New All-in-One Player Purchase........... Well sort of
by, 11-05-2011 at 07:57 AM (1856 Views)
A few months back I was bitten by the upgrade bug. Since then I have spent some time adjusting the current setup and tweaking the placement / room. Finally, I felt that I had maximized on what I had and it was time to look at new components.
I went to a local dealer and they recommend moving up to that next level, specifically Naim and Linn. Since I am only into computer audio it was the Naim Uniti and Linn Majik DSM.
I went home and did some budgeting taking into account selling my current system, and I could find a way to make it work. Once I got the wife approval, I made an appointment with the dealer for a listening evaluation. I sent them four FLAC files ahead of time that they loaded on to their QNAP NAS.
As part of my consideration I set two goals for the new system. First, it had to be sonically superior to what I already had. Second, I wanted something that would last for 2 - 3 years before being upgraded.
I currently have a pair of Rega Rs5 speakers and both the dealer and I agreed these should be fine and to focus on the components. As a Rega dealer they were able to incorporate them into the listening session.
The four audio track I choose were:
- Led Zeppelin bron-y-aur-stomp
- Metallica Blackend
- Joy Division Shadowplay
- Nine Inch Nails Right were you belong
I started with the Naim UnitiQute as I really have no need for the CD player in the Uniti. When I arrived at the dealer they had the Qute setup with the Rs5's in a room fairly similar in size to mine at home (11.5' x 11.5 ' x 9').
They introduced the Naim iPad app, and I was pleasantly suppressed at how easy it was to use. After just a few seconds of exploring Led Zeppelin was the first tracked queued up. At normal listening levels it sounded good but I couldn't help immediately notice the Qute was already at 70 - 80% max volume. I then set the volume at level I would use for a serious engaging listening session. The Qute was pegged at 100%. While the Qute never got distorted or started to clip at 100% the music sounded thinner. I moved on to Metallica since that track has a double bass pedal and can sound full and fast at times. The Qute could not keep up.
I decided to call an audible and plugged in my 8GB memory stick into the front of the Qute and found Nine Inch Nails Down It. This track has a serious bass beat in the begging that the Rs5's seem to love. On my Rega Brio 3 at home these notes sound full and heavy. On the Qute they sounded thin and tight.
I am sure that the Qute would work nice with more efficient speakers like Klipsch or Paradigm or in a 2.1 system where the bass is handled by a dedicated sub amp. For me it was time to move on.
After a few minutes the Qute had been swapped out with the Uniti. Again Led Zeppelin was the first up. This time the music sounded better. It was fuller, wider, and overall a step up from the Qute and my current system.
After a few tracks I could not help notice that the volume was again close to 60% at normal listening levels. Even at more engaging levels the Uniti was close to or at 100%. At 100% compared to the Qute the Uniti seemed to maintain its bottom end and did not get thin or high as the Qute did.
At this point I would remind you of the goals I set out in the beginning. The Uniti was sonically better, but I had some concerns about the 2 - 3 year mark. My wife has her treadmill in a larger room that I have often considered swapping out for my office / listening room. While the Uniti could fill the current room at 100% I had concerns that it would be limited to just that. Therefore, it failed my second criteria.
The Game Changer
While some of the changes in systems were taking place I had a chance to chat with the owner of the shop as he had become very interested in my demo. Having heard my music, listening styles and preferences he was suggesting that at the current price point an all-in-one was not going to give me what I wanted. Instead he suggested a Naim Nait XS integrated amp with the new Rega DAC. He said they had good results with this setup and was worth a listen.
The Nait XS and Rega DAC were setup with my MacBook, the same four songs were loaded into Audirvana and we were off. Immediately I noticed the volume dial was much lower on the Nait XS as compared to the Qute or Uniti. The Nait XS had no problems going beyond reasonable levels in that room. While testing the volume something caught my eye, or ear in this case. On the Led Zeppelin track I started to notice subtle things I had not heard at home or on the previous two system. Now that the volume issue was out of the way I could focus more on the resolution. I am not sure if it was the DAC or amp, but the combination of the two was consitantly more revealing than anything I had heard.
The Nait / DAC combination was also easier to listen to. I had not really noticed at the time, but the Uniti / Qute seemed to be more fatiguing as time went on. I can only assume this was because of the high bias due to lack of power.
By The Numbers:
I hope that everyone can appreciate that this system was budgeted for, and therefore this game changer needed to be accounted for as well. In this case the math was pretty simple:
Naim Uniti - $4250 USD
Nait XS + Rega DAC + Nordost Blue Heaven USB & Interconnects - $4344 USD.
The last piece is that the game changer system requires a music streamer. It sounded impressive with my MacBook, so I already had a solution there. Currently an Auraliti PK90 is serving this purpose at home and based on some future listening tests could easily maintain it's place. I had budgeted to sell my current components but with the Uniti / DSM solutions I would have needed a QNAP + Hard Drive which is roughly ~$250 USD which is not that far off from what I would get for the Auraliti used.
At this point the game changer was a no brainer. It met and in some cases exceeded my requirements. It was in my budget within a hundred or so dollars. The only downside is that the Nait XS would have to be ordered so I have to wait until next weekend to get my new system.
Looking back I am very happy that I spent the time with dealer and got to know them as they got to know me. I would have never been able to come up with this combination on my own. It would have been easy enough to purchase the Uniti or DSM products based on their rave reviews online, but I could have missed out. I see a trend in companies to offer products online or direct to cut down on costs. Maybe this can work for others, but for me the dealer experience is worth the extra price.
While researching my systems I emailed Linn / Naim / Kimber / Nordost direct to ask some questions about their products.
Naim responded the same day. I received an automated response from Linn stating it could take up to two days to hear back and I received something the next day.
I still have not heard from Nordost or Kimber.
I hope this is not an indication of their customer support, but luckily the dealer said if there are issues with any of the products they would take care of it and provide loaners in the meantime.