti Atom through the Sonus Faber Sonetto 2 speakers. I just loved this combination! Both hit my house at the same time, and they seemed like a natural match-up to try. I felt that these two components might be perfectly suited to one another, as the Naim amp might be considered a tad dry by some, whereas the Sonus Faber speakers struck me as a bit tonally dramatic. Think of the Uniti Atom as the skilled English boy soprano with perfect pitch and no vibrato, while the Sonus Fabers put me more in mind of the dramatic Italian operatic tenor. Hearing the boy soprano is a thing of cosmic wonder, but it takes the Italian tenor to really engage the emotions and get the blood flowing.
Combining the control and pacing of the Naim Uniti Atom with the Sonetto 2’s crisp, hearty warmth gave an unbeatable end product that I just couldn’t get enough of.
With the Amphion Argon 3s
Upon receiving Amphion’s Argon 3s monitor speakers, I could tell right away I was onto something kind of special. It didn’t take me long, therefore, to get these babies hooked up to the Naim Uniti Atom. I’m glad I didn’t wait too long to discover how awesome this combo could sound.
The Argon 3s speakers are fairly small, but they manage to sound a lot larger than they look. This characteristic took on real meaning with the Uniti Atom running the show, as the combination readily filled my living area with realistic and dynamic sound. Like the Uniti Atom, I’ve found the Amphion speakers to be tonally natural and honest. However, they somehow seem to add some real excitement to reproduced music that I can’t quite put my finger on; I just know that they satisfy me as few other speakers can. With the Uniti Atom, I got pinpoint imaging and real extension at both frequency extremes. There’s a realism to the bass that totally belies the physical size of these components!
Via the Amphion speakers, the Naim system had no fear of big orchestral works played at realistic volumes. For instance, when I streamed the bracing first movement of Eduard Tubin’s Third Symphony performed by Arvo Volmer and the Estonian National Symphony as recorded on the Alba label (Tidal, 44.1 kHz flac file), I was amazed by the sense of dynamic and scale the little system was putting out. For a moment, I felt like I was there in the performance venue taking in the pleasures of a live performance… Bravo!
A few final thoughts on the Naim Uniti Atom
If you can’t tell by now, I’m over the moon about Naim Audio’s Uniti Atom all-in-one audio box. It may take a fair bit of coin to grab one, but the box offers hugely versatile capability from a streaming perspective while retaining first-rate DAC and amplification performance. I especially appreciate that it uses convenient Bluetooth technology only for control and not for actually streaming media (unlike the aforementioned and far less expensive PS Audio Sprout). Therefore, streaming quality, even a high resolution, is not compromised in any way.
Would a hard-core audiophile type want one of these as the basis of a main system? Probably not, as the device is just too integrated. I can’t fault build, looks, or audio playback quality in any way, but real audio nuts want to tinker; they demand component flexibility. In that case, Naim still has such folks covered with their separates options.
Where the Uniti Atom truly scores is in the home of the music/audio enthusiast who wants a versatile, convenient, and elegant solution to streaming and playback of quality audio files with the highest fidelity using some of the best technology available today. It may even find a special place in the space that true audio nut shares with his or her family and/or significant other.
Like I said before: “All in one, and one for all!” For many of us, choosing the Naim Uniti Atom represents that rare audio no-brainer.
Naim Uniti Atom (website): $3295