There comes an age where it’s no longer a compliment to be told you look older than you are. Generally, it’s not all that long after you’re legally old enough to buy a pint.
We doubt very much Naim will be overly disgruntled when we say this about its previous line of all-in-one streaming systems – the Uniti Qute 2, for example. But that’s only because when we sit one next to the Uniti Atom, it looks more than one generation behind.
And, truth be told, that’s the case with just about anything you place alongside it – the Atom is a little like that annoyingly good-looking friend who commands all the attention.
Build and design
While often we tend to prefer a unit that blends into the room, there’s no averting our gaze from the Uniti Atom. It is truly a triumph of design.
From the coffee-coaster volume dial on the roof – the pleasure of playing with it, as we found with the Naim Mu-So, is almost enough in itself to justify buying this system – to its full-colour LCD front panel display exhibiting album art as it plays, Naim has nailed the crossover between lifestyle product and premium hi-fi.
You may see the Uniti Atom being described as a streamer, but to do so is to do it something of a disservice. In effect it’s a system, to which you need only attach a suitably talented pair of speakers.
The onboard amplifier is Class A/B, derived from the NAIT integrated amps. Naim says this presents a number of technical difficulties in terms of production and integration, especially in so small a unit, but its efforts are evident in the musical performance liberated.
Naim claims 40 watts per channel into 8 ohms. If that means little to you, then suffice to say it powers our ATC SCM50 reference speakers with headroom to spare. So with a more likely pairing (a pair of standmounters at around £600/$900, say) – it proves ample.
Moving on to connections, we’ll begin with the physical ones as it gives us another chance to ogle the Uniti Atom’s perfect form. Starting at the rear, from left to right, first you’ll find your kettle-lead berth for Naim’s new, improved mains cable.
Dubbed the Power-Line Lite, it has floating pins aimed at ensuring a better connection, while its decoupled mechanical design is intended to stop harmful vibrations travelling from one component to the next.
After that there’s speaker terminals, with Ethernet connection and USB input next along the line.
What happens next depends on your budget. For an extra £100/$150, you can have your Uniti Atom with an HDMI input.
Naim says this HDMI input is galvanically isolated to ensure no noise from the TV power supply (or anything connected to it) is passed through to the Uniti Atom.
Our test unit doesn’t have HDMI, so we won’t specifically comment on its performance – but given the uniform excellence of the rest of the Naim’s talents, we struggle to envisage it straying far from the general character.
To the right-hand side now, and Naim has placed its digital inputs above two analogue connections – one is an input, with three selectable sensitivities (1v, 2.5v and 6v), and another as output to a dedicated power amp.
As far as those digital inputs are concerned, you get two optical and one coaxial.
The front of the Uniti Atom is relatively bare by comparison, with just a USB port and headphone output to the left of the LCD screen.
As well as being able to play USB-stored music and pick up media elsewhere on your network, the Uniti Atom benefits from having Google Chromecast, Tidal, Spotify Connect and Internet radio built in, with further wireless connection available via AirPlay and Bluetooth aptX HD.
With so much choice on offer, it makes sense Naim also gives options when it comes to controlling the thing as well.
Firstly, in the box comes its redesigned remote control. It’s marginally larger than the last generation of Naim products came with, and it’s also unarguably flashier.
From the glossy plastic used for all but the back and very tip – which, be warned, carries smears and finger prints like lipstick on a dress shirt – to the backlit buttons and volume indicator on the navigation wheel, it’s a suitable complement to the Uniti Atom’s aesthetic.
Mostly, though, we expect people to use Naim’s control app, through which you can connect to your streaming accounts and root around your music collection held on other devices.
You can configure the Uniti Atom as part of a multi-room system using the app, too. Plug a turntable into the analogue input (using a suitable phono stage, of course) and have the same record playing in up to five rooms through the house.
We’re constantly using this app to control our reference Naim NDS/555 PS streamer, and its operation is just as intuitive now support has been added for this newest line of models. It simply shows more options in line with the Uniti Atom’s extra services and functions.
If you’ve thoroughly read this review to this point, it probably took you as much time as it takes to set up the Uniti Atom at least a few times.
The new colour screen, around twice the size of that of its predecessors, only serves to make the menus easier to navigate. So you get to the point of playing your music faster.
In only a couple of minutes we begin playing The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free, and a couple of minutes after that we’ve opened up a spread-sheet to work out how we’ll get our hands on almost double that amount in order to take a Uniti Atom home for ourselves.
The most immediately noticeable upgrade from the UnitiQute 2 is the level of clarity and insight.
The former is still an exceptional product that’s found a home on our personal hi-fi racks since we reviewed it two years ago – but the Atom is like opening a door and now listening to the music from inside the room.
From the opening brass parps of It Was Supposed To Be So Easy to the hazy tremolo synthesizer hook of Blinded By The Light, via percussive snaps and Mike Skinner’s iconic conversational vocal, you can almost feel the textures through your fingers.
And to say it sounds lean does not mean the Uniti Atom is lacking weight. It just doesn’t carry any fat.
Okay, so kicks don’t thump you in the chest as they might in a club, but the balance is spot-on and there’s more than enough low-end presence here to interrupt your neighbours’ viewing of Coronation Street.
Timing was a forte of the last generation of Naim’s all-in-ones, so we’re pleased to find none of it sacrificed this time around.
Return to Blinded By The Lights and that steady kick- and snare rhythm is so precise you could set your watch by it. It’s juxtaposed by but simultaneously entwined with those off-kilter tremolo synth chops.
Meanwhile, accomplished dynamics act as midwife for the subtle inflections of Skinner’s vocal – there’s a level of detailed expression here that rivals can easily miss, mistaking his nonchalantly casual delivery for pedestrian boredom.
We make an attempt to wrong-foot the Uniti Atom with a grander arrangement, via Tidal, using Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No1 in F-Sharp Minor, but have about as much luck as a camel at a swimming gala.
The Naim is entirely unfazed by the scale of the recording, the speed or intensity at which the pianist’s fingers are working, or with organising an orchestra around him.
There probably aren’t two much more disparate pieces of music we could use for testing, but the Uniti Atom treats both with the same level of insight, regimental timing and contouring dynamics – and that’s true of everything else we play that stylistically falls in between.
The only method of input we could say shows any true difference in character is the analogue input – the level of clarity is marginally less sharp, and it offers up a generally warmer overall performance.
This is fundamentally a product built to a digital blueprint, but those who covet what we might describe as a more traditional analogue sound from this type of component shouldn’t be alarmed.
In a way it would be easy to understate just how great a performer the Uniti Atom is, insofar as it’s kind-of what we have come to expect from Naim.
But if you end up hearing one and fail to be excited at the prospect of ownership then, quite frankly, there’s little hope left for you.