The Naim Audio Uniti is a music centre with network capabilities for high-end audio, that can form the heart of a comprehensive home entertainment stereo system
Go back to the 70s, and the music centre ruled supreme. It offered a one-stop solution for listening to records, radio and cassette, all under one easy-to-lift plastic lid.
Real hi-fi purists preferred the superior sound and versatility of separates, of course, but this came at the cost of complexity, messy cables, price - and even the possibility to make a worse sound by marrying together ill-matched components.
Naim Audio - where Naim is simply pronounced 'name' - is a brand that knows the sounds of the 70s well, building up a near-cult following as a hi-fi company making no-nonsense amplifiers from 1971, adding loudspeakers in the 80s and progressing through to complete hi-fi systems with highly tuned CD players by the 1990s.
The company is still based in Salisbury, where it designs and manufactures audio components ranging from an entry-level amplifier for £780, to complete systems comprising a half-dozen or more boxes of electronics for upwards of £50,000. Naim Audio is committed to music reproduction - and creation, owning its own recording label.
Like some other music-centric British audio specialists, it held out against digital audio for many years, then against the fripperies of multi-channel sound, home cinema, iPod systems, computer audio, and the renaissance of the one-box stereo system.
And now its combined nearly all those bête noirs into this Naim Audio Uniti, its first music centre. But boy, has Naim made up for lost time with this condensation of high-fidelity goodness into the Uniti music system.
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In days of yore, when all amplifiers glowed in the dark through valve illumination, you simply couldn't hope to put too much hi-fi into one chassis, due to the physics of heat and interfering magnetic fields from massive iron-cored transformers. Solid-state transistor amplifiers, when made the proper hairy-chested Class A way at least, were little better in their requirements for a room to breathe.
Yet in this relatively compact Naim Audio Uniti box - built around Naim's trademark matt black, all-metal casework with green-lit Naimbadge - lies a solid 50W linear amplifier.
(That's a true analogue amp, as distinct from the so-called digital amplifiers found in most consumer electronics today, in everything from MP3 players up to budget home cinema systems. Such Class D amplifiers and their spawn are power efficient but sound sterile and lack the finesse of tradional linear amplifiers.)
The two-channel amplifier in the Naim Audio Uniti is joined by a swing-door loading CD player; an FM tuner; a DAB tuner; a dock input for an iPhone or iPod; and a USB port for plugging in a drive full of music.
Then there's the network connectivity. You can put the Naim Audio Uniti onto a home network, via its ethernet port or WiFi wireless receiver, at which point it's open to play streaming audio from internet radio, or perhaps more locally from a UPnP server in your own home.
An example here would be a NAS drive hosting perhaps a terabyte or more of ripped CDs. A new firmware update now allows the replay of 24-bit, 96kHz audio, a format that's becoming increasingly available to download from audiophile music shops, and one which comfortably bests CD's 16/44.1 digital audio.
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