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Wireless Music Hub Is a Posh Hi-Fi Plaything

Wireless music systems like the Sonos, Apple TV and Squeezebox have made it easier than ever to get music streaming wirelessly across your home or office. British hi-fi maker Naim built its UnitiQute to do just that, accepting audio from a variety of sources both wired and unwired, and producing clear, sharp sound in any setting.

This all-in-one music hub is heavy — around 13 pounds — but it’s small enough to easily fit on a desktop or bookshelf. The UnitiQute has an integrated 30 watt-per-channel amp that pumps out tunes from a slew of sources: FM and web radio, CD players, flash drives, iPods, iPhones and networked music from laptops and storage drives.

Naim has been building amps for 40 years, and its experience shows. The UnitiQute produces a balanced, open sound that provides punch where it’s needed, but also brings out the nuance and detail in complex recordings. I hooked the system into my Definitive tower speakers with built-in subwoofers, and it proved plenty powerful, with an impressive soundstage and well-defined sound.

The UnitiQute has a bright bluish-green display which can be read clearly from about six to eight feet away. Other than a headphone jack, an input jack and USB port, that’s it for the front panel. You’ll need to pick up the remote even for the most basic functions. The remote does everything, though: it lets you change the settings (networking, inputs, etc.), as well as view and select album, track, artist and other music data.

A better option, though, is using your iPod touch or iPhone to control the action. To do so, you need to install a Universal Plug and Play server (in this case, EyeConnect) on your computer, and you need to install NAIM’s “n-Stream” app. Surprisingly, when you go to download it in the iTunes store, you’ll find yourself short $36 — a tough swallow after dropping $2,000 on the hardware unit.

The app lets you browse and select tracks from your music libraries to be streamed through the UnitiQute right there on your Apple touchscreen. Once these two apps are up and running, the UnitiQute can read all the music and radio stations in iTunes, or from any NAS drive on your network. The performance is surprisingly smooth and snappy — a one- or two-second delay when switching tracks, and no dropped connections in our testing. When you touch the top of the screen, the bit rate, sample rate and other track info appears. All in all, pretty slick.

If you want to hook in a CD player or another component, the UnitiQute has a number of analog and digital inputs, and a preamp to connect to an external amp — although with 30 watts per channel, it will do a fine job with most speakers. If you want to play tunes from your iPod, you can connect it via the USB slot on the front of the UnitiQute, and since it flows through a digital connection, you can control playback with the remote. You can also use a flash drive loaded with music, and pop it into a USB slot on the face of the UnitiQute. The albums show up on the display, and the response is quick, so you can flip through the tracks in a snap.

At $2,000, the UnitiQute isn’t for the DIY crowd — U.K.-built hi-fi has never been for budget-minded buyers. But if you want a compact high-performance, plug-and-play, all-in-one music player, it’s tough to beat.

WIRED Multiple inputs and network connectivity give you lots of music options. Low-key looks, but built like a tank. Big, balanced sound.

TIRED $2,000 and they charge extra for the n-Stream app?

Photo: Jonathan Snyder/Wired

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