Naim SuperUniti Hi-Fi Player Review

Naim's latest Uniti HiFi system, the SuperUniti arrives within the Uniti range between the NaimUniti and UnitiQute. The SuperUniti is essentially a high-end audio system designed to get all your audio sources through a single case and as such it speaks volumes about Naim and does exactly that, but how does it fare in its full Best4Reviews test?

 

Back in November 2010 we tested the UnitiQute and like that excellent audiophile’s device (see top right for its review) the SuperUniti is a compact heavyweight; it has a hunkered down, low profile black liveried case that is just 240 x 590 x 500mm in size but is weighty enough at over 12kgs, to use for a workout in the gym.
 
And yet despite the rock solid build that uses black, brushed, anodised and powder coated metalwork, the device has been designed with a lightness of touch that makes using and setting up this all-in-one device a breeze.
 
And so what is it that you'll get for the £3250 asking price? Well for a kick off, it’s not just an integrated amplifier with some integrated sources. SuperUniti has aspirations to take control over all your audio and it can do it too. 
 
SuperUniti is an integrated wireless UPnP™ network stream player, USB audio player, iPod and iPhone dock, internet radio, DAB radio, FM radio, ten input digital and analogue preamplifier, digital to analogue converter, and stereo 80 Watt power amplifier. Oh! And it has an alarm clock too.
 
So you'll get arguably the best of components and technologies to help get the best from your audio sources so the SuperUniti should be thought of as the hub for all your audio.
 
Connectivity includes six S/PDIF (one coaxial BNC, one coaxial RCA, three optical TOSlink and one 3.5mm front panel mini-TOSlink) digital inputs and analogue inputs that include one 5-pin DIN, two RCA pair inputs and one 3.5mm front panel jack.
 
As a result you really can link just about anything to the SuperUniti a Type A USB port is there too for playing audio housed on a USB drive with even further flexibility provided by the UPnP Ethernet and WiFi connectivity to connect to any WiFi or Ethernet connected device (such as NAS storage for example) and play your audio sources from those as well.
 
Inputs for an audio subwoofer mean you can connect, say, a surround sound system (though this is not a sourround system) and combined with the DAB/FM antenna socket for Naim approved iRadio stations SuperUniti quickly takes the role of audio hub in the home.
 
Setting Up
Getting the SuperUniti out of the box was interesting as I first thought it was stuck, only to realise I needed to use more strength as its small size belies its weight; I needed to use more oomph to heft it out onto the shelf.
 
Plugged into the mains and the WiFi antenna screwed into position it was time to connect up the pair of Naim Ovator 400 loudspeakers (also worth £3250 and here with the beautiful black Zebrano cabinet finish) I had to listen to for the test.
 
Ensuring the cabling from the SuperUniti to the speakers is correct it was time to connect to my WiFi network, which apart from some frustration when I could not remember my password to get on to the system was simple enough to do.
 
However, a little bit more information on connecting to a WiFi network would have helped here with the only other hiccough around whether there was a DHCP server to connect to. You are given simple “Yes” or “No” options on an otherwise very clear and crisp OLED display (which could be bigger to be more usable from greater distances) so trial and error was needed here. It could not connect on “Yes”; trying “No” worked. I was able to connect to my NAS drive and access all my digital music through my Macs too and so i was ready to go within about five minutes, so, unless you'll have other devices to connect, that is it.
 
Playing Audio
The front of the SuperUniti houses the aforementioned display, a set of control buttons, a beautifully backlit Naim badge, the large volume control and ports for your iPod or USB device or headphones. A very nice IR remote control is great to use for setting up and duplicates the front button controls on the device proper.
 
Plug in a source in the front and SuperUniti recognises the device and picks it as the new source or you can choose it from the remote which has direct input buttons for various devices such as PC (or your connected NAS device), CD, Radio or iPod to name a few.
 
In each case the device reacts quickly and so, providing you have a modicum of intelligence (and can remember your WiFi network’s password) you can easily get to grips with the entire machine without the need of a manual, which is a good job, since you get nothing but a rather meagre quick start guide to get you going; nothing on CD and no other paperwork other than a pamphlet of “Statutory and Generic” information.
 
Given the vast sums of money you will pay if you plump for a SuperUniti and speaker outfit, there are a couple of demerits; things missing that would add even more sparkle to the system, such as a way to control a cable attached iPod. You cannot. Also another improvement would be to make the remote a radio transmitting remote so that you don’t need line of sight to the device to adjust the volume, for example.
 
Sound Quality
The Naim ethos is to reproduce sound exactly as musicians and performers intended and everything within their systems is designed for that, nothing more. No extra tweaks or adjustments are provided for adjusting the sound.
 
The Ovator 400 speakers were sat on carpet on gleaming spikes to isolate them from the floor and possible reverb issues adversely affecting sound quality. And so it is imperative that audio source quality is as good as you can make it. If you’re playing CD source, it’s not such an issue (unless you’re playing a disc you’ve made yourself) but playing digital audio sources you need to ensure the quality of the files because if you put heavily compressed audio files in, you’ll get rubbish out as there's no leeway froim the SuperUniti, it can pick up everything. 
 
For example, use of Apple’s lossless compression (through iTunes 4.7 and later) or similar for digital audio sources is a prerequisite for getting the best quality sound from the SuperUniti and whatever speakers you have attached.
 
Once sorted, the sound clarity is astonishingly clear with higher tones clear enough to shatter eardrums while mid-range sound is smoother than melting butter; the lower range sounds are delivered with authority and cleanness.
 
Ramp up the volume and it becomes quickly apparent if you're playing a digital source that’s over compressed, as it can get very squelchy and rough around the edges of the high and mid tones. Good quality sources however, can reveal the breath of a singer, the fingernail and plectrum on string or lips vibrating within the mouthpiece of a tuba, all were heard during my test and overall the sound is conveyed beautifully without any colouration from the equipment; it sounds just as the artists intended.
 
Over a week or so, I listened to a wide range of music, starting with Mozart, moving to Eric Serra, then on to Chris Rea and Trivium, finishing off with some stirring Ennio Morricone, Jean Michel Jarre and Queen’s Live at Wembley ‘86 album; in each case they sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them.
Verdict: 
From the subtlety of strings to the base and power of Trivium, from electronic and dance to movie sound tracks, the SuperUniti provides power and performance within a single beautifully crafted and unified device – it does a cracking job. Yes it's expensive and yes it is reliant on the quality of the source files when listening to digital audio, but when it's good it is a tour de force. All that remains for me to do now, however, is justify the price with she-who-must-be-obeyed, after all, it is Christmas…