Unison Research Unico CDE Twin £2475
15th Jun 2011 | 08:30
This Venetian charmer isn't cheap, but it's superbly built and delivers on romance, atmosphere and musicality
Unison Research Unico CDE Twin: Overview
Italians seem to love valve equipment. As a nation they produce a broad array of stylish glass-powered electronics; it must be something to do with the romance that valves bring out in music! Unison Research makes a number of ampliﬁers and three CD players, of which the Unico CDE Twin is the top dog.
In fact, it's slightly higher than that because it's the upgraded DAC-OP2 version of the Unico CDE. This is an optional upgrade to the standard CDE that costs £150 if you ﬁt it yourself, but adds £175 to the price of the normal player.
It replaces a single Crystal DAC with a pair of Wolfson convertors, albeit leaving the Crystal in place (which allows you to switch between the two via the front panel), a unique if not entirely essential feature.
The CDE runs a TEAC transport through a Crystal digital interface to the Wolfson 24-bit/192kHz DACs, which run in dual-differential mode.
The glass can be found in the output stage, which has four ECC83 double triodes in a parallel cathode-follower arrangement. There is little chance, therefore, of running this thing in standby with less than a Watt.
On/off switching is placed on the right hand side of the case which seems perverse but keeps the bead-blasted facia minimal and with only four buttons, it's hardly busy. What gives it a bit of sparkle is the large backlit LCD display, which can be switched off if required.
Unison Research Unico CDE Twin: sound quality
Having to keep voltages on the valves means this unit consumes a lot of power, even when it's not in use; 30 Watts are consumed while idling and up to 46 Watts during playback. There is no standby option and the power switch is in an awkward location on the side of the unit. A 30-second 'valve warm up' timer on power-up is a nice touch, though the manual recommends allowing 10 minutes for the system to warm up to its optimum operating conditions.
On investigating the better-than-expected distortion results we see a predictable second and fourth harmonic making up the majority, giving that 'analogue warmth' is so desired by analogue's fans. This, at the cost of the dynamic range, it seems. The third harmonic measured nearly as high as the sixth, so under gain the sound may become rather rough.
The Unico clearly exerted its charm on the listening panel, two thirds of which were very taken with it, while even the most critical managed to ﬁnd something positive to say. It's valve complement undoubtedly inspired comments such as "very musical - more sense of ambience" and "good sense of liveness and atmosphere".
The bass is usually where such designs come undone, but even here it found a lot of favour, the panel noting that the, "bass is light but not low on energy" in one case and "good bass, tight but not the deepest" in another.
About the most critical point raised was that it's "not exciting" and "controlled yet timid", but that seemed a unique view as there were more comments along the lines of, "piano sounds like a piano" and "good projection into the room with a big 3D image".
Further sighted listening generally backed this up; the Unico has a very natural presentation that suits acoustic instruments to a tee, thanks to a very transparent midrange and a generally musical style. It lacks the precision of the some other CD players in both detail and imaging terms, the latter seeming quite vague by comparison and the bass is clearly not as well extended, but these factors have little or nothing to do with its remarkable degree of vividness.
The Unico is a fairly expensive player, but it combines exotic build with an engaging and revealing sound that most music-lovers will have difﬁculty resisting.
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