NAIM UNITI ATOM: The Second Chance for Naim

Submitted on: 10 Jun 23

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Category: Digital recorders/players

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Over 10 years, the Naim company has been detestable to me. I’ve had, either for testing or in my possession, several of their devices, but one stands out in my memory.

Once I heard from an audiophile who dislikes Naim that he “doesn’t want a green advertisement shining in his room.” And perhaps the man is right – Naim loves to emphasize its logo so much that it’s almost grotesque to me. Add-ons for Naim devices are expensive, like power supplies: you pay a hefty price for the device itself, and then additionally for an external power supply consisting of a couple of transformers, rectifiers, and capacitors. Couldn’t they have integrated them from the start??? I don’t understand the logic of pulling customers into something like this.

Besides that, their design was, until a few years ago, at a level as if they had to personally remove their own kidney and sell it on the market for every display with a little more information. Stinginess of the worst kind.

But let’s… everyone tries to find some sunshine in the forest of HiFi manufacturers. Naim, after all, didn’t give in and move production to China to “some subcontractor” of questionable quality.

I can’t say that Naim products are of poor quality – the casings are precise and cast, the electronics seem very well made, even the rubbery buttons on the front panel don’t fail. The remote controls are very decent; judging by the quality, I think they are made by the Austrian company “Ruwido.”

However, the device itself, when you buy it new, is only half the story. If you’re already getting something new, you expect a certain level of customer respect in the warranty period, and ideally even beyond it. Especially with old, reputable, specialized small or medium-sized companies that aren’t Far Eastern corporations. That’s what this story is actually about.

I’ll continue the text with an experience about a completely different device – Naim’s ND5 XS streamer:

Somewhere around 2011, I sold my CD player, worked weekends and after work for Hi-Files magazine, and from the honorarium, I saved up around 2,000 euros (I think the catalog price was around 2,700 EUR) for the Naim ND5 XS streamer with the optional FM/DAB card.

The picture I posted is from Naim’s website because I’ve never photographed my device, except when it was open. In fact, I have one picture, but it’s really bad and not suitable for posting on the website.

Let me get back to the ND5 XS: the device had great sound, truly outstanding, comparable to CD players in the same price range or even higher. I must note that at that time, streamers weren’t as sonically prominent as they are today; there were various issues with communication, playback glitches, the need for resets, network problems, not to mention the apps, which were often half-baked.

And so my Naim worked for about a year. It warmed up a bit more than usual, which puzzled me, but it worked. It didn’t have a firmware update option except via cable, at the service center. Its network module supported speeds of only 100 Mbps, and the WiFi went up to just 54 megabits, if I remember correctly. The wireless network throughput was slow and couldn’t handle Hi-Res file playback, and I didn’t want wires running through my entire apartment. The app didn’t allow you to position within a track; you had to listen to it from start to finish. So, there were flaws, but the sound and overall stability (it didn’t freeze or misbehave in any way) outweighed them. I should mention that my later server, the Sony HAP-Z1ES, just a bit younger than the Naim, is total overkill in terms of ergonomics, device and app interfaces, screen, updates, and WiFi section. And it cost less. To my ear, Naim sounds a bit better, although it’s darker, and that’s almost a matter of taste, but Sony is much better in everything else.

But the story continues: at some point, about a year and maybe a few months later, the FM radio on the ND5 XS stops working – just static, no saved stations, can’t catch any. I thought it might be the cable operator’s signal issue, but when I connected a wire, I saw that the Naim was deaf as a doornail and couldn’t catch anything, automatically or manually.

I took it to an authorized service, but only a few months later, about a month before the warranty expired. Why not earlier? The standard working hours of many of our services require me to take a day off to be able to take the device. Before that, I explained the problem: the FM card and the heating issue. They were fair at the service; they called me after a few days and said they had updated the software but also that everything generally worked, and the device heated up normally.

I took the device home – the tuner worked, great. So, it was a software issue… at least that’s what I thought.

After a few months, the tuner stopped working again. The warranty had expired about ten days ago. I sharpened my pencil and wrote to Naim about the problem I was having, how much the average salary in Serbia is, and how much I had saved up for such a device, and that the same issue occurred during the warranty period. I received a response directing me to the local distributor. The distributor (who also ran the aforementioned service) started asking for details in communication, like serial number of the device, model of the card, etc., until I finally said that I provided the serial number of the device, and if Naim didn’t know what components were packed into it, then I really didn’t know what to say. And the response arrived: I could get a new card for a measly 280 EUR, if I recall correctly. The basic extra cost was 300 EUR, and I paid that regularly.

I started digging around the internet and found out that such a card exists; it’s made in an OEM variant and costs $20 (EUR) per piece, probably doesn’t cost Naim more than 10. Turns out, I have to pay for the same crap twice so that Naim can earn 50 times. Shame on them, greedy creatures. I was so angry that I barely refrained from recording a YouTube video in which I explain the problem, then smash their device and use it as a step for my trailer in the camp.

For the next few months, I used it without FM. However, after a few months, the device stopped booting up – it reported a communication problem with the aforementioned FM/DAB junk. I disassembled the device and found which jumpers needed to be disconnected for the system to think there’s no card, and then I removed it.

And since then, it worked. But I grew sick of it. Just like Naim. I can’t believe such a company exists. But it does. Later, I read online that the entire series of those devices (ND5 XS, Uniti Qute, Uniti, etc.) gradually experiences OLED display degradation, and Naim asks for £300-£400 for repairs, while you can find it on eBay for €100 with instructions on how to do it yourself.

As a counterexample, I can mention Sony – a huge corporation, where HiFi is probably their last concern today. But, when the color OLED screen on my server failed (one row of pixels went out), long after the warranty period expired, I found information that Sony acknowledges the issue even outside of warranty, even several years after it expires. I took it to an authorized service center (Input – Novi Beograd), and it was repaired free of charge, even though the device was 4 years old and, of course, out of warranty. The parts would have cost me around €100; I assume Naim would ask for at least €500. That’s the logic behind their business practices.

Here’s a picture of the unfortunate card:

In the past, I received parts for free (which I clearly stated I was willing to pay for) from Meridian, T+A, and Lyngdorf, so a little kindness and gentlemanly attitude towards customers from Naim wouldn’t hurt.

But, as they say, time heals all wounds, and after more than 10 years, I decided to give them another chance, but I still view them with suspicion as a “take the money and run” company. Let me start by describing the Atom, a little marvel that appeared a few years ago and has remained popular to this day.


You can find the full specifications on the Naim website, so I won’t copy them here. In essence, the Atom is a compact all-in-one device that plays all modern formats, including Hi-Res such as DSD up to 128Fs, with a power output of 40W at 8 ohms. It supports modern streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, etc., can function as a server for other streaming devices, and offers many other interesting features.


The design of Uniti Atom:

The most interesting part is the huge volume control knob. It’s phenomenally made and truly serves its purpose. The outer ring rotates, while the interior remains fixed. Additionally, there are LED level indicators on the inner edge that activate as soon as you approach with your hand – I presume some infrared sensors are hidden nearby the encoder, but I haven’t opened the device, so I can’t say for sure. But it works – and works well!

The 5-inch display is good, clear, and of sufficient size for everyday use, providing enough information. However, there’s no option to adjust brightness, color, background, or style, and the display seems somewhat austere (though much better than previous Unity devices). Initially, it seemed to me like I received a version with a black and white screen – I understand it shouldn’t be overly colorful or flashy, but since it has a color screen, they could have utilized that advantage for something more than just displaying album art and internet radio station logos, or at least given users the option to choose some settings. As it is, Naim made it and that’s it. A shame – for customers.

I don’t like that the screen isn’t touch-sensitive; it will probably be included in the next version of the device for a modest additional price of 1,000 EUR. I also don’t like the minimal buttons on the right side of the front panel; they could have added a few more – navigating solely from the device isn’t very convenient. By the way, I didn’t receive a manual with the device, but it’s no big deal – I went to the Naim website and downloaded a quick guide and manual. However, instead of the manual, I got the quick guide again, so no details there.

I must say that the Atom’s casing is truly top-notch – cast aluminum, ribbed heat sinks on both sides (I’m not sure if these are exclusive heat sinks for the output section or if the transistors are attached to the bottom of the device, but they function as part of the casing as a heat sink), there’s no active cooling (or dust being sucked into the device, which I hate), but the Atom itself heats up more than I expected, even in standby mode. Naim boasts about its creation being good for cooling and the longevity of components, but I’m not pleased with the temperature of the Atom. I was too lazy to measure it with an infrared thermometer, I admit.

As for additional options, I might still prefer it to have the option to connect to a PC via a USB port, but as it is, it’s quite alright: two USB ports that also support SSD, three digital (coaxial + 2 x optical), analog input. There’s also a preamp output that I doubt anyone will ever use.

I should add that the network connection supports speeds only up to 100 Mbit/s, eons after gigabit speed became the standard.


The remote control:

Interestingly, the remote control operates in the radio range instead of being infrared, which is great. Although the Uniti Atom isn’t intended for large spaces, we all know that using an infrared remote sometimes causes problems due to line-of-sight conditions and the angle at which the receiving sensor functions. Moreover, for two-way communication, a radio connection is far superior.

The remote control itself is an example of modern art and elegance, massive, with top and side surfaces in a piano lacquer finish. It has backlighting and a sensor that activates it when you pick it up, so it lights up when you hold it. It takes 4 batteries and is quite hefty.

The buttons are slightly raised above the surface, with a nice, elegant click, and around the central directional buttons, there’s a circle that shows the current volume level – similar to how it’s displayed on the encoder of the device from above.

All in all, it seems to me that Naim really put a lot of effort into the remote control, aiming to present it as an example of classic design or modern art. However, personally, I didn’t like it – it’s too big, the entire bottom part is actually a battery compartment. When you hold it in your hand, the sharp edges dig into your palm or poke you. Perhaps it’s intended to be placed on a surface and used from there because you don’t have to aim it at the device.

Additionally… the buttons are small and not very visible, although the backlighting helps (but not when the remote control is on the table, for example, because you have to move it to illuminate it), especially the small and inconspicuous volume up and down buttons could have been done much better. It seems to me like the remote control escaped from the 1980s, like they were making a prototype back then of what a remote control should look like in 10 years, and they let their imagination run wild without much thought about ergonomics.

Furthermore, the piano lacquer surface collects fingerprints.

In my opinion, the remote control barely passes, Naim really missed the mark on this one.


The application:

Decent, but nothing to make me say “WOW!!!”. It seems fine, useful, easy to use, but no better than the Yamaha MusicCast app and noticeably below the one Sony made for the HAP-Z1ES back in 2013.

Austere, I couldn’t find how to turn off the device through it until I saw that Standby was hidden in the settings menu. They could have hidden the power button under the front of the device so you’d have to lift it every time you want to turn it on :).

The application itself is quite monochromatic, as if it’s from the era of black and white TVs or monochrome monitors; it’s surprising when something is in color.

I encountered a bug – at one point, one song was playing, but another one was displayed. Pause – Play didn’t help, skipping to the next song and going back did, finally, the Naim app showed what it should.

All the fine adjustments of the device go through it: which inputs are enabled and displayed on the screen, sensitivity trimming, and input renaming. This part of the software I liked the most: simple, clear, everything is great.

It’s nice that if, for some reason, there’s a data interruption from, let’s say, an internet radio station, there’s a “Reconnect” command right below the station logo and data, making it easy to reconnect… and it works, of course, if the stream reconnects.

Personally, I miss the ability to at least perform basic file manipulation through it: delete, rename, copy, transfer. But… nope, you only have a player, and when you want to access the USB device, you have to remove it and connect it to a PC. Like in the Middle Ages.

You know what? I hate it when a company adopts austerity under the guise of “we care about the quality of components and the sound it delivers,” but in reality, austerity applies to everything else except when it comes to customers reaching into their pockets. For 3,000-3,500 EUR, the Uniti Qute app is good, but not very good or excellent. A rating of 3 and not a smidge more. Shame, they could have done better.


The sound:

I tested the Naim Atom using standard 16/44.1 FLAC files from a USB memory stick, as that’s the mode in which I planned to use the device. So, I can’t comment on analog inputs, S/PDIF, etc. I also listened to Spotify at the highest quality. My speakers were my standard Elac FS210 Anniversary, and to start with, I connected the Atom using a quality power cable, the MIT ZCord II.

Considering that the Atom costs around 3,000 EUR in stores, I think the Elac speakers, in the category they belonged to at the time of production, are a slightly higher class – judging by the price. They provide exceptionally clear sound, with very detailed mid and high ranges (thanks to the Elac JET driver…) and quite well depict the character of many components.

What did I like?

I liked that this device sounds huge. I remember the character and range of the first version of the Uniti Qute: Naim’s excellent sound character, for those who like it, clear allegiance to the newer representatives of the company, but equally clear limitations in terms of reduced transparency, details, and limitations in the bass range in both definition and depth. Although, for a small device, it was excellent, so there’s no need to be upset that it couldn’t provide everything that, for example, the XS series could.

The Atom is a completely different story – it’s not an evolution, but a revolution in sound compared to the Uniti Qute. In that sense, the soundstage width is great and would shame many expensive separate components (streamers and amplifiers), transparency is excellent, and the PRAT (pace, rhythm, and timing) is one of the best I’ve heard in my life.

Dynamics and rhythm are ingrained in the DNA of this device. What’s important is that the Atom never pretends at any moment: I never felt it “confused” by music, getting tangled in complex passages, cutting something off, or lacking the power to drive the bass as it should. Whether listening quietly or loudly (I went to somewhere over 60 on the scale, further didn’t make sense to me because I don’t see the point), it plays consistently. Elac speakers are not hard to drive, but they love powerful amplifiers: with its 40W per channel at 8 ohms (and maybe around 50-60 at 4 ohms), the Atom is far from a powerful amplifier, but I never noticed it running out of steam. It’s simply incredible, obviously it’s smartly implemented AB class, at a time when almost all manufacturers in such devices put D class for various reasons.

The singer’s voice is so sweet, warm, and in the middle of the soundstage, and the coherence of the scene is phenomenal. The mid-bass is a bit stronger and more emphasized, reminding me of some high-end devices I’ve had the chance to hear; it’s not at that level yet, but generally flawless in terms of control and definition.

The lower end, the bass, is perhaps the biggest surprise: while with the Uniti Qute it was still an indicator that it was a small all-in-one device, now there’s no trace of that. It goes deep enough; maybe this is roughly said, or my standards are too high, but believe me when I say “deep enough,” it means I can’t find fault with it, and it meets the demands I place on serious high-end separate components. Detail and definition are great, and the rhythm and dynamics are captivating.

All in all, after dissecting across the spectrum, it’s important to say that the Uniti Atom, above all, plays music: it’s such a musical device you can live with and enjoy music without needing to spend much more money just to brag about having a great system weighing 30-40-50-100 kilograms or with some technical details that don’t necessarily matter in practical listening.

That sort of blend of all the individual qualities of a good HiFi component, along with the ability to convey the performer’s emotions… that’s what sets Naim apart from many other manufacturers, and that’s the main secret of their devices, which is perhaps why they’re so beloved.

What didn’t I like about the sound?

Let me mention that the cat immediately climbed onto the Naim and started scratching and cuddling, as well as posing… so it entered the frame.

Mid-bass, sometimes, no matter how voluminous and very well defined, can overflow into the midrange. This isn’t critical – it rarely happens, and it can be solved by changing the speaker’s position, modifying them (Elac FS210A have sponges for partially closing the bass reflex ports), changing the listener’s position, etc. Overall, it’s not a big deal.

The Atom is very sensitive to the recording production. Not only does it harshly punish cheap productions, but even the better ones aren’t spared. In this sense, it happened that the voice of a certain singer on a certain album had a clear metallic tone on the edges, for reasons unknown to me, while in other tracks, this wasn’t present at all. It’s possible that it’s a flaw in production, but I didn’t notice this on other devices.

The upper extreme is good, but occasionally, for my ear, it’s too sharp and reminds me of some Yamaha models. To clarify – it doesn’t lack details, but the highs could be a bit softer, in line with the rest of the range. If I had to guess the reason, I think the main candidate would be the DAC used, as if it’s an older version of the ESS Sabre chip. However, since I haven’t opened the Atom, I haven’t had the chance to see what’s inside.

Because of all this, it seems to me that this all-in-one is primarily designed for bookshelf rather than floor-standing speakers in the price range up to 2-3,000 EUR, which have good detail resolution and would appreciate a little help in the bass. Of course, if you take an even cheaper speaker, it will only benefit from the Atom.

Personally, I would like it if the software had the ability to make gentle adjustments to the high and low tones, in steps of, say, 0.25 dB. In the conditions in which I listened to this device, a bass correction of up to -1 dB would probably help.

Switching to the factory cable brought changes:

There was no more metallic tone in the voice from time to time in some productions (Joshua Kadison – Jessie, for example). The bass became harder, somewhat tighter, and no longer overflowed into the middle, but lost a bit of the depth and voluminosity it had with the other power cable. The dynamics and realism of the music decreased slightly.

So, be careful with the choice of power cables if you want to play with them. The factory one is solid, but it can be upgraded (as in most cases).

The conclusion:

Maybe I seem like an old crank. And I am. But it’s true that I’ve been in HiFi for almost 40 years and I’ve seen a lot. I watch kids on the Internet praise devices like this one and then buy them, and afterwards, I almost always find something significant that bothers me like a pebble in my shoe that wasn’t mentioned. Naim isn’t an exception.

So, is the Naim Uniti Atom expensive? Yes, a lot, even by Western standards. Is it worth it? If you’re a lover of really good sound and can endure some non-critical shortcomings, it’s worth it, but only if you keep in mind that you’re paying extra because the device is small, cute, all dolled up, instead of less because it’s an all-in-one. At least that’s how I see it. Although, maybe I’m wrong because you’re not paying for the interconnects you would otherwise have to buy. If you want great design, it’s worth it. If your standards are a bit below this, it’s not worth it; there are a million various new and used devices on the market for a fraction of the price, and some of them play quite decently. Count on needing good speakers and some cables with the Atom, and the whole system will cost at least 4,500 EUR or more, unless you already have the speakers. A lot, brother, as our people would say.

But for someone who doesn’t want clutter in the house or doesn’t have the conditions but wants a small top-notch device, with very few compromises and in a “plug and forget” manner, the Uniti Atom is a great solution. The owner will have practically top-notch sound in a compressed device package. Bliss.

Let me add – just to see if it will last or break down like its previous relative. Considering that I bought it secondhand, it’s obvious it’s survived for at least a couple of years now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that to continue; I wouldn’t want to throw away (again) my money.


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