The notion of unbiased reviews (or any form of journalism, for that matter) is pretty laughable to me, so I try to lay my biases out in the open, willingly and transparently. It's for that reason alone that I tell you this: streaming audio products from relatively esoteric audiophile manufacturers often make me want to punch a kitten in the neck. I certainly appreciate any high-end audio brand with the good sense to incorporate modern connectivity and online music services into its products, but let's face it: how many of them truly manage to do it in a way that isn't just a clumsy, kludgey mess?
Thankfully, none of the above applies to the $2,999 Naim Uniti Atom all-in-one wireless music player. I'm just letting you know from the giddy-up that I went into this evaluation with a healthy dose of skepticism. And that was even after falling in love with the little Uniti Atom at this year's CES in Las Vegas.
On the surface there's a lot to love about the Uniti Atom, from the deft mix of high-gloss and matte finishes to the enormous and silky-smooth volume control atop the luxuriously engineered chassis. Then there's the front-panel display: a high-resolution, full-color LCD with proximity sensors that wake it up as you approach. Combine all of that with a bulletproof, backlit wireless remote that's as intuitive as it is gorgeous, and the total package certainly makes an impressive statement sitting on the shelf.
But what sort of total package is it, really? Because the name "all-in-one wireless music player" doesn't really do it justice. In short, the Uniti Atom is pretty much everything you need to set up a fully featured audiophile music system for small to mid-sized rooms, minus speakers, wires, and perhaps a physical media source of your choice. It's a streaming audio player and DAC, with support for Spotify Connect, TIDAL, and Internet radio; it includes protocols like Bluetooth aptX, AirPlay, Chromecast, and UPnP; it supports formats like FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3, OGG, WMA, DSD64, AAC, and ALAC; and it has sample rates up to 384-kHz/32-bit. [Editor's note: After the review was completed, Naim also added Roon support to the Uniti lineup.] But the Atom is also a high-quality Class AB integrated amplifier with 40 watts per channel into eight ohms. It's a preamp, too, with one analog input, three digital inputs (one coax, two optical), an optional HDMI connection with ARC, wired and wireless network connectivity, and a stereo analog out that can be used to power a sub or two, should you wish.
It also boasts full-fledged multi-room audio compatibility with the rest of the Uniti lineup, including the $6,995 Uniti Nova (which boasts more inputs, SD card support, and a beefier 80 watts per channel of amplification), the $5,495 Uniti Star (with its 70-wpc amplification, built-in CD player, and CD-ripping capabilities), and the $2,595 Uniti Core (a standalone CD ripper and music server with a modular design that allows you to add and upgrade your own hard disk or solid-state drive)--as well as Naim's Mu-so ($1,499) and Mu-so Qb ($999) wireless speaker/players.
In short, whether used alone or as part of a larger Naim whole-home music system, the Atom looks like an incredible centerpiece of a high-performance bookshelf (or even efficient tower) stereo audio setup. Still, even as I pulled this hefty yet petite beast of a machine out of its packaging, I couldn't get over the fear that its network connectivity, streaming app support, and server functionality wouldn't quite live up to the gorgeous exterior and undeniable pedigree of this little overachiever.
Such reservations were laid completely to rest as soon as I fired up the Uniti Atom and launched its companion control app; but, before we get to that, let's talk about a few other facets of its setup. Rather than the more typical binding posts, phoenix connectors, or spring clips that we Yanks are used to in terms of speaker connectivity, the Atom features four cavities that are designed for use with its included speaker plugs. These are designed for use with Naim speaker cables and require some soldering to make everything work, since there's no clamping or locking mechanism in place.
I ignored the speaker plug altogether and relied on Straight Wire speaker cable pre-terminated with banana plugs, over the objections in the Uniti Atom's quick start guide and even printed on the back of the chassis itself. They fit perfectly fine into the receptacles on the back of the unit, and nothing has yet exploded as a result. But it's worth noting that there's no provision for a bare-wire (or spade) connection.
That connection bridged the gap between the Atom and a pair of Paradigm Studio 100 v5 towers for the bulk of my testing, although I did briefly add an RSL Speedwoofer 10S subwoofer just for a bit of extra bass emphasis. The Uniti Atom lacks any form of bass management as far as I can tell; so, if you add a sub, it needs to be one with its own crossover. The unit's audio settings seem to begin and end with a channel balance control and max volume settings for both the speaker outputs and headphone jack.
As for the rest? Seriously, I would put the Uniti Atom into a very small pile of products that should be used as an example for the rest of our industry of how network setup, product configuration, and app implementation should be done. To call it merely "effortless" would be an insult to the UI and app's elegance, intuitiveness, and fluidity. When you power up the unit, clear instructions pop up on the screen regarding the pairing of the remote and player, a necessity since the remote itself relies on ZigBee instead of infrared communication. With that out of the way, you can either use the app or the front-panel display to configure all of the normal settings, including region of operation, language, room name (important if you're going to use the Atom as part of a multi-room audio system), and so forth. Next, firmware is automatically downloaded and installed, if needed. Then you're ready to go.
Documentation for the device is pretty light, and the online help section is the exact opposite of helpful--but that's fine because, for the most part, the Uniti Atom sets itself up and prompts the user for relevant info when needed.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...