Naim Uniti CD player/receiver Page 3
As for the main event: After being run in for about a week (before which it sounded flat and thin), the Uniti was astonishingly good: tight, tuneful, and very explicit, yet also capable of almost breathtaking musical beauty. Playing a recording of the Streich Quartet performing Mendelssohn's String Quartet 1, Op.12, engineered by Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath, the Uniti exhibited Naim Audio's traditional musical strengths: almost peerlessly good timing and pitch relationships, and excellent momentum. Yet the combination's sheer sonic prettiness was notable. The strings had almost as much texture and glow as through my beloved Quad II mono amps, and the Uniti further surprised with its good sense of hall "sound" and the spatial relationships among the players. Sure, I've heard still more texture and tone from my Shindo tube amps. And although it never sounded small or fussy, the Uniti didn't have more than an average sense of scale. But it was consistently satisfyingand consistently engaging.
Whether it was fate or mere coincidence that my copy of The Beatles in Mono (12 CDs, Apple 5099969945120) arrived soon after the Uniti, there's no denying that the direct, present, and altogether chunky sound of which the latter was capable greatly enhanced the former. Throughout the selections on Rubber Soul, for example, the force and surprisingly meaty tone of Ringo's snare drum came through convincingly. And the Uniti allowed the warmth and humanness of the voiceslost for so long, except to those who kept their LPsto shine through as well. Perhaps needless to say, the Naim's apparently enduring lack of timing distortion played a role in my enjoyment: On this combination of source and amplifier, Rubber Soul rocked as I hadn't heard in quite some time.
Bass depth and control were excellent. While playing LPs with the help of a borrowed Ayre P-5x phono preamp, the Uniti gave full weight and color to Michael Rutherford's bass pedals throughout Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (LP, Atco/Classic SD 2-401). And the Naim coaxed even greater thunder from the fine pipe-organ collection Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago CD101), the making of which drew on the combined musical and technical expertises of our own John Marks. The low C1 (32.70Hz) in John Cook's Fanfare was satisfying, as was the even lower B pedal in Herbert Howells's Master Tallis's Testament. The Uniti's reproduction of the latter was also notable for conveying, from before the first note, the unique sonic fingerprint of the church in which it was recorded: With this disc, the Naim left nothing to be desired.
A note about loudspeakers: Thanks to a lucky bit of timing, I got to use the Uniti with a greater-than-usual variety of loads, ranging from the expected (Audio Note's stand-mounted Snell-alike, the AN-E/SPe HE) to the unexpected (Wilson Audio's Sophia 2 and Sasha W/P). I neither expected nor heard any problems of incompatibilitybut I was relieved and delighted at how well the Uniti performed with the notoriously difficult-to-drive Quad ESLs. The list of capable 50Wpc solid-state amplifiers has just grown by one.
I've been a Naim fan, and an occasional Naim owner, for more than 20 years. But the Naim Uniti's punch, color, momentum, drama, unfussy sense of detail, and overall high level of pure, giddy musical involvement surprised even me. Once broken in, the Uniti neverand I mean neverfailed to satisfy me, to an extent that seemed disproportionate to its price. In fact, I daresay the Uniti's great strength isn't that Naim has combined so many different digital sources and protocols in one boxthat's been done before, sometimes more cheaply, sometimes with greater flexibility, by other companies. The real news is that Naim has created such a product in an apparently durable, high-quality packagewith real Naim sound.
And again, I'm still shocked at how much of their top-of-the-line musical performance Naim has built into this "budget" product. No, the amp isn't a Naim NAP250 and the CD deck isn't a Naim CD555. But through every loudspeaker with which I used it, the Uniti delivered every bit of the timing, tunefulness, and involvement of Naim's early amps and earliest CD players, alloyed with a surprising amount of the chunkiness, color, texture, realistic detail, and juice with which Naim has imbued their more recent products. In other words, I don't think you've ever heard a CD receiver do this before.
I'm disappointed that the Uniti doesn't support the AIFF codec, and mildly astounded that the buyer is asked to jump through extra hoops just to stream music from a computer running iTuneswhich, with several hundred million copies in use, would seem to be rather significant among music servers. On the other hand, literally hours after I shipped my review sample of the Uniti to John Atkinson, a Naim representative here in the US told me they have a new software enhancement for playing high-resolution music files. So perhaps those shortcomings will be addressed soon.
Even so, the Naim Uniti remains among the most intelligent, exciting, and altogether recommendable products that the perfectionist audio industry has produced in ages.
A few days ago I was browsing the Naim Audio website when I happened on their page of product histories. I smiled to see how many of their components I'd bought for myself over the years, but grew even more interested when I noticed the generally long spans between a product's introduction and its retirement. On average, from the company's founding until today, each Naim amplifier model has stayed on the market for almost 10 yearsthe NAP250 made it to age 27!and their analog products have been even longer-lived. To the consumer who wants to stay current but insists on doing it right, that may be the best-sounding record of all.