Stuff that costs over a grand is always a hard sell in hi-fi. There are some good reasons for that, and some bad ones. Simply put though, the quality of standard equipment has fallen so far that you can now get some really nice sounding audio gear for a lot less. But quality does cost money. And if you want to get the very best out of your music, buying the cheapest is rarely the best.
So, we find the Naim UnitiQute 2, a £1,150 media player complete with a tonne of features, that hopes to win over an audience interested in quality rather than bargain prices. Is it worth the extra money, or should you just get something like the brilliant Onkyo CR-N755 that not only is a quarter of the price, but that we've been using for ages and love?
The UnitiQute 2 is an all-in-one audio player. It's all about ultra-high quality audio as, essentially, it's a snazzy amplifier that can handle wireless 32bit/192kHz streaming via UPnP from a variety of sources, such as your computer's music library. If you're looking baffled about what the means then, simply put, the Naim is unlikely to be a product for you.
High-end audio handling is a given, then, but Naim has also ticked the high-end construction box. A metal construction means that the UnitiQute 2 is heavy. Take it out of the box and you soon realise that you could probably drop this thing and whatever it landed on would come off much worse. This sort of heavyweight construction is good, as it protects the internal components and means that cost-cutting isn't the most important thing to the company that makes it.
On the front there is a USB socket, headphone and "input" jacks, the latter of which is designed for an MP3 player. There's a green LCD display too, and while green sounds a bit old-fashioned, we think it fits nicely with Naim's colour scheme and also works brilliantly. It's a pleasure to use.
There's also a glowing Naim Logo which acts as a mute switch and doubles up as a volume control function. The first press will decrease the volume, while the second increases it - which is a clever alternator approach that we found handy.
There is also a supplied remote which feels weight. Its buttons have a good feel and it very much feels like it's as well-built as the main unit, albeit out of plastic, not metal.
Inputs and features
Around the back, things get a lot more involved, which is just as you would expect from a top-spec bit of hi-fi kit. There are jacks for output to speakers and we used banana plugs here as they work brilliantly. Ignore any nonsense you hear from the EU about the safety of these, that's all down to their highly stupid plug socket design. There are also digital inputs, analogue inputs and a radio antenna jack too. Along with Ethernet and a wireless antenna for Wi-Fi.
Because it's not the 90s anymore, the Naim also provides a cracking selection of ways to listen to music through from old to new. There are FM and DAB radios built-in, which is reasonable, but we haven't much need to use them because on the whole we find internet radio offers massive convenience and a hugely diverse catalogue of stations. Of course, internet radio can vary a bit in quality, so it's worth remembering that, but the UK-based stations that are derived from DAB or FM services will have a good quality audio stream, others might be hit or miss, but generally will sound pretty good.
Then of course, you've got access to a wealth of music from any networked devices you might have. The UnitiQute 2 supports "UPnP" which is a bit unclear, but will enable browsing of your network and find devices that are sharing music in a way it can understand. Plex, our go-to media server, runs a DLNA server and that was found by the Naim and played music with no problems at all. Other devices, like NAS drives were also located, and if you were running Windows Media Player, or another compatible streamer, you could play from that too.
For those who have music on a USB media player, or an iPod, you're catered for too. If your player just relies on you throwing media onto it, and mounts it like any USB drive, the Naim will play it. If it's more complicated, then you can still use the AUX in on the rear. iPod support is great though - you can browse through all the files, playlists and such on your device and play what you fancy. The clear advantage here is that you can get access to all that lovely Apple Lossless music should you have it stored on your iPod.
There are also the usual digital and analogue audio inputs too. There are two optical, two coaxial and one RCA analogue input on the back of the Naim, which is a decent number, although arguably there could be more analogue ones. You get RCA analogue jacks for a pre-amp output too, but we honestly aren't sure why you'd buy this model if you intended to amp it externally. Still, it takes all sorts. The only thing missing seems to be Bluetooth.
Being the modern world, Naim also has an iOS app available, called n-Stream. At the moment this is Apple only, there's no Android or Windows Phone versions. It's designed for controlling Naim's products, such as the UnitiQute 2, by putting the entirety of your music collection in the palm of your hand.
The app is decent enough, but it's a bit limited. We found using it a touch frustrating if anything. While it does allow you to switch inputs, adjust the volume and connect to UPnP sources, it doesn't seem capable of letting you play music direct from your iPod - not a surprise considering how the Apple ecosystem works - nor does it seem to allow you to switch between iRadio stations. You can do this from the box itself, and that change is neatly reflected in the app, but that's it.
The key reason to buy the Naim is its output quality. In short, it's pretty close to sonic perfection. We like the crisp, clear output we got from both headphones and speakers. It's a fuss free, untweaked sound, so be prepared to hear some flat music if your speakers don't have a tone of their own. We loved how it sounded with some mid-range Dali bookshelf speakers - there was enough bass to scratch the itch, but the purity we want from our music too.
The Naim seems to do the best with whatever you give it. Some of our worst MP3 files sounded good on the system, and our high-quality lossless and high-bitrate music was all a joy to the ears. You get out what you put in, so make sure you invest in your library, and rip your old CDs in a lossless format if you can.
We can't think of anyone who would hate the sound of the Uniti, but those looking for earth shattering bass might lament the clean output, and lack of subwoofer output. We, however, are past that stage in our lives, and now all we want is that rush that comes from clean, crisp and ultimately honest audio.
So, the UnitiQute 2 offers plenty for our ears. There's detail in here you won't have heard in music before, and even if you don't have great speakers, it's well worth investing in some nice headphones - plug them into the Naim and you'll soon start to hear some amazing sound you weren't expecting.
There's no point in us mentioning the UnitiQute 2's price again, because if you're serious about audio it won't matter that this is an expensive bit of kit. But, bear in mind it's cheaper than a lot of other Naim hardware, and we think it's every bit as good, as long as you don't want or need a CD player. Honestly, if you want a CD player then perhaps this is the wrong device entirely.
What the UnitiQute 2 offers is a brilliant, modern system that has solid iOS app support - Naim does need to get Android support sorted out - and pretty much everything you need from a music system. If "Micro hi-fis" were the thing of the 90s, then this has to be the thing of the early "teens". It's all here, and it all sounds great.
And that's the crux of it - the audio quality is superb. When driving some nice speakers, we were thrilled every time we listened, and good headphones make listening a divine pleasure too. There are, of course, some high-end audio quirks, like slightly strange remote labelling and that front mute button that surprised us with its volume changing ability too, but that's all part of the fun with audiophile kit.
All-in-all, we recommend the UnitiQute 2 with all our hearts, and we'll be very sad to see it head home to those audio geniuses. But all things must end, and we've no doubt Naim will have something else amazing for us to look at and listen to again soon.