Atom HE v Atom as preamp

Just a query.

I use my Atom as a preamp with an old 250 and SBLs in my second system.

If am thinking of swapping to an Atom HE for the headphone output quality, is the preamp effectively the same and going to perform the same as my current setup?


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My understanding is that the HE has an upgraded preamp compared to the standard Atom but I am sure knowledgeable folk will chip in

I assume you cant run speakers straight out of the HE?

If they are powered speakers you can


Only active speakers. Normal passive speakers would need a power amp such as the 250.

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There was shoe box size streamer all in one solution a few years back in the uniti range right? Was that what the HE replaced and focussed on the Headphone stage vs the poweramp?

The Atom is the shoe box streamer and is still being made and for the money is very good.

It actually uses the headphone amp as part of the pre-amp section as confirmed by Steve here:

As far as everything I have read is a better pre-amp than the standard Atom. It should be, it is more dedicated.

Using an HE into a 250 DR and the result is really good.

What the exact difference in sounds is going to be I cannot say as I never used a normal Atom in my setup.


Thanks all. I am not looking for a big upgrade but want to be sure it isn’t a backward step with the non headphone side

Cheers Bruce

Can pretty much bet it won’t be a backwards step. The only factor will be if you personally like the sound combination. But more than one here uses the HE with a 250 with big smiles as a result.

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Here’s a post from HQ about using the HE as a pre, and more info about the differences

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It certainly isn’t a backward step. I have both the Atom and the Atom HE. The HE is certainly better with demanding headphones, but the headphone amp in the ‘regular’ Atom (we need a better name), which I think is the same as in the Nova, is no slouch either and will drive most headphones with an impedance of more than 200 Ohms and reasonable sensitivity – which is most headphones. Both will drive a subwoofer in addition to the speakers. The Atom HE is more flexible as you can use any external power amp. Bottom line: You probably will not hear any difference swapping an Atom for an Atom HE. So unless you have particular needs going forward, you may just want to stick with what you have, but it’s fun to chop and change.

Whereas I can certainly not say your own experience is wrong as it is very personal in our own setups, I myself cannot agree with this.

Going from Uniti Star to Atom HE was going into an entire new league of headphone performance. There was a significant upgrade in all elements of the sound via headphones, regardless of the impedance. The upgrade was huge.

The quality step-up in terms of headphone performance has also been confirmed by Naim on multiple occasions on this forum. It is the entire reason the HE exists.

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Not the “entire” reason surely? The HE is far more flexible as it can be coupled with any power amp and thus a wider variety of speakers. It is also certainly much better with my low impedance DCA Stealth headphones (23 Ohms IIRC). My only other headphones are B&W PX7 which I don’t use for serious listening to music, so if you are finding the HE is better all round, I’m not in a position to argue. I will say however that the Atom/Star/Nova has much better headphone amp than you will find in many (supposedly high end) integrated amps where the headphone amp was simply an afterthought. (This comment does not include the Nait 50 which has an HE level headphone amp.)

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I think some of you have missed the point of my post. I expect better headphone performance but want to ensure the loudspeaker system is just as good with the HE as with the existing Atom, which I already use with an external amp. The power amp in my Atom is therefore effectively redundant.


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That’s hopefully where my post linking the comments by Naim HQ above help? Removal of the power amp functions from the Atom allowed a better output stage to be included in the HE.


I have both the original Atom and Atom HE (lets call them the Atom and HE going forward to avoid confusion). I bought the HE as I use the Atom as a streamer pre-amp as I like to build my own power amplification. Don’t get me wrong the power amp in the Atom is actually is a very good one and is very well matched sonically to what the rest of the Atom provides, if that last bit makes sense!
I have done a comparison between the two and the reworked output stages on the HE do provide a lift in sound quality. I would say the HE provides a wider sound stage with a resulting lift in detail levels and the tonality is smoother with everything sounding a little more ‘organic’ and ‘real’ as a result.
One thing I would say is that most of the time that I was using the original Atom I was partnering my own amplifier build(s). And whilst I would usually find my own amps gave a wider sound stage and better dynamics the sound was often brighter to the point of sounding a bit edgy sometimes compared with the internal power amps of the Atom. I would often switch back to the Atoms own amplifiers and prefer the more ‘laid back’ presentation. Cohesion was always better with the Atoms little 40W amplifiers and music was more enjoyable as a result.
I mention this because I don’t experience this so much with the HE so I do think the Atoms phono stages do have a sonic impact on what you hear. The HE version is smoother and more balanced I think.
Otherwise both versions are the same apart from the headphone output (and to honest I don’t hear a big difference between the two at least with my AKG headphones).
I was hoping the revamped power supply of the HE might have improved my biggest grumble with the original Atom, that is its sensitivity to dirty mains noise. I have problem here with sound just crumbling certain times of the day sounding gritty and distorted as a result. Unfortunately the HE edition still behaves in exactly the same manner.
Otherwise for me the HE is a great performer and the sonic lift is a very worthwhile investment over the original Atom.


Read that as “to give better performance in it’s niche than the regular Atom”.

This I can agree with. But as good as that implementation is I find the HE to be far superior.

Thank you for the post and the comparison. This is helpful as I also have a Uniti Atom and am considering switching to the HE with power amp. And it is also true in my experience that the normal Atom reacts very strongly to fluctuations in the power supply. It’s really very annoying and limiting. But I have already achieved a big improvement with a good power cable. The Vovox Excelus power cable was already very good and is not very expensive. A very big improvement over the standard cable that comes with the Atom in the EU area (no Powerline Lite). In the meantime I use a Furutech FPS32N, which is normally better. It’s more expensive, but I was able to buy it relatively cheap second-hand. But the real breakthrough came with the switch to dedicated mains. The power supply for the system now comes directly from the main distribution board of the house without connection to the rest of the house network and with a separate connection to the house earth. I also had a Furutech Rhodium wall socket installed. Since then, the fluctuations caused by the power supply have disappeared. The difference in sound is day and night compared to the beginning with the standard power cable and without dedicated mains. A power conditioner is not necessary. The investment in dedicated mains is manageable. About 1k for the electrician and the Furutech socket.

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Dear @BruceW

I have used my Atom as preamp and then got me an Atom HE which I also used as a preamp. The Atom HE was better than the Atom but not like 50% better. The original Atom is already an outstanding device as others have mentioned here. What I can share is that I now use the Atom HE as a preamp/streamer into a Classé preamp (which is on bypass when I play from the Atom HE) and I was not too impressed with that initially. However, recently I changed the XLR cable between the Atom HE and the Classé from a Grimm TPR to an AudioQuest Pegasus and that made a huge difference. I know, the price of that cable is absurd, but that is not my point. I can now hear how good the Atom HE actually is as a preamp.