Naim Uniti Atom HE Review: The Ultimate Headphone Amp

Naim’s Uniti Atom network amplifier (8/10, WIRED Recommends) has become something of an audiophile back-pocket device. The British brand’s all-in-one streamer and amp offers fantastic audio quality fit to power virtually any stereo speakers you can lay your hands on, alongside a truckload of connectivity options, from HDMI eARC and analog connection to Chromecast, AirPlay 2, and more. It’s easy to use and marvelous to hear.

But what about a Uniti Atom aimed primarily at headphones, with a price tag pushing $4,000? That’s a crazy idea, right? So I thought until I fell head over heels for Naim’s Uniti Atom HE (as in Headphone Edition). As outlandish as the price may seem, for the right buyer—someone with very expensive headphone tastes who values sweet simplicity as highly as a night of listening bliss—it’s a pretty great package.

Stylish Looks, Phenomenal Sound

Naim’s Uniti design style is iconic, and the company has changed very little on the exterior for its Headphone Edition model. As with its siblings, the Atom HE sports a chic, neo-industrial aesthetic, with brushed aluminum trim, blocky heat sinks along the sides, and Naim’s signature jumbo volume dial on top that lights up when you give it a spin.

The colorful front-side display welcomes you with vivid album covers when you play from your favorite streaming services. It’s also motion sensitive, calling up the song name and playback time when you approach it (though, somewhat frustratingly, it’s not a touchscreen). A long, glossy remote offers the same intuitive layout as the original, with backlit buttons that gleam when you pick it up.

The only real visible change between the HE version and the 2017 Atom I regularly use to power review speakers is the HE’s dual headphone ports set below a lighted headphone button on the front. The button is used to swap between the headphone outputs and the device’s other main use case, which is as a streaming preamp for powered speakers or an amplifier.

When it comes to the sound, it’s perhaps no surprise that this device sounds really, really good. As I cycled through multiple high-end headphones, the Atom HE provided sparkling-clean playback with enormously spacious sound staging. Instruments absolutely gleam with clear definition, dynamics seem to expand into the ether, the noise floor is all but nonexistent. The Unite Atom HE lets your music bounce around the open space like an echo in a giant auditorium.

It didn’t hurt that I got to audition the Uniti Atom HE with a pair of headphones from Naim’s sister brand, Focal, called the Utopia—they run a whopping $5,000 and print sound like one-way tickets to audio nirvana. This setup was almost too fancy for even an experienced reviewer like me. I had a palpable degree of underlying apprehension the whole time I had this automobile-priced system in my listening room. Then again, maybe that’s what systems like this are for.

Photograph: Naim

The Uniti Atom elevated all the wired headphones at my disposal, including Sennheiser’s HD 660S2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends), Master and Dynamic’s MW65 (9/10, WIRED Recommends), the latest Beats headphones (7/10, WIRED Review), and everything else I plugged in. All seemed to glow with newfound luminance, as if dusting off their drivers for a purer, more concentrated sound.

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