Complete ground-up redesign sees four network audio models launched, all based on the company’s new ‘platform for the future’
It’s seven years since the groundbreaking NaimUniti appeared, setting the standard for all network music systems – and now Naim has unveiled a complete new generation of its Uniti range: New Uniti.
This isn’t simply a refresh of the existing line-up: this a complete rethink of Uniti, with everything changed from the styling to the software platform on which the series is built, all the way through to new production methods to hand-build the range at the Salisbury factory.
Four New Uniti models have been announced: the Uniti Core ripper/server/player (£1650); the £1600 Uniti Atom compact network music system (below); the £2999 Uniti Star, complete with built-in CD ripping and music storage; and the range-topping Uniti Nova, at £3800.
All feature new styling that, while unmistakably Naim, has a sharper edge and, in the two full-size network players, a distinctive ‘two box’ look. Meanwhile the players have also inherited the top-mounted volume control and white illuminated acrylic company logo of both the Mu-so line and the flagship Statement amplifier system.
Also striking is the new display on the Atom, Star and Nova: it’s a full-colour 5in panel, able to show extended information and cover artwork. And even the remote control is a newly designed RF type, even able to control New Uniti models in a different room: it pairs with the device it’s to control using proximity sensing, rather like a contactless credit card.
Bidirectional communication with the Uniti being controlled also allows visual feedback of the volume setting on the handset, for example.
It also has tilt and motion sensors, enabling it to sleep when not in use, then wake when picked up: this also allows Naim to claim a one-year battery life for the remote.
However, the most significant change is the all-new software platform on which the New Uniti products run. Naim has ditched the ‘off the shelf’ solutions used in Uniti models to date – yes, including the Windows OS under the skin of the UnitiServe! – and built its own modular system to run not only this first tranche of products, but also forthcoming network-capable models.
In fact, company MD Trevor Wilson, while emphasising the huge programming and testing resources it has taken to develop this package – as MDs do! – , goes on to describe it as a ‘platform for the future’. It’s for that reason Naim is describing the New Uniti launch not just as a major event, but also as one of the most significant moves in the company’s 40+-year history.
Three years in the making
The software team rose from seven to 25 during the development process (which has been ongoing for over three years), marking a massive investment to ensure the new platform could do what Naim wanted – now and in the future.
In other words, it’s a fair bet to assume we’ll be seeing a lot more of this platform in future Naim products across the range.
So what do the New Uniti models do? Well, all are 384kHz/24bit-capable on WAV, 384kHz/24bit on FLAC, AIFF, and Apple Lossless, and can handle DSD2.8MHz/64 and 5.6MHz/128. They have Ethernet 10/100Mbps and dual-band IEEE 802.11b/n/g/ac wireless networking on the three systems, with internal Wi-Fi antennae rather than the rubber external ones of current products.
Twelve ultra hi-res streams
All three systems can stream to up to six network players, or sync up to six Uniti/ND-/Mu-so players in party mode. The Core, meanwhile, has 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet, and can deliver up to 12 simultaneous streams at up to 384kHz/24bit.
All formats are limited to 48khz when using Wi-Fi connectivity, but Naim says a lot of work has gone into improved buffer capacity and network capability to ensure stable streaming, even up to the maximum data-rates.
As well as UPnP streaming and Internet radio, all three systems support Bluetooth aptX HD, Apple AirPlay, Tidal, Spotify Connect – with Roon ‘to be activated in the near future’ – and Google Cast for Audio.
The Google advantage
Naim’s Steve Sells points out that this last capability opens them up to any online audio service that’s Google Cast-compatible – of which there are already dozens, including the likes of Qobuz and YouTube. So as well as those built into the new models, users will be able to access many more streaming services via Google Cast.
Essentially this means the New Uniti models are service-agnostic, which was one of the major intentions behind the new platform, Naim saying that it wanted to get out of the features-race and instead make models able to adapt to future developments and requirements.
To that end the new models will also be able to update their firmware ‘over the air’ using a network connection, rather than requiring the somewhat laborious computer-based method of the current ND- and Uniti ranges. Users will be prompted to update via an indicator on a revised Naim app soon to be available, which will control both existing products and the whole New Uniti range, without the need for a separate app for the Core ripper/server.
Talking of the Core (above), it features new bit-perfect ripping software, comes without a hard-drive installed to allow the buyer to choose the size they want to install, and now has an internal power supply rather than the offboard ‘brick’ used to power the UnitiServe.
The Uniti Star also has a built-in ripping drive able to store rips on USB drives or SD cards (there’s a card-slot on the back). The Nova also has an SD card slot for additional storage, and it’s also possible to connect an external USB CD/DVD drive to the Atom and Nova models, and use them to rip music to connected USB drives and, in the case of the Nova, SD cards. The Core rips to its internal HDD, and can also rip to network drives.
At the heart of all the new models is the same kind of SHARC processor used in the NDS, now in fourth-generation 40-bit form (left), and the New Unitis use the same Naim-written oversampling, buffering and digital filtering found in the NDS and Naim DAC.
The three network systems all use digitally-driven analogue volume controls: these only default to fully digital volume adjustment at very low levels, in order to allow the analogue resistor ladder used further up the range to be kept as simple as possible for the best sound.
Amplification throughout is of a traditional Naim design, with the Atom delivering 40Wpc, the Star 70Wpc and the Nova 80Wpc,. All three systems use substantial toroidal transformers, with much smaller switch-mode supplies for standby mode to keep power consumption down. All three also have newly-designed dedicated headphone amps built-in.
The Uniti Atom (above) has two optical and one coaxial digital inputs, two USB-Type A sockets, plus one line-in and both line and sub/preouts, with a galvanically-isolated HDMI input with Audio Return channel available at a £100 premium.
The Uniti Star (above) has an extra coaxial input plus a BNC digital in, adds a five-pin DIN inputs and has HDMI and an SD card slot as standard, with DAB/DAB+/FM radio available for an extra £151, making the price £3150. Meanwhile the Nova gains two more line-ins – one each on RCAs and DIN – and is available with the DAB/DAB+/FM radio module for an extra £159, bringing the price to £3959.
Finally the Core has two USB sockets, and a digital BNC output to allow it to be used as a transport directly into external DACs, controlled by the new version of the Naim app.
Build of the Uniti Core is already underway, with Atom assembly due to start in the next few weeks, and sales soon after. Huge demand from distributors and retailers, already at double initial expectations, means Naim has had to adopt a staggered production plan: Star and Nova assembly will ramp up during the first quarter of next year, with all models being built in those new purpose-designed assembly cells in Salisbury. The company says it has already had to increase the size of that production area substantially, just to meet that initial demand.
Each production cell uses the very latest state of the art CAD software and touchscreen display technology, initially adopted by Naim for the construction of Statement. It’s now being rolled out across the factory, to ensure every detail of the product is built with extreme accuracy and repeatability. Each cell carries out the whole manufacturing process, the product entering as a kit of components and leaving as a fully closed, finished and tested unit ready for shipping.
One more thing…
Oh, and one final thing: the New Uniti models all come with a new Naim mains plug as standard. As the company explains, having for a long time taken great care with its mains plugs, choosing only high-quality MK UK plugs and tightening the cable clamping screws to a set torque, it upped its game with the Power-Line cable, complete with floating pins able to align themselves for better contact with the socket.
For New Uniti it has ‘reverse engineered’ Power-Line into a more affordable version, Power-Line Lite, with the same floating pin technology: this cable will not only be standard with all the new models, but will also be rolled out to other Naim products supplied in the future, hopefully starting sometime early in 2017.
It will also be possible to buy the Power-Line Lite cable on its own at some point next year, as an upgrade for existing Naim products. It’s expected it will cost around £95-£100, rather than the £500+ of the ‘full fat’ Power-Line, and initially will only be available with a UK three-pin plug.
Written by Andrew Everard