From Classic & XS series to Uniti: a backwards move?

I got into a long debate with a close friend of mine regarding what constitutes a side move and what would be considered a backwards move when replacing Naim components.

The case in point is as follows; would replacing an ND5XS streamer, a NAC202 (+ non-Naim power supplies) with an Atom HE, be considered a backwards move? (Both feeding into active loudspeakers)

One the one hand we have the purists’ argument that any Unit product will always be below anything else on the Naim range in terms of SQ. On the other hand, we have the functionality argument, where the the Atom can claim a newer streaming platform, Roon-ready, better UI and of course, balanced XLR output to feed directly into ATC actives.

Yes, yes, “Do a home demo and let Us in your ears decide”, but for now Your thoughts, as always, will be incredibly useful in setting this debate.

Atom HE as a preamp in to the active speakers.
Doubt it’ll be in any way measurably worse and will likely do a better job overall and have more features if nothing else.

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You two must be a barrel of laughs down the pub! There is of course no right answer.


The Atom HE into your ATCs sound to me as an ideal business case. I’d go for it in a heartbeat. Whether it sounds better, you can only tell us once you’ve tried it, we have all our own preferences.


Surely a ND5XS2/202/HCDR should comfortably outperform an Atom HE on SQ grounds just on the basis of price alone? Unless, that is, a very large dusting of Naim pixie dust went into the Atom’s preamp. Whether that comparison still holds true with a ND5XS and non-Naim PS is less obvious, but my inclination would be to upgrade those rather than jump to the Atom. But I could be wrong (usually am) so audition would be mandatory.


And yes, that would be my thought in principle (a 3 box system outperforming the entry level all in one in terms of SQ) and yes, audition audition audition, but the crux of my question was if the user interface, the functionality and new streaming platform of the Atom would somehow tip the scale away from the older 3 box option for some.

I’m pretty sure @Naim.Marketing on the Atom HE thread suggested that the pre out of the Atom was very good. And that whilst no NAC272 replacement, it was certainly well worth auditioning in that role. A fair bit of (positive) speculation on that thread about how the HE would sound into active speakers too.

If I had a 202 and ND5 XS and no particular desire to jump on the incremental upgrade path, and didn’t have a bunch of racks to throw at multiple boxes, I suspect I’d be more than tempted by the move.

At least one regular poster on here runs an Atom into decidedly good speakers as a one box system too.

Is upgrading to the ND5 XS2 an option? No screen, but has the new streaming platform obviously

Lastly I suspect any 272 replacement that lands will be double the price of an Atom HE, so unless that’s not an issue I don’t think waiting on the off chance makes much sense.

Good luck, and pictures of your ATCs please :slight_smile:

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The Atom is already an excellent preamp (using mine for that purpose since 2019) and I am sure the Atom HE will be even better, being a dedicated preamp. I would for sure go for the Atom HE in your case, also because the whole one box experience is marvellous.

I think the Atom HE is still a bit too new to have people on the forum with ‘real-life’ experience … The best answer is obviously to visit your friendly dealer and have a demonstration of these two options.

Well as @hungryhalibut says there is no right answer. I do think though that some in this so called hobby seem to think that the suggestion that there is a solution that doesn’t involve 3 stacks, several power amps, miles of cabling and sky high speakers as a challenge to their manhood.


First of all, I am sorry for the belated response (wedding and honeymoon got in the way of the real important things!)

Do you happen to know the user name of the guy that’s running a single box into actives?

Hence my question… and no, I’ve no need to add a bunch of racks, it is my perennial concern of buying yet another source that might start to loose its legs in a couple of years. I know this gets many a forum member’s knickers in a twist (or anything that remotely resembles a criticism of Naim) but the reality is that, unlike speakers and analogue amps, sources have an expiry date… so plunging another 2-3 grand on a component that will inevitably become obsolete bugs me (I am starting to hear the sharpening of pitch forks!)

I thought this too… but one of the (oddly) pros of the Atom HE is the balanced/XLR outputs, balance to unbalanced adaptors triggers my OCD! also, losing the screen on the ND5 XS2 made it a no go option for me… Forcing me to take out my phone, fire up the app and then choose what I want to do (sometimes just press play) seemed such a backward move to me (sharpening wheels spinning extra fast now!)

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Sorry for the belated response!? I should think so too X) Many congratulations, no better reason not to be on a hifi forum for a couple of weeks :slight_smile:

@Mark84 is the guy. He runs a normal Atom into semi active speakers IIRC, and is coincidentally just posting about an Atom HE in this thread Headphone advice

You’re a star! Thank you!

On a side note… I think ‘one boxers’ are sort of looked down on here… We’re not ‘committed enough about the hobby’ hahaha

No problem :slight_smile:

And FWIW I wouldn’t worry, first, I do not think that is the case, loads of love for the one box solutions on here, plus I suspect they make a very decent contribution to Naim’s coffers!

Second, dropping the amount of money an Atom costs on hifi is taking your hobby seriously in my view! Once you are spending that amount of money everyone obviously has opinions on how best to spend it, they aren’t in your shoes though, and you know what they say about opinions :wink: On here there are loads of different systems, and it’s why I like it :slight_smile: Mark’s system exemplifies the diversity of approaches IMO, and I hope he doesn’t mind me referencing him in that context!


I started with a one box Nait in the early 1990s and have been up as far a Classic five box system (plus two Naim boxes as sources)

I now use a Nova, a CDX2 , and a NAT 03 . Most of us started much further down the Naim product range and some like myself have deliberately moved backwards to a single box.

For me it was not a backwards move as I think most systems have compromises built into them , the advantage of a well specced single box outweighed the hassle of a multitude of wires (I am grossly simplifying) .

My system may need better speaker cable and a Powerline or it may need ‘’ room ‘’ friendly floor standers , we will wait and see

PS If I had an Atom HE , active speakers, a dual mono or a power amp would be options to consider - that one box may be Naim’s most versatile product


@gthack is right, I do have an Atom and I use it to drive semi active speakers. However, don’t let that fool you about my system. The active part only drives the speakers from 80hz down to 20hz. I still need an amp to drive the top section (the part responsible for all the “quality” in the sound). Also the bass section is driven from the loudspeaker terminals so it takes on the signature and timings of the power amp used for the top section so the bass changes and improves with a pre/power amp upgrade.

I am also very aware that my atom is rather out of its depth with my speakers and I will be upgrading no doubt. It drives them well enough for now though.

You need to address what is important to you. One box and simplicity, or absolute sound quality.
It is really easy to fall into the trap of wanting to make a change because it might be a little exciting to get a new product and convincing yourself that even if you loose a little quality you will be happy as you have more functionality.

The Atom HE has received great reviews and I have been tempted myself. You need to remember that you are essentially comparing two separate products each the same price bracket as the HE against the one. The separates are separates for a reason. Isolation, individual power supplies etc. This brings advantages. I expect that the nd5xs is close to the nd5xs2 minus the new platform. I doubt that Naim would release a product that outperforms a system almost double the cost in their range. It makes no sense and once word gets out they would render certain products obsolete. People would just skip the lower range separates and just go for the HE. I doubt that the Atom HE will beat your current system. But for you, will the functionality make up for its lesser quality? An nd5xs2 is the choice I’d make if I were in your shoes. As others say, audition is what you need to do if you can.


Hello Mark - I saved your almost-philosophical contribution to reply over some nice coffee!. In a nutshell, I think your comments above elegantly encapsulate my dilemma. As much as every new Naim product is lauded as the bees-knees and, of course ‘punching above its weight’ you are absolutely right, there will be compromises between a Uniti and anything above it, how much will that compromises be? well, that is up for debate. A friend of mine once said “Convenience is the new ‘quality’” - which, if taken with a pinch of salt, has quite a bit of truth to it. I am aware of the compromises made in a one-box solutions, but on the other hand, the simplicity, the aesthetics and the technological bells & whistles (with a soft expiry date of course) of the new Uniti line (e.g. Atom HE) are quite tempting, even if they come with a price labeled SQ

And yes… it is a trap. The idea that this unknown variable (i.e. the lower SQ of an Atom’s HE SQ compared to a classic line set up) will be compensated by the Uniti’s superior functionality/aesthetics/etc can be quite powerful . And, as much is hurts to admit, even after a demo, even after not being able to tell the difference in SQ between a Uniti product and a Classic multi box set up, some may still want to believe that a classic line rig is still the superior option, regardless of the fact that a SQ edge can be perceived or not.

I have a Nova in the study that I listen to all day while working and love it. It is a great solution and I have a core with all my cd’s ripped to it. In the music room I have classic box set up, does it sound better than the nova ? yes it does but at 20X the price it really should. For me the main system almost feels like an indulgence now when I listen to it of an evening. If I did not have the classic boxes I could very easily be happy with the nova (plus a turntable hehe) and in later years when I retire and downsize house I can see that happening.

Which is the law of diminishing returns isn’t it?, particularly prevalent in this hobby. After a certain price point, one has to pour (invest is not the word) money in much greater amounts than the benefits provided; add another £6000 for another 3% in performance? If one could ever quantify something so utterly subjective, that is. I remember quite well being on a Naim demo, and I believe someone from Naim was talking about the differences an external power supply made by adding it and then taking it away from the replay chain, a 555 I think it was. The superlatives that the audience came up with to sing praise to the difference a power supply made were astonishing… “IT’S NIGHT AND DAY! one eager septuagenarian loudly proclaimed” “IT’S LIKE IF A WET TOWEL HAS BEEN REMOVED OFF THE LOUDSPEAKERS”, added another one. Although I feel power supplies do make a difference, at the end of the day is how many thousands of pounds one willing to pay to eek out that extra drop of performance. I guess it comes down to budget and our own understanding of value. (and sometimes a case of emperor’s new clothes syndrome)

Nice first-wold dilemma to have though…


What’s interesting about this is that a 1% increase in output volume will have a similar effect and will be virtually indistinguishable from a change in playback quality.

Our ears and brains are so easily tricked that it is impossible for us to determine whether the quality improved or if the signal just got a little bit louder.

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