When our esteemed editor asked if I would like to review the Naim UnitiCore as I have a UnitiServe with which to compare it, acceptance was inevitable. Other than Mu-so, all my experience with Naim has been from the Classic era, with a green logo and a black case. At one time I had two stacks of Fraim, Naim’s own exceptional modular racking system, and my system was a CD555, NAC552 preamp and NAP300 power amp. I purchased my own UnitServe and an NDX back in June 2015 and they have both given excellent service since then. Unexpected redundancy had made selling my Naim rig essential, although a matter of deep regret. Thus my interest in how the brave new world of Naim is shaping up.
One of the key differences between the Uniti Core and its predecessor is that the hard drive is not included in the price, which means that you can use the HDD (spinning) or SSD (solid state) drive of your choice. This makes the product more affordable and deflects the blame for drive issues away from Naim, and as hard drives are never 100% reliable in the long term this is understandable. In other words make sure you keep an up to date back up of your collection (there are automatic back up options for USB or network drives with the Core). My experience was with a 1TB Samsung 860 Evo SSD drive supplied by Naim for the review. Installing a drive looks pretty straightforward and would presumably be done by the dealer.
After hosting the Uniti Core in my system for a few weeks, I have come to realise how much progress Naim has made with its digital offerings in the past decade. I have also realised that reviewing a ripping engine is quite challenging! First of all the Naim control app has now really come of age and is a pleasure to use. The Uniti Core appears as a ‘room’, which the UnitiServe does not. Backing up the SSD disk to NAS was a doddle, and being able to monitor the progress of a rip via the app is really useful.
Ripping to FLAC on the Uniti Core versus my default WAV on the UnitiServe, I really could not detect a difference between the two file formats. Played via my NDX, the music had all the pace, rhythm and timing which we associate with Naim’s musical presentation but with a greater sense of musicality, if that makes sense. I believe that the sonic gap between digital and analogue replay is narrower than it has ever been. I ripped classical, jazz, rock and pop and every genre sounded exceptionally fine. Where I could, I compared the new rips with the vinyl version of the same album and although my preference is for the black (and indeed sometimes coloured) 12inch discs, I could happily live with the Uniti Core as my only source. Given that I used the same high end Ethernet cable to connect to the gigabit switch as I use on the Unitserve, I have to ascribe the improvement to the sound to the enhanced hardware and software in the new generation device. Of course the bad news is that I am now extremely curious to hear an NDX2 too – Mrs Kelly warned me that this reviewing malarkey would end up costing us money!
In terms of the look of the Uniti Core versus the first generation machine, it has really grown on me. I miss the green logo to be honest, but the more purposeful styling of the black metalwork of the Uniti Core really looks good. The new ND streaming family looks equally good too. Damn!
In the context of a Naim system, the Uniti Core certainly makes perfect sense for a user with a decent sized collection of CDs taking up space in the home (guilty, m’lud) and a Naim streamer to play them with, and the Uniti Core serves up that unique Naim sound signature in a way which an alternative solution might not. Does it represent value for money? In the right context I believe that it does, but if the rest of your system is not Naim, you might want to explore other equally competent options. If you have a UnitiServe do you need to upgrade to a Uniti Core? The short answer is no, but I actually think the sonic benefits are worth it and with Naim’s enviable reputation for trade in value it shouldn’t be too expensive.
It is good to see how far Naim has come in the power, quality and reliability of its digital products. The UnitiCore is a real advance on its predecessor and is heartily recommended in the context of a Naim system.