British hi-fi specialist Naim Audio has been branching out of late. Besides its usual portfolio of high-end CD players, pre and power amplifiers and loudspeakers, Naim is assembling a range of sophisticated but solid network audio products. Adding to the comprehensive, full-size Naim Uniti CD player-cum-streamer, and the Naim HDX audio PC, there’s the UnitiQute - a modest but cleverly equipped network music centre.
Modest in size, that is. Forsaking CD entirely, the Naim UnitiQute is a 30W stereo integrated amplifier that manages to pack in FM/DAB radio tuner and wired and wireless connections to play network digital audio.
You can tune in to internet radio through the iRadio service. Or you can stream music to the UnitiQute from a UPnP-capable NAS drive or PC on your local network.
In addition, a USB socket on the front panel lets you plug in a thumbdrive loaded with music, or even connect an iPod or iPhone. Used thus, you can even play Apple Lossless music from the device on the Naim UnitiQute, an option sadly unavailable to network play since Apple doesn’t license the codec for network applicances to use natively.
The UnitiQute also hosts a selection of two analogue and five digital inputs, so it’s a doddle to connect a CD player or similar traditional hi-fi component. The only input it really lacks is USB audio, to take a digital stream from a nearby PC or laptop.
In its narrow shoebox-like case, the Naim UnitiQute is quite deserving of the cute appellation. In fact, it recalls one of the company’s oldest amplifier products, the similarly half-width original Naim NAIT amplifier. Yet the new 21st-century UnitiQute is incredibly minimalist in fascia control features, incorporating exactly one option - to mute or unmute the speakers by touching the green-lit Naim logo. All other control of the unit is relegated to the comprehensive remote handset, or with a neat iPhone app.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, this is far and away the best way to control the UnitiQute, starting with easy graphical switching of input source. With the help of Apple’s peerless mobile interface you get a wonderfully tactile way to browse and explore your music, including album artwork if your collection embeds cover images.
From the front panel, you can always keep tabs on playback through the clear green OLED display too. Build quality of the unit overall is first class, featuring a crackle-black finish over heavyweight extruded aluminium case.
Options from the back panel include feeding the pre-amp output to a second power amplifier, and a digital output for an outboard digital-to-analogue converter. Unlike most Naim kit, though, there’s no facility to add an external power supply box to upgrade sound later.
When taking streamed audio, the Naim can play most common formats, such as MP3, WAV, FLAC and AAC. We would have preferred if concatenated FLAC rips with cue sheets could be navigated - we couldn’t flick between tracks on a 30-minute track that was split into individual tracks from a separate metadata file. And while the Naim can link up to UPnP media servers easily enough, it would have been handy if it could look into shared iTunes libraries hosted on PCs too.
For best-sounding results, Naim gives you the option to switch the ground setting - an aspect that’s poorly understood by many designers but which nonetheless can reap dramatic improvements. In short, if the Naim UnitiQute is used without a direct connection to another earthed devices, you set it to Chassis. If you do have, say, a CD player linked up, try the Floating position.
There’s long been something very wholesome about the Naim sound, inspiring a cult following over the years. It majors on musical integrity, sometimes at the expense of mastertape revelation, but always in favour of relaying music in an utterly addictive fashion.
In the case of the Naim UnitiQute, despite the scaled down amplifier power available and the host of modern digital streaming features, the Naim sonic signature is writ large across the unit’s sound quality. Rather than focus on infrasonic bass and wispy high treble, your attention is drawn to the essentials of a musical recording - the vocal, the lead instruments – all the while underpinned by a song’s intrinsic musical timing.
With the mainstays of rock and jazz, the UnitiQute maintained its compelling drive. Given more audiophile classical material, there’s also lots to like - especially if you take advantage of the 24-bit/192kHz DAC to play 24-bit WAV or FLAC music files, up to 96kHz sample-frequency at least.
Naim Audio sound tuning doesn’t always concentrate on stereo imaging, but we perceived enough depth and width to bring the illusion of three-dimensional space to life. And with decently sensitive loudspeakers, the Naim UnitiQute is capable of remarkably high volume, crucially without sounding at all stressed. Smooth is definitely the word here. This sounds like 30 real watts, rather than some massaged spec figure.