Personal audio has been on the rise for a while. Witness the many high-end ‘cans’ that have appeared on the market in recent years. Because every headphone is constructed differently and has different impedances, more and more ‘dedicated’ headphone amplifiers are seeing the light of day. You can find them for a few hundred euros and it must be said, some are pretty damn good! Investing in a more expensive model is not something you do lightly. There must be more to it than merely amplifying the signal. Much more. And that’s exactly what the device we’re visiting today does. We are testing the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition (from here on Naim Uniti HE). The latest addition to the now illustrious Uniti family. Let’s check it out!
Naim doesn’t make headphones themselves and has no intention of doing so. However, they did see that the ‘headphone market’ was getting big and wanted to do something with it in their own quirky way. Their Uniti line-up has just about every possible application except, you guessed it, one specifically for headphones.
And so the engineers in Salisbury went to work again and ended up with the Naim Uniti HE. Much more than a mere headphone amplifier or what would you have thought. Besides a versatile ‘headphone amp’ the Naim Uniti HE is also a preamp, streamer (Roon Ready) and d/a converter. A distinct mix we don’t often come across.
The design is by now well known and continues to capture the imagination. It is a timeless design that looks elegant and high-tech at the same time. The black cooling fins, copied from the Statement Series, in combination with that wonderful knob at the top are ‘a stroke of genius’. Controlling the volume with that big dial is an experience. A tactile experience you can’t get enough of. Of course you can also control the volume in the app or via the remote but believe us you will rarely do that. Although the app is excellent and the remote with its illuminated buttons works fine.
The Naim Uniti HE has an almost square shape, something we rarely see, and weighs a hefty seven kilograms. This ‘form factor’ may not be ideal in a hi-fi rack but in a lot of other situations, such as on a desk, it’s just an advantage.
In the front center is a nice LCD screen (no touch screen) on which the album cover appears. When you select a new album or adjust the volume, the cover disappears for a moment. It returns shortly to the previous screen afterwards. Good, because this way you don’t have to bother with moving titles that pass from right to left all the time. All other info can be found in the app or in Roon.
At the front left there are two possibilities to connect headphones. A standard 6.3mm jack and the increasingly popular balanced 4.4mm Pentacon jack. There’s also a regular four-pin balanced jack in the back. So three ways to get the most out of your collection of ‘head-gear’. But let’s finish the front first. There we see another usb-a jack on the left and a button to activate the XLR jack on the back. On the right, four icons. From top to bottom: on/off, play/pause, input and at the very bottom an asterisk to store radio stations. A nice extra. And that is just what you want from this type of product. User friendliness, versatility but with that little bit more.
In the back, it’s pretty crowded. We see both an xlr and rca output, an rca input, three digital inputs (2x optical, 1x coax) usb-a and ethernet and the already mentioned xlr four-pin jack. That one might sit there a bit unhappily but we just left the Focal Clear MG in place throughout the test period making it a non-issue.
The Naim Uniti Atom has an extra HDMI input but you won’t place this version next to a television. For their d/a converter Naim chooses a Burr-Brown chip, type 1791a. This chip comes from the so-called ‘Advanced Segment’ series. Just like the 1792a in the Atoll SDA200 and the 1794a in our Merason Frérot. Three Burr-Brown, or Texas Instruments converters, but all three sound slightly different.
The dac-part in the Uniti HE received a lot of tweaks compared to the older models and that is clearly audible. Also the streaming section and the preamp were further optimized. The whole device is very pleasant to use. You can opt for Roon but Naim itself has an excellent app that works stably, intuitively and looks attractive. You can even personalize the app by clicking a certain style in the menu. Again, a nice touch
You can stream via cable (preferable) but also wifi is among the possibilities. In the menu you will find things like balance control (yes!), adjusting the volume of each input, tone control, … There is Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Roon, Chromecast, Airplay 2, UPNP, Bluetooth and all other major streaming services like Qobuz are integrated. Just about every file type is supported and all Uniti devices receive updates as needed.
Inside is a nice power supply derived from their power amplifiers and the preamp is of course Class A. The Naim Uniti HE lists 1.5 watts per channel in 16ohm in the specs which means that the bulk of headphones will be driven without a problem. Our Hifiman Sundara and the Focal Clear MG were driven effortlessly. The nice five year warranty comes free on top.