Focal and Naim – CES 2017

by Rafe Arnott

Pace, rhythm and timing… PRAT to those who are familiar with the term, and forever associated with the British hi-fi manufacturer Naim by yours truly, and audiophiles the world over. But what does PRAT really mean? As I sat listening to a Naim Uniti Nova drive a pair of Focal Sopra No.2 in the Venetian Hotel at CES on Sunday, that old descriptor nut dropped out of my mental tree, and into my lap.

Every time I’ve spent time with Naim gear that phrase “PRAT” wiggles into my head, and starts to dirty dance between my ears. Naim gear is not overly expensive, especially in comparison to a lot of the kit I sat with over the CES long weekend, but it has an absolutely undeniable boogie factor to its sound that many über-priced systems just can’t match to my ears. There’s an attraction to the sound that makes me instantly comfortable. I want my slippers, a single-malt whiskey in hand, a snoozing Deerhound at my feet… and oh, where’s the fireplace?

This isn’t to say that Naim gear lacks clarity, sparkle, speed, dynamics, punch or musicality – just the opposite really – but there’s a pipe, and slippers history to the marque that comforts the old British man in me. Let’s just say PRAT is that sometimes undefinable characteristic of music reproduction that makes the difference between tapping one’s foot along with the song, and not.

At CES the company was showing off it’s latest iterations of Uniti series of products (Atom, Star, Nova, and Core), and a static display of it’s flagship 746-watt Statement amplifier. Between the Uniti line you can play, stream, rip, and store music. The Uniti line allows for syncing up to six separate Uniti systems or Naim streamers to play your files from any source in multiple rooms simultaneously. Not trick enough for you? How about doing all that, and playing different music in every room? Have I got your attention now?

The Uniti line supports just about every codec, and digital or analog source known to man, so you’re in good shape with compatibility. Naim had the Nova integrated holding center stage. As the reference unit of the range Naim has tasked it with doing everything, and doing everything exceedingly well. Looks-wise, the new designs still retain that traditional Naim look of sleek, industrial muscularity. The Nova, Atom, and Star all include the dial-control on top from the very popular Mu-so.

Through the big Focals the sound had visceral weight to the bottom end, a smooth, lively, and gutsy mid-range, and an extended top end without any of the hardness one can associate with digital playback at certain price points, and at $4,650 USD, the Nova is not cheap, but neither is it exotic. To me it seems the Uniti range sits astride the divide to true high-end digital reproduction, and the uppermost tier of what most would consider the limit financially (and practically) of a true high fidelity system for the modern, connected, and shared home.

2 x Optical TOSLink (up to 24bit/96kHz)
2 x Coaxial RCA (up to 24bit/192kHz, DoP 64Fs)
1 x BNC (up to 192kHz, DoP 64Fs)
2 x RCA
2 x 5-pin DIN
2 x USB Type A socket (front and rear)
1 x SD card
Audio Outputs
1 x Stereo power amplifier
1 x RCA sub/pre output
1 x 3.5mm headphone jack