This is a blog post about three networked all-in-one audio streamers, the market leading Naim Uniti 2 (in the middle in this main picture), the T+A Music Receiver (TAMR,for the rest of this review) and the latest entrant to the all-in-one audio market from Cyrus, the Lyric 09 (at the top in the main picture).
Obviously the English pedigree of Naim and Cyrus is well written in this country, however Germany’s T+A has a very strong entry in this sector of the market, as you will see. Naim and Cyrus, are, many will argue, the market leaders in this recently burgeoning streaming market building on various separate devices such as the Naim NDX and the Cyrus Streamline series. The Naim Uniti 2 and the Cyrus Lyric are the latest products of this expertise by combining the streamer capabilities with an integrated amplifier, various iPod adaptions, iPad apps and other bits and pieces.
I’m going to have to declare interests at this point, I own the Naim Uniti 2 in question here, I like the ‘Naim sound’ and I use my Uniti 2 to output my vinyl using a Naim Stageline so I’m quite heavily invested in Naim. Nevertheless I have previous Cyrus experience with the Streamline, which was good and I have had the TAMR on a loan for over a month now, and it is musical gold-dust. So hearing of the Lyric 09 with two strong competitors under my roof was too good an opportunity to miss so I’ve been swapping cables between the three for three days now.
The baseline setup for my test uses Atlas Mavros speaker cables into T+A Criterion TCD 310S speakers with Atlas EOS power input.
The competitors in this market and price place are many and include Linn, Sonos, and other Naim separates such as the Naim NDX with an amplifier choice and then there are other Cyrus products such as the excellent Streamline, that I have previously tested in this blog. Of course the attraction of these all-in-one systems here is that you are getting a very high quality product drawing on the excellence of the brand, such as Cyrus’s 30th Anniversary Series last year and Naims forty year pedigree for a fraction of the price.
I’m getting to the time of my life (mid forties) where I’m starting to like my printer, for example, to just print and not have the option to turn off my fridge or open the garage doors so an all-in-one system may seem a bit of a departure but the value for money and quality of all three of these systems is undoubtedly a serious attraction for many an aspiring audiophile (and others), hence the huge growth in this market recently.
The Lyric 09 has a younger sister, the Lyric 05, that has a lower spec DAC and less powerful output (and lower price tag!). However the issue of a lower spec DAC, 24 bit versus 32 bit, seems to me to be akin to Digital Cameras with massive megapixel outputs that you cannot possibly appreciate and I am not clearly able to discern the difference in range or detail between Cyrus’s 32 bit DAC and Naim’s 24 bit offering if I’m honest. The Uniti 2s big sister is the Super Uniti which has greater power output as well as higher grade components (and quite a hefty price tag to match). I’m not aware of any TAMR siblings at this time?
Next there’s price, The Lyric 09 is UKSRP £3000, the Naim Uniti 2 is £2795 and the T+A SRP is £2690. It’s all big money. The Lyric 05 is £2250 but not tested here, the Naim Superuniti is £3350.
First up, I just wanted to offer a comment on the look, always very emotive, almost as much as the sound, however, the TAMR looks the most robust, German, and functional of the three with the Lyric looking rather 80s meets Daft Punk headgear (comment from the family). The Naim Uniti 2 is suitably understated in brushed black with the smallest, slightly useless if you eyesight is as bad as mine, display. The Lyric has the better display which is colour and the TAMR has the largest display that also looks up the tracks on the CD for you from the internet which is a great feature I don’t get from the Uniti 2 and I don’t think is available on the Lyric either, happy to be proved wrong.
In terms of build all three feel totally robust, the Naim weights the preverbial ton, well 12kg in fact, much heavier than the others coming in at 9kg for the Lyric and the TAMR is10kg. Around the back, where I give been for three days, I found the Lyric and Uniti 2 easier to navigate and get into because the T+A has an overhanging tail ( see pics ) that makes access quite tricky, although in fairness you should only be rigging it up once and not swapping cables around everywhere every half hour.
The remotes probably sum up the progress of the three companies in this space with the Lyric remote being the best, easiest to navigate and having a neat function where the buttons light up when it is slightly moved. I prefer being in semi darkness if I’m listening seriously (or alone) so this is big positive for me. The Naim remote is OK, feels good to the touch is nice and heavy but the TAMR remote feels like the one I have for my portable TV in the spare room, at least it works though.
As an aside the Cyrus remote adjusts the Naim display, volume, FM frequency etc. when you play with it, slightly odd? This is not reciprocated by the Naim remote. So what about Functionality.
All three have plenty of analogue input choices, digital inputs, both optical and coax and USB inputs. The Naim or the Cyrus do not have a digital output which maybe an issue for some. You should get advice on the inputs and outputs you need because this is a wide and varied field that includes coax digital outputs, optical digital input, sub woofer outputs (Naim) and the like, be careful.
All three have micro or HDD USB slots for software and firmware upgrades which I feel in this market will be very important in the future as technology races on.
All three have FM and internet radio capacity, the TAMR does not have DAB+, the others do. It feels with all the difficulties of getting a descent signal that FM and DAB are a bit unnecessary since really all you need is a descent (hard wired) internet connection. The only comment to make here, I haven’t listened to the FM or DAB radios since I have no aerial connection of any use but the TAMR internet radio is a bit of a pain to get going but it is fine when it’s working.
iPod and iPad
The Lyric and the Uniti 2 have easy access front loading iPod USB connectors, these connectors enable easy navigation through your Apple device. The TAMR iPod connector is annoyingly at the back and controlling the iPod is tricky using the App provided.
All three boxes have iOS apps but not Android support although T+As website says there is an Android App (I can’t find it on my Nexus). The Apps are all nice, could be better, and offer full support with the TAMR App being a welcome relief from the remote control. In these three days I’ve had issues with all the Apps crashing, losing connectivity, freezing, etc. I think this is a fact of modern life, that will only improve in time. I have hardwired these streamers and this is a more robust choice if streaming is your long term intention. Please note I have not tested the headphone sockets on these three mainly because I don’t have a set of ‘cans’ to do these boxes justice. Suffice to say they all boast high quality outputs for headphones and the socket is on the front, mercifully.
One of the key features of the Lyric over the other two is the Bluetooth functionality. This is a major feature that promises musical party time with friends and family alike. For my part I’ve listened to the Bluetooth and I was left underwhelmed in respect of quality from the Bluetooth source compared to the other choices, considering I was using FLAC files, however it is nice to have if you like mucking around with Spotify with the kids.
Reference Music for this Test
Reference music includes; London Grammar, Stong; Ocean Colour Scene, Riverboat Song and Saturday; Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2; Paul Simon, Diamond on the Souls of her Shoes and Damien Rice’s Blower’s Daughter. I also have used Nils Loufgren’s Acoustic Live.
Here I was looking for the detail in the records, the air blow in the saxophone or the rub of a finger on the guitar string. I found the greatest detail in the Uniti 2 here but at this price level there is little to choose between these guys. The TAMR has superb attention to detail at all volume levels. With the Lyric, at 32 bit DAC processing, I was not able to hear any particular increase in detail levels if I’m honest but that’s not to say it is not there.
This is the key measure of any system in my view and here, again, the Naim Uniti 2 has greater depth in it’s presentation of the music. I feel it has a more immersive presentation all round from vocals and strings alike. The TAMR is similarly excellent, particularly for lower volume vocal performances. I found the soundstage from the Lyric was further forward in the room and more direct, some may call it two dimensional, and it was more ‘at me’ than the other boxes, I prefer the former and a deeper more complex three dimensional soundstage that gives me a sense of being at an event.
Dynamics and Tonality
I’m afraid I’m poor with dynamics so I will defer there, however I found the tone of the TAMR, particularly the bass presentation to be better, particularly at higher, (i.e.mid) volume. The Naim had a tendancy to get a bit boomy in the bass at higher volumes and this was a concern. The Lyric gave me a lighter and more rounded bass which was fine. In the treble the TAMR was outstanding as was the Naim.
All round, I found the TAMR was the least fussy with plenty of rhythm and timing for my taste. I didn’t findmuch to choose between the Cyrus or the Naim particularly, they all performed really well with more complex pieces.
So the Lyric is the more upto date and stylish box with a modern, 32 bit DAC, although this not particularly noticeable to me. The remote is funky, easy to use and again stylish. The CD mechanism is very classy and it gives the machine a really good feel, the front control panel is very touchscreen USS Enterprise. The Bluetooth was a let down for me because it felt dull, even from a FLAC file from an android device. Overall, after my initial excitement out of the box, I was a bit disappointed if I’m honest, I was expecting a real progression from the Streamline series and, at nearly £3,000 it is a lot of money compared to the TAMR.
Naim Uniti 2 summary
As I said, I like the Naim brand, the sound and the look, I prefer the upgrade options offered by such a comprehensive and high quality proposition and I’ve benefitted from the comprehensive support structures offered by the brand. This is an English thoroughbred that we should all be proud of. The Uniti 2 is class leading and sounds absolutely superb at the price point and this product is the summary of this class leading brand, however, the Germans are coming….
The internet radio is a pain, the iOS not so slick, the remote (that I have) is pants and the look is, well, German, functional; Naim has the control, the pedigree; Cyrus the style, a the modern look and nice ideas like the remote and Bluetooth, but at the end of the day it’s about what it sounds like and this Music Receiver has won me over, it hasn’t thrashed the others out of sight but at the price offered it is the must audition box. It has had the advantage of being matched through T+A Criterion speakers but it does sound really good at this price. So it’s World Cup year, watch out the Germans are coming!
I went for the Naim Uniti 2 last year because it supports my networked music and my ‘vinyl revival’ needs, using a Naim phono stage. The question is would I have made the same choice today!!? The answer is probably but I would certainly have a serious listen to the T+A if you can, it’s an exceptional price for the sound but it does feel like we’re waiting for the next one with a bit more of a modern makeover (like the recent Uniti to Uniti2 step change). All of them will be a heck of a lot better in three years time when the annoying bits and pieces are finally sorted out and we all have what we want.
Lastly and finally I have on loan a stunning pair of T+A Criterion TCD 310S and I would definitely suggest a listen if you can find a pair, we do not need to wait for the next upgrade to these, they are truly delicious.
This piece was written and proces were correct in Feb 2014
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