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Unison Research Unico CD Player Reviewed

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Performance
3 Stars
Value
3 Stars
Overall
3 Stars

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All of this good stuff wouldn't mean much if Unison Research had neglected the ergonomics. Worry not: this machine is an absolute delight, from the side-mounted on/off switch to the luxurious infrared remote. The latter is a piece of sculpted, solid hardwood that stands up like one of those B&O remotes, its anodised aluminium surface covered with positive-feel press buttons. A nice touch are two finger-release screws which allow the removal of the panel to expose the battery slot. The front panel of the CD player itself contains just the basic transport functions; the remote covers those plus all minor operations. It's been pointed out that the remote's legends are produced using a galvanic print process 'so the colour is absorbed into the metal and will not fade over time.'

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A hefty unit at 24.2lb, it measures 17x13.5x3.75in (WDH), dimensions and weight which account for the high component content, plus a case made from 1.5mm thick sheet steel and a faceplate fashioned from 15mm solid bar aluminium. The mechanism support is made from 2mm thick sheet steel and is 'anchored' to the front panel for maximum rigidity. It certainly does not feel like anything less than a high-end player of indisputable pedigree, not withstanding the plastic tray itself, despite a ridiculously low price. (Or maybe everyone else's is ridiculously high...)

[Note that the review sample is one of the first run without digital output. But some customers demanded it, so, by the time this sees print, the Unico CD have digital output. Additionally, there will be user upgrades to activate the remote for use with the Unico integrated and to select switchable filters.]

Because it has fully balanced capability, I was able to run it alongside the Copland CDA822 and the Marantz CD12/DA12 via XLR into the Jadis JPS8 pre-amp and JA50 power amps, a completely balanced path with wiring courtesy of Siltech, driving a pair of Wilson WATT Puppy System 7s. However much its price would suggest homes in complete systems below 2500 or so, the Unico bloody well in a system costing as much as a loaded Porsche Boxster.

Sheer accident led me to inaugurating the listening with a J.J. Cale disc, as I normally listen to Cale only when I need to fall asleep. (His song 'Cocaine' is so sluggish you have to wonder if he ever tried the drug itself.) But the music, a new CD of a previously unreleased 1979 sessions, came out so languid, so sweet that I could only think of its scarily close resemblance to a decent moving coil playing mint vinyl through a tube phono stage. Yes, the Jadis system is the embodiment of sweetness, but the Unico sounded even silkier than the other players I tried it against.

Indeed, the differences between all three were so marked that I quickly arrived at one of those unsatisfying but inevitable points where taste and preference become the arbiters. The Copland, for example, bettered both for bass in terms of quantity and control, especially the snap and slam when tested with Kodo percussion and Steve Gadd's magnificent work on the recent live Eric Clapton set, . The Marantz? Audibly better bass extension. The Unico CD fell inbetween - no mean feat for the least expensive player in the group. If you had to brand the players by music type, then the Copland would suit a funk/jazz/dance/hip-hop fan, the Marantz (if you could find one...) would be the one to go for with a diet of classical music, while the Unico actually seemed more even-handed and less genre dependent. I think that's what's called a 'compromise'; for normal people with normal budgets and normal listening habits, that's a recommendation - not criticism.

On to the crucial midband, and the Unico was warmer and therefore more voice-friendly and less wholly analytical than the others, but there was a tiny sacrifice in the form of slightly less detail and precision. This was barely noticeable on sparse works, such as , but complex, crowded pieces can seem slightly confused. Elsewhere, the Marantz won hands-down for the scale of the soundstage, and in every dimension, but the Copland was damned close. In some ways, it was more convincing, the three-dimensionality being the Copland's forte. The Unico? Not quite so wide as either, but bettered only marginally by the Marantz for stage depth. All three allow the speakers to disappear, while none suffered from the two-dimensionality which plagues certain UK-made players.

For me, the real test of a CD player is the level of aggravation caused by the top end. The Copland pulls off the natty trick of having fast, cut-glass treble without a nasty edge, while the Marantz makes you swear it possesses a tube output section. The Unico, on the other hand, have a tube section and isn't afraid to exploit its ability to dulcify. It doesn't sound as extended as the Copland, nor is it as lightning quick as the Marantz, but for all that, the Unico seems unlikely ever to cause fatigue. The justification for that last statement? Even before I'd run it in, my initial listening session ran to three hours, ending only because it was after my bed-time.

This player is nothing short of inspired. If you cannot stretch to my sub- 2000 favourite, the Copland at 1598, then the Unico CD at 1095 may be your ticket to happiness. But I implore you: even if 1000 is your absolute ceiling, find that extra 95. You won't regret it.

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