Streaming amps group test

Hardware Review

Streaming amps group test
Thursday, September 24, 2020
amplifier DAC streamer
Chris Kelly

Back in June of this year I wrote a review of the Lyngdorf TDAI 1120, which was sufficiently enthusiastic that, after a discussion with me, our editor awarded it our coveted Best Buy award. As part of that discussion we wondered how it would fare in a comparison with some of its rivals in what is becoming a hotly-contested market segment, so I volunteered to start afresh but this time with the Naim Unit Atom and the NAD M10 on hand to challenge the Lyngdorf. Comparative reviews are not something which I would normally undertake – I prefer to take a product on its own merits and write about it without comparing it with named competitors, so this has been a new experience for me. My primary concern was to be scrupulously fair to all three, which meant trying to replicate the same conditions and listen to the same music through them, and then living with them on a day to day basis.

The loudspeakers used were Harbeth P3ESRs, Harbeth C7ES-3 XDs and Dynaudio Special Forty Anniversary editions, which are all stand mount models with medium sensitivity – the latter two are rated at 86dB and the P3ESRs are a quite demanding 83.5dB. Speaker cables used were either Audioquest Robin Hood or Tellurium Q Ultra Black II, and I used the same Shunyata Venom NR2 mains cable on all three devices. Wired ethernet connection was made using a Shunyata Delta cable into my usual DLink switch. I also used the three players wirelessly, as this likely to be the way that many end users will connect them. I let all three of the devices ‘run-in’ for at least a week before I started any critical listening.

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Naim Uniti Atom
£2,399

I have always had a strong affection for Naim products, having owned and enjoyed a very high end Naim system and more recently a Naim NDX streamer, and I still own and regularly use a Naim UnitiServe on which are held close to 3,000 albums.

I switched from being a consumer of audio to a peddler of it in 2009, which coincided with the release of Naim’s very first Uniti product. The Atom is now the ‘entry level’ to the Uniti range but is a strong reminder of just how far streaming products have come in just over a decade. It sports the white logo first seen on the Mu-so and has a similar control dial to that model on its top-plate. The fascia is dominated by a large colour screen flanked to the right by four buttons and to the left by a USB input and a headphone socket. 

On the rear panel are located, from left to right, the IEC socket, a pair of recessed speaker terminals (banana plugs only), an ethernet socket marked ‘network’, a USB input, an HDMI ARC input, two optical and one coaxial digital inputs, a switch marked ‘ground’ which can be set to ‘floating’ or ‘default’, a pair of RCA output sockets marked ‘preamp out’ and a pair of RCA sockets marked ‘input’. 

Included in the box is a remote control, which is reassuringly heavy but whose gloss black finish is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. Unboxing the Uniti Atom, the first impression is that this a hefty device. It weighs 7kg, a good part of which is down to the very chunky toroidal transformer. 

I still have the Naim control app on my iPad and my Android mobile phone, and I made sure that I was running the latest software on both. Prior knowledge meant that there was no learning curve for me with the app, but I am very happy to report that it worked flawlessly throughout the review period. 

In terms of connectivity, the Naim designers have loaded the Atom with everything that almost any consumer could require, including direct access to the Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify streaming services. It is also Roon ready for those who have invested in that protocol. You can read the full list of options in our original review.

I connected my Gold Note PH10 phono stage to the solitary analogue RCA input, my television to one of the optical inputs and my CD player to the coaxial digital input. The first loudspeakers deployed were the Harbeth P3ESRs, which might have been expected to give the Atom’s 40 watt  amplifier a challenge, although their steady six ohm impedance should help to mitigate that. In reality, the Atom had no problem driving any of the loudspeakers to levels beyond comfortable listening. In fact the whole user Interface is very well conceived and executed. The screen is excellent, with album artwork and other information easily visible from across the room. On powering up the Atom, the first thing to do was to check for software updates, and sure enough one was detected. It was downloaded quickly and we were ready to start playing music.

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Uniti Atom: listening
I started out streaming some albums stored on my UnitServe, which holds WAV files ripped from my CD collection. I started with Meddle from Pink Floyd. Within the first few bars it was clear that the Uniti Atom had been designed to produce music with Naim’s traditional commitment to pace, rhythm and timing (PRaT to the faithful). It was also clear that the Atom’s relatively modest power output was absolutely no impediment to it delivering fast, solid, tuneful bass, spacious mids and a delightfully airy top end.

Switching to classical, I chose the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth performed by the Academy of Ancient Music on original instruments, conducted by Christopher Hogwood. This recording on Decca’s L’Oiseau Lyre label is one to which I turn regularly. It has huge dynamic range, expressive soloists and a full-bodied choir. I own many versions of this towering work but I still love this Hogwood version. The Uniti Atom delivered it with finesse where required, but with the thundering crescendi also very well represented.

Using the Naim app, I then switched to Qobuz and started listening to tracks from various hi-res versions of new albums, as well as some more familiar music. Once again, the presentation was punchy and musical. The radio tuner is also excellent, with spoken word from BBC Radio Four sounding very realistic. 

Both the digital inputs gave an excellent account of themselves. TV and film soundtracks via optical were always impressive and CD replay through the coax input was also excellent. This is a very grown-up sounding DAC/amplifier. Playing vinyl through the solitary analogue input was also a pleasure.

Uniti Atom: summary
Naim have managed to pack a lot of capability into this diminutive enclosure. It sounds like a Naim, which is no bad thing. The inclusion of a good remote control is a definite plus point, and the Naim control app, which has now been around for a long time, is easy to use, comprehensive and stable.

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NAD Masters M10
£2,199

For people of my generation, NAD will forever be synonymous with good value amplifiers. The 3020 integrated, launched in 1978, was the amplifier of choice for those of us who wanted decent sound but had limited means with which to buy it. It sold by the thousand and is still spoken of with great respect 42 years later.

Fast forward to the year 2020 and NAD is once again a very highly regarded purveyor of great value for money audio equipment. The M10 is NAD’s version of the amplifier/streamer, into which the designers have managed to pack a huge amount of technology. A 100W per channel amplifier will drive most loudspeakers with plenty of power in reserve. Software is provided by sister brand Bluesound’s BluOS and gives access to all the usual streaming and cloud-based music services that we have so quickly come to take for granted. You can read the list on NAD’s website – suffice it say that it is comprehensive.

The M10 does not come with a remote control but any learning remote can quickly be programmed to control its main functions. However, I found BluOS a pleasure to use once I had mastered the user interface. The front screen is sharp and clear, with album art displayed in full colour glory, and other information easily legible from across the room.

The front panel is glass and there are no switches or inputs of any kind. On the back there are two sets of RCA analogue inputs, a pair of RCA sockets marked ‘pre out’ and a separate pair marked ‘subw out’. There is a single coaxial digital input and a single optical input, along with a socket for HDMI ARC. There is an ethernet socket with a USB below it. Speaker terminals which accept banana, spade and bare wire connection complete the array, with an IEC for the power cable.

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M10: listening
As you would expect of a device from NAD, the music flowed effortlessly from whichever loudspeakers I attached, and from whichever source. Streaming hi-res files from Qobuz was a sonic delight – the streaming section of the M10 works flawlessly. Plugging in my phono stage and playing records was equally pleasing, and gave me many hours of pleasure. Movie soundtracks came across with punch and realism, with dialogue seeming to follow characters according to their position in the frame.

The M10 is also equipped with DIRAC Live, which is room correction software used by several companies now. In order to set it up a small circular microphone is included in the M10 box. I am very familiar with running Lyngdorf’s Room Perfect but this was my first time with DIRAC, and I suspect that it is something which requires practice to get right. Like Room Perfect, the first reading is taken at the main listening position. Thereafter, a series of readings have to be taken, essentially in a three dimensional oblong box around the main listening position. Having gone through the process I struggled to hear any improvement on the sound that I was enjoying before, but the M10 is an excellent sounding amplifier in its own right.

M10: summary 
Here we have another very accomplished performer, packing a big punch in a tiny package. For those already invested in the BluOS world the Masters M10 makes a compelling case for itself. For those taking their first step into high fidelity, it offers a huge amount. All in all, a very impressive performer.

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Lyngdorf TDAI 1120
£1,995

It seems tautological to review this unit in full again. you can read my earlier review here. Reading it again now, I feel that my enthusiasm for it comes across pretty well. Like its two rivals here, it is astonishingly accomplished for such a small device. Perhaps not surprisingly given Lyngdorf’s history with digital audio, it has more digital inputs than its two rivals – two coaxial and two optical. However, the surprise of the package is the inclusion of a very decent moving magnet phono stage. I connected my Linn Sondek LP12 with a Goldring 1042 cartridge attached and the 1120, which converts the analogue signal to digital as soon as it enters, gave me excellent renderings of all the albums I played through it. Foot-tapping, propulsive and detailed – album after album came across beautifully. The Lyngdorf is also Roon-ready and if you are a Roon subscriber its lack of native support for Tidal and Qobuz will be an irrelevance.

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Conclusion 
If you have read this far, thank you. I hope that I have conveyed to you my genuine enthusiasm for all three of these pocket rockets. For all of them, I found that their strengths far exceed their few weaknesses. Some readers may be thinking of these units to supplement a main system, others may be looking at them as the heart of a sound system. All three will give a first time buyer a real insight into what ‘proper’ hi-fi can deliver. Attach your speakers of choice, tune into your home router wirelessly or via ethernet, and you will have access to virtually all the music ever recorded, much of it delivered at a quality which CD can only dream of. So after all that time, and all that music, we have three fine ultra-modern devices, each of which would be an excellent choice. and a long-term musical companion. All three do those ‘hi-fi’ things we hold dear very well. Good sound staging, fast and dynamic musical delivery, strong bass, punchy midrange and airy high frequencies are all available.

Wireless set up on all three was very straightforward, so if you prefer to connect your machine to the celestial music library that is the cloud without faffing around with ethernet cables you will only have to do it once, and it will work just fine.

If I was already a Naim user, perhaps with a separates system in a main listening room, the Uniti Atom would be the obvious choice. It does so much so well. Yes it is only rated at at 40 watts per channel, but in my 16 x 12 room it never struggled to achieve realistic listening volumes. And if you want more power you can always add a NAP200 power amplifier at a later date and use the Atom as a streaming pre-amplifier. Even as a stand-alone main music system, the Atom has much to commend it. The inclusion in the purchase price of a substantial remote control is a definite plus point for me.

The NAD Master M10 is a really accomplished performer, with plenty of power on tap and an extremely engaging way with all sorts of musical genres. Not for nothing has it garnered so many fine reviews already. BluOS is a well developed control system and the app, on both Android and iOS, runs really well. Again, if you are already invested in this world the M10 makes a lot of sense. I am sure that in more expert hands than mine, DIRAC Live can be a real boon, but I felt that it is probably best left to a dealer to set it up for optimal performance. However, even without it the M10 is a terrific musical communicator.

And last, but most definitely not least, we have the Lyngdorf TDAI 1120. This does not have the colour screen panache of the other two units, which means it will be less eye-catching at an audition. It does not have the same extensive dealer network as Naim and NAD, which means you may have to work a little harder to find one for audition. However, as a long term musical partner, the 1120 would still be my choice. It has sufficient power to drive even demanding loudspeakers like the Harbeth P3ESRs, and can rock hard when required or tiptoe through delicate sounds with a subtle but considered touch. Room Perfect makes a noticeable improvement to the sound and in no way alters the character of your loudspeakers. There is a good article on this elsewhere in The Ear. The addition of the MM phono stage is another unique attribute in this trio, and it is more than good enough to encourage a buyer to get their moth-balled turntable and records out and give them a spin, or even to treat themselves to a record player and discover why vinyl in king. 

I am grateful to all those who have made this extended listening experience possible, and to my long-suffering editor for his patience in waiting for me to work my way through these weeks of listening.

Specifications: 

Naim Uniti Atom
Type: Integrated digital amplifier with streamer, DAC
Analogue Inputs: 1x single ended RCA
Power rating: 40W RMS/8 Ohms 
Digital Inputs: 1 coax, 2 optical, 2 USB A, optional HDMI
Supported Digital Formats: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3, OGG, WMA, DSD64, AAC, ALAC
Max sample rate: 384kHz/32 bit,
Music services: Spotify Connect, Tidal, internet radio
Wi-fi inputs: Bluetooth aptX, Airplay, Chromecast audio
Analogue Outputs: 1 RCA volume controlled
Control App: Naim for iOS, Android
Accessories: remote control handset
User Interface: 5inch LCD display
Dimensions (HxWxD): 95 x 245 x 265mm
Weight: 7kg
Warranty: 5 years with registration

NAD M10
Type: Integrated digital amplifier with streamer, DAC
Power rating: 100W RMS/8 Ohms, 100W RMS/4 Ohms
Analogue Inputs: 2x single ended RCA
Analogue outputs: pre out, subwoofer out
Digital Inputs: 1 coax, 1 optical, 1 USB A, HDMI ARC
Supported Digital Formats: MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, ALAC, OPUS, MQA, FLAC, WAV, AIFF
Max sample rate: 192kHz/32 bit,
Music services: Amazon Alexa, Amazon Music, Spotify, TIDAL, Deezer, Qobuz, HDTracks, HighResAudio, Murfie, JUKE, Napster, Slacker Radio, KKBox, Bugs
Wi-fi inputs: Bluetooth aptX HD 
Control App: BluOS for iOS, Android
User Interface: 5inch LCD display
Dimensions (HxWxD): 95 x 245 x 265mm
Weight: 7kg
Warranty: 2 years

Lyngdorf TDAI 1120
Type: Integrated digital amplifier with streamer, DAC and room correction
Power rating: 60W RMS/8 Ohms, 120W RMS/4 Ohms
Digital inputs: 2 coaxial, 2 optical, 1 HDMI (ARC)
Analogue inputs: MM phono RCA (RIAA / 47kOhm 100pF), 1 single ended RCA, 1 microphone input (XLR) for RoomPerfect calibration
Analogue outputs: stereo RCA
Mediaplayer: Roon Ready, Spotify Connect, DLNA Support (UPnP) Airplay, Local file playback (USB), Internet Radio (vTuner)
Wireless connections: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi (802.11 n/ac)
Trigger (12V):  Input & output
Control interfaces: Front panel input selector, web-interface for setup and media player, remote application for IOS and Android, IP control
Accessories included: RoomPerfect microphone, microphone stand, cable & mini-jack connector, optional remote control
Dimensions (HxWxD): 101 x 300 x 260mm (including connectors) 
Weight: 8 kg
Warranty: 2 years

Price: 
Naim Uniti Atom £2,399
NAD M10 £2,199
Lyngdorf TDAI 1120 £1,995
Manufacturer Details: 

Naim Audio
T +44 (0) 1722 426 600
www.naimaudio.com

NAD Electronics
www.nadelectronics.com

Lyngdorf
T +45 9614 5600
www.lyngdorf.com

Comments

I already have the Lyngdorf TDAI 1120 on my shortlist along with one other, the Hegel H120.

Have you compared these, how do they stack up?

I’ll be using Guru Audio Junior’s and a pro-ject carbon evo.

By BWalts

We have not compared the Hegel and Lyngdorf so it's very hard to say. The Lyngdorf has very impressive room correction software whereas the H120 is a very good all round amp/streamer. You really need to try and hear both with your speakers to find out which you prefer.

Thank’s for an interesting read! How did the Atom match the Special Forty? I was hoping to get some of your impression on that in your review but I understand you can’t cover every combination of amp and speaker in your grouptest.

By Nicke

Hi Nicke,

We have not had the opportunity to use a Uniti Atom with Special 40 speakers so it is hard to say if they would make a good match. The Atom is not the most powerful amplifier with a 40 Watt output and the Dynaudio has a lower than average 86dB sensitivity so getting high levels without distortion could be difficult. You would probably be better off with the combination that Naim Focal put together last year where they used Chora 806 speakers which are a similar size to the Special 40.

I have just read your article regarding review of integrated amps, tdai 1120 vs M10 vs Unity Atom. 

I am looking for best suitable integrated amps for my audio. At my office, I have a Planar 6 with Aria MK3 phono stage that I wanna connect with my Dynaudio Special Forty. I was offered Rega Elicit R, Cambridge Evo 75, and Lyngdorf TDAI-1120. I was not sure which option would have a best sound quality for my Special Forty. 

Fyi, my kind of music would be Toto, John Mayer, Fourplay, GnR, U2, Coldplay, Kenny G, etc.

I really appreciate if you could give me some advice, as you might have tried these combinations before. I am open to other options if it is better than what I get at the moment.

Hi there, and thank you for your question. I did not have Special Forty loudspeakers here for the three way test, but I have had them for review since then. After a very long run in period they worked beautifully with my Lyngdorf TDAI3400. I am very condifent that the TDAI1120 would also have been a fine match. The TDAI1120 is a very different beast than either the Elicit R (which I have owned in the past and liked a lot) in that it is also a very capable streamer too, and is much more verstaile than either of those other devices. I haven't heard the Cambridge Audio, so can offer no opinion. I know that a lot of Naim owners use their amplifiers with Dynaudio loudspeakers and that would be another option to consider. The Naim Nait XS3 is a real pocket rocket. As always, my advice would be try to try and hear a pair of Special Forty with the amplifiers you have short listed, or better still to see if you can arrange home demonstration.

By ck55