The first year of isolation during the pandemic afforded us the opportunity to listen to a lot of products at home and rethink how we build home audio systems that operate under the principle that streaming, vinyl, and active loudspeakers have all converged. Wireless speakers still don’t offer the same sound quality as their passive siblings but we think KEF, Dynaudio, and a few others are getting very close. While listening to the Naim Audio Uniti Atom HE Streamer at Focal Powered By Naim Houston, we were struck by the most obvious use for the product.
Streamer. DAC. Preamplifier.
I was also still recovering from the Howdy Hot Chicken Sandwich that I had consumed only hours earlier and needed to sit down and calm down. Beyond hot.
I will agree that the name is slightly odd considering there is already a Naim Uniti Atom and there is no question that it will cause confusion for people who will think that it includes a power amplifier for your speakers. It does not.
You can add a power amplifier to it if you already have one and a pair of passive loudspeakers.
It includes the brilliant tactile volume dial that makes the Uniti Atom so appealing, and it offers the same access to the major streaming platforms and is Roon-Ready.
The headphone amplifier is significantly better than the one inside the original Uniti Atom. By a rather large margin. Naim wants you to use the Uniti Atom HE with a pair of Focal headphones so don’t misunderstand the primary purpose of the product, network streamer and headphone amplifier.
You can certainly use any other brand of headphones (I’ve tried HiFiMan and Meze Audio so far and both were great matches) but the headphone amplifier was designed by Naim engineers using the top Focal models as their benchmark. Which makes logical sense as the two brands are part of the same larger company.
Another thing that makes the Naim Audio Uniti Atom HE stand out is the control app. We had a rather in-depth discussion with the folks from Naim in Houston and they explained some of the backend architecture of their app for the Uniti Series products and what they have in the long-term pipeline to make it the best of its kind.
If you’re considering adding Apple Music and Spotify HiFi in the future to your mix of streaming platforms, Naim plans on being one of the high-end brands to deliver the best streaming experience regardless of platform. We are no longer convinced that Spotify is going to get into the hi-res audio arena but the Uniti Atom HE is prefect for TIDAL and Qobuz.
21st Century Breakdown
Not the Green Day album but a system breakdown to consider if you’re looking to build a system based around active loudspeakers and headphones.
This configuration is also designed for the desktop as it takes up very little room and eliminates the need to connect the system to your computer. Connect the Uniti Atom HE to your home network (wired works better) and use the excellent Naim control app to access all of your streaming services.
Roon works perfectly in this configuration.
But what goes on the other end?
The Acoustic Energy AE1 are rather ideal in this scenario.
The Acoustic Energy AE1 ($1,390) are active loudspeakers that feature separate power amplifiers inside each loudspeaker; both the tweeter and midrange driver/woofer have their own amplifiers, active crossovers, and do not require a connection to the other in order to work.
The AE1 feature 4 x 50 watt/channel class AB power amplifiers and offer no form of DSP.
You are tied to the sound of the power amplifiers but that’s a very good thing in this case.
These are not wireless loudspeakers, but they will work quite effectively in the context of a wireless digital streaming system.
Each loudspeaker has its own volume control (there is no remote) on the real panel of each cabinet; the placement is somewhat awkward so just leave them turned all the way up and forget that they exist.
Each loudspeaker features both single-ended and balanced input jacks. I didn’t find the difference between them enormous but if you have a pre-amplifier, network streamer, or DAC with balanced outputs – try them both and see which one sounds better to your ears.
You can also trim the treble/bass response by +/- 2dB with switches on the rear panel, which will matter if you decide to set them up on a credenza and close to the wall.
Acoustic Energy have built a very solid enclosure that is extensively braced and weighs a hefty 20 pounds each. When you pull these from their packaging, you know that you just purchased very well-made loudspeakers. The 12”H x 7”W x 10”D cabinet is deceptively heavy and inert.
Acoustic Energy offer the AE1 in Piano Black, Piano White, and Piano Walnut. The supplied pair came in Piano Walnut and they are one of the nicest looking loudspeakers I’ve tried in many years.
Sadly, a pair of the matching Piano Walnut stands were not available from the U.S. distributor, so I tried the AE1 on a pair of 24” GHA iron stands and IsoAcoustics loudspeaker Aperta loudspeaker stands on a 30” credenza.
The 5-inch ceramic aluminum sandwich cone driver is a proprietary design and can handle being driven very hard – something I did quite often.
I’m more of a soft-dome tweeter guy, but the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter has excellent extension, detail retrieval, and never sounds too bright; there was zero excessive treble energy.
From a tonal perspective, the AE1 are definitely on the neutral side. Nobody will call them warm sounding. Some people may find them a tad cool for their tastes.
Which is perfectly fine because you completely change how they sound based on your choice of pre-amp, source, or DAC.
They are also very dynamic sounding loudspeakers that certainly like to reach out and touch you.
Bass response is first-rate with these active loudspeakers. Bass is tight, articulate, and I am inclined to believe the quoted 42Hz – 28kHz (+/- 6dB) frequency response. In a very large room, you might want to add a subwoofer, but I was more than satisfied in my office (35’ x 13’ x 9’) listening space.
The bass response in my den listening room (16’ x 13’ x 9’) was excellent with rock, electronica, and jazz recordings.
We’re Putting the Band Back Together…
So, where things get interesting with the Acoustic Energy AE1 is when you start building a system around them.
If you have more than one source; streaming, CDs, turntable – you will need to invest in a pre-amplifier.
Enter the Naim Uniti Atom HE.
I have to spend more money?
WTF Reviewer Guy.
Look at it this way. The AE1 already include 4 excellent sounding solid-state class AB amplifiers so there is a cost savings there. You also don’t require loudspeaker cables.
The Pro-Ject Debut PRO or Rega Planar 3 turntables would be excellent choices for this type of system, or you could use your existing table if you already have one.
I’m one with the Force. The Force is with me.
The AE1 connect you to the music. I think that is their greatest strength.
The first time I played Kraftwerk and Daft Punk through the AE1, I knew that they would not be leaving. They can sound effortless in the manner they present music depending on the recording.
Pacing is a definite strength; music flows out of these relatively small 2-way loudspeakers with real drama. Drama is probably the wrong word for it – they have presence.
I’m more focused on tone, clarity, and pacing, but I think a lot of listeners will be impressed by their composure as you increase the volume.
The AE1 sound perfectly fine at lower listening levels, and never lose control or sound congested if you raise the volume too high. A lot of high-end loudspeakers in their price range stumble if you drive them hard and with demanding tracks – the AE1 don’t even flinch.
They won’t rattle the room, but you really feel your heart start to race when the music commands it.
Do not expect an enormous sounding soundstage, but everything is pretty solid in-between the loudspeakers and vocals can make you sit up and think that you’re not alone in your space.
Vocals can also be slightly cool sounding if your DAC or pre-amp lean that way; detail might be phenomenal in this scenario, but I wouldn’t trade greater tonal color for it.
The more I listen to them – the more I feel that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of their capabilities and that makes them the basis for a fantastic sounding system for the long haul.
I’m not sure I would throw $5,000 pre-amplifiers and sources at them, but it’s rather evident that they would never be embarrassed in such a scenario.
Acoustic Energy has done a masterful job with these loudspeakers that have flown under the radar for far too long.
Controlled by the Naim Audio Uniti Atom HE, they deliver a world-class sonic experience with a minimum of fuss.
The Howdy Hot Chicken Sandwich
Naim Audio Uniti Atom HE Streamer / DAC / Headphone Amplifier / Preamplifier ($3,290 at Crutchfield )
Acoustic Energy AE1 Active Loudspeakers ($1,390/pair)
Pro-Ject Audio Systems Tube Box DS2 Phono Stage ($899 at Amazon)
Pro0Ject Debut PRO Turntable – $1145 at Audio Advice