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Inside the New Uniti

Inside the New Uniti

When Naim announces ‘a very significant launch’, you sit up and take notice – and when it turns out to be sort of what you were expecting, yet not what you thought, you begin to understand just how important it is.

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Timing suggested the Uniti range was due for a refresh, following the revamp of power supplies and power amps, but that’s exactly what new Uniti isn’t. It’s so much more than that: a complete reinvention of the network music systems range, not just for the second half of the ‘twenty-teens’, but quite possibly way beyond.

It’s seven years since the original NaimUniti was launched, creating its own market sector by being a product quite unlike anything else, offering not just a CD player/amplifier, but also full network audio streaming. Not surprisingly, the concept has been widely emulated and as the music playback landscape has changed with the arrival of music streaming services, manufacturers have found themselves running to catch up with the options available to buyers.

The result has been a formats arms-race, with some products offering one service and not others, almost forcing customers to pick the hardware they buy according to which streaming platform(s) it supports. And the move towards higher resolutions has also put pressure on manufacturers – after all, the original NaimUniti was only 48kHz/24bit capable, whereas now you can buy music in formats right up to double-DSD and even 384kHz/24bit.

This is why Naim has decided to get out of the ‘features race’ and completely re-invent Uniti, based on a new custom platform able to offer everything the market currently demands – and more – and also adapt easily to future trends, formats and services. Naim engineers and programmers have been working for several years to develop both the hardware and software of the new generation, and the company has made a substantial investment in the entire process.

Uniti

'Unmistakably Naim in its purposeful styling and solidity of build...Uniti brings a new aesthetic, drawing on both Statement and Mu-so.'

While unmistakably Naim in its purposeful styling and solidity of build – all the new models are handmade in Salisbury, in a new production ‘cell’ built specially for the purpose within the factory – New Uniti brings to the Naim range a new aesthetic, drawing on both Statement and the Mu-so line-up. A striking feature on all models is the acrylic base, complete with the white Naim logo, while the three player systems – Uniti Atom, Uniti Star and Uniti Nova – also feature crisp 5" colour displays and that top-mounted volume control familiar from Statement and Mu-so.

There are new features galore, not least of which is the inclusion on the Uniti Star of built-in CD ripping and storage, in addition to the heavyweight capability of Uniti Core, the new Uniti range’s dedicated ripper/storage solution. When operational, Uniti Star doesn’t just save your music collection, but also streams it out to other Uniti and new Uniti products on the same home network – and all models can do the same with music on a connected USB drive, with full-resolution streaming to up to six devices for the players.

In addition, all the New Uniti products will play content at up to that resolution and bitrate, as well as DSD64 and 128, with enhanced buffering to ensure smooth streaming even with very high resolution content.

Making all of this possible is that all-new platform, which is a complete ground-up design undertaken over more than three years of intensive research and development behind closed doors in Salisbury, and owing nothing to the previous Uniti generations. It has massive processing power, and has required huge amounts of new code to be written and tested, as befits what Naim MD Trevor Wilson describes as ‘a platform for our future’.

Uniti

The software team rose from seven to twenty-five during the development process, marking a massive investment to ensure the new platform could do what Naim wanted – now and in the future. And that processor? Well, as Audio Electronics Design Director Steve Sells puts it, ‘If you gave everyone in China – about 1.3bn people – a calculator each, and each calculator had a 36-character display to show their working, this thing would still thrash them!’

All that power under the hood makes it possible for the Uniti models to support a huge range of services, including Google Cast for Audio, Apple Airplay, TIDAL, Spotify® Connect, Bluetooth (aptX® HD), Internet Radio, and UPnPTM hi-res streaming.

And just in case you thought Google Cast was only about that little puck-shaped player you can buy at almost pocket-money prices, both Trevor Wilson and Steve Sells are keen to put you right: Google Cast for Audio enables a whole range of music services, including the likes of Qobuz hi-res streaming, and of course more can be added as and when they become available.

For the first time, the network, USB and S/PDIF digital inputs are joined by an HDMI input with Audio Return Channel capability, making it easy to connect the sound from a TV through the systems. This is standard on the Uniti Star and Uniti Nova, and an extra-cost option on the little Uniti Atom.

Controlling all this is a new bi-directional remote control, so you can operate the systems even from another room: it pairs with the system using a proximity sensor during setup with little effort required by new owner, aside from holding it in front of the screen.

The Naim app is being revised for the new systems, to create a totally unified interface for all Naim network products from Mu-so upwards: unlike the old requirement for separate nStream and nServe apps, it will also drive the Uniti Core ripper/server, which can function as a high-quality CD transport, for example with Naim’s DACs.

Uniti products are able to update themselves ‘over the air’ using their enhanced networking, and the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennae are internal to keep the lines of the product clean. And yes, you can turn off the Wi-Fi when using a wired connection.

Of course the new Uniti products are built to the usual Naim handcrafted standards, with advanced techniques specially developed for the new production cell, and the familiar Naim concentration on absolute audio quality very evident.

But perhaps those are subjects for future articles…

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