While we’re concerned, first and foremost, with getting absolutely the best sound quality at any given price, we’re not so dogmatic that we don’t want as much convenience as possible while we’re at it.
The days of hi-fi manufacturers using a lack of practicality as a mark of authenticity are long gone, and that’s thanks, in part, to the work done by Naim. The company hasn’t forsaken its high-end heritage – just look at its recent Statement amplification, for example.
But with products like the Award-winning Mu-so and, more recently, the Uniti Atom it has managed to combine good performance with unarguable convenience, usability, build quality and design. It has managed to retain its aura of high-end hi-fi serious-mindedness at the same time.
Which brings us to the Naim Uniti Nova. It sits higher up the Uniti range than the Atom we so admire – that’s obvious from both the size of the box and the price attached to it.
As befits a product seeking to combine no-compromise performance with ultimate flexibility, the Naim Uniti Nova is chock-full of functionality and connectivity.
So, let’s take a deep breath and list some of the highlights. There’s Chromecast built-in and AirPlay for seamless, painless streaming. Spotify Connect and Tidal are both integrated (the latter is available with a free 90-day trial).
Bluetooth is of the aptX HD type, which is as good as Bluetooth currently gets. There’s vTuner internet radio on board, as well as DAB and FM reception, and UPnP capability for streaming from any network-attached storage. Roon software is built-in too.
Inputs include a pair of digital optical connections, each capable of dealing with 24-bit/192kHz audio files, and a trio of digital coaxial sockets (24-bit/192kHz capable too, plus DSD64), one of which is a BNC (this is Naim, after all). All of these digital inputs lead to Burr Brown DACs.
In addition, the Nova is packing two pairs of analogue RCA inputs, two USB Type A sockets (one on the front panel, one on the rear), an HDMI ARC connection, so you can easily hook up your TV, a brace of 5-pin DIN inputs (because this is Naim, after all) and an SD card slot.
Outputs are RCA for a subwoofer, another pair for a power amp (if the Nova’s 80W of Class A/B power sounds a bit tentative) and a 3.5mm headphone socket in front of a discrete headphone amplifier stage.
Control is via a useable remote control handset or an iOS/Android app we’ve begun to think is not as intuitive as it should be.
In terms of build quality, we’d describe the Uniti Nova as ‘adequate’ in the same way Rolls-Royce always described the power output of its cars as ‘adequate’.
The Nova is built like a well-appointed bank vault. Finned aluminium heatsinks plus brushed and anodised aluminium casework contribute to the Nova’s 13kg overall weight (although probably not as much as the impressively sized toroidal transformer concealed inside).
Design is as understatedly upmarket as we’ve come to expect from Naim. There’s great tactility to the product as a whole, and the company’s signature volume control dominates the top of the box.
It’s an illuminated, smooth-scrolling delight and the Bluetooth antenna keeps the looks as seamless as possible.
Up front there are a smattering of controls (play/pause, favourites, folders) along with a USB socket and headphone output.
But the fascia is all about the 5in full colour LCD display – it’s extremely sharp, encompassing cover art, metadata and audio input info. There are also proximity sensors, so the screen wakes as you approach it.
So far, so good. The Uniti Nova looks and feels like a premium product. But Naim can only fully validate its asking price in terms of audio performance – which it does, and in some style.
The Nova’s flexibility is such that it can make the most of a broad range of partnering loudspeakers, up to and including our venerable reference ATC SCM 50s.
Eventually, though, we settle upon Dynaudio’s splendid Special Forty standmounters and Spendor’s equally laudable A4 floorstanders as sympathetic matches for the Nova – and with a Tidal stream of The Jam’s Precious at the front end of the set-up, the results are gratifying in the extreme.
Our overriding impression of the Nova is that of absolute virtuosity.
Think of it in terms of technical excellence of the type Eric Clapton, Cate Blanchett or Jessica Ennis-Hill demonstrate – to watch them at work is to watch the horribly demanding made to appear simple and straightforward.
That’s what the Nova does. Its command of the frequency range, from deep, textured, expressive bass notes to crisp, explicit treble sounds, is absolute.
Attack and decay of individual notes is completely convincing, organisation and integration is seamless, and rhythmic balance is utterly natural.
Some products have such authority over music that their surefootedness can initially make it seem like they’re not really trying.
But after a few seconds listening to the Nova, you’ll realise that it’s so natural, so confident and so unarguably in charge of the music it hardly seems to be making an effort.
We try a new tactic to entice the Nova into breaking sweat.
At one end of the scale we feed it a 24-bit/96kHz file of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert (an improvised piece for solo piano punctuated only by Jarrett’s occasional exclamations) and at the other, a 16-bit/44.1kHz file of Car Seat Headrest’s fulminating Destroyed by Hippie Powers.
Neither recording fazes the Naim in the slightest. Jarrett’s rolling, vamping improvisations are rendered absolutely faithfully – the Bösendorfer 290 Imperial that was foist on him is revealed as far from the most substantial-sounding piano, just as explicitly as the verve and eloquence of Jarrett’s performance is.
The ragged indie incitement of Car Seat Headrest is handled with just as much assurance. The Nova is dynamic in a deep-breathing, peak-fitness manner, putting ample difference between mutter and scream with casual unfussiness.
It ties all the instrumental lines together deftly, finding space in an everything-louder-then-everything-else arrangement with tremendous focus.
Midrange-showcase songs like Anne Sofie von Otter’s reading of Elvis Costello’s Baby Plays Around can be spellbinding in their immediacy – the Nova relays every detail of her voice with a thoroughness that borders on the obsessive.
A big symphony orchestra with its dander up is no more problematic than a walloping wedding-reception floor-filler like Underworld’s Born Slippy – there’s nothing the Naim can’t happily turn its hand to.
This is a lot of money to pay for a system. Of course, it looks good, is built to last and is lavishly specified.
But by the time you’ve auditioned and purchased appropriate speakers you’re looking, realistically, at a total price of anything between £6k and £9k. That’s nobody’s idea of a frivolous purchase.
But if you have the money and inclination, and want a product of overarching convenience that doesn’t compromise on performance in the slightest, you owe it to yourself to hear the Uniti Nova. It’s really very good indeed.