Unison Research Unico CD review

Valves and digits... the perfect combination?

TechRadar Verdict

Strong on timing and rhythm, this player is also well equipped for more melodic music, with good detail resolution


  • +

    Confident and clear bass response

  • +

    Good detail resolution


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    Unison's Italian styling is distinctive.

    The Unico CD's wood-mounted logo, graphical display, button layout and thick finished front panel look fantastic.

    The remote's a pretty piece of gadgetry too, just slightly let down by two very ornery screws holding it together from the front.

    Inside is a wobbly-looking CD-ROM drive, but it loads discs quicker than many of its breed and makes relatively little mechanical noise. It interfaces to the audio circuit via its digital audio output.

    The usual line receiver and then a sample-rate converter, which irons out the jitter to which CD-ROM drives are notoriously prone, intercept the bits. The DAC is fed a 96kHz datastream, and its output passes to a pair of ECC82 valves (a typical Unico touch) plus some discrete transistors.

    Both phono and balanced outputs are provided. We couldn't spot a single op-amp, making this a very unusual player - most 'valve' machines still include an op-amp or two in the filter stages.

    There's even a digital input. Selection between this and the internal CD transport is by a little slide switch likewise mounted on the back panel, but it gives the player the option of functioning as an upsampling DAC or indeed, via the digital output, a digital upsampler.

    There's no front-panel indication of that switch's position, and Unico CD owners may wonder why their player is broken when, in fact, they've merely flicked the switch and either not noticed or forgotten.

    It was a notably well-received player in our blind listening sessions, despite some clear differences of approach. In this case, timing was strong unifying thread between the varied comments from our listeners.

    The Unico clearly has a great knack of keeping a rhythm flowing naturally and invitingly, and it's a mark of distinction when, as here, that keeps up unwaveringly through a range of overlaid sounds in the midrange and treble. Not surprisingly, that makes this a good player for pretty much any popular music style.

    It's hardly less keen on classical music, though. Thanks particularly to its confident handling of dynamic swings and its (slightly) forward treble, it positively relishes the wide-ranging demands of the genre and the complex, treble-rich sounds of instruments like violins and trumpets. Good detail retrieval like this helps the listener follow the different strands within the music, without separating them unnaturally.

    If there is a weakness it's the human voice. A couple of comments suggested that the a cappella vocal track had slightly less individual character on each of the several voices than had been heard previously. On the other hand, the sense of ensemble was excellent and, as one listener pointed out, the musical purpose was exceptionally clear, here and elsewhere.

    Tonally, the Unico seems excellent, with no favouring or neglect of any register. Imaging is precise and easily fills the space between the speakers, even extending somewhat beyond with good recordings.

    Just now and then we felt the detail was a shade lacking, but not by any serious margin. This is a fine all-rounder.

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