Naim: not just a new Uniti, but a complete New Uniti range

Complete ground-up redesign sees four network audio models launched, all based on the company’s new ‘platform for the future’

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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.

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Naim Uniti Atom: £1600

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.

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Naim Uniti Star: £2999

naim_remote_3Also 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.

New platform
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.

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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.

Easier updates
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.

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Naim Uniti Core: £1650

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.

Ripping Star
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.

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Naim Uniti Nova: £3800

naim-uniti_nova_sharcAt 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.

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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.

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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.

Availability
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

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18 comments

  1. ANTHONY ABDOOL · · Reply

    Hi Andrew,

    ‘Three years in the making’. I don’t suppose it matters in the least, but I wish they’d spent a bit more time on the aesthetics. They look fugly, like souped-up PCs.

    I’m right in the market for a CD ripper right now and the Innuous and Antipode ranges both look better. These things are important to me.

    Keep up the good work. It’s great to read quality audio journalism.

    Anthony Abdool

    ________________________________

  2. Hi Andrew, great review.

    I can’t make out whether FM is available on the atom, star and nova?

    Cheers,

    John.

    1. Have asked the questions, and the answer is that there’s definitely no tuner, DAB or FM, in the Atom, and nor is it available as an option.
      The optional model for Star and Nova is DAB/DAB+/FM. Will amend the story accordingly.

  3. D Brookes · · Reply

    Uniti may be nine years old . Mine is only 4 year old . These new ones are 5 times faster ( allegedly) why carnt we have up grades . That’s too easy .

    1. Not at all easy: there’s so little – if any – commonality of parts or technology between old Uniti and New Uniti, that I can’t see how it would be viable to upgrade current models to the new specification.

  4. D Brookes · · Reply

    Like that word viable. So £2750 and 4 years on .old technology .

    1. Feel your pain, but it’s a bit like complaining that your four-year-old car can’t be upgraded to the brand new model when it’s announced. The appearance of the New Uniti models doesn’t mean your existing one is broken or no longer any good, after all.

  5. Exciting announcement, thank you for the write up. Looking forward to reading your reviews when you get them!

  6. Stefan Vogt · · Reply

    Thanks, Andrew. Would you know if the CORE can be remote-controlled via the new remote, please? (when using the CORE as digital source).
    Thanks,
    Stefan

    1. There’s no solid information on that on the material I have here, but it’d be a bit tricky to do so, given the lack of a display on the Core or the remote. Not sure how you’d select albums/tracks, etc.

  7. Sarah Reilly · · Reply

    Can the Core be added to an existing system (old Naim amps) and used as a standalone through a Linn Numerik DAC? Or do I need a separate streamer? I need to move over to streaming in an affordable way and my Karik has bit the dust!

    1. No reason why not, beyond the fact you will need a network connection and a tablet or smartphone running the Naim app to ‘drive’ the Core

  8. “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.”
    Just to clarify … as I understand it there is no limit as such with Wi-Fi, but Naim recommend limiting yourself to 48kHz and don’t support problems with higher rates. So while they say “limited to 48khz when using Wi-Fi connectivity” in many cases there are no issues with higher rates.

    1. Only when streaming out to other Uniti/ND/Mu-so units in multiroom mode. Not when receiving from, say, a NAS, though experience suggests streaming anything beyond CD resolution over a busy home network might be pushing your luck, although the improved buffering may help in this respect

  9. Gene Narr · · Reply

    Hi Andrew, I’m very interested in the Core, will you be reviewing that model? I don’t think I’ll be able to get a home trial here in Phoenix, AZ and I think that is the only way to evaluate it.

    Also, I read your article in HiFi Critic where you recommend placing a fiber link between your ethernet switch and player. I installed the wire-to-fiber converters (TP-Link) plus fiber but they would only work between the router and switch. If I installed them between the switch and player, the player (modified Squeezebox Touch) would not recognize the network. Any idea what’s going on?

    Thanks for your help and keep up the good work!
    Gene

    1. Hopefully yes will be reviewing Core, but am still waiting to hear about review sample availability.

      On the fibre, it could well be that you are using the Gigabit-capable Ethernet/fibre converters, and the Squuezebox can only handle 10/100Mbps, not 1000Mbps. The solution is a second Ethernet switch at the receiving end – ie between the downstream fibre converter and the Squeezebox –, preferably with a low-noise linear supply used to power that switch.

      It’s something I covered in a reply to a comment on my piece on fibre networking on this site, here: https://andreweverard.com/2015/06/08/high-resolution-audio-now-with-added-fibre/

  10. Gene Narr · · Reply

    Ah! That explains it. Thanks Andrew.

  11. Not comfortable with a HDD that allows Naim to divorce itself from HDD reliability issues. Clearly this is a two pronged issue because of SSD size limitations, but it is definitely not future proof

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