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Naim Uniti Nova

Naim Uniti Nova

Although Naim has been making audio gear since 1973, it is not your typical stodgy old-school hi-fi firm. Instead, it is one of those fleet-footed audio manufacturers whose products have continued to evolve over the years. Sure, it still makes separate preamps and power amplifiers as well as DACs (how quaint), but Naim’s latest components are one-box units far less demanding of room acreage. The Uniti Nova ($7495) is Naim’s highest-priced and most feature-laden single-box audio system. Add loudspeakers, and your stereo is almost complete. Throw in a streaming subscription or two, a NAS drive full of music, and the Naim remote control app downloaded to your smartphone, and you’ll be stylin’ au moderne, Naim-style. Is the Uniti Nova the ultimate one-box audiophile solution? Let’s try it on and see how it fits.

Technical Tour
If forced to describe it concisely, I would call the Naim Uniti Nova “an integrated amplifier for the 21st century.” Input options include one single-ended analog input, one five-pin DIN input, two USB inputs (one on the front and one on the back of the unit), one SD card slot, one HDMI input, one BNC digital input, two coaxial SPDIF digital inputs, two optical TosLink inputs, wireless streaming via Chromecast, Airplay, Bluetooth (AptX HD), or Wi-Fi (2.4 or 5GHz), and UPnP streaming via the Ethernet connection. The Uniti is also a Roon endpoint. FM radio devotees will be happy to learn that Naim plans to release an FM receiver module for the Uniti in the near future. Currently any FM station with an Internet presence can be listened to via the built-in V-Tuner app. LP listeners will note that the Uniti Nova does not have a built-in phonostage or RIAA correction, so you will need an external phono preamplifier to connect your turntable to the Uniti.

Audio outputs from the Uniti Nova include one pair of stereo line-level analog RCAs, one analog headphone jack, and one pair of high-power outputs from Uniti’s built-in stereo power amplifier. Unlike many contemporary integrated amplifiers, which have gravitated to Class D power sections, the Uniti uses a more traditional Class AB solid-state amplifier similar to what Naim has used in its NAIT amplifier series. The amplifier section is capable of 80Wpc (the specifications sheet fails to mention whether this is RMS or peak power). In standby mode the amplifier uses less than 5 watts of power, and in something Naim calls “deep sleep” it sips less than 0.5 watts.

The Uniti Nova supports all current digital formats including WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, MP3, AAC, OGG, WMA, and DSD 64 and 128. As of March 2018, the Naim Uniti does not support MQA files. According to Naim’s PR firm, “the (Uniti) platform is technically capable of handling MQA, so adding it is possible. However, Naim is not currently making public any plans to do so.” Digital music files can come from your network-attached drives or streaming sources, or you can attach a USB drive directly to the Uniti Nova via the USB connections on the back or front. Uniti’s USB drive storage has a limit of 20,000 tracks.

The digital section of the Uniti Nova is built around a 40-bit SHARC DSP processor that includes a large internal buffer capable of storing “five minutes of data,” according to Naim (but the company does not mention at what sample rate or bit density). Naim uses 16x oversampling feeding a Burr Brown DAC chip.

Naim is especially proud of its illuminated top-mounted volume control. This large circular knob, nearly as broad in circumference as the power amplifier’s toroidal transformer situated directly below it, is a design taken from Naim’s NAC-N 272 streaming preamplifier. The onboard controls, which include a front-mounted full-color screen, offer two ways to run the Uniti Nova. You can use the supplied remote control, which lights up and is large enough so that it is difficult to misplace (but not so large as to require weight training). The second way to control the Uniti Nova is through Naim’s app for smartphones and tablets. I installed the app on both a Sony Experia Android-based tablet and my iPhone 6SE iOS phone with no issues.

Looks always matter, despite what anyone else tells you…and the looks of the Naim Uniti Nova are slick and modern yet understated. The textured black chassis contrasts elegantly with the glossy black plexi frame around the color display. The large top-mounted volume control is so cleverly obvious that anyone with even the slightest knowledge of electronics will immediately recognize its intended function. One surprise: The Nova is quite a bit heavier than you might expect, due in large part to the toroidal power transformer for the power amplifier, which occupies nearly one-half of the internal real estate.

 

Ergonomics and Use
Setting up the Naim Uniti Nova is easy. The most time-consuming aspect of the procedure is inputting streaming services and Wi-Fi passwords. I used the Uniti Nova in two different rooms with three different speaker systems. Once it was set up, moving from one system to the other required no additional steps (besides the physical ones of moving and attaching wired inputs and outputs).

Whether the Uniti Nova’s 80-watt amplifier delivers sufficient power will be a function of your loudspeaker’s sensitivity, the size and construction of your room, and how loudly you like to play your music. In my main room, with the 95dB-sensitive Spatial X-2 loudspeakers, the Uniti Nova had power to spare. Connected to the less efficient Elac Adante AF-61 87dB-sensitivity loudspeakers in my multi-purpose living room, I also had sufficient power. If your speakers are less than 84dB sensitive, plus you like your music loud, and you have a large room, you may find you want a bit more power than the Uniti’s 80 watts.

In day-to-day use I employed the remote apps on my iPhone and the Experia tablet, as well as the supplied remote, to control the Uniti Nova. While there are several buttons on the Uniti Nova’s front panel, you will need the supplied remote or Naim app to access all of the Nova’s functions. While I gravitated toward the Experia touchscreen, my smart-phone-phobic wife found the remote more to her liking. And while the Naim app worked just as well on my iPhone as on the Sony Experia, I much appreciated the additional screen size of the Experia tablet when using the app.


For some reason Naim chose to install a mini-stereo headphone connection rather than a full-sized ¼” standard plug on the Uniti Nova. But despite the small opening the headphone output proved to be most accommodating in the range of headphones it would drive without issues. The Uniti Nova had enough gain to power a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 990 600-ohm headphones well past comfortably loud. At the other end of the sensitivity scale, the 121dB-sensitive EarSonics EM9 IEM were dead quiet with no hiss or hum at normal listening levels. I could hear some noise through the EarSonic IEMs when no signal was present if I turned the volume up to maximum levels. But in normal use I hope no one would ever do that.

The only functional issue I came across with the Uniti Nova was that it produced a low-level turn-on thump through the Elac Adante AF-61 loudspeakers when it came out of standby mode. I heard no thump when the Uniti was connected to AV123 Skiing Ninja-modified X-Statik loudspeakers, which are only slightly less sensitive than the 87dB Elacs.

Most streaming devices have Bluetooth as one of their input (or output) options. Regular plain-vanilla Bluetooth isn’t any better in resolution than a mid-level MP3 file, but the newest Bluetooth codec, AptX HD, which is what the Uniti Nova has, is slightly better than a 320BPS MP3 file, and almost as good in resolution and bit depth as a Red Book CD. Yes, it’s still lossy, but a lot less lossy than the original Bluetooth codec. Happily, as noted above the Uniti Nova offers AptX HD.

One more ergonomic issue, principally for those audiophiles who have cats: The Uniti Nova doesn’t get hot, even after hours of operation, but it does get warm. The warmest area is right around the top-mounted volume control. It took my cats only a day or two to discover that the top of the Uniti Nova was the purrfect temperature for naps. When the Nova is in standby, this is no big deal, but when in use a shift of position by the designated napper can result in a substantial change in volume levels. For pet owners, the option to deactivate the volume control knob would be a nice feature. An alternative (that I employed) is to place the Uniti Nova on a shelf with very little room above it. Sorry, pampered putty-tats, you can’t fit in there!

 

Sound
While very few, if any, pieces of audio gear are completely transparent without some variations from absolute harmonic purity, I found the Uniti Nova remained remarkably close to ideally neutral. While its overall sound was not quite as relaxed or lush as the AVM 8.2 that had been in one of my systems previously, it was purer, more revealing, and less mechanical-sounding than the Sony HAP Z1ES media player ($2000) and Simaudio Moon 230HD DAC ($1500) connected to the Parasound P7 pre ($2000), feeding two Bel Canto M300 monoblock amplifiers ($2000/discontinued) and an Aperion Subwoofer ($399).

When I placed the Uniti Nova into my main room system, which had previously been set up with the Mytek Manhattan II feeding the Pass Labs X150.8 power amplifier, I noticed that the Uniti had a comparable level of dynamic drive and contrast. I was also immediately aware of how similar the harmonic balance was between the Uniti Nova and the Mytek/Pass combination. The Mytek/Pass did generate a slightly larger soundstage in overall width and depth than the Uniti Nova, but the difference was subtle. On commercial recordings the detail resolution and image focus of the two setups proved to be remarkably similar. I needed to rely on my own live concert recordings to hear that the Mytek/Pass combination had a slightly more dimensional presentation with a greater sense of distance on hall reflections as well as a bit more low-level detail.

Obviously your choice of speakers will have a major effect on the Uniti Nova’s sound. When connected to the Spatial X-2 loudspeakers I was aware of the Uniti’s excellent lateral imaging specificity and dimensional cue retention. When the Elac Adante AF-61s were the transducers of choice, Uniti’s lack of electronic grain and impressive midbass dynamic drive came to the forefront.

The amount of midbass energy generated by the Elac Adante AF-61/Uniti Nova combo was impressive, and in a room with space and form to absorb all that bass energy the results can be extraordinary. In some rooms, such as my downstairs main listening room, the Elacs’ midbass power was a mixed blessing. On some music I felt a lot like the guy in the famous Pioneer poster. ButI digress. My point is if you have a loudspeaker that has the drivers to deliver bass, the Uniti Nova has the drive and power to rock your world.

Audiophiles who gravitate toward tube-based electronics often complain about the electronic grain and artificial texture they hear from solid-state electronics. While I would never accuse the Uniti Nova of having a “lush liquid midrange” I did find it to be grain-free and lacking in anything that could be interpreted as artificial electronic texture. Compared to the tube front-end of the AVM 8.2 the Uniti Nova was not quite as “forgiving” of peakier razor-edge pop recordings. They weren’t rendered unlistenable, merely a bit harder and more in-your-face. Rather than “everything is beautiful” the Uniti Nova portrays music in the more immediate and matter-of-fact manner not uncommon among solid-state amplifiers.

Competition
At slightly under $7k the Naim Uniti Nova has plenty of competition. For this kind of money you have your choice of a myriad of excellent preamps, power amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and DAC/preamps that you can mix and match for a similar final cost. And I don’t doubt that most of the combinations of current competing products you can come up with, while not sounding identical, will all perform at similarly high sonic levels. So, sound isn’t the thing that makes the Uniti Nova special. For me the thing that separates the Naim Uniti Nova from the competition is summed up in its name, Uniti.

The combination of input flexibility, almost universal format acceptability, compact size, and perhaps most importantly the Uniti Nova’s well-integrated ergonomics and control functions separate it from 99% of the cobbled-together solutions currently available. Including Roon endpoint options (so you can run it from your Roon Control app) means you easily incorporate the Nova into an already-existing Roon-based system. But the Naim control app is so good that if you don’t already have and use Roon (which is quite addictive), you may feel less inclined to become a Roon user, because the Naim app is so comprehensive.

Summary
Some audiophiles will never give up their separate component systems. I get that. Flexibility, interchangeability, tweakability are all deeply ingrained in the audiophile ethos. And much as I, as a card-carrying audiophile, love to get down there in the dirt and swap out components into the wee hours of the morning, there are times when what you really need for that safe-space called a multi-purpose living room is a modern one-box solution that can play from dad’s NAS drive or sis’ smartphone, and be controlled from any smartphone in the house.

Welcome to the 21st century. The Naim Uniti Nova can make the transition from hair-shirt audiophilia into a thoroughly modern musical world a painless, musically expansive, and completely audiophile-approved experience.

Specs & Pricing

Type: DAC/preamp/power amp/streaming source
Formats supported: WAV (up to 32bits/384kHz), FLAC and AIFF (up to 24bit/384kHz),
ALAC (up to 24bit/384kHz), MP3 (up to 48kHz), AAC (up to 48kHz), OGG and WMA (up to 48kHz), DSD (64 and 128Fs)
Power output: 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms
Analog inputs: One RCA, one five-pin DIN
Digital inputs: Two optical TosLink, two coaxial RCA, one BNC, one HDMI, two USB, one SD slot
Streaming services: Tidal, Internet radio, Chromecast, Airplay, UPnP
Dimensions: 214mm x 95mm x 265mm
Weight: 7kg
Price: $7495

Audio Plus Services (U.S. Distributor)
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
(800) 663- 9352
audioplusservices.com
naimaudio.com/product/uniti-nova

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