As a certain scruffy young bard once sang, “The times they are-a changin’.” Although many aspects of our hobby remain constant, especially the continuing health of analog and two-channel sound, there’s no doubt that digitalaudio reproduction is on a pathway of serious change. CD sales, while not dead, diminish every year; more and more streaming devices are hitting the market; and this very magazine devotes serious coverage to the evolving world of computer-driven digital-audio playback and HD downloads. And not just upstarts but iconic manufacturers—and at this point in the company’s history England’s Naim Audio certainly qualifies as the latter—are embracing this new world order. The latest in Naim’s now three-year-old and frequently augmented Uniti series, the $5995 SuperUniti joins the NaimUniti 2 ($4695, with built-in CD player) and UnitiQute ($2695, no disc drive), along with two versions of Naim’s UnitiServe Hard Disc/Server ($3695 and $3995). I can’t think of another audio company with such a long track record that has so firmly and expansively embraced the word of computer audio. Nor of another one that’s done it so gracefully.
Like the UnitiQute, the SuperUniti contains no disc drive. You can, of course, as I did, hook up a CD player via analog inputs, as well as a turntable, and I suspect that many users may do just that. But I imagine a whole other, and dare I add younger, flock of SuperUniti customers will be drawn to this sleek model’s streaming audio and other digital capabilities because, after all, Naim calls the SuperUniti an “all-in-one,” music player that simply needs speakers—and externally generated sources—to make music.
The heart of the SupertUniti, however, is firmly grounded in Naim’s classic componentry, most specifically the 5 Series amplifier found in the 80Wpc SuperNait integrated amplifier, from which the SuperUniti’s guts derive. But as Naim points out, in addition to the SuperNait the SuperUniti also draws inspiration from the UnitiQute, the NDX network music player, and the Naim DAC. Like the latter, SuperUniti employs Naim’s “Zero Jitter” buffering technology, which clocks incoming digital signals into the unit’s buffer memory, before then clocking them out to provide a stable conversion stream. Proprietary digital filtering provides up to 16x oversampling, and D-to-A conversion is via the same Burr-Brown DACs found in Naim’s NDX and HDX. Naim also boasts of the SuperUniti’s newly designed, digitally driven, analog volume control, which uses discrete resistors for the highest sound quality.
To encapsulate the SuperUniti’s features, here’s what this handsome and cleanly arranged component comprises: An integrated, wireless, UPnP-network stream player able to stream audio files from any hard-disc server—such as Naim’s UnitiServe, HDX, network attached storage (NAS), or laptops/computers via a home network; a front-panel USB port that accepts direct digital files from iPods and iPhones using Apple Lossless encoding; a multi-format tuner for iPod and USB-stored audio featuring FM/ DAB/Internet radio; a ten-input digital and analog preamplifier with six S/PDIF digital inputs for external digital sources, including three back-panel optical inputs and a fourth front-panel optical input; internal architecture for high-res audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over the network—a Naim first; a digital-to-analog converter; and, of course, the 80Wpc power amp, which makes this the strongman of the Uniti series. Should the amp’s 80 watts be less muscle than you need, you can drive an external amp via a preamp output, and there is also a dedicated subwoofer output.
Moreover, the SuperUniti offers a variety of control options—conventionally from the neatly arrayed front panel, from a standard remote control, as well as from Naim’s N-Stream app for Apple’s iPhone and iPad. As of now SuperUniti does not support Apple Airplay, but that is said to be in the works. Although its wireless capability is a cool feature, Naim recommends Ethernet network connectivity for both reliability and the best sound quality. As to the formats supported, SuperUniti plays/streams WAV, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, MP3, Windows Media-formatted content, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis from any suitable UPnP device or USBconnected storage device. And gapless playback is available on all supported file formats. Super, indeed.
Luddite that I am, I began my time with the SuperUniti in a rather conventional way, by playing back LPs and CDs via the unit’s pair of analog inputs. It also gave me the clearest chance to hear how the SuperUniti sounds compared to other Naim components I’m familiar with over my years of reviewing them.
As I guessed, the SuperUniti’s sonic style is Naim through and through. It has the same exceptional sense of dynamic ebb and flow and rhythm and pace one expects from Naim gear, along with a low noise floor, and a fine sense of transparency to the recorded event. For instance, on Harmonia Mundi’s terrific CD Gershwin by Grofé, the SuperUniti created an impressively large soundstage with a good display of air around each instrument. During Rhapsody in Blue the opening clarinet theme was rich but nice and reedy, too, while the brasses were creamy, fat, and throaty. The piano was convincingly life-sized, with great clarity to each note and fine percussive power. Cymbals had notable sizzle and snap, and when the orchestra busted loose you felt a good sense of weight and power. And though Naim’s 80-watt rating is relatively conservative, the amp did a decent job powering my Maggie 1.7s, although I can see how that preamp-out connection might, for users with either power-hungry speakers such as these, large rooms, or both, feel the need for a larger power amplifier.
More intimate music was likewise well served by the SuperUniti—be it the haunting beauty of Antony and the Johnsons’ The Crying Light [Secretly Canadian LP], where Antony’s one-of-a-kind voice weaves an otherworldly web from strands of tenor and falsetto harmonies, or the recently reviewed Analogue Productions SACD of Getz/Gilberto (Issue 224), which found the Naim SuperUniti practically drawing me into the speakers with the sheer beauty and subtle artistry of this near-perfect record. This a component that invites you in, rather than bludgeoning you with power.
With the invaluable help of Chris Morris, who works for U.S. importer The Sound Organisation, I was able to download Egalto’s EyeConnect UPnP AV Media Streaming software, which allowed me to transfer my (currently small) iTunes library on the network so the SuperUniti was able to access it. I also downloaded Naim’s N-Stream app onto my iPad. This is a super-cool free app that lets you access your iTunes library, control volume, and so forth.
Since this is something of a new world for me I consulted the Downloads section of TAS’ music review department, where I know I can count on the recommendations of my colleagues Alan Taffel (pop) and Andy Quint (classical). Intrigued by Taffel’s high praise for Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman (Issue 223), and his comparison of different formats, I downloaded both the 96/24 and 192/24 versions of the album. Whoa, Alan was right on—the 96/24 is indeed outstanding, with great clarity, a lovely sense of detail, tonal richness, and immediacy beyond anything I’d heard before from this classic recording (note that I have not heard the latest Analogue Productions vinyl edition). Taffel was right again when he said the 192/24 rendering was better, cleaner, more immediate and detailed. This was one of those jaw-dropping experiences, and I admit hearing digitally reproduced music in this way, over a fine component such as the SuperUniti, is a new thing for me, and one that will take a bit of getting used to. It’s simply a different experience from hearing CDs. Certainly not the same as analog, but something rather different from any disc format.
I was also intrigued by Andy Quint’s review in the same issue of Albéniz’s Iberia played by Peter Schaaf. This was another eyeopener, and a truly great-sounding recording of a piano—lifesized, full, percussive yet harmonically rich, dynamically explosive as well as intimate as the music dictated.
These are but two examples of the many fine recordings I’ve started to enjoy in what is for me a new fashion (yes, I know I’m behind the times). And while I’m not ready to give up my LPs, and doubt I ever will be, with the help of the SuperUniti and knowledgeable friends on this magazine I am thoroughly enjoying listening to music via these new formats. Bravo to Naim for making it fun, easy, and so very musically compelling. (Chris Morris says that the SuperUniti’s ultimate performance is achieved with Naim’s own UnitiServe. I'm getting a review sample, so watch for my follow-up report.)
SPECS & PRICING
Type: All-in-one streaming Audio player
Power output: 80Wpc into 8 ohms
Formats supported: WAV, FLAC, Apple lossless, AIFF, Mp3, Windows Media-formatted content, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis from any suitable UPnP device or USB-connected storage device (gapless playback available on all supported file formats)
Maximum sample rate: 192khz (coaxial) 96khz (optical)
Maximum bit depth: 24 bits
Analog inputs: One 5-pin DIN, two RCA pair, one 3.5mm front-panel jack
Digital inputs: Six S/PDIF (one coaxial BNC, one coaxial RCA, three optical Toslink, one 3.5mm front panel mini-Toslink)
Analog outputs: Preamp output (4-pin din), subwoofer output (RCA pair)
Digital outputs: S/PDIF (coaxial BNC 75-ohm)
Dimensions: 17" x 3.4" x 12.33"
Weight: 28.2 lbs.
THE SOUND ORGANIZATION
TW-Acustic raven one turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII ‘arm; Benz Gullwing, and Transfiguration Phoenix moving-coil cartridges; Sutherland 20/20 phonostage; Cary Audio Classic CD 303T SACD player; Apple Macbook Pro and iPad; Magnepan Mg 1.7 loudspeakers, Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks