World populations are increasingly moving from rural to urban centers, making for larger cities with greater population density than ever before. We are increasingly becoming an urban world. According to urban planning researchers at The Grayline Group, nearly 82 percent of North Americans "live in urban areas and are increasingly concentrating in mid-sized and large cities." At the same time, more and more people are moving into apartments or condominiums for a variety of reasons. The cost of housing has shot up, especially in and around cities. We hear on the news everyday how fewer people can afford single family homes.
There are also a grower number of young people that don't want the responsibility and maintenance of a single-family home. Others want to be near the heart of the action or have the convenience of all their needs nearby. So what does this have to do with audio? Well, audiophiles are included in this migratory pattern too. With a smaller living space, it's more difficult to fit a full-blown audio system made up of several separate components and a multi-channel speaker system. But isn't ultimate playback quality the goal? While conventional thinking of many audio enthusiasts maintains that separates are required to achieve really great sound, British manufacturer Naim thinks differently. And I suspect they're out to prove it with products such as their Uniti line of all-in-one music players. Naim's Uniti line of music players represents the company's answer to many audiophiles' secret wish to access their music library by their preferred method, enjoy intuitive and bulletproof operation, all while enjoying the highest quality music reproduction.
The Naim Uniti Nova ($7,495) is the reference player of the Uniti lineup, sitting above the Uniti Star ($5,995, 70-wpc, with built-in CD player and CD-ripping capability), and Uniti Atom ($3,295, 40-wpc, streaming audio player, DAC/preamp), with the line rounded out by the optional add-on Uniti Core reference hard-disk server. All the players in the Uniti lineup can be used as standalone players or as part of a fully featured, multi-room Naim audio ecosystem. The Uniti Nova has a more robust onboard amplifier than the Uniti Star and Uniti Atom, delivering 80 watts of Class AB power per channel into eight ohms. Its chassis measures 3.74 inches by 17 inches by 10.43 inches (hwd), and it has a high-end, industrial look, with a brushed black anodized aluminum finish contrasted by a high gloss, five-inch color LCD display taking up the right half of the front faceplate. Proximity sensors wake up the display as you approach. There are finned heat sinks running down both sides, with Wi-Fi aerials integrated behind the fins on each side. The aerials are connected to a premium Wi-Fi module supporting both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (b/g/n/ac). The front faceplate features a minimalist aesthetic, with just a USB input and 3.5mm headphone jack located below the LCD screen along with just four control buttons, including Power/Standby, Play/Pause/ Input Selection, and Favorites to the right.
The Naim logo located on the lower left-hand side of the unit lights up when the player is in use, providing an elegant glow along the base. However, if you find it distracting, it can be dimmed in the settings options, as can the LCD display. But I wonder why anyone would want to with the high-res display making the album artwork look gorgeous and being large enough to be seen clearly from across the room. And if you want to display source, artist, and track information, it's just one button push away utilizing the beautifully designed and backlit Zigbee two-way remote.
The thick, brushed aluminum top plates of the Uniti Nova are CNC-machined for precision fit and finish. Like the other Uniti models, on top there is a prominent and oh-so-smooth lighted volume control that adjusts level in the analogue domain with digital precision. It has an integrated Bluetooth antenna providing aptX HD performance when streaming from a capable Bluetooth device. Under the top plate and volume control, there is a beefy toroidal transformer with six separate windings. A 40-bit SHARC DSP processor is intended to make jitter all but non-existent and improve timing errors. The DSP processor sits beside a large internal buffer and memory capable of storing up to five minutes of data (at 44.1/16) to greatly reduce drop outs.
The Uniti Nova has a greater number of inputs and outputs than the other Uniti models, too. Audio inputs include two coaxial S/PDIF (up to 192 kHz/24-bit and DSD64), two Optical TOSLink (up to 96 kHz/24-bit), one BNC digital (up to 192 kHz/24-bit and DSD64), one HDMI ARC port so you can connect a TV, one SD memory card slot, two sets of RCA sockets, two five-pin DIN sockets (not much use for North American audiophiles, but a more common analog audio connector in Europe), and two USB Type A ports (one on the front and one on the rear). There are also three audio outputs consisting of one pair of speaker level connections, one RCA sub/pre, and one 3.5 mm headphone jack. There is also an ethernet socket network connectivity.
There are so many audio formats supported by the Naim Uniti Nova that it's practically format agnostic, including WAV (up to 384 kHz/32-bit), FLAC, AIFF, and ALAC (all up to 384 kHz/24-bit), MP3, AAC, OGG and WMA (all up to 48 kHz/16-bit), as well as DSD (64 and 128). Using a USB connected drive and an SD memory card allows you to store up to 20,000 tracks on the Nova or other connected Naim players on the same network. For radio listeners, there is an FM radio module available as an option. In addition, the vTuner app is built in, allowing access to practically every FM station that is currently streamed over the Internet. Streaming is also possible using Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast Built-in, TIDAL, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth (AptX HD), and UPnP servers (hi-res streaming). With Chromecast Built-in, there are hundreds of apps available for streaming, including Qobuz, Deezer, Pandora, and Soundcloud, just to name a few. In addition, the Uniti Nova is Roon Ready, so it can serve as a Roon endpoint.
I hope by now you're getting the idea that the Uniti Nova comes packed with playback options. But with so many options, sometimes usability becomes the issue. And of course, the other question I had was, "How does it sound?"
The first thing I noticed when I removed the review sample from the box was its serious heft, with the unit tipping the scales at 28.7 pounds. Nope, there's no digital amp here, which is much more typical of all-in-one players these days. There is a large toroidal transformer with six separate windings and I suspect that transformer is responsible for a good portion of the Uniti Nova's weight. I connected the music player to my Aerial Acoustics 7T floorstanders via Transparent Audio speaker cables finished with banana plugs. As with the other members of the Uniti line, the Uniti Nova is meant to be outfitted with Naim's speaker cable soldered to their unique speaker plugs. Since Naim doesn't include the speaker cable and their speaker plug sockets happen to be the same diameter as bananas, I tested the banana-outfitted Transparent Audio cables and found them to be a perfectly acceptable alternative. I connected the included power cord and downloaded the Naim control app to my iPad Pro. Next, I pushed the power button on the front of the unit and proceeded with setup.
In Dennis Burger's review of the Uniti Atom, he outlined the simple steps involved in the initial setup of that unit. With setup the same across the Uniti line, I won't rehash the steps here. The whole process from opening the box to ready to play music was straightforward, taking less than fifteen minutes. I will mention that I loaded several DSD encoded albums onto an SD memory card and inserted it into the card slot on the rear of the unit. The SD card slot is an option not found on the less expensive Uniti players. I also inserted a USB solid state drive loaded with Hi-Res AIFF and FLAC music files into the rear USB slot.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...