Naim Uniti Atom | The Desktop

Great sound in constrained spaces?

naim uniti atom

What follows is not a typical audio review of the Naim Uniti Atom, or, of anything really. Just want to be clear.

All of this is me trying to solve a problem. A peculiar problem. Maybe an audiophile-adjacent problem, but I don’t believe so. I think there are lots of you out there trying to do truly dumb stuff — dumb stuff exactly like what I’m trying to do here. 

So, with that said, lemme tell you about my problem.

An introduction (of sorts)

Octavia Butler once wrote that “the only lasting truth is change”. Her Parable of the Sower was published back in 1993 and has the distinction of coining the phrase “Make America Great Again” and using it in a presidential campaign. It’s a good book, for the record, and one I quote from often in my day job. Especially when my head gets yanked around by change.

My day job is something of a puzzle, to be fair. I’m always looking for more pieces to add, more colors to draw with, more big ideas, more history, more this and that — anything, really — anything that would add more life to the words I’m trying to summon out of the fog of daily life. For me, Butler captures something incredibly important, a trajectory for our tired and bruised little species, and the Parable books (there are two), offer up one that I think Carl Sagan would be proud of — that our destiny (if it makes sense to say that we have one) lies out there, among the stars. To be honest, I firmly believe that space is not only the “final frontier”, it’ll be both the inspiration and the salvation of our species. But I digress.

Destiny being what it usually is — distant — I’m struck by how much has changed over the short time I’ve been paying attention. Billionaires piddle with their penis-shaped rockets and threaten each other with their social media platforms, the rest of us still seem to be muddling about in a post-pandemic haze. Maybe that’s why my new job has me spending even more time behind a keyboard.

“What can fit on my desk? The answer was: not much.”

The Desktop

A transition from biz-dev and tech sales to parish ministry has been a jolt, both in how different it is and how different it isn’t. If I squint a bit, I could say that my new job is actually a lot like my old job. I read. I talk. I digest. I write. I share. That is at least 80% of what I do for a living these days — the only consistent difference is what I’m talking about. But that is just a grand way of saying that while my thoughts may be tracing arms of distant spiral galaxies, my ass is all too often anchored in a chair.

And that brings me to this series — The Desktop.

With these articles, I’m going to try do something a bit odd. Odd, that is, for audiophiles. Most audiophiles are obsessed with excess, a goal I find both commendable and fascinating. I’m fully aware that the common-sense guard rails come off as soon as we start exploring audio’s high-end, and that the metrics we celebrate for “success” all intersect with dollar signs at some point along the arc. I got it. That’s the game.

The Limiting Factor

And, so, with this series of mini-reviews, the goal is the same as it is elsewhere here at PTA — to explore great sound. But — and this is a big butt of a but — I’m interested in great sound with a limit. That is, the sound being reproduced will be reproduced on a desk. And just to keep things interesting, that desk is nothing special. It’s a 46″ wide and 24″ deep. It’s also a standing desk. It isn’t junk but no one is gonna write sonnets about the build quality. Read: it is not made out of granite or mass-loaded or vibration free. Even better: there is a chonky mechanical keyboard on it, and yeah, I’m a heavy-handed typist. And that keyboard (at least at the moment) is wired into a 27″ iMac non-negotiably consuming the center spot.

This is my pandemic cubicle. The space itself is actually a converted porch. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and I’ve spent the last three years here — though to be fair, these days that time is rather less than it used to be. Nevertheless, I find myself crawling back in here on the regular — like a well-trained puppy. I suppose that at this point, it’s my safe place. It’s snug.

gold badge

Just to fill you in on the ambiance, clamped to my desk are (in no particular order): an LED light so I can see the keyboard and desk surface, a rather long pole topped with Elgato LED light for “soft lighting” for Zoom and video recordings, and next to that, a K&M boom that occasionally swings a Sony C-100 microphone into range. Also on the desk is an Apogee Duet II digital audio interface for the Neve Shelford 5051/5052 (more overkill) that this now sitting on the floor (used to be on the desk, but had to be relocated for loudspeakers). My iMac has a pair of Creative Labs Pebbles for better-sounding output than Apple’s all-in-one design is capable of. Then there’s the usual clutter of books, coffee mugs, adapters, pens, pill bottles, letter openers, and random shit. Is this ideal? Hahahaha. No. But it’s real. I live here. On a bad day, I’m here 10+ hours at a stretch, with Apple Watch-mandated breaks for input/output of food and beverages.

In a fit of brilliance bordering on obtuseness, it occurred to me that there are lots and lots of humans out there with similar lives and similar spaces. And that this “reality” requires some serious deviation from the ideal  “listening experience”, and is, therefore, something rather different and distinct from audiophiles or headphone enthusiasts who have dedicated sanctums for their solitary/personal audio experiences. Because this is not that.


Because my desk is surrounded by a dismaying amount of clutter. Seriously, if you have claustrophobia, this is not the space for you. The room itself is a peculiar 8′ wide and 14′ deep. The way I have my desk set up bisects the space — so half of the room is in front of me (I’m facing the door) and half is behind me. Some distance away from the desk (much closer to the front wall), I have a Sony A7c clamped to a tripod, wired back to the computer via a hi-def HDMI adapter. This lets me use a good portrait lens on the Sony (think 85mm or longer) so that I can look like Ken Burns personally blessed me with time, talent, and gear.

Next to my desk is a 12″ by 12″ by 24″ tall bin with three wicker basket-drawers. On top of it, I keep another lamp because there is no overhead lighting in this room. On the opposite sidewall is a 48″ 6-drawer dresser for more crap. Behind me are three Ikea bookshelves, and seriously, they are clearly not large enough because there are piles of books just everywhere. Scattered around my space are more LED lamps, and a retractable greenscreen, because when I was in the middle of the pandemic, my Zoom background was a loop of waves crashing on a tropical beach. 

Anyway, that’s that.

To get this space “ready” for even an audiophile-adjacent experience, I started with the “ultra-compact” route. That is, I tried to explore with the question: “what can fit on this desk?” The answer was not much. Speakers were my first choice, obvs, because the iMac needed help. But more — the digital output on my iMac was unreliably down-rezzing audio playback from Qobuz, and while that might have been circumventable, I figured most folks would either give up or realize as quickly as I did that the fixes were simply not as good as bypassing. But that meant complexity. But there really was no avoiding it — I am an Apple guy from way back, and yes, Apple makes great computers, and I’m sure there are some purpose-built computers that are totally viable, but I’ve been blessed with the knowledge that Innuos and Aurender exist, and there is just no general-purpose computer is going to come close enough to make the necessary kludges, tweaks, and fixes worth bothering. But if I have to use a second computer anyway, I needed more space, and if I have more space, I can fill more space, and did someone say “scope creep”? Oops. But that also meant that one-box solutions, even the very cool all-in-one products from SVS, ELAC, and Vanatoo, were a bit less relevant. 

First Additions

But while that makes sense, it also meant that I needed more space to put shit on.

I bought a cheap set of shelves from Amazon. A three-shelf “rack”. 12″ deep, 24″ wide. Short enough that the swing-inward windows can open over top of it. This shelf is right next to my elbow, which while convenient, has drawbacks (we’ll get there). This rack is nothing special — I think I got it for $50 — but I will also say that it looks nicer than my desk, or any other furniture in the home office, for that matter. Go figure. But what it means is that I can now comfortably sit one “regularly sized” component per shelf, assuming the component isn’t too deep. Better still, if the component is a half-rack width, I can fit two of them side-by-side.


For power distribution, I found that yes I needed some. One, because I ran out of outlets. Two, because why not. AudioQuest very kindly loaned me a Niagara 1200 ($1500 retail), and a bunch of modestly priced cables to hook everything together.

I already had a ZENmini Mk3 from Innuos. The Sound Organization very generously sent me some DACs from Chord Electronics. And our friends at Focal/Naim sent along a Uniti Atom. That left the speakers! Add a marvelous pair of 50th Edition “Gold Badge” of the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a, courtesy of Music Direct, and I was off.

Actually, I now had too much gear, but I figured I’d mix and match my way through things at this point.


Enter the Naim Uniti Atom

The best thing about the original Naim Uniti Atom, which I believe is still available (this is something of a question, now, as the new “Headphone Edition” is making serious waves), is the fact that it is hugely simplifying. I could do headphones and monitor speakers off a single unit — and I like that. I had been worried that, at some point, I’d have to have a headphone-only setup running parallel to my monitor-only setup. And while the purist in me celebrated that, the pile of gear this approach implied was daunting. I decided that if “both” options — headphone and monitor speakers — was not on offer from a single solution, I’d need to keep going till I found one.

Happily, the Atom, which we’ve reviewed elsewhere, has both a high-quality headphone output and also speaker posts, though those “posts” are kinda weird — they’re plugs, they’re banana-only, and they’re recessed into the unit, not sticking out the back end like binding posts usually are. Serendipitously, I’m a banana fan, so I jammed the AudioQuest Type-5 speaker cables in and was immediately enjoying sound.

scot hull

The Naim Uniti Atom has a nifty app, one that is simple and easy to use. In my experience, it is as intuitive as the apps from Innuos or Aurender, which is very good. I added my account info and was streaming my high-res playlists off Qobuz just like I would have on the big rig.

The integrated DAC meant that the Chord gear could sit a bit, which it did, but I’ll be honest, the difference between the Atom’s DAC and the adorably petite powerhouse known as the Chord Qutest was only modest when played over the Falcon’s. For this setup, I wouldn’t bother — but I’ll come back to Chord DACs in a later segment.

A head-fi aside

As I mentioned, the Naim Uniti Atom has good “multiple path” support — so, when “neighbors” get irritated with my terrible taste in tunes, I was able to plug in some headphones. And yes, that turned out to be helpful far more often in my in-home office than I had originally anticipated.

These days, I have several headphones favorites in mind for you to check out. This is worthy of a longer discussion, but if you’re willing to go directly to the top, I’d highly recommend the new Focal Utopia or the Dan Clark Audio Expanse headphones, but there are a blizzard of options that will suit. The pairing here with the Atom will require the typical mini plug (phono plugs can benefit from a quality adapter, like the F35 from Furutech, which I sourced from Moon Audio), the Atom has plenty of power to drive either headphones to crack-your-brain-open levels.

rear panel

But I confess that most head-fi types will gravitate toward the new Headphone Edition of the Naim Uniti Atom (and yes, that is a completely different product). That version dumps the mini-jack for a magnificent XLR-based headphone jack (and a 1/4″ phono), and personal audio geeks will be treated to a seriously upgraded headphone experience. In my listening, the Headphone Edition was more of everything when it came to the headphone experience. More meat, more muscle, more sinew, more life. Alas, and alack, it also drops the loudspeaker output. This is vastly disappointing, because if I had my druthers, and having both boxes in hand, what I wanted most was one box that was both — and had this option been available, in this form factor, I would have bought it and this entire series would have been complete.

In short, the Naim Uniti Atom HP is a straight-up head-fi experience. As such, it performs competitively. My recommendation is to short-list it, and if you’re in the market, to go get your headphones on it asap. I know it will appeal.

Anyway, and to be painfully pedantic about the whole thing, while the Atom HP does do the all-in-one headphone solution (amp, DAC, streamer) and does it well, the move away from loudspeakers pushes it out of scope. I like headphones, but I need a free-air solution, and this ain’t it. So, for me at least, the Atom HP crosses no boundaries and builds no bridges. It’s good. It’s simple. But while that’s all fantastic, it doesn’t really solve the problem at hand — my desktop.

Naim: Atom Smasher

Let me summarize a bit.

I really could have stopped with the “base”, original, first (and for now, still available) Naim Uniti Atom. And, if I’d known better, I would have stopped right here. No column. No more reviews, no more gear, no more exploring. Just take my money and done.

It’s like they made the Atom just for me.

–The Desktop

Seriously, the other PTA reviews here (here and here) are on-point, and I’m not sure what to add — which makes this post more “reference-setting” and less “product review”, but so what.


My feeling is that the Naim Uniti Atom, here as a desktop-plus type solution, is absolutely brilliant. The build is excellent — there’s no question as to whether your money is buying something worthwhile. The textured finish, the heft, the subtle lighting, and that honkin’ volume knob on the top, all speak to detail and everyone who sees it (and better, touches it) is gonna be asking to play with it. Even better, the sound quality is excellent. The pairing with the mini Falcons is energetic and transparent — the Falcons are, you might say, warm in tone, and the Atom presents that with luxurious depth. So, if you like that rich, slightly thick LS3/5a sound, which can be mesmerizing in the near-field, then the pairing with the compact Naim Uniti Atom is going to be a showstopper. I’ll offer that it was even better with the Boenicke W5 loudspeakers (but we’ll get to those shortly). And just to round out the approbation, I would say “ditto” with the new Focal Utopia headphones (more with the new ones, reviewed here, but also the old ones, reviewed here), but that’d be lame.

Add in the ability to stream, directly, from the box, with absolutely no additional gear required (aside from cables and a pair of speakers), nails the category for me. You might say, this “fully integrated amp” sets a desktop reference bar — and that bar is a brilliantly difficult bar to reach, much less, traverse. This is what “reference” is made of.

I had absolutely zero issues with the Naim Uniti Atom. The package is everything I could want in a piece of kit that costs a hair shy of $3,800US. The functionality is complete. It has power and style and grace and everything I threw at it sounded brilliant. I could wish for a more beefy XLR headphone output, or even a 1/4″ on the front panel, but that’s the only thing it leaves on my wish list. And, for this weird and wildly constrained desktop implementation specifically — again, something that is entirely different from the typical big-rig, bat cave recluse solution, with all the components neatly arranged and available for swapping and upgrading — I’m really not sure what more I could ask for. It’s like Naim made this just for me.

As John Richardson said back in 2019, “the Naim Uniti Atom scores in the home of the music/audio enthusiast who wants a versatile, convenient, and elegant solution for streaming and playback of quality audio files with the highest fidelity using some of the best technology available today.” It will find a special place in the space that true audio nut shares space with his or her family and/or significant other.”

And for those of us that live in a world particularly confined by work, time, and available geometry, the Naim Atom is a no-brainer.

Very highly recommended.

back panel

About Scot Hull 1062 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.

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