NaimUniti upgrade to 96kHz/24-bit: don't try this at home
There are two reasons why I have a problem with firmware updates, and one is that they can be used to cover deficiencies in a product – things the manufacturer should have addressed before putting it into the shops.
I've lost count of the number of AV receivers unable to do 5.1-channel surround from Sky+HD, and requiring updates to sort them out, or set-top boxes with flaky operation requiring a download to a) put them right and b) usually introduce a whole load more problems.
As I've said before, I'd quite like to buy finished products, rather than acting as a beta tester at my own expense.
Now, at the dawn of what the big consumer electronics companies are hoping will be the 3D age, we have a new twist: the '3D-ready' product. In other words, units unable to handle 3D out of the box, but with the promise of an update at some point to add the capability. And there's no guarantee some of these upgrades won't cost you money.
DIY or dealer?
How the updates will be done brings me to my other problem: you either have to take the product back to the retailer or you attempt to do it yourself, with the risk that a glitch during the procedure will render your pride and joy useless until it goes back for a factory reset.
I seem to get a 'FW found' indication every time I start up the Blu-ray player I have at home, and to date – touching the nearest piece of wood – the firmware download has just happened via the internet and installed fine. But it makes each start-up something of a 'heart in mouth' moment: I'm sure players are really only meant to get your adrenalin going when the movie's underway.
But what about more wide-ranging upgrades, rather than just functional fixes? Well, taking products back to the dealer for an upgrade may be the safest way, but it's inconvenient if we're talking Blu-ray players, and a total pain if it's a hefty AV receiver.
However, if you happen to own a NaimUniti all-in-one system, I'd firmly recommend you take it back whence it came for the recently-announced upgrade, and again for two reasons: one is that the upgrade allows the Uniti to play music of up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution, which can sound very fabulous indeed.
The other reason is that the procedure has serious heart-stopping potential – I know, as I've now done it on two NaimUnitis.
This isn't a simple matter of bunging in a disc and pressing a few buttons: you need a PC connected to the RS232 socket on the rear of the Uniti for the first stage, for which I had to source a USB-to-RS232 adapter (not recommended by Naim, but I had no choice given the computers at my disposal).
That done, you establish communications, and upload the firmware, waiting what seems like ages – but is in fact about five minutes – while thousands of lines of code chug across the link.
You then get your next breath-holding moment, as you do a factory reset and check the Uniti is still working.
But the fun isn't over: to upload the streaming update, you need to connect computer and Uniti using Ethernet via a router (wireless won't do), and do another upload using a web browser.
The first time I did this I had the Uniti in situ, requiring two 30m Ethernet cables to and from the computer and system; the second time, updating the office system, I moved everything closer to the router and avoided all the cable faffage.
Another factory reset, and you're in business. You may now uncross your fingers, stop holding your breath, and start to look a bit less like a blue-faced supporting cast member from Avatar.
You won't be surprised that when I had to do the first upgrade, the .zip package from Naim sat on my computer for several days before I plucked up the courage to embark on the procedure; the second time was a bit simpler right up to the stage when the browser showed an error message at the moment I was expecting the final completion screen to appear.
Now do you see why I suggest this is best left to the dealer, who'll do all this for you for free? Yes, you might persuade them to let you have the files, and the .zip archive is small enough to be emailed, but really you don't need the stress...
Anyway, the Uniti is now upgraded, and I've been getting more to grips with higher-resolution music streamed off the NAS drive, using a variety of content downloaded from The Naim Label and Linn Records, among other places.
Things I've learned? Well, these high res music files are big, and that means they take quite a while to download. If you're buying a lot, best to use a download manager like Free Download Manager for Windows or iGetter for Mac (it's also available in a Windows version), stack up all the tracks you want to download, and leave it overnight to do its thing.
If you must carry on computing while these things work, set the number of concurrent downloads to a fairly small number: if you set the download manager to allow lots of tracks to come down at the same time, all you'll do is slow down all the downloads (and everything else you're doing), to the point where the whole job will take just as long.
Wired or wireless?
The other point is that you might just be chancing your arm streaming music at much above CD's 16-bit/44.1kHz quality over a Wi-Fi network to the Uniti, especially if there are other computers or devices on the network at the time.
Of course this will vary according to the router you use, but at best you may find others in the household complaining that their internet connection has suddenly gone into snail mode. At worst you will find the music dropping out, which is even more annoying.
The alternative might be powerline Ethernet adapters, which send data over the mains, but that's a no-no in our extended house, where the router is on a separate ring main to the system. And anyway, I have problems with putting more noise on the mains than there already is.
I have a feeling I'm going to be routing Ethernet cables some weekend very soon...