In the world of streaming devices, there are two extremes: the sub-AU$200 units, and megalithic systems costing in the tens of thousands of dollars. Until recently, there hasn't been much in between, but with systems like Marantz's NA7004 and the NaimUniti, the gap is closing.
Design and features
The NaimUniti from British manufacturer Naim is one of the first "traditional hi-fi" streamers to appear on the market, and it brings a whole raft of features to what used to be the "CD receiver" category.
The Uniti is a 50W per channel amplifier mated with one of the company's high-end CD players and a network streamer and internet radio. It takes a variety of digital and analog sources — including phono — and fits it all into a solid-yet-compact package.
While many companies would simply bundle a CD transport into a system like this as an afterthought, here the CD feature takes centre stage. In what is arguably the most fun element of the package, the CD drawer is manual and swings outwards when you pull on the solid metal handle. You are then presented with a CD tray that uses a magnetic puck to steadfastly hold the CD while playing. Just remember to attach the puck each time, because the CD doesn't work, otherwise.
Meanwhile, the network features of the system are serviced by a smallish, though very legible, OLED display. You can choose to use the display, but the free n-Tune iPhone app offers more flexibility in letting you not only browse your network music collection, but also change inputs and volume. Let's say that this is the second most fun aspect of the system.
The Naim features a DAB radio, but this will only work in the UK, as Australia has the advanced version of digital radio called DAB+. While hooking up an antenna will give you station names, unfortunately you won't hear anything.
The Uniti supports several different file types, including WAV, MP3, Windows Media-formatted content, AAC, Apple Lossless (from an iPod only) and FLAC.
It's not uncommon for units such as these to feature dual DACs, usually in a left and right channel configuration, but the Naim does things differently. It employs two Wolfson WM 8706s, but uses one for CD and one for the other sources — the UPnP, the iRadio and four digital inputs.
While we see many users of this system sticking with the iPad/iPhone app, the remote is also quite useable. It's logically arranged and smartly designed ergonomics mean that you can perform many functions without looking at it. The small display on the front of the NaimUniti may make browsing difficult from a distance, though.
The n-Tune app allows you to choose sources and alter the volume, and the iPad version (right) lets you browse your networked library by cover art.
Like many products from British hi-fi brands, the Naim is quite idiosyncratic in its set-up. You won't be able to use your own speaker cables (without modification) due to the proprietary connectors on the rear of the unit, so Naim supplies its own cables.
There's no set-up routines, and so, once the speakers are plugged in, and you've connected the device to your router, you are ready to go.
As it's based on the Nait 5i amplifier, the NaimUniti has plenty of power in reserve. It was able to drive our Spendor A3 speakers to higher levels than our test receiver, while still remaining articulate.
The sound balance tends to favour detail rather than crushing dynamics, and you may well find that some recordings have a new lease of life under the Naim. The Naim's even-handedness means that it can sound a little polite with rock music, although hooking the system up to a pair of the new JBL Studio Ones was quite enjoyable.
Navigating via the app is easy, even if the app isn't as attractive as Cambridge Audio's UuVol streaming application. If you have an iPad, you'll find that you can browse by cover art in a very iTunes-like way.
If you're looking for a high-end, all-in-one stereo system, then the NaimUniti is the best, most future-proof model that we've seen. It features astounding build quality, understated design, ease of use and rock solid sound. The only thing we miss is the lack of DAB+ support.