Atom vs Nova as a headphone amp

i have a star and a nova. the difference with the headphones is the same as with the speakers. more volume and adult. therefore there will be a significant difference between atom and nova.

Thanks! What do you mean by adult?

In german: erwachsener

more mature
more volume
more stage

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Ah gotcha. Sorry when people explain what they heard i always hear/read new terms that have new meaning lol


I’d suggest running a dedicated headphone amp off the second analogue output of the ND5 XS2. This will beat the headphone output stage from a Nova or the SN2 by a significant margin - I have both and use a Heed Canalot off my NDX2.

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I had understood that all 3 Uniti models shared the same headphone stage. I certainly couldn’t tell difference between my Atom and Nova

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I will try it again. My Nova was new and need burn-in time.

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You should notice a big difference at about 100Hrs burn-in with the Nova headphone output. I was a little disappointed early on with my HD800’s on the Nova and thought about selling them as I though I would use them much less (coming from a 252/SC/Headline/HC combo), however over the last week or so I can say the output is as equally enjoyable as the previous setup. the presentation is different, slightly more refined, spacious and laid back with the Headline but more forward, muscular and musical from the Nova. I am well pleased with the result and will be keeping my HD800’s.


Thanks everyone for the comments on this. I am going to make a trek to a local shop for a demo today. Its a bit of a distance so i wanted to get the general consensus before hand if it was worth checking out.

I am far from an expert but i will post what i ended up doing and what i discovered in case anyone in the future has this same question.

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so in the end i took home a Nova. To be honest the Atom and Nova sound VERY similar out of headphone jack i think most people wont notice a difference. With my LCD4’s one the things i noticed was the nova seemed a little more forward and had a little more meat. Could be all BS but thats what i noticed. Again they are super super similar. If you are buying for headphone jack only, just get the atom.

I do plan on using the speaker outs so that was a selling point as well. For the deal i got and the price i got the atom its not to much more.

Sadly, the Novas volume wheel on top seems to be defective. The wheel spins, the volume changes but there seems to be a lump and the wheel becomes harder to spin and makes a small and light plastic on plastic grind noise. Its hard enough that you end up having to put two fingers on to spin. I know this is minimal… but its a spendy device.

so the nova will be returned, hopefully they have a second one.

A few here have mentioned the volume wheel grindiness as an issue. Touch wood mine doesn’t develop it. I guess the position of the wheel on top isn’t so practical when it comes to dust collection.

Thats good to know. This feels more like a wheel left the factory defective over a build up of dust. Regardless, i am sad.

if anyone is interested in what songs used. -

Yes we can can - Allen Toussaint - Our New Orleans
Ceramic People - Nonkeen - The Gamble
Pulse - Kathleen Baird - Respires
All or Nothing at all - John Coltrane
Gauze Fur Zah - Beirut
I never learnt to share - James blake
Hand of god - Emma Ruth Rundle
Miss you - Trentemoller
Wheel - Sohn

Just listening to Beatles Abbey Rd, White Album & Sgt Pepper streaming 32 Bit from Qobuz through the HD800s on the Nova using the headphone socket and it sounds fantastic…unfortunately my Nova also needs to go back due to the grinding rotary volume issue, its a pain :frowning:

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Nice! I am very happy with the atom and lcd4s. I took back the nova and ended up buying focal choral 826s ( dark wood/ primer) to accompany the supernait 3 + nd 2 xs. Gret combo so far.

Your really not getting the best headphone performance with the Atom. I tried mine on all my phones and it just lacks drive, You would get far better performance with a dedicated headamp that would suite powering demanding planners like the LCD4. A Raspberry PI, SMSL DAC and Schiit Heresy Amp walk all over my Atom for headphone listening and cost a little under £400. YMMV

Thanks for the reply.

The path i have taken to the atom has been
Schiit YGG + RAG
McIntosh MHA150
RME ADI 2 FS + La fagiro / cayin HA 1A

I am no expert but i have to disagree, i think the atom drives the lcd4s quite well and they are a pretty great combo.

Before every upgrade i would do some long listening a/b testing. The RME is a absolutely fantastic engineering masterpiece and sounds close to the atom but the atom just had a bit more all around meat and sounds less thin

I do at times hook the atom up to the tube amps just to get some new flavor to the sound and will probably pickup a used MHA200 one day.

Can’t agree but we all have different tastes. I love my Atom just not with phones I found it lacked meat, opposite of your findings. I have the RME as well and to me it sounds way better in all areas then the Atom and my other headrig. I gave my SMSL as an example as that’s my second rig.

Thats pretty funny we felt the exact opposite lol to each their own!

So i have been testing back and forth some headphone amps mainly cayin ha-1a. I hear no major improvement or correction with the Cayin or the ragnorak

The atom is quite a bit quieter in the noise section and a few other improvements with detail and instrument placement etc./

overall with the amps i have tried (ragnorak as well), the atom sounds better and drives the heck out of the lcd4s. Maybe i would have to try your exact setup.