The latest Naim ‘just add speakers’ streaming system is its best yet, says Andrew Everard
The Naim SuperUniti is the lalest model in a series which has been something of a game-changer. Not only has the arrival of the new range opened up a whole new revenue stream for the company, it’s also brought new customers to the brand and seen an ongoing expansion of research and development resources.
From the original NaimUniti of less than three years ago, the company has expanded its line-up to include the compact UnitiQute, the UnitiServe ripper/storage/player device, and two component streaming players, the NDX and brand-new ND5 XS.
Along the way, the products have also moved with the times, adding direct digital iPod/iPhone/iPad connectivity, gaining the iOS control ‘apps’ n-Stream and n-Serve, and most recently upgrading their capability to encompass 192kHz/24-bit high-resolution music.
Now the range has further expanded with the arrival of the £3250 SuperUniti, an all-in-one ‘just add speakers’ system Naim describes as being particularly well-suited for ‘large rooms and those who like to play their music just that little bit louder’.
Compared with the UnitiQute’s 30W per channel into an 8ohm load, the SuperUniti is somewhat meatier in the amp departmentat 80Wpc it’s the most powerful Uniti product to date.
Rather as the original NaimUniti drew on the company’s existing 5 Series amplifiers, so the SuperUniti takes its lead from the SuperNait integrated amp, both in its power delivery and in its range of inputs: along with its streaming capability and onboard FM/DAB radio tuner, it has no fewer than ten inputs for external equipment, six of those being digital.
It’s also state of the Uniti art when it comes to its streaming capability: it handles 192kHz high-resolution content ‘straight from the box’, thanks to the use of the company’s latest streaming board, and is also the first Naim to be able to play Apple Lossless files in their native form, rather than requiring transcoding software elsewhere in your streaming system.
The SuperUniti draws heavily on the digital design of Naim’s NDX network music player, itself derived from the company’s DAC: it employs the company’s ‘Zero Jitter’ buffering system for external digital sources, clocking incoming digital signals into the buffer memory, then clocking them out again to provide a stable stream to the conversion section.
The digital filter, capable of up to 16x oversampling, is also of proprietary design, being executed in digital signal processing running on a SHARC processor, while the digital to analogue conversion is the Burr-Brown chipset found in the HDX and NDX.
Naim describes the SuperUniti as a combination of the UnitiQute, SuperNait and Naim DAC, but there’s one aspect of the design you won’t find in any of those donor components: an all-new digitally-controlled analogue volume control, with discrete resistors and high performance electronic switches for the sound quality of an analogue control but the convenience of a digital one.
Neat touches abound, from the way in which it can control connected Naim components, such as a CD player, to the availability of a fixed input level should one want it to connect the system to an AV receiver.
Clever, too, is the incorporation of an extra optical digital input within the 3.5mm stereo analogue input on the front panel, the smooth way the SuperUniti works with the n-Stream control application, and even a greatly improved software upgrade procedure via a mini-USB socket on the rear combined with a program designed to run on Windows PCs.
The SuperUniti is good – very good indeed: it’s remarkable what the lower-powered Unitis can do even when driving some big, demanding speakers, but the new model has a weight and resolution of fine detail that takes it way beyond what are now the junior models in the range, plus all the grip and drive to make the most of ambitious speaker choices.
It sounds perfectly at ease driving the big PMCs, even when pushed up to ‘front row of the audience and then some’ levels with big orchestral recordings: however thrilling and challenging the dynamics of the music, there’s seemingly plenty in reserve, and the SuperUniti never sounds like it’s being pushed
From the opening blast of a Mahler symphony recording, here ripped into Apple Lossless and streamed from my network storage device, there’s never a single doubt that the SuperUniti is fully in control, with superb ‘oomph’ and definiton in the bass and fine dynamic capability, even when playing at unsociably high levels. It all makes for a dramatic and highly involving listen.
What’s more the same traits serve the Naim system well when playing something performed by rather smaller forces than the ‘big band’ Mahler, delivering the Quatour Ebène’s supple, subtle reading of Mozart String Quartets in a fluid, dynamic manner, revealing the disc is rather better engineered than was suggested in last month’s review, and giving an overall impression of musicians ‘comfortable with the skins they’re in’, to use a term from the jazz world.
These two recordings are just two of the many I tried during my time with the SuperUniti, including some from way beyond the classical field (yes, I know…), and as well as noting that the Naim never disappointed across a wide range of genres, I have to note how much it really shines when fed high-resolution music, especially the 192kHz/24-bit content from the label of the Salisbury company’s old rival in Scotland!
Getting on for three years after the first NaimUniti broke cover, there’s no doubt that it manufacturer is continuing to improve the breed. Without a doubt this is the best Uniti yet, and – as Naim’s Roy George suggests to the right – there’s even more to come.
Design Notes: Roy George, Technical Director, Naim
Roy George has been described as the one person most responsible for the way Naim’s products sound. And he first grew his enthusiasm for music as a student at Southampton University in the 1970s: ‘It was the prog rock era, but university gave me the opportunity to revel in all kinds of live music, from jazz rock and folk to mainly modern classical music such as Bartok, Ligeti and Stockhausen.’
These days his collection also includes more ‘mainstream’ classical music, from Mozart and Bach to Schubert and opera from Puccini and Verdi. And George has strong views on what makes hi-fi work, although he admits the Naim sound has changed over the years.
‘It’s become more refined and capable but without losing that ‘live’ feel sometimes used as a way of describing it. Some systems sound as if the band or orchestra are playing together as a band and some can make it sound as if all the tracks were put together like a patchwork quilt. The latter have no energy, no life and don’t drag one into the music.’
The company’s R&D is currently focused on network players: ‘It’s not that we’re disregarding CD, but networked music is growing and the market for CD Players shrinking. We’ve been researching servers and "streamers" for a long time, and the more we know the more we need to learn. We’re totally confident there’s more performance to come.’
Power output 80Wpc into 8ohms, 120Wpc into 4ohms
Audio formats supported WAV and AIFF (up to 32bit/192kHz) FLAC (up to 24bit/192kHz) ALAC (up to 24bit/96kHz) WMA 9.2 (up to 16bit/48kHz), Ogg Vorbis (up to 16bit/48kHz), MP3 and M4a (up to 320kbit/s)
Radio FM RDS/DAB/internet
Analogue inputs Two line on RCA phonos, one line on five-pin DIN, front line in on 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital inputs Two electrical (one BNC coaxial, one RCA), four optical (three Toslink, one miniToslink on front panel), USB with direct iPod/iPad/iPhone connectivity
Outputs One pair of speakers, preamp output on four-pin DIN, subwoofer, digital audio out (BNC), headphones on 3.5mm stereo socket
Other connections Remote in/out, USB mini-B for updates
Accessories supplied Wi-fi antenna, remote handset
Dimensions (WxHxD) 43.2x8.7x31.4cm