Spin vinyl and stream hi-res music with this complete music system

Spin vinyl and stream hi-res music with this complete hi-fi system
(Image credit: Future)

Do you want to have your cake and eat it? We wouldn't argue with you. You can easily enjoy the best of both worlds, combining the old-school sound of vinyl with the crystal clear convenience of wireless digital music – and this complete music system does just that.

We've put together a system that does what every great hi-fi should: be more than the sum of its parts. Yes, all the components here are excellent in their own right but that does not automatically make for a great system. We've selected these products because we know they work well together, complementing each other's strengths and ironing out what little weaknesses there might be. 

Read on for why this turntable and streaming system, featuring products from Rega, Naim and Fyne Audio, works quite so well.

The system

Turntable: Rega Planar 3/Elys 2 (£649, $945)
Streaming system: Naim Uniti Atom (£2249, $3290)  
Speakers: Fyne Audio F501 (£1099)
Phono stage: Rega Fono MM MK3 (£200)

Total: £4197

We can’t think of another product that has dominated its market sector with the authority of Rega’s Planar 3 turntables. The original was launched in the late 1970s, and since then subsequent iterations have invariably remained the obvious choice in the class.

Rega will supply the Planar 3 without a cartridge for £550, but our sample has the company’s long-running (and rather good) Elys 2 moving-magnet fitted. The cartridge works so well as part of the package that we would advise anyone to spend the extra. Either way, try to position the deck well away from the speakers.

System3: Rega Planar 3/Elys 2

(Image credit: Rega)

To our ears, this version of the Planar 3 sounds considerably cleaner and clearer than its talented predecessor. There’s greater transparency and more resolution of detail too. It also becomes clear that the engaging musical character of the last generation hasn’t been diluted at all; if anything this new version is even more fun, and it’s right at home with all types of music.

There’s scale here, and a surprising dose of authority. Large-scale dynamic shifts are delivered with enthusiasm while shifts of a more subtle variety are handled with finesse.

Tonally, things are nicely balanced. By the highest standards, the Elys 2 could do with a touch more refinement at the top end, but there’s little else at this price that does notably better.

Importantly, the cartridge – and the complete package for that matter – conveys the music with cohesion and sparkle. The Rega ties together the individual strands in such a way that the music makes total sense. The music’s message and its emotional content are communicated with utmost clarity.

System3: Naim Uniti Atom

(Image credit: NAIM)

And it feeds into the Naim Uniti Atom fairly simply, via the excellent Rega Fono MM MK3 phono stage, a capable-sounding Award-winner that boosts the signal from the record deck before feeding it into the Uniti Atom.

While the Uniti Atom is often described as a streamer, to do so is to do it something of a disservice. In effect it’s a system, to which you need attach only a suitably talented pair of speakers. And, in this case, a turntable.

The onboard amplifier is Class A/B, derived from the NAIT integrated amps. Naim says this presents a number of technical diffculties in terms of production and integration, especially in so small a unit, but its efforts are evident in the musical performance set loose.

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.

The most immediately noticeable upgrade from the Uniti Atom’s predecessor, the UnitiQute 2 is the level of clarity and insight. The UnitiQute 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 The Street’s 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.

System3: Rega Fono MM Mk3

(Image credit: Future)

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.

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 no luck. 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. If you hear the Uniti Atom and fail to be excited at the prospect of ownership then, quite frankly, there’s little hope left for you.

System3: Fyne Audio F501

(Image credit: Fyne Audio)

So, what speakers to pair with such a remarkable pair of sources? Fyne Audio’s F501 floorstanders are previous Award winners in their own right, and thrillingly accomplished for their price.

Compact yet substantial At 98cm tall, 20cm wide and 32cm deep, the F501s are of unremarkable dimensions for a product of this type, and in terms of build quality and finish, they’re exactly what a floorstander at this price needs to be – that’s to say they’re sturdily made, from the chunky locking spikes beneath the substantial plinth all the way along the gently curved MDF-beneath-real-wood-veneer cabinets.

After the usual leisurely running-in period, we get the F501s positioned just so in our listening room.

It’s safe to say the thoughtful Fyne approach makes the speakers pretty forgiving of room position, but we find the F501s to be happiest – like the majority of loudspeakers we listen to – out in some free space, and toed in just a fraction towards our listening position.

At this sort of money, loudspeakers need to be able to turn their hands to any type of music without alarms – but we have to start somewhere, so we give the F501s the chance to show off their chops with Diana Krall’s version of Almost Blue.

This is a high-gloss hi-fi recording, with painstakingly recorded piano and close mic’d vocal supported by stand-up bass, brushed drum kit and economical guitar – and the F501s absolutely lap it up.

But while they’re borderline-fanatical about laying out the last scrap of information, the F501s don’t sacrifice the coherence or unity of a performance in the process. Timing and integration are excellent, and the sympathetic responsiveness of the musicians is never understated or overlooked.

The speakers’ cleverly judged crossover points mean, from the bottom of the frequency range to the top, there’s no noticeable gear-change to the F501s’ delivery. This unified tonality, along with the sweet timing and transparency of their sound, makes the picture the Fyne Audios paint absolutely convincing. Which is just what it needs to be when it’s relaying the signal given by such stellar system-mates.

Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.