It was most of a year ago when we had a close look at the then new Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition (Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition review). I loved it. But it is a relatively niche product since to use it with loudspeakers you need to add a separate amplifier. However, it was a considerable reworking of the original Naim Uniti Atom all-in-one integrated amplifier. The original model does not support headphones, but if you’re after a high-quality compact sound system ready to drive a pair of loudspeakers, this looks to be a likely candidate. Especially as it’s ready to work with your TV via a HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) connection.
So let’s see how it goes.
- The Naim Uniti Atom all-in-one integrated amplifier includes pre and power amplifier, DAC, network audio streamer and USB support (with DLNA server functionality)
- Built in Salisbury, England
- 1 x analogue stereo input, 2 x optical digital audio inputs, 1 x coaxial digital audio input, 1 x HDMI ARC, 2 x USB Type A (for connecting USB drives), 1 x Ethernet, Dual-band Wi-Fi up to 802.11 AC, Bluetooth
- 1 x analogue stereo line output, speaker outputs accept banana posts
- Spotify, TIDAL and Qobuz streaming services; Roon ready
- WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC support up to 24-bit, 384kHz, DSD64 and DSD128, plus the usual lossy formats
- 2 x 40 watts output into 8 ohms
- Colour 12.7cm screen
- RF remote included
- Naim app for Android and iOS
- 245mm wide by 95mm tall by 265mm deep
- 05 kilograms
- The Naim Uniti Atom is perfect for those who want a compact, fully capable streaming amplifier. It’s extremely well built, very stylish, works well, sounds first class and has enough power to drive all sensibly selected loudspeakers.
- Price: $6500
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division (Naim Uniti Atom All-In-One Integrated Amplifier with HDMI ARC)
A few impressions
I have to emphasise how well built the Naim Uniti Atom is. You can’t tell from pictures things like this, but the entire body is made from sturdy, brushed and anodised aluminium. Except for the front panel, which is a thick slab of what looks like perspex. That houses the 5-inch touch screen. The screen and the four buttons to its right allow you to control most things. A radio-connected remote – no pointing required – also provides control. This is stylistically similar to the unit. When you turn up the volume a ring of LEDs around the arrow cluster show the level.
This matches the ring of LEDs around the large – 100mm! – volume control on top of the unit.
And of course, there’s the Naim app for control. I talk about that a lot below. For now, the app was a delight to use, as were all the controls on the unit and the remote.
The touch screen has a shiny finish, making the colours in album cover art nicely rich. The viewing angle isn’t wide, with brightness dropping off significantly from a viewing angle of around 30 degrees. The brightness of the control buttons and the “naim” logo are adjustable with a button on the remote.
Setting up the Naim Uniti Atom
The plugging-in was standard and unexceptional. For the network connection, I decided to go Wi-Fi rather than Ethernet, primarily because the initial installation location didn’t have an Ethernet cable handy. As it turned out, the Wi-Fi network performance was so good, even with such data-demanding formats as DSD128, that there were no limitations due to going with Wi-Fi rather than Ethernet.
When you first power up the unit, you follow “wizard” which guides you through setup. That has you pairing the radio-frequency remote control to the unit and setting a few basic options, one of which is location. I had a bit of fun with that last when I reviewed the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition a while back since there were a number of fairly obscure regions listed for Australia, including Antarctica, but not Canberra, the nation’s capital and also my place of residence. After that, I just accepted the defaults. (Did I want to use the unit as a uPnP server for a plugged-in USB drive? Of course!)
At some point there, as is so often the case for network-capable products, the Naim Uniti Atom checked back to home base and found that a new firmware was available. This is a nicely behaved unit that lets you skip the update if you want, but of course I wanted the latest. As I set it going, I tapped the button on my stopwatch. The firmware update took about eighty seconds to download on a 33Mbps connection. Installation, then a reboot – then another update download, installation and reboot – pushed out the total time to around eight minutes and ten seconds. And then it was ready to go.
Listening with the Naim Uniti Atom
- Topping E30 USB DAC connected to generic Windows 10 desktop computer (Topping E30 review)
- Dynaudio Emit 20 loudspeakers used as nearfield monitors (Dynaudio Emit 20 review)
- Thorens TD 1600 turntable
- Audio-Technica AT-VM95SH (Shibata-profile stylus) cartridge
- Simaudio Moon 310LP phono preamplifier
- Digitalview DRR-103 digital radio
- Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 CD transport
- Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers (Dynaudio Contour 20i review)
Um … you might be asking, what’s that about turntables and phono preamplifiers? This is a digital device. Well, the Naim Uniti Atom does have a set of analogue inputs, so I figured I might as well use them for something. (The Cambridge Audio CD transport and the digital radio fed their signals via the digital audio inputs.)
I was actually reviewing a Naim integrated amplifier (Naim NAIT 5si review) on my main system, so I did my setup, familiarisation and initial listening using my desktop loudspeakers, the Dynaudio Emit 20 speakers, which are on Isoacoustic stands on my desk. The speakers are almost exactly one metre from my ears which are on axis with the tweeters, so they act as near field monitors.
As I write, they are delivering the opening strains from the debut Sebastian Hardie album, Four Moments, which the Naim Uniti Atom is streaming from my Synology NAS (network-attached storage). Sound quality? Disappointing, but that’s only because I’d been listening to it moments before on vinyl on the main system.)
So I turned to something which I knew to be good, the album Ocean Songs by Dirty Three, delivered this time by TIDAL. Same loudspeakers. Same Uniti Atom driving them. But an utterly different sound. The depth of sound stage, the precision and the detail in sound was extraordinary. What I’m striving to relate is a presence, a sense of true reality in the delivery of this music. The group had clearly been recorded with the percussion at a distance, and at a distance is how it sounded. The bass was powerful, the kick appropriately solid, and devoid of any audible harmonic distortion. As the intensity amped up, reaching astonishing levels in the final minutes of “Authentic Celestial Music”, every element of the sound remained distinct, audible, discernible and thrilling.
Comparing those two experiences we can see that what the Naim Uniti Atom delivers is what’s on the recording. If a recording is somewhat of mess, that’s what you’re going to hear. The only way to get around that is to use lowish quality sound equipment at a lowish level. That will often paper-over the weaknesses in recording quality, while hiding so much that makes music great.
After that period of familiarisation, I took down my preamplifier, my 200-ish watt power amplifier and streamer, and replaced them with the Naim Uniti Atom. I plugged in the Thorens/Audio-Technica/Moon vinyl rig and proceeded to enjoy a whole lot of LPs. I actually flipped between the purely vinyl and streaming digital audio from my NAS and (mostly) TIDAL a lot. And the results were consistently delightful.
I actually kind of expected that, considering the near-field experience. But apart from the vinyl, which I couldn’t use on the desktop system, I’d additionally wanted to check out how well the Naim Uniti Atom could fill my room with music. The Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers are rated at a low four ohms nominal impedance, and a fairly low 86dB sensitivity (you need about twice as much power to achieve the same output level as an average high-fidelity loudspeaker). It turned out, yes it could. There was plenty of power for those loudspeakers to fill the 5.3 by 4.4 metre listening room.
I checked to ensure that the various formats specified did actually work. Yes, they did. In addition to a bunch of lesser formats, I streamed FLAC files with 384kHz and 24-bit sampling, and DSD128 (ie, 5.6MHz-sampled DSD) files. The Naim Uniti Atom decoded them beautifully. And I should remind you at this point that this was all via Wi-Fi. Who needs Ethernet when DSD128 music with a bitrate of 11,289kbps works perfectly well over Wi-Fi?
Some usage notes
I tested the unit with streaming from my DLNA server, with music from TIDAL and Spotify, and audio delivered by Chromecast and Apple AirPlay. All of them worked perfectly. DLNA, TIDAL, Spotify and AirPlay all displayed cover art on the unit’s lovely colour display, while Chromecast merely showed a music symbol.
Oddly, cover art for content sent via Chromecast from my Android phone was shown in the app running on an iPad and also in the app running on an Android tablet. So I’m not sure why it couldn’t go to the unit’s own screen.
As is usually the case, AirPlay was a bit more responsive than Chromecast. But whether you’ve got Apple or Google running your home, the Naim Uniti Atom can play along nicely.
The app was a delight. This is important for me. I’ve struggled with apps that look nice on major-brand streaming devices, but simply drop out or require reboots on a regular basis. You should be able to switch on your audio system and run it like an old-fashioned analogue system, paying attention to the sound and experience, without worrying about whether or not it’s going to work at all.
I ran it on both an iPad and a Samsung 10.1-inch TAB A, in both cases in portrait mode. I also put the app on an iPhone and my regular Android phone. I confess, I do like an app that you can run on multiple platforms all at the same time and which keeps in sync on them all, instantly. So as I’m writing this, the input is set to the analogue input and a vinyl disk’s music is emerging from the speakers. I tap the minus volume button on the remote – it’s not pointing anywhere near the Naim Uniti Atom, and doesn’t need to be because it’s connected via radio frequency rather than infrared – and the sound level goes down. This is indicated by the circle of lights around the arrow cluster on the remote, and by the circle of lights around the volume control on top of the unit, and by the slider volume control in the app on the iPad, and on the Android tablet. Had I had my phone on, it would have shown there as well.
All of which means, easy and effective control.
One input that might be less familiar to some members of the high fidelity community is HDMI ARC. Now, as everyone knows, HDMI is a digital video and audio connection. Originally, you’d plug a HDMI source – a DVD player back then – into a TV equipped with a HDMI input. The DVD player would be the source. The TV would receive the signal.
After a few HDMI revisions, the Audio Return Channel was introduced. This allowed the TV to send its audio back down the same HDMI cable to the “source” device. In short order, audio devices appeared which sent no video to the TV but accepted the ARC signal back from the TV. Which is what the Naim Uniti Atom can do.
So I when I pushed aside much of my other gear and put the Uniti Atom in its place, I plugged the HDMI ARC input of my LG OLED TV into that HDMI connection. A couple of settings later – and a switch-off and -on of the TV to make it all work – and the TV sound was coming out of the Dynaudio Contour 20i speakers. I watched snippets of several shows on various channels, HD and SD, focusing on talking-head programs. Lip sync was completely unobjectionable – often a potential problem with HDMI ARC connections.
There could be one small improvement to the HDMI ARC connectivity, though. When in a mode – streaming, analogue or digital input – other the HDMI, the unit seems to switch off its HDMI front end. So, your TV is unaware of the existence of the ARC capability until you switch to that input. When you do switch, HDMI handshaking takes a moment, and then the TV and Uniti Atom need a little longer to establish the ARC connection. Okay, it’s only a few seconds, perhaps as much as five, but if the HDMI connection were kept active (although, of course, not actually doing anything with the audio received from the TV), then switching to TV sound could be almost instantaneous.
DLNA and the Naim Uniti Atom
As far as network audio goes, just about everyone will use the Naim app on Android or iOS. It’s nicely laid out, super reliable, and easy to use as mentioned above. But you can use any DLNA-supporting app to send music to the Naim Uniti Atom, or any Chromecast app. For example, if you run Google Home on your Android phone, you can have it cast all audio currently playing on your phone to the Uniti Atom. I frequently use Bubble UPnP for streaming music (and video) and this worked perfectly.
During setup you can choose whether or not you want the Uniti Atom to be a UPnP server (which is the same as a DLNA server). Which means it can present to your network any audio on any USB device plugged into it. This also worked well, with the 20-plus thousand tracks on my test USB drive readily available to other devices on my network.
Including, of course, the Uniti Atom itself. Just to test out its flexibility, I used Bubble UPnP to select the Uniti Atom as the server, and also as the playback device. So I was able to use that app as a controller for the Uniti Atom for playing back its own local music.
Of course, nobody’s going to do this for any real reason. I just wanted to explore how well DLNA/UPnP was implemented. It turns out to be a rock solid, highly effective implementation. I do love well-designed gear.
Do you have a small space on your TV stand for the Naim Uniti Atom? Place one there and add two fine stand mount stereo loudspeakers and you will find yourself with an almost unbelievably good audio system which consumes little space, is easy to use and versatile, and also sounds superb.
As always, you should find a quality high fidelity store in your city to check out the Naim Uniti Atom for yourself. Hands on with it may well convince you that this is just the audio system that you need.