The Naim Uniti Nova all-in-one (website) throws down a gauntlet in the world of hi-fi. Eschewing the sacred cow standard of separates, it instead aims to do everything: stream, convert, control volume and amplify. While a number of companies have set out on this same endeavor, the vast majority of them aim for convenience over sound quality, and often fail to hit both targets without resorting to cost-cutting measures and less than state of the art technologies in the process.
Words and Photos by Grover Neville
Not so with the Naim Uniti Nova which, while not an all out financial assault on high-end, comes in at a rather substantial $5,990 USD—a price befitting a serious separates system. In this price range, a reasonable competitive system could be assembled, even including tubes and, with careful shopping, speakers. The Naim’s job then is not only to be convenient enough to justify a small premium, but to be both more convenient than said separates, and with a sound compelling enough to pull us audio tinkerers away from our experiments in system matching and back into the music.
What Naim has offered is this: a streamer, integrated amp, and a DAC. Digital and analog inputs and analog outputs, as well as ethernet and wireless compatibility mean this is fully functional as all the aforementioned devices, and not a closed-form device. This is the first clue that the Naim Uniti Nova is more than it appears.
Naim Uniti Nova, Knob Feel
The second clue is Naim’s exceptionally well implemented app. I made mention of the excellent app that Mola Mola implemented in my Makua review, but the Naim app simply dwarfs it. Chromecast, Roon, direct connections to the Spotify App, and a remote and interface that are a delight to use–it all means that the Naim Uniti Nova can not only connect easily, but you can use it however you like. If you like Roon, that’s well integrated and easy to setup. If you prefer Chromecast or Spotify, that too is easy. If you just want to plug an aux to RCA cable in, or select one of the analog inputs, this too is a cinch and can be done from the app, remote, or from the device’s front panel.
I’m most struck by just how obvious this system is. Rather than restricting you to a single app interface and calling it convenience because there are no buttons, as many modern digital devices do, the Naim Uniti Nova allows you to interact with the device on any level you wish. Whether you are close to the unit, using the very cool huge backlit knob, the remote or the app, you are offered the same level of functionality and ease of use. I can accomplish all functions from my phone, my remote, and the unit itself.
What this meant was that rather than being a convenience item that ended up causing more hassle than it saved—because we all inevitably misplace remotes, phones, and other interfacing devices—I was able to play whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, using whichever method was closest at hand. This included spinning a record and turning up the volume knob old school style. For the first time, maybe ever, I felt connected to modern convenience. The Naim Uniti Nova ergonomically removed itself from the system in a way no hi-fi component ever has. I can’t name a more functional unit, at least not anything that has passed through my system.
Regarding construction, the feel is hefty, heavier than some integrated amps I’ve had in that cost quite a bit more. For those familiar with Naim’s solid black Monolith aesthetic, you’ll be fans of the tasteful backlit logos and huge top knob. And that knob feels incredible—super smooth and just a joy to use. The volume steps were also a wonderful medium of not too large and not too small, so that turning the knob felt even handed throughout the entire throw of the device. Psychologically, despite being a device which is proudly digital, the Uniti Nova shows that such modern fluency is not exclusive to good old-fashioned functionality.
Naim Uniti Nova, Sound
While all of this, plus usable but not stellar sound would be an excellent package for a lower price, the Naim badge has a bit more cachet. Integrateds are the pieces I most identify as being quintessentially Naim, specifically the SuperNait series of products. After plugging the Naim Uniti Nova in, I decided to simply let it take over total duties from the internet stream to playback. Setup is pretty much nonexistent and only requires you to select the track you want, and the source input.
My first listen with the Naim Uniti Nova was a bit of a head scratcher. I had just moved from nearly twenty thousand dollars of tube electronics, to nearly a quarter of that in an all-in-one, and yet the sound was not underwhelming. Now, don’t get me wrong, the sound was not the pure audio crack of my typical setup, but what was present defied my expectations for a solid state integrated amplifier of this price point. In fact, it defied my expectations of a solid state DAC, streamer, preamp and amp at this price point. It sounded refined in a way I don’t tend to expect from any gear at this price point, much less integrated amplifiers.
For those unfamiliar with the Naim sound, there is a characteristic dry, muscular and slightly warm tone that it imparts to everything it plays with. The dryness does not impart a sense of the music being analytical, but rather seems to heighten the refinement and classiness of the amp, giving an impression of tightly controlled drivers and insight into microdynamic content that belies the slightly warm treble. Detail, meet density. Density—detail.
This emblematic tone is as present in the Naim Uniti Nova as in other Naim gear I’ve heard, though it has perhaps a slightly more modern and cleaner edge this time. Digital conversion is provided via Burr Brown and the slightly organic nature of these DAC chips seems to compliment the analog stages so well that the Nova performs a startling disappearing act with my ProAc Response D30R speakers. While the Uniti Nova also paired well with the Focal Kanta No.2 (reviewed here), ATC SCM20s, Wharfedale Jades and other speakers, something about the pairing of the two British components (Naim and ProAc) just sang.
This sound is distinctly different than the big, bold sound of American hi-fi with its huge bass and window-shattering dynamics. Instead it offers refinement, sweet and invisible, with a brilliant clarity and openness that drew me into record after record without seeming to favor one particular kind of programme material over another. At all volume levels there was a uniformity of presentation which was stalwartly engaging yet uncolored.
No, the Naim Uniti Nova doesn’t offer the warmth of tubes, but it is not absent of tube character. Most solid state that passes through my system is just ok. It sounds good in that it has detail, is clean and doesn’t add too much texture, and generally has a more or less flat tonal perception. Bass is tight and dynamic, blah blah blah – you know the drill. It sounds like well designed, clean transistor circuits.
Naim does not necessarily smash this paradigm, but it offers an extra layer of coherency in addition to the clean and clear solid state sound. This coherency surpasses many an expensive and excellent solid state component to achieve, ultimately, engagement with the music. And engagement is essentially the story of the Naim Uniti Nova.
Naim Uniti Nova, Wrapped Up
Everything about the Naim Uniti Nova is focusing on the enjoyment of music. The ease of use, the sound, the multitude of connections and the fabulous balance of simplicity and functionality. It’s a piece that allows for those less than audiophile moments of music, by allowing for Chromecast and Spotify, and it sounds, frankly, like many $10,000 stacks of separates. In fact, I can’t imagine a situation in which this device wouldn’t shine. The value proposition in my opinion is aimed at two kinds of customers.
First, those who have an expensive and well-matched main system and are looking for a simpler secondary system that performs at an exacting enough pace so as to not leave them feeling cold in absence of their main system. With the Naim Uniti Nova, I didn’t miss my stack of tubes as much as I thought I would—an occurrence which left me with more than a little hi-fi self-consciousness.
Second, those who are done questing for the perfect separates, mixing and matching, spending money and are ultimately in it for the tasting menu experience. The Naim Uniti Nova offers the total antithesis, where music is made easy and accessible, and system matching is essentially perfected. Sound quality and ease of use coexist in a beautiful and truly endgame system.
While I can think of a few products that might be on-paper competitors to the Naim Uniti Nova, I haven’t heard any that quite achieved what this unit has. To boot, I also heard an exceptional pairing of the Naim Uniti Nova with some Wilson Sabrina X speakers (reviewed here) at Ember Audio, during a trip to visit Dave McNair and Eric Franklin Shook in North Carolina. I can’t think of much higher praise than hearing the Uniti Nova make everything from Focals – to Proacs – to Wilsons just sing. It just makes audiophilia easy.