Naim Audio Uniti Nova integrated amplifier-media player

Audiophiles are oblivious to the low-end music-reproduction medium that's currently staging a comeback: the cassette tape (footnote 1). I've adopted the cassette craze in my own small way. I glory in the trusted mixtape, which I play in the stereo cassette deck of my 1990s Toyota. An automobile is a dearly cherished possession in New York City; when I cruise the outer boroughs on Sunday, I want tunes galore. So I retrieved my 1996 Aiwa cassette deck, and, attic-bound as it had been for 20 years, it was in need of repair. Via Yelp, I came across Hi-Tech Electronics, a small repair-everything-electronic shop at the east end of Canal Street, in New York's Chinatown, and a mother lode of classic audio gear and audiophile nostalgia.

Hi-Tech brims to the rafters with electronics from the 1960s through the 1980s: AM/FM console radios, bookshelf speakers, turntables, cassette decks, tuners, shortwave radios, integrated amplifiers, and—taking up an entire wall—classic stereo receivers. Currently experiencing their own renaissance of renewed customer confidence, vintage stereo receivers appeal to those who want to dip their toes in plebeian audio for little cost. (Stereophile's occasional Musicians As Audiophiles interviews have confirmed the appreciation for vintage audio.) Perched on Hi-Tech's showroom wall I saw every receiver imaginable, from Fisher, Kenwood, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sansui, Sherwood, Sony, Technics, Yamaha—even Marantz. Those beauties' backlit tuning dials and faux wood cabinets are as comforting to me as Ovaltine and meatloaf.

Gazing at those vintage products, I couldn't help thinking: What is today's combination integrated amplifier-DAC-streamer-player-ripper-NAS if not a glorified stereo receiver? I had in mind something like the Pioneer SX-1010—which was proclaimed, in a 1974 ad, to be "The finest stereo receiver the world has ever known."

In 1974, the Pioneer SX-1010 sold for $700. Today, Naim's Uniti Nova integrated amplifier–media player–D/A processor lists for $6995. Like everything else, today's hi-fi gear reflects contemporary technology, consumer trends, and the ever-rising cost of living.

Design
The Uniti Nova is basically an amplifier plus a turbocharged computer that offers, in a single oblong metal box, almost everything audio that one could desire. And oh, what a beautiful box it is. The Uniti Nova's case of brushed and CNC-machined aluminum has two long, finned heatsinks as side panels; a sleek-to-the-touch, illuminated volume dial on the top panel that practically spins off rays of light; and a 5", color LCD display. Whether selecting titles via Internet radio, Bluetooth or WiFi, Tidal, Spotify, or a NAS drive—or coupling its internal DAC to a CD transport—all of the Nova's functions other than power-up are accessible from that lovely front display, Naim's app, or the included remote control. The remote seems to awake when it senses you're near—before you even touch it, its touchpad pulses a soft circle of light that's mirrored by the Nova's own volume dial. It seemed like a dance of fireflies floating around my small Manhattan quarters.

Replacing the SuperUniti all-in-one, the 28.7-lb Nova is the flagship of Naim's Uniti line, which also includes Atom all-in-one player, Star CD player/ripper, and Core hard-disk server. The Uniti crew does it all: playback of music files in AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV formats, all up through resolutions and sample rates of 32-bits and 384kHz; lossy formats MP3, AAC, WMA, and Ogg Vorbis; and DSD64 and 128. The Nova's built-in Bluetooth and WiFi can stream Apple AirPlay, Apple Music, Google Chromecast, Spotify Connect, and Tidal, and it's Roon ready. The Nova's class-A/B integrated amplifier, based on Naim's NAIT, can output 80Wpc into 8 ohms; it and the player's DAC, the latter enabled with a Burr-Brown PCM1791A chip, and the separate preamplifier output, all distinguish the Nova from its Uniti kin.

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The "Uniti Nova boasts outstanding new technology which really sets it apart from the rest of the range," boasts Naim online. "Its circuitry features the highest quality discrete components, superior isolation, more inputs than you can shake a stick at and a massive toroidal transformer that brings a whole new meaning to the term heavyweight. [The] Uniti Nova is as good as an all-in-one player can get."

I found Naim's marketing approach, Quick Start Guide, and online materials light on facts, and grilling a Naim representative for details created as many questions as answers. Naim's director of marketing and communications, Ryan Latham, told me about the massive rotary volume dial on the top panel:

"There's a super smooth, ball bearing-raced volume control with damping grease on the top of the product. The actual volume control is a discrete component, digitally controlled analogue volume control designed by Naim. It has a 95dB range, accurate channel matching and constant input and output impedance [which] maintains the frequency response irrespective of volume level. . . . Now, with all signals in the digital domain we can simplify the analogue volume control. From –64dB to –95dB (very quiet listening levels) we introduce digital attenuation in addition to the analogue attenuation. . . . This allows us to remove 1/3rd of the analogue volume control [which improves] the sound quality of the volume ranges 0 to –64dB due to the reduction in component count and parasitic effects."

Unsurprising, given the Uniti Nova's beautiful appearance, is the news that each unit is hand-built by one of Naim's 180 workers in Salisbury, England. Naim is equally proud of the Uniti Nova's component parts, which include leaded polystyrene film capacitors. "Polystyrene is an excellent dielectric having low dielectric absorption, low leakage, stability with temperature and voltage," Latham wrote. "We also use through-hole resistors and -transistors in key locations such as filters and feedback circuits. And large leaded components lower microphonic noise and minimise thermal modulation. We [use] custom made power supply capacitors, and a custom made 770VA Nuvotem Toroidal transformer."

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The Uniti Nova's front panel is minimalist, even Spartan. There are only a USB Type A input, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the display, and to the right of the display four flush-mounted buttons for, in descending order, Power/Standby, Play/Pause, Input Selection, and Favorites. The remote's functions mirror those on the front panel, adding buttons for Clock, Brightness, Now Playing, Next, Previous, Multiroom, Mute, and Home.

The Nova's rear panel is only slightly more populated. There you'll find an IEC power receptacle, two pairs of banana-only speaker posts, an SDcard slot, an Ethernet receptacle, USB and HDMI inputs, DAB/FM connector, and five digital inputs: two optical TosLink (up to 24/96), one BNC (up to 24/192), and two coaxial RCA (up to 24/192). Below those are four pairs of analog inputs (two RCA, two 5-pin DIN), two preamplifier outputs (one 5-pin DIN, one RCA), and a switch to lift the ground.

Setup
The Uniti Nova is heavier than it looks. I wrestled it into my equipment rack, where it remained for the duration. I used Auditorium 23 speaker cables, and interconnects by AudioQuest, DiMarzio, Morrow Audio, and Shindo Laboratory to connect my CD transport and phono stage to the Naim. My Western Digital external hard drive was connected using an AmazonBasics USB 3.0 link.



Footnote 1: "The bestselling cassette of 2016 was the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack, which moved at least 4,000 copies," noted Hugh McIntyre in Forbes on May 8, 2017: "Cassettes Are Making a Comeback, But Which Artists Are Actually Selling Them?". "Other successful [cassette] titles that sold well in 2016 . . . include Eminem's The Slim Shady LP and Prince and the Revolution's legendary Purple Rain," he wrote.
COMPANY INFO
Naim Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Audio Plus Services Inc.
156 Lawrence Paquette Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
(800) 663-9352
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
fetuso's picture

nice review. I was just downtown this morning, wish I had known about Hi-tech hifi. I was recently in the market for a new integrated and toyed with the idea of a vintage receiver. I also considered some used naim amps. I ended up getting a great deal on a used Yamaha as2100 integrated and I love it.

supamark's picture

that the Guardians soundtrack sales were as much about collectors and novelty as anything. I still can't get my head around a cassette revival. I get vinyl, it has a sound that's appealing. Mass produced cassettes are just awful sounding - cassette is to vinyl as mp3 is to CD, and very few cassette decks ever had the azimuth adjustment (and bias adj. plus 3 heads for recording) needed to get the most out of the medium.

Also, Naim's Mu-so Qb facinates me, though I've no idea how it sounds.

ok's picture

Ten years ago someone stole my beautifull red hatchback, newly serviced, freshly washed and filled up with my decades-old, obscurely sourced collection of cassette tapes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really missed that car; but what I wished for back then was that the scumbag who stole it had been kind enough to return those precious cassette tapes.

ken mac's picture

I feel your pain.

jporter's picture

No practicality at all. The NAD C368 is a bargain. I think there has to be a # Me too movement for these kind of reviews. "he said it was a bargain, but I felt violated and small"...Shame, Shame, Shame...lmfao..and Cheers!

ken mac's picture

The NAIM is extremely practical, does everything well and sounds fantastic.
The NAD 368 a giant killer? We shall see, review forthcoming.

supamark's picture

the tension building music... dun Dun DUN!

tonykaz's picture

I mean : instead of a Mono Phono Cartridge, for gods sake.

I raaaathhhhre like this design.

This brit stuff is decidedly not "hair shirt" type gear, which will probably make it a 'slow seller' on the Audiophile Shop Sales Floor.

It's ( pretty ) like a nice vintage B&O tabletop piece.

Now, all we'd need is a brushed al-u-mini-mum Plinth for our LP-12 and we'll be all-set.

I could love this thing sitting near-by my Green Leather Lazyboy and Book Reading gear.

Thank you Stereophile for this Review, you remind us that there is another viable music system World ( Planet ) out there.

Tony in Michigan

spacehound's picture

I would have purchased a Naim 'digital' box years ago.

But except for the DAC-V1 (which is a DAC only), they consistently refuse to put a 'computer' USB socket on any of them including this one.

So, sadly, very nice but no thanks.

tonykaz's picture

this naim has two USBs, one on the Front and one on the rear.

Wudea think about those Woo Fireflies?

Tony in Michigan

ps. a weak attempt to spell out a Yorkshire pronouncing of "What do you"

ps.2 are you lads "allowed" to get PS Audio Electronics ?

spacehound's picture

We once imported a PS audio preamp that COULD be made to sound good but it was very sensitive to varying inputs and outputs so you had to be careful what you connected. Not even their own power amp worked well with it.
Few bothered so PS Audio wasn't here long.

A UK distributor now half-heartedly imports the modern PS Audio stuff but none of it has received notably good reviews.

And the UK mags are fairly honest, particularly 'Hifi News and Record Review' which does very detailed measurements too. But only afterwards so the reviewer is not influenced.

Woo Fireflies. I'm not interested in headphone stuff.

(Only Boeing, IBM, Ford, and Harley-Davidson seem to make any significant 'US effort' in the UK.They all do quite well. GM recently vanished, as did Jeep. Apple try, but can't really be said to 'succeed'. I think all that applies to most of Europe)

mrkaic's picture

Predictably, the comments ignored the elephant in the room -- the fact that the unit overheated so badly it had to shut down. Was that just a bad unit or a systemic/design issue? (Even one bad unit seems quite bad to me, though.)

tonykaz's picture

This isn't a Miller Welding Machine, is it ???

It's just a little 80 Watt'r with an Engineered Thermal Shut-down to protect the owner from having to ship the darn thing back to Wales.

Of course they could've used Fuses instead of Breakers but they probably couldn't afford "Proper" German Audiophile Fuses.

My Cuisinart Coffee Grinder overheats ( and shuts down ) when I grind more than one Pound of Beans.

Thermal shut-downs are a very good thing, no Thermal shut down quickly destroys lots of things.

Tony in Michigan

mrkaic's picture

They should have used bigger heat sinks and/or (a more powerful) fan in the first place. Shutdown is a preventive measure and it's fine they have it, but the unit should never overheat under normal(!) operation, i.e. setting any combination of inputs by the user.

I suspect the class AB amp inside is biased too hot to reduce distortion. But they seem to have gone too far with it. In this context, the review could have said what kind of circuit design measures and components they used to guard against thermal runaway. (For example, ThermalTrak transistors were most likely not used, were they?)

Indydan's picture

I wonder if JA had the speaker cables plugged into the Naim, and the speaker cables plugged into speakers during his test.

With Naim amps, the following usually applies:

"Naim amplifiers do not have extra inductance networks in the output, Naim prefer to use the speaker cable to provide the correct inductance and capacitance."

If no speaker cable is attached to the amp (or a very incompatible speaker cable), the amp could overheat.

John Atkinson's picture
Indydan wrote:
I wonder if JA had the speaker cables plugged into the Naim, and the speaker cables plugged into speakers during his test...If no speaker cable is attached to the amp (or a very incompatible speaker cable), the amp could overheat.

I thought it clear from my text that yes, I did have the amplifier connected to the load during the preconditioning test.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Indydan's picture

Thanks for the answer. Were you using Naim's NAC A5 speaker cable? I know that speaker cable in a twisted pair design can cause problems. Naim recommends low capacitance cables of moderate inductance.

Capacitance: 16pF per metre
Resistance: 9 milliohms per metre
Inductance: 1uH per metre

It is possible to use other speaker cables than Naim's, but it must be reasonably compatible. If not, it could cause the amp to over heat. I use Naim's NAC A5 cable with my Naim integrated, and it runs cold even when pushed hard.

http://forums.naimaudio.com/topic/speaker-cable-for-naim-amplifiers

John Atkinson's picture
Indydan wrote:
Were you using Naim's NAC A5 speaker cable? I know that speaker cable in a twisted pair design can cause problems.

No, but I was using a similar spaced-pair cable with moderate inductance and low capacitance. The overheating with the 1/3-power test, which is maximally demanding on a class-AB amplifier's ability to rid itself of heat, was due to the Uniti Nova's industrial design undersizing the heatsinks.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Someone from Naim should be explaining things by now.

This is a rather good example of where PS Audio's Paul McGowan "shines".

We consumers no longer have well informed Dealers to walk us thru the Ownership experience.

Of course, Stereophile's technical people seem to be reaching-out with "helpful" information.

Still, where is Naim when we need them ?

Digital 4K Video Cameras ( some ) are overheating and shutting down.

We might have a Case where this Naim Digital Device's Computer is what's overheating and stopping as a result.

Hello Naim, what's going on?, is there an V2.7 upgrade?

Tony in Michigan

audiodoctornj's picture

Ken first of all I want to thank you for such a glowing review of one of our favortie products, namely the Naim Uniti Line.

One of the things that makes the Naim Uniti line so special wasn't mentioned at all and even if it was, it was not spelled out in big bold letters.

Yes we agree that the Nova sounds fantastic, and is a joy to use, the Naim sound hits all the factors that we find important, the gear is extremely practical, and sounds engaging, the Nova as well as the Star and the Atom all draw you into the music in a way that many more expensive brands and products just don't.

The point that comes up with the entire Uniti line as a retailor, is that this is a line of real high end products that are highly enjoyable, elegantly styled, easy to use, and that these products can get non audiophils into our hobby and into the passion of hearing the joys of realisitc music reproduction in their lives.

I can imagine how many audiophiles with big rigs of separates with tubes and vinyl and no digital sources miss the point that their neophyte friends would never go down that same path no matter how good that type of system performs no matter how hard they try to convince them.

Is is any wonder that Sonos is a Billion dollar company? Even though their products are under performing compared their higher end varients?

We actually start our showroom tour with the Naim Muso a $900 all in one streaming box from Naim, and then show people that a Uniti Atom, $3,000.00 streaming amp/dac with a pair of $1,000.00-$2,500.00 loudspeakers makes a real music system and they can easily hear the difference.

The fact that the Naim app can control a Muso a $900 streaming box, an Atom a $3,000.00 streaming box, going up to as high as a NAC 272 streaming dac/preamp along with a NAP 250 power amp a $13,000.00 package, is a very powerful tool that can transform a starter music lover into a true audiophile!

I know of no other company in the high end audio industry that offers such a wide range of products that are all tied together into one echo system.

So a perspetive client can start with a Muso and then build up to a Naim streaming amp, or conversely they can start with a Naim Streaming Amp/DAC live the Nova and then decide to add a room such as a Kitchen or a Study and just purchase a Naim streaming speaker.

The only other contender is NAD with their Blue Sound line which is excellent but aims at a less lofty world than the ultimate levels of sound quality that the higher end Naim products represent.

Ken if you are in our area, Jersey City NJ, you should come in and visit our store, we have the Naim Muso, the Naim Muso QB, the Atom, the Nova, the NAC 272/250DR setup throught the store in one seemless room to room streaming display. Our clients love it.

Thanks again Ken, I am delighted that you appreciate just how speical the Nova is.

Sincerely,

Dave Lalin,
Audio Doctor NJ

Indydan's picture

Please address the overheating, or forward it to Naim for a reply. Is Atkinson's test a reliable indicator of how the Nova will be used?

John Atkinson's picture
Indydan wrote:
Please address the overheating, or forward it to Naim for a reply.

Naim were sent a preprint of the review prior to publication. They didn't comment on the Uniti Nova turning itself off during the preconditioning due to "over temperature."

Indydan wrote:
Is Atkinson's test a reliable indicator of how the Nova will be used?

This test is a worst-case situation for a class-AB or -B amplifier. It was introduced by the IHF in the 1970s and reveals how effective an amplifier's heatsinking is. If all you play is wide dynamic-range classical music, the Naim will never turn itself off. But if you play music with limited dynamic range such as modern rock at party levels, an amplifier that fails the preconditioning test may well be stressed.

The heatsink is one of the costliest parts in an amplifier so the designer has to decide whether to use a large (and costly) enough heatsink so the amplifier will never shut off or compromise on the assumption that the amplifier will be okay for 95% of the situations it will face in normal use.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

When talking Naim, everyone misses many key points.

Naim is not an Entry level type Company.

I keep hearing about how Naim lets each of it's builders complete the assy. of every individual piece. ( something like Aston engine builders building and signing the completed engines ).

Naim has a fascinating Story to tell.

as do LINN and Focal, PS Audio and a good number of other outfits.

You might pass along Paul McGowan's YouTube daily Vlog work as a useful example of keeping your customer base enthusiastically informed about all things.

Naim is one of those rare Companys we all seem to admire.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I've never owned a Naim product but would've...., Naim is like a nice Swiss Watch on the wrist of a successful Banker.

audiodoctornj's picture

Dear Tony,

You have raised some excellent points. All the companies you have mentioned have interesting stories and make excellent products.

We have been Naim fans for years, but what really got us to pursue a dealership was the Uniti products.

When you have been selling equipment for 30 years you can sometimes see paradigm shifting products. The original Naim Uniti was just that.

Nowdays there are numerous other companies that make great sounding intergrated amp/dac/streamers.

It is the complete echo system by having a streaming speaker system that is affordable the $899 Muso, a $3,000.00 Streaming amp/dac and then having upper level even greater sounding products the Uniti Star and Nova which in our mind make the Naim produt line so compelling.

We wonder why the industry is dying, too often it is the fact that we are trying to shoehorn our ideas of what is compelling to neophyes whose eyes glass over and they run away in terror at the prospect of having great sound in many large boxes which in their minds becomes something they would never consider owning.

If you show a prospective buyer that for $899 you can get a better sounding product than a Sonos okay it does cost nearly double, but one that sounds better and is made out of wood, aluminium, and acrylic.

The Muso, is simple and elegant, compact and easy to use, and sounds good, to move a Sonos buyer into a better experience and the fact that the Naim Muso offers a compelling musical sound may start someone on a journey to discover what better sound is all about.

So Naim isn't only for Bankers, Naim is for everyone yearning for better music.

Dave Lalin,
Audio Doctor NJ

tonykaz's picture

I just-now had a look-see at various YouTube presentations of the Mu-So Active Loudspeaker system.

It kinda looks like an "Architectural Digest" type of Table Top music system. Sure, I could have one sitting on my Office Credenza. Is it just under $1,500 Retail. I'll bet it plays from my iTunes or iPhone.

Naim seems to be worthy of your loyalty.

Tony in Michigan

tonykaz's picture

I just had a closer look at these Naim Products and must say that they are impressive. ( gorgeous )

Naim is now on my short list of things needing a decision.

Gotta see and hear one of these : maybe the Atom.

Tony in Michigan

hifiluver's picture

where has great sensible British engineering gone?

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