NAIM: Uniti Atom Headphone Edition & Focal Clear Mg headphones

HERB REICHART:

One summer afternoon in Brooklyn, after a sweaty too-long day doing construction, I stumbled upon a hi-fi shop I'd never noticed before. I thought, hmmm, I bet they have air conditioning.

Inside, the air was only marginally cooler, but before I could leave, an excessively happy salesman introduced himself. After a bit of low-level chit-chat, he asked me if I was into British audio. I told him I "Never heard of it."

After flashing a condescending smile, he directed me to a stark, nearly empty demonstration room (that I hoped had working AC) and showed me an unusual-looking stereo that consisted of a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable (on a funny metal wall shelf), an unusually proportioned "chrome bumper" Naim NAIT integrated amplifier, and these 12"-tall Linn Audio Kan bookshelf speakers sitting on 24" steel stands situated tight against the wall. The only other object in this airless, windowless, beige-painted room was one stingy, uncomfortable chair. I remember thinking geez, what have I got myself into?

With a serious look, the salesman asked me what kind of music I liked, and I said reggae, blues, punk. He responded by playing UB40's cover of "Red Red Wine" from their album Labour of Love, a disc I played often at home.

At the time, my home system consisted of a Kenwood KD-500 direct-drive turntable, with an SME 3009 arm and a Shure V15 III cartridge, feeding some Hafler-kit amplification driving my DIY approximation of Jon Dahlquist's DQ-10 loudspeakers using woofers salvaged from my Large Advents.

In that beige, airless room, through this now-classic Linn-Naim system, Labour of Love sounded simpler, punchier, and a bit harder than it did at my place. When one side of the album finished, the salesman pointed out how much I was rocking my body and nodding my head while it was playing. He explained how this system specialized in "toe-tapping musical qualities that even non-audiophiles could appreciate." He went on to explain the whole Linn-Naim keeping-the-beat PRaT thing (footnote 1).

This was the first time I ever heard anyone talk like that about hi-fi gear. What about distortion and frequency response? Those were terms I was accustomed to hearing.

When I asked why the speakers were so small, he said "Speakers are the least important part of a hi-fi." When I asked "What component is more important than speakers?" he said, "The turntable dominates how we experience recordings." When I asked how many watts the amp was, he became totally dismissive, declaring knowingly, "Watts are irrelevant!" When I pressed him on the how-many-watts question, he mumbled, "Naim doesn't publish that number." Of course I didn't believe him.

When I asked about harmonic distortion, he nearly shouted: "That's irrelevant, too!" When I asked if I could hear some other speakers, he began sounding like one ...

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