Thoughts re new system (XS separates or Atom HE and AE1 actives

I’m replacing my system and have a demo booked for next week. My short list of two systems contains radically different setups and I’m looking for any thoughts about my choices prior to the demo.

My budget is about £6-7K

Option A is ND5 XS2 and Nait XS3 with my current original LS50’s

Option B is Uniti Atom HE, AE1 active .

Both systems will include a new turntable - the Pro-Ject Debut PRO S Turntable. The Atom HE system will also have the Pro-Ject Box Design Tube Box DS2 MM/MC Phono Preamp.

Headphone listening is probably slightly more important to me than speaker listening but I want the best overall balance from both.

I guess it comes down to a decision about the relative merits of the headphone output banded against speaker output.

If the separates are significantly better than the Atom via speakers and ok via headphone output then the separates may have it (cheaper as well).

However, if the Atom is much better via headphones and ok via speakers the Atom may have it.

Obviously, I’ll make a judgement based on my demo next week but I’d be interested in any thoughts about my choices from the forum.

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The nd5/nait has the better upgrade path. Eg hicap on the nait. The atom is an “end game” ie that’s it. So if you are considering the potential for the future, then definitely the separates.
I’ve not heard the 2 systems against each other, but personally I would pick the separates every time.

For headphone use, from what I’ve read here you may find the Atom HE sounds best, and if headphones are your main use that may drive your choice. As for speakers, there is far greater difference between the sound of different speakers than any other component, and choice is critical to enjoyment - and different people have quite different preferences: one person may love a speaker that someone else thinks sounds awful, and vice versa. The great thing with active speakers is that you don’t have to think about the amp: the manufacturer has ensured it suits the speaker. Personally if I was looking to buy from scratch I’d be interested in trying that approach, though I think it highly unlikely I’d find the AE1 satisfying and I’d expect to spend a lot more on the speakers even if buying bare let alone including the power amp. With your budget I’d consider listening to Atom and ATC SCM40A, both secondhand being possible with your budget.

Regarding upgrading with the combined streamer/preamp/headphone amp plus active speakers, just that any upgrade is a significantly bigger step because you can’t just upgrade a part of either. Having said that, with the Atom you can still have a separate power amp and speakers.

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Because these set-ups are totally different, what is your end game.

If you want the potential to upgrade / try different boxes, then go separates.

If this is your end game, then the single box would be your best.

Remember that Focal now use the Atom HE as their headphone amp which is well matched to their headphones.


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No contest! The XS system is better. I would be looking at that and adding a separate headphone amp at some point as that’s a weak point.

The elephant in the room here is the speakers. Matching speakers to your room trumps pretty much all other considerations, and as you are considering different speakers for each system, all bets are off regarding which system actually works best for you, in your room, and you won’t find the answer to that until you’ve had the system up and running at home for a few weeks.

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I would decide upon what are you planning to do with the speakers in future, i.е. passive or active? This is a crucial point, you want to upgrade to let’s say ATC or BBC monitors?

Interestingly with speakers I’ve never had the luxury of auditioning/verifying at home, but I’ve never been disappointed with the 4 different speakers I’ve bought. And with two that includes across multiple home moves resulting in living with one in 4 different rooms and another in 7 different rooms (and both also sounding good in their new owners’ homes). Perhaps I’ve just been lucky, though the first was bought only after auditioning 13 different speakers, thd second was simply the first’s big brother, and the last two auditioned against the second and with the same amp and source I used at home, all auditions with music covering a wide range of demands.

Welcome to the community and would go with Option A - ND5 XS2 and Nait XS3. I started with a ND5 XS > NAIT XS 2 > ProAC D2D system and was quite please and never looked back. Different configuration today but the NAIT is a fabulous amp and you will be quite happy with the streamer.

Good luck with your decision.


If you can stretch your budget,the SN3 is much better. You can eventually add a HighcapDr and it then gets better still.

If you can use a MM cartridge the phono amp in the SN3 is very good. The headphone amp in the SN3 is quite capable once it has run in a while. I am using it with the Focsl Utopia headphones. This should free up funds to more easily afford the SN3.

I agree w option A - flexibility on the upgrade path if that’s something that interests you

My Nova/PMC twenty5.21i setup is a very similar price. I’d be interested to hear how the Atom HE and the new active version of the PMCs stacks up against your two choices. Option B is about half the price of Option A and introducing better speakers would bring them closer price wise.

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I suspect many here, including me, have not actually heard Option A, so do use your ears rather than forum “wisdom” in making your choice. Nevertheless, judged by price alone, the two options do look to be in different categories.

The new active version of the twenty5.21i looks like a more price-comparable active speaker choice to go with Atom HE and I’d also audition that if possible.

Let us know how it goes.



How big is your room? I’ve not heard the XS3 but from my brief encounter with the LS50, they require some more to wake up and come alive?

In my view the Atom HE gives you more flexibility, better headphone SQ and a higher end system experience with just upgrading the power section should you wish to change speakers. Arguably, you may get better SQ for vinyl with the XS3 (its own phono or external).

Option A all the way.

I am afraid you underestimate the Atom HE. If headphone listening is a priority, I would for sure choose the Atom HE. And as a preamp into active speakers it is an excellent option.

Welcome to the forum!

I run a XS3 amp with a Chord Hugo DAC, either the MK1 or MK2 are within your budget second hand and are not only great DACs but also very good headphone amps. That might give you the best of both worlds. They aren’t as easy to use as the ND5 XS2 will be though, nor as simple to set up and find plugs for, and you’ll need a standalone streamer too, of which there are quite a few good ones around.

It would help if the OP stated a percentage preference for all sources regarding listening. This would make it easier for us to be helpful.

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“Headphone listening is probably slightly more important to me than speaker listening”, that is already a good indication I would say.

Hi Paul, the ND5XS2 and Nait XS are reputed to be the basis of the Nova and will be include a phono stage.

i had a ProJect tube phono stage and I didn’t keep it long , but it was paired with a nice ClearAudio

For what it is worth I think I would be happy with both the systems you are talking about

best wishes


Hi Garçon,
Thanks for your reply. I am a little concerned about the suitability of the LS50’s for the reasons you state, although the room is quite small (4m x 3.5m). I’m not sure I could stretch to another £2k for new speakers though.

If I go for the depressed I’ll see how they are with the LS50’s and take it from there.

Cheers Paul

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