What did Naim start back in February 2009, when it first showed the NaimUniti? Well, it wasn’t the company’s first all-in-one system – that was the n-Vi. Nor was it Naim’s first streaming product: it was already in full swing with its custom-installation NaimNet range.
What the NaimUniti did start is the company’s adventure in consumer-level network streaming products – the stuff we can install and set up ourselves, rather than having to get the professional wire-pullers in.
And the Uniti range has been a major success for Naim, boosting turnover and helping fund the kind of research and development resources needed to keep on developing products such as these.
From a single unit, combining CD player, amplifier, tuner and streaming client, Uniti has expanded to include the smaller UnitiQute, the UnitiServe ripper/storage/player device, and the NDX and ND5 XS network players.
What we have here is the latest addition to the range: the SuperUniti. An all-in-one system, with streaming client, DAB/FM internet tuner and network streaming combined with an amplifier, it sells for £3250.
Naim describes it as being better suited for "large rooms and those who like to play their music just that little bit louder".
That’s in no small part due to the higher-power amplification on board: whereas the original NaimUniti was closely related to the company’s ‘5’ Series products, the SuperUniti draws on its SuperNait amplifier, having an 80W per channel output.
In fact, the SuperUniti combines elements of the UnitiQute, the Naim DAC and the SuperNait, meaning it has the high-quality digital-to-analogue conversion of the DAC, the power stage of the SuperNait and the flexibility of the UnitiQute.
But there's rather more to the new Naim than that...
This is the first Naim product to play 24-bit/192kHz high-resolution audio content, and also the first to be able to stream Apple Lossless files from network storage.
There's even talk of Apple AirPlay being in the offing sometime in the New Year.
This capability is being rolled out across the Uniti and ND ranges via a series of hardware and software upgrades, but the SuperUniti was the first product to be announced with all this available ‘out of the box’.
Also new for the SuperUniti is the volume control, which is an analogue design, using discrete resistors and high performance electronic switches (for sound quality), but under digital control (for convenience).
Like the other Uniti products, the SuperUniti can be controlled either from the handset supplied or using the free nStream app running on an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad.
Upgraded control app
The app has recently been upgraded, and now offers much more information and a more user-friendly interface – not to mention being faster!
As well as its onboard streaming and tuners, the SuperUniti has digital connectivity for iOS and memory devices as part of no fewer than ten inputs for external sources, six of them digital.
There are preamp level outputs should you want to use an extra amp, a unity gain AV bypass function to allow it to be used with an AV receiver, and even simpler upgrading in the future via a mini-USB socket on the back.
But the true capability of the Naim is revealed when you fire it up, run it for a while to get nice and toasty, and then unleash it on some serious speakers.
"Louder and for bigger rooms," huh? What better to test that out than some Metallica, streamed at CD-resolution FLAC off the network via ethernet? (The SuperU has wireless, too, but Naim suggests you stick to wired for stability and especially for hi-res files.)
Thunder and clarity combined
From the first chords of Enter Sandman, it’s clear the Naim is not only the gruntiest Uniti to date, but also marshals its forces with skill and dexterity. There’s power and thunder a-plenty, but also nice sting and bite in the top-end, while the vocals soar out of the mix.
Change pace, but keep it still a bit spooky, with Anna Calvi’s self-titled album, and that mix of bass weight and control, close-up vocal quality and top-end openness is just as attractively disturbing, while a mercifully short exposure to Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto shows the Naim is more than up to the task of powering through the "over and over and over again" rhythms, while making the shouty lyrics all too obvious.
With the real hi-res stuff, the Naim really shines, drawing out every nuance of Barb Jungr’s vocal on the title track of her Man in the Long Black Coat Dylan tribute set (in 24-bit/96kHz), and placing the subtle touches of percussion just behind the vocalist.
Hi-res files sound delicious
Oh, and the piano sounds delicious. Step up again to one of Linn’s Studio Master recordings – The Avison Ensemble’s fresh, vibrant take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 24-bit/ 192kHz FLAC – and it’s immediately clear what these hi-res files can do on a highly capable system such as this.
The Allegro non Molto from Winter has breathtaking pace, drive and seemingly endless momentum, making for a truly thrilling listen.
Yes, the SuperUniti is £3250, but when you consider its constituent parts, that price makes perfect sense. And after all, this is the best Uniti yet.