I’ve had the Naim UnitiQute for about a year now. Here are some impressions of life with this wonderful slice of audio nirvana.
Music Evolved – the end of the CD era
Listening to music has evolved hugely since CD made it’s commercial debut way back in 1983. Since then, digital file encryption, high bandwidth networks, cheap storage, file-sharing and Apple’s eco-system, have collectively relegated CD to obsolescence. I recently unplugged my Arcam CD92, once the prize component in my system, ready to sell it (though letting go of 1000’s of CD’s will be a harder decision).
One of the main reasons for finally giving up on CD, is not only the convenience of playlists, and access to millions of tracks on demand through services such as Spotify, but the emergence of a new breed of high end hi-fi products, that can trounce CD in sound quality. New resolutions, normally in AAC or FLAC, can take music resolution into 24bit 192khz clarity and beyond, leaving the highly compressed CD sound for dust.
Enter the Naim Uniti
The Naim Unitiqute is one such product – an integrated amplifier and network streamer that can happily reproduce a wide variety of file formats, from connected and networked devices, and more importantly, present them with a huge dollop of Naim musicality.
Naim, a by-word for British excellence in hi-fi equipment, were once a rather staid company, happy to furrow it’s own particular path of quality amplifiers, and giving scant regard to the trends of the day. That image and stance began to change rapidly when Naim launched it’s first streamer product, the Naim Uniti, in 2009, to wide acclaim and healthy sales.
It seems to be like a new religion for them – now they’ve discovered it, there seems to be no stopping them. Since 2009, Naim have developed this new market with enthusiasm, launching a wide variety of high end, all in-one systems under the “Uniti” moniker. Currently there are 6 models in the Uniti line (including an updated ‘Qute, the ‘Qute2), and a further three stand alone streamers (NDX, NDS and NDx5).
The ‘Qute – high end in a small package
I have lived with the Qute for almost a year now, as a second system in the main bedroom. It’s so damn good, that my main system (an Apple Mac feeding an Audiolab MDAC, with Arcam amps powering B&W 805D’s) has begun to sound a little flat by comparison. In fact, I’ve switched alot of my music listening to the bedroom, so involving is the sound quality.
Give the Naim a digital source, whether a Spotify feed, an attached iPod, or uPNP, and the diminutive ‘Qute will jump on it with gusto, converting clinical digital bits and bytes, into a wonderfully coherent sound, with buckets of detail resolution, pace, authority, bass control. One of the characteristics of listening to a great bit of hi-fi, is the desire to go back and listen to many of your favourite tracks and artists, and re-discovering what drew you to them in the first place. I’ve spent many happy hours downloading higher res formats of old favourites, and sitting down and just revelling in the fresh presentation of the music the little Naim brings to them.
Very little in life is perfect, and so it is with the ‘Qute.
The N-Stream app, which allows control over volume, source selection, and playlist browsing, feels very much like a first attempt – it kinda works, but isn’t really intuitive or particularly pleasurable to use. Some of the UI design looks very basic, and UX controls need some more thinking through for it to be worthy of the Naim brand. Still, I’d rather have it than nothing, and many competitors, such as Classe, are nowhere near even launching their first app controllers.
The connectivity by wi-fi is patchy. This is inconvenient as it forces the user to use the ‘Qute’s on screen menu, rather than the N-Stream app. This is OK for simply switching sources, but altogether harder when navigating through thousands of songs. The unit frequently drops it’s connection, and no amount of patience will see it restored without resorting to a hard re-boot by powering off/on. Even assigning a fixed IP address on the router, and manually entering this on the N-Stream app, while improving matters, does not cure it completely. I currently have to hard re-boot about once a week – liveable with, but annoying.
But these are minor issues when measured against the superlative sound quality, convenience, and compactness of the ‘Qute.
NAP100 – a Naim thoroughbred amp in a half width box
Part of the appeal Qute, is that it gets you away from the constant Audiophile compulsion to upgrade. Or at least it did until Naim released the NAP 100. This is destined to become a new classic, and is reminiscent of the older, but still highly regarded, series of Olive amps Naim used to produce. I was a little sceptical whether it would bring much to the already excellent “Qute, but my friendly Naim dealer here in Singapore (the very helpful Vik at Absolute Sound) brought around a unit. Using the ‘Qute as a pure pre amp feed, and the NAP as a dedicated power amp, the sound is taken one notch up. The bass in particular has more low end, and the overall sound stage opened up further, with a more dynamic presentation. The UnitiQute is great on it’s own, but if you’re after an extra 10% of performance, then the NAP is worth considering.