Naim Uniti Nova All-in-one Media Player Reviewed

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Naim Uniti Nova All-in-one Media Player Reviewed

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I used the Naim Uniti Nova for about a month before getting down to the business of critical listening. During that time, I used a pair of Focal Stellia headphones (review forthcoming) plugged into the Unit Nova on numerous occasions. The headphone amp on the Uniti Nova was much better than I'm used to experiencing on most receivers and integrated amps. Usually the headphone amp seems to be a compromise feature that's only added to tick the box on the product features advertising.

Not so with the Uniti Nova. Naim seems to appreciate the fact that many customers shopping in the price range of the Unit Nova are going to also have a premium pair of headphones too. While I didn't really start digging in for any critical listening until a month or so had passed, it only took a day or two to really start to enjoy the simplicity of its operation. Currently I have subscriptions to both Tidal and Qobuz. Most of the time I used the Roon app on my iPad Pro to view my combined libraries and control music playback. When accessing the USB drive and SD Memory card files, I used either the remote control or the Naim control app. The first time I tried to access the files on the USB drive and SD Memory card, I needed to refer to the online instructions. Other than that, every other action was straightforward and intuitive.

As I usually do when beginning listening evaluations, I started off with well-recorded female vocals. One of the tracks I listened to was the song "Saint Honesty" (Qobuz, 96/24) by Sara Bareilles from her T. Bone Burnett-produced album Amidst the Chaos (Epic). The gospel undertones of the track revealed the warmth of her lower register, rich with layered textures. At the 3:31 minute mark, Sara reaches into her upper range and takes a high note steadily higher for well beyond ten seconds. The vocal was reproduced with such stunning clarity and tone that it gave me goosebumps. The soundstage recreated was wide, with plenty of space between the piano at center stage, the drums behind, and electric guitar to the right. Through the Uniti Nova, Sara's voice reverberated off the sidewalls of the room, with the extended decay creating what felt like a vast acoustical space. 

Next, I queued up "American Dream" (Qobuz, 192/24) by folk singer J.S. Ondara from his album Tales of America (Verve Forecast). This emotionally charged acoustic recording really highlighted the Uniti Nova's exquisite pace and timing, as well its ability to recreate a believable three-dimensional soundstage. Ondara's voice was locked in front and center, with the background vocalist a bit further back and to the right of centerstage. The fiddle was to the far left just outside the left speaker, the double bass was left of center, drums center rear, as is typical, and the acoustic guitar was farthest to the right. Each of their positions was well defined and distinct, with plenty of air between them. Attack and decay of the individual instruments was quite natural sounding, adding a greater sense of realism to the acoustic space. The emotion of Ondara's voice came through in spades with the Uniti Nova's ability to provide so much detail.

To evaluate the bass performance of the Uniti Nova's amps, one of the tracks I listened to was "Love Is a Bitch" (Tidal, 44.1/16) by Two Feet (aka Zachary William Dess) from his EP Momentum (Majestic Casual Records). This track is comprised of Dess's breathy vocal accompanied by an electric guitar and underpinned by a heavily synthesized deep bass groove that explores the lower depths of the audible range. If an amplifier isn't up to the task, this track can sound like a muddled mess when the electronic bass notes kick in. Through the Uniti Nova, though, the track delivered the lower registers with definition and impact but none of the muddiness I've heard from less beefy amps. Cranking up the volume on this track, I definitely felt the bass hit my chest and come close to loosening a filling! Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but you get my meaning.

I listened to several selections of symphonic music to test how well the Nova could reproduce the dynamics and scale of a large symphonic orchestra. This past January, the LA Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated the music of John Williams with a few performances of his compositions at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. My wife and I are both fans of John Williams' music and were fortunate enough to attend one of the performances. It just so happens the live performances were recorded and released in March. Listening to the track "Jurassic Park: Theme" (Qobuz, 96/24) from the album Celebrating John Williams by Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon), I was taken back to that special night in January. The piece sounded spectacular through the Nova, from solo French horn at the beginning of the track to the other brass and wind instruments joining in, followed by the string instruments, percussion, and timpani, with the soundstage growing wider as each section joined.

The Uniti Nova portrayed that majestic soundstage like no other all-in-one player I've heard before. Given the confines of my listening room, I could place the different instruments in space. The Nova is fast, too, keeping pace with all the changes in the music and delivering it with tremendous transparency, energy, and detail. The bass notes of the timpani were clear, defined, and impactful. While nothing can duplicate the live performance heard in the Disney Concert Hall that night, the Uniti Nova let me have a good dose of the grandeur I remember. Isn't that what our audio systems are supposed to do? Bring us closer to the music?

I openly confess to being an audiophile, but I also admit I don't sit around listening to traditional audiophile test tracks all day. While I love dynamic rock music as well as jazz and classical music, I also follow the current trends in pop music. So, I want my equipment to play nice with any genre of music. To put the Uniti Nova to the test, I queued up the just-released duet "Señorita" (Qobuz, 44.1/16) from Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello (Island Records). I wanted to hear how the unit handled an example of today's heavily compressed pop music. Thankfully, its strengths of transparency, accuracy, and detail came through to deliver an extra liveliness to the track, without any harshness. The finger snaps that serve as the rhythmic background throughout the track had an extra crack to them. The emphasized bass drum that serves as a foundation for the track sounded punchy and tight in my listening room, but never boomy. Harmonies sounded accurate and detailed, but with a warm tone and lots of layers to make them interesting.

The Downside
There's very little not to love about the Naim Uniti Nova. I have to resort to nitpicking to find anything at all to discuss here. The Uniti Nova's DAC is not MQA compatible, so the final unfolding of Hi-Res MQA files won't occur. The Naim Uniti Nova is Roon Ready, though, which means with a Roon subscription, users can enjoy MQA music to the fullest resolution possible. Or you could opt for a Qobuz subscription and stream high-resolution FLAC files natively without the need for special hardware or software.

Another quibble already mentioned is the rather unique speaker connectors that Naim provides, but I found banana finished speaker cables to be a perfectly acceptable workaround.

Finally, I suppose those with expensive full-size cans with a quarter-inch plug might be disappointed to find a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the front of this unit.

Comparison and Competition
There aren't that many one-box solutions on the market today that do it all like the Naim Uniti Nova. The Mark Levinson No. 5802 integrated amplifier ($7,000) is a more traditional big box integrated in the same price range and can play high-resolution digital files. However, it lacks the ability to connect a television or act as part of a seamless multi-room audio system like the Uniti Nova. It also lacks the ease of operation and the color LCD display. In fact, I can't think of another all-in-one product that comes close to the Uniti Nova's functionality, ease of use, and unwavering control of the entire frequency range, from the deepest chest-thumping bass to the most delicate highs. I think that makes it a great value versus more traditional integrated of similar quality. Its nearest competitor may well be its little brother the Naim Uniti Star.

Another option that's somewhat similar, although not quite as fully featured, is NAD's M10 BluOS Streaming Amplifier ($2,749.99). The M10 also features an HDMI port (eARC in this case), as well as a big front-panel display. It isn't Roon Ready, but does support MQA decoding, although its only support for DSD files is via conversion courtesy of the BluOS desktop app.

I went into this review a little bit skeptical, but I came out a believer in the Naim Uniti Nova music player. It's an exquisitely designed all-in-one audio player that in my opinion sets a new audiophile standard for quality music reproduction from a single box this feature-laden. The intuitive nature of the operating system and Naim Control App, combined with the simplicity of the excellent remote, result in bulletproof functionality. What's more, it's a joy to use, being completely devoid of any of the glitches that typically accompany all-in-one products to one degree or another.

But the Naim Unit Nova isn't typical. And based on my experience, I expect its Class AB amplifier will pack more than enough punch for all but possibly the most demanding (aka inefficient), extra-large floorstander loudspeakers. Even the most finicky audiophile would be more than satisfied with the Naim Uniti Nova paired with a good pair of stand-mounted bookshelf speakers such as the Focal Kanta No. 1 or Sopra No. 1, or the Aerial Acoustics 5T. Or for larger spaces, speakers such as Focal Kanta No. 2 or Sopra No. 2 floorstanders, Revel Performa F228Be or Aerial Acoustics 7Ts should all be great matches.

Additional Resources
• Visit the Naim Audio website for more product information.
• Check out our Audio Players category page to read similar reviews.
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