Naim UnitiQute review

If good things come in small packages then Naim’s UnitiQute all-in-one Hi-Fi audio player should be the proof of that pudding, to mangle metaphors for a moment. The UnitiQute weighs in at 7.1kg and so is a heavyweight, literally and in terms of features, so it’s more than just the music that rocks. It’s also an irresistibly cute example of what contemporary music in the home is all about, according to Naim, at least.

The UnitiQute is the newest all-in-one Hi-Fi music player for the audiophiles among you, and joins its larger sibling, the NaimUniti, in the company’s range of compact all-in-one systems. The UnitiQute is designed for those needing a device that can play everything modern music delivery can throw at it: music downloads, high-resolution music files, internet radio, network music from UPnP servers, iPod/MP3 players, Wi-Fi streaming. Whatever it is, it would seem the UnitiQute can deal with it.

But the first thing that hits you as you heft the device from its protective box and packaging is the small size (87 x 207 x 314mm) and yet it is wrist snappingly weighty thanks largely to its tough die cast construction. It weighs 7.1kg and it is quickly obvious this is designed to be set-up and “installed” and then left in place. Portable music player this is not.

You get a neat remote control, batteries and accessories including speaker cable adapters to get the system set-up and a screw in antenna for the networked, wireless connection. The remote is sturdy and streamlined and allows you to control all major functions across the “Qute” range of features - be it multi-mode radio, amplifier, UPnP audio interface for your network and a USB/iPod interface to play, and crucially control the MP3 device from the system with its remote control.

The UnitiQute has a built-in stereo pre-amplifier and four SPDIF digital audio external inputs so you can connect up existing audio kit to the ‘Qute and control it all from the one device. You get 30 Watts per channel (into 8 Ohms) driving one pair of speakers via sockets on the rear panel. For this test we had a pair of Naim’s superb n-SAT speakers and despite a mix up on the supplied speaker cables (the ‘Qute needs specific fixings due to its compact dimensions), these connect up using robust cables with specific connectors that can only be used one way, cleverly ensuring you get everything connected up without any hitches.

The multi-mode radio includes an FM and DAB tuner and an internet radio player with 40 saveable presets across all modes, which sounds a lot but given the sheer scale and number of FM, DAB and internet radio stations available, could become limiting in the long run. The radio is easy to tune and set-up, and again, the clear green display aiding its use well. The DAB tuner is good and easy to use as well with the n-SAT speakers making the most of the digital radio signal. 

The UPnP audio interface is one of the ‘Qute’s most powerful assets as it allows you to wirelessly connect the system to your local home network and stream music from a media server or your PC, or Apple Mac’s iTunes music library making the thing even more flexible. Using the iTunes library streamed across a home network, streaming music was fast and easy once you’ve entered the set-up mode via its dedicated key denoted by a small spanner icon.

As with the set up and the features on the remote control or device itself, you scroll around using the four-way jog buttons that surround an OK/List button, which are used to select an item or activate a list of options from a selection. A dedicated Exit key gets you out of any settings or menus, allowing you to quickly get back to playing music or listening to audio books.

A nice touch when entering the set-up mode and listening to music is UnitiQute continues to play; the volume, mute, play, pause and stop keys all remain operational too so you can tinker and adjust without disturbing your listening enjoyment.

And complimenting the UPnP capability is the USB/iPod interface on the front of the unit. Here your digital audio files can be accessed and played directly from a USB memory stick; the ‘Qute can play USB-stored music files of up to 24bit/96kHz resolution. The audio files any USB stick contains will be identified and are immediately available for browsing, and are displayed on the screen as scrolling text. Selection and playback is easy from the display using the remote. The UnitiQute can control any connected iPod too, the cool, greenly glowing front display making the job easy and simple to do.

To cap off the flexibility quotient of the ‘Qute, analogue audio connectivity is not forgotten either. Two analogue inputs allow CD players or portable music players to connect through the rear panel’s phono sockets and/or a front-panel mini-jack alongside a headphone socket.

Other expandability options are also achievable thanks to the system’s pre-amplifier output, which means adding an external power amplifier, or perhaps a subwoofer setup, the UnitiQute quickly becomes the hub of a broader bandwidth audio system since you have full control, particularly over the bass side of things on a subwoofer system, meaning you can really grow the system. Attention to detail is paramount for Naim and touches such as the Naim logo on the front doubles as a clever mute button.

Verdict

The UnitiQute is compact and dare I say it “cute” if rather heavy and rather expensive, but it is also a very flexible system; it is a device that can become the hub of an audiophile music system with high-quality audio at its core.

There’s a caveat around the quality of any digital audio files you play or create and play because this system and the n-SAT speakers employed here, will reveal every nuance of sound be it good or bad. Highly compressed MP3s will sound, well, like highly compressed MP3s, so to get the best out of the UnitiQute utilising Apple’s Lossless format from an iPod is the key and then. |When the music file quality is good, the output from the UnitiQute is quite simply fantastic.