However, and it is a nigglingly big however, I also began to become aware of something else: maybe, just maybe, the sound is too clean, too precise? Does that sound daft? I would have read back the threads related to this enterprise, but maybe I was warned of a lack of warmth – the possibility of an overly analytical presentation? I wonder whether this could get tiring over an extended listening session? Oh, and just to try out the theory about wooden floors (OK, laminate, if you must!) I brought a double duvet down and laid it down, rug-like, in the centre of the room. Hmmm, not sure it really helps (and don’t tell the OH!) So, onto the Naim Uniti, waiting impatiently in the wings…
But I tell you what does impress me: the Synology DS212j feature set. Late last night I discovered that, rather than peer myopically across the room at the dimly seen screens of both T+A and Naim to figure out what to play, all I have to do is mouse click on a Synology Audio Station setting and I can shove whichever tracks I fancy at either streamer with ease. I can cue up a playlist on the hoof – marvellous!
So on to this evening’s session…
This most certainly does not sound daft.
IMO. A sound that is too clinical and analytical, can be devoid of emotion and hard on the ears over a longer listening period.....I try to avoid it at all costs, and is why I threw the Linn DS into the mix. It (imo) manages detailed but musical and organic but exciting.
The other thing I agree with, is how quickly you get comfortable with the convenience of "music at the click of a button".
I look forward to the conclusion.....just don't get paralysis by analysis!!
"Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again." André Gide
I got home from work, returned a storage cabinet from the front room to its accustomed location next to the hi-fi, ministered to the manic mustelidae and prepared a bite to eat for myself without Murphy’s attention. It was looking promising.
Whilst the Krazy Gang let off steam (and I dined) I experimented with internet radio and also feeding music from the Synology to the T+A. Classic FM selected from the T+A menus sounded good over the Ethernet – very clear and free of interference or drop-out. However, try as I might, I couldn’t quite get my head around setting up the internet radio on the Synology Audio Station and pushing it to the receiver. Maybe I will have to do some reading on that.
After an hour of typical ferret loopiness, I figured it was time they were rounded up and put to bed so that I could get on with more serious business without interruption by nosey critters. This was accomplished with greater ease than this morning, but that’s a different tail (ahem!)
I began to put the T+A Music Receiver through its paces. Starting once more with Melody Gardot (purely because I love the album and am familiar with sound), I tried the first three tracks again. Yep, same crystal clear delivery, sense of three dimensions and general space and separation. The wall over 5m away from me was filled with sound and detail; the track name was readily viewable on the large, clear display from where I sat. But I was not smiling. There was something not quite right.
Whether it is the synergy with the ProAcs, the room acoustics, the speaker cable or whatever, the T+A was conveying too much brashness combined with a sibilance that marred the top end. Indeed, based on my previous experience with Naim amps, this is what I had expected from the Uniti. The T+A was beginning to disappoint me more. It was ‘shouty’ and forward and lacking in an overall balance that would give an underlying warmth and body. Quite simply, I began to believe the performance lacked ‘soul’. It put me in mind of something I came across not long back: the idea that a computer or robot might be able to play even the greatest and most complex of the classics, but would never be able to convey the feeling behind them.
In an effort to turn things around, I installed a couple of quilts on the floor in place of rugs we don’t yet have, and even hung one from the pictures on the largest expanse of wall. I then turned to the speaker cables (at least there was no need to muck about with interconnects!) I had hooked up the QED Silver Anniversary XT pair. I now replaced them with the ‘Mussels from Brussels’ LC OFC pair I have been using this past year. Any difference? Nothing of note. Maybe a reduction in the reverb in the room as a whole, but the disquiet remained.
Ah well, maybe it’s time to move on to some other albums to see what genres the T+A presents well. Possibly a touch of Gordon Giltrap’s As It Happens – great for spoken word and a range of acoustic and electric guitar. Oh, and the recording of Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade to demonstrate the power and scale of a decent size orchestra. The latter should be a good start…
“Argh! Turn it down! No, turn it off!” Maybe I now have an understanding of what Herself hears when she walks in on me when I’m enjoying some music at ‘proper’ levels! It was simply too much. The first movement is full of strings and brass. The T+A was unrelenting in its delivery; nothing was held back. Much, much too harsh and quite simply overwhelming. No, it was no good; if the T+A couldn’t deliver one of my favourite classical pieces in a listenable fashion it was, I’m afraid, curtains. No more testing for the German gear – the red card was out.
And so back to the Uniti. The changeover is simple and quickly accomplished. It’s straight back to Scheherazade for direct comparison. True, it’s not easy to get exactly the same volume from the two different devices, but even so, the difference in presentation is remarkable. The Uniti delivers the brass and strings with a sense of control and balance. Yes, the overall soundstage is diminished and the sense of scale a little less, but the listening experience is not necessarily the poorer for it. The brass and strings no longer completely dominate the listening experience; the underlying warmth of other aspects of the orchestra are allowed to play their part. I begin to smile and nod.
Moving on, I play tracks from the Melody Gardot album, MOAOT, and once more enjoy the balance of clarity with warmth and well-controlled lower registers. It’s only when listening to the Uniti that I truly appreciate the sparseness of the T+A performance. I navigate through the Synology menus and on goes Gordon Giltrap: whilst not quite giving the impression of him being live in the room, it’s close. There’s a sense of presence and connection as he introduces his next piece to the audience. The acoustic guitar is clear and, having been present at two of his gigs in recent years, close enough to the real thing to please. The Primares with the ProAcs are good, but they’re not this good!
And so it goes on: I start selecting tracks from across our collection, almost at random as I think of music I want the Uniti to entertain me with. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4; Queen’s Innuendo and I’m Going Slightly Mad; Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene IV (30th Anniversary Remaster) and Chronologie Prt 8; The Beautiful South’s Old Red Eyes Is Back, Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory, a couple of tracks from the Beatles…
…I keep feeding them in: “oh, go on, just one more!” I was going bedwards by 10pm at the latest (I promised myself after two previous late nights) but it was past 11 when I finally tore myself away. Yes, I was enjoying the re-discovery of my CD collection, albeit ripped to flac files and played over the Ethernet cables from a box of bits and bytes. One final thing, almost forgotten in the fun of browsing the giant juke box: I put Caro Emerald’s CD in the funky swing-out drawer and plonked the magnetic puck in place. Cor! Not heard A Night Like This quite like this! Why, oh why, do I have to go to work in the morning?! Ah, that would be to help finance little luxuries like this!
So, there you have it. The Naim wins. England triumphs. Pressaging the Euro 2012 Final perhaps? Yeah, right! However, in my living room the pride of Germany was sent packing by a ground-breaking English product that is what, about 3yrs old now? The Naim Uniti doesn’t compete in terms of stylish, classy looks, its display is too small and looks incredibly dated, you can have any colour so long as it’s black, the CD tray is rather peculiar, and you can crack walnuts with the remote. But it performs beautifully in my home environment, coping with and presenting a wide variety of music styles and recording quality such that even with the poorest it digs out something to make me smile and nod. I am amazed. At the beginning of the process I never imagined that I would like the Uniti, let alone consider it as a possible purchase in preference to the more modern visitor from Europe…but there it is.
Or is it? What about Herself? Will she be happy with such an unfamiliar and quirky device? The Primare’s weren’t greeted with enthusiasm due to their industrial looks and also the slow CD tray (“Spit! I say, spit!”) I just know that she won’t like the rear-mounted on/off switch (and I know that if the Uniti is used in my absence it won’t get switched off!) The magnetic puck for the CD tray – that’s going to be a bone of contention – “Why have such a silly feature? Does it really need that?” The menu system on that tiddly green display: even I don’t like that! To avoid that you need to use a computer-based piece of software and even then there’s the internet radio to master. Well, at least she knows and likes Spotify, so might be able to accept that last wrinkle. I’m sure there will be other aspects.
Still, at least there’s the upside to consider: it’s one box instead of three; it fits exactly where the Primare amp sits; it sounds even better than the Primares at spouse-friendly listening levels (amazingly); there’s just one relatively simple remote; bye-bye to umpteen cables; there’s no CD tray delay (ah, but it does take time to acquire the network); if I master the software systems and they’re easy enough to use, we can store most of the CD collection away; and it’s unassuming in appearance.
Of course, there is one more thing to consider: the Uniti 2. It’s new and unproven. Is it “new and improved”? If I can get the original at a discount due to the new arrival, should I even consider the tweaked 2012 version? Would it be worth splashing the cash for the youngster? Maybe the next step is to demo the new kid on the block? Or do I need even better speakers? You see? Where does it all end?
So, whilst I ponder those imponderables, I think that when I get home I will take a rest from the Music Receiver conundrum and play a bit more with the M-DAC. Not, you understand, because I plan to buy one. No, it’s more out of curiosity and maybe a sense of fairness – the poor thing never really stood a chance against the Naim and maybe I should try it once more as an add-on to my existing kit.
Naim Uniti (24/192); ProAc Studio 140 Mk2 ; Synology DS212j & Logitech Squeezebox Touch (it's a kind of magic!) ; Fewer boxes and stringy bits than previously. Subject to change at a whim or WHF delivery.
As Columbo would say: "Just one more thing, sir."
I may have been a touch harsh on the T+A Music Receiver; it might simply be that its presentation does not suit my home listening environment. A room with better acoustics, or even a different pair of speakers might have a very different result.
If you get a chance, give it a chance.
Oh, and I almost forgot...it is just about 1cm too wide to fit conveniently into the available space in my cabinet. But that, in no way influenced the decision. Honest.
I haven't much time to read your findings yet (day three). I'll look later.
Marantz M-CR603 + AirPlay • Rega R3 loudspeakers • iPhone 5 32GB • iMac • Apple Airport Extreme 802.11n • Panasonic TX-L32D25B • Sony BDP-S390 • Ruark Audio R1 Deluxe • Humax HDR-Fox T2
I don't want to name Naims.
Is that game over, or are you still waiting "waiting for Godot?"
Interesting. I have owned a few systems over the years, including MF and Cyrus. Whilst Naim has been bettered in HiFi terms (clarity, soundstage etc), nothing has come near to making music as enjoyable as my current setup.
That said, my old Olive system just made me want to dance or play air guitar, and I sometimes regret getting rid ever since.
Naim NDX / 202 / 200 / NAPSC Dynaudio Contour 1.3Mkii
I must admit that it would be interesting to listen to the original Uniti against the Uniti 2. But as far as the T+A is concerned it is definitely 'game over'. I will be interested to hear what kind of deal is offered on the Uniti now it's successor is on the scene.
...nothing has come near to making music as enjoyable as my current setup.
That is the aim (of the Naim?)
Nice write up ESP. I'm not suprised the two are different, thats what i was sort of hoping , but to be totally different is a wonder. And i am suprised that the weight of the naim compared to the T+A is greater, must be in the transformer, which is good news from the Naim perspective as the a good power supply is crutial to making good sound.
So the Naim wins, cool but will Mrs ESP aprrove of the geekery within? Is there anything else out there to try what will do the same, i dont think there is. And there are the speakers, which tbh the ProAc's are very good and changing them to something similarly priced may change the sound but for a real improvment you would have to spend considerably more. What im getting to is the Naim and ProAc could be a happy mariage for years to come, unless you want to spend a bundle oc
Hmmm, as far as Mrs ESP is concerned, (understandably if I'm honest) the playing of music should be quick and convenient, unimpeded by geekery. Therefore, if I am to get the music streamer into the house permanently I need to ensure these criteria are met.
Really speaking I was joking about the speakers. Honest.
As you're already have a Synology I suggest you have a look at the Squeezebox Touch. Quick and convenient is what the Squeezebox is all about...
Synology NAS > Squeezebox Touch > Rega DAC | Rega RP3 > Rega Brio R > Chord Odyssey 2 > Mission 752
Oh, that's right, just throw another complication into the mix why don't you!
And are you suggesting this as an 'instead of' or 'as well as'? I suppose that if I were to save money with the original Naim (rather than those expensive T+A and Uniti 2 options) we could go 'His and Hers'. I could have the Naim and Mrs ESP could have the SBT.
I did say that to be fair to the Audiolab M-DAc I would give it another listen.
Despite the part of me that hoped for a simple and straightforward answer to the way forward with my hi-fi odyssey, the £600 Audiolab M-DAC did not seem to be an answer. As previously stated, my Cambridge Dacmagic is doing a sterling job in the streaming from laptop and enhancing V+ box/Bluray sound departments. For me, the M-DAC was not really a sensible option for improving my listening experience in that arena. Yes, it might offer a boost in performance, but (in my case) £400 of difference? Nope.
So, yesterday I hooked it up to:
a) My laptop via USB to Shure SE530 earphones
b) My Primare CDP and amp
to see if it would enhance the sound that caressed my lugholes.
Sadly, I have to report that in both instances I wasn't blown away. Taking them in turn:
a) The M-DAC is a very expensive headphone amp/DAC when compared with the HRT Headstreamer. There are subtle changes. I would hazard that there is an improvement that rounds off the edges and conveys a more fullsome sound. It presents a full-bodied sound but delivers crisp and detailed highlights to balance the experience. Yet, this is by no means streets ahead of what I am already getting with the Headstreamer. I preferred the Optimal Spectrum filter to any other and found -27db about right for sensible listening. This is specifically the case with Shure SE530 in-ear 'phones.
b) With the Primares I honestly could not swear to any difference in performance. There may have been a change, but it was too subtle to grasp under normal listening conditions in the home. I used a premium coax cable from CDP to M-DAC and then bog-standard XLRs to amp. With or without the M-DAC, the Primare performance was pretty much the same as always: darned good.
If I had time and opportunity maybe I would try the M-DAC in the front room with the Marantz KI Sig CDP and amp, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen. So, from my perspective, I would simply say that yes, the Audiolab M-DAC is a quality piece of kit; solid build, nice sound and decent specs. But it could do with more features to make it a viable upgrade from what I already have. My path lies elsewhere.
I had an unexpected bonus yesterday evening: Mrs ESP had suddenly realised that she had a meeting to attend (hidden until yesterday by the paper clip she uses to mark the diary pages!) I found myself with a couple or so hours to while away. So, rather than do anything constructive and useful, I decided to play.
Out of exile in the front room came the Marantz CD63 Mk2 and PM66SE KI Signatures. Grasping the bull be the horns, I seized the opportunity to use the optical toslink cable (all 10m of it) I had purchased to link up the laptop (yes, the one without any digital outputs!) Before being consigned to its packaging for return to Music Matters, I connected up the Audiolab M-DAC and gave the impromptu setup a listen.
Very nice! Certainly that bit different from the presentation of the Uniti: more sense of space and delicacy. If more impact and presence is your bag, then the Uniti is your kit of choice. However, given that the combined cost of the two Marantz boxes with the Audiolab M-DAC is less than half that of the Naim Uniti, my opinion is that their performance is on a par – it just comes down to personal taste regarding how you want your music to sound and where it is stored.
Therefore, working backwards, I disconnected the M-DAC to see what the sound would lose without it. And, indeed, there was a distinct change. Whereas with the Primares, the M-DAC hardly had an appreciable effect, with the Marantz kit I became quickly aware of the boost it provided. Without the M-DAC the sound became, by comparison, thin and lacking in focus. As soon as the M-DAC was added to the equation, it seemed to act like an orchestra’s conductor: no matter how talented the performers, they need a single coordinator to bring out the best in them and that’s what the M-DAC was doing. It tightened up the sound, it enhanced details, it organised the soundstage. Impact was added to the sound whilst preserving clarity and musicality. The slight ‘fizz’ or sibilance at the top end was tamed and made crisper. Overall, a definite improvement. Take the M-DAC away and the experience is lessened.
But does the M-DAC provide value for money? Up stepped the Cambridge Dacmagic. Was there a difference? Yes, I believe there was. OK, so it was by no means an exhaustive listening session, but my initial impression was that, as often sensibly stated, diminishing returns do set in. Although I do like the M-DAC, I honestly don’t believe it goes far enough to beat the Dacmagic in terms of value for money. The Dacmagic did everything the M-DAC had done, but just not quite with the same degree of polish. But when you consider the price differential, the added extra that the M-DAC offers is not sufficient. That’s my experience and my opinion, for what it’s worth.
So, the M-DAC got packed away. The Dacmagic was put back in its usual place. I then turned to the Uniti – it has an onboard DAC. It has optical inputs. I hooked up the CD63 and fiddled around a little. The music began to flow once more. Hmmm, to be honest, I am not sure about the result. Thinking about it now, I think I would have to say that what the Naim Uniti does to the Marantz CD63 is change its character too much. Whilst the Dacmagic and M-DAC take what the Marantz has to offer and add polish, enhancing the sound, what the Naim does is stamp its own image on things. I don’t like that. Switching to the CDP module of the Uniti reinforces that opinion: the Naim Uniti sound is great, but it is different from that of the Marantz. Put them together and, to my ears, you get a hybrid that doesn’t quite work.
And that’s it. Playtime was pretty much over. All on-loan kit was packaged up, ready for return. A quick system check to ensure the status quo was re-established, and then it was time to be sociable…until the next time.
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