Unison Research is a family owned high end audio company based in Treviso, Italy. They have been making tubed, solid state, and hybrid components since 1987. There are a number of unique things about Unison Research, one of them being that all their products are still made in their factory in Italy. You can bet that is one factory tour this reviewer would jump at the chance for! Also unique is the fact is that they are the sister company to Opera, who make wonderful loudspeakers.
I have read about Unison Research for years now, and when I was assembling my first real “reference” system”, which I was determined to make tube based, a friend mentioned Unison Research should be on my short list. Unfortunately, at that time there was no local dealer. Fast forward to CES 2012 when I entered the Colleen Cardas Imports room. Based in Austin, TX, they are the importer of both Unison Research and Opera products. I was so impressed with the sound of the room that I listed it as one of the best of show, and was determined to get some Unison products to review, and hopefully, down the road, some Opera speakers.
Marc Phillips, of CCI, was extremely accommodating, and agreed to send me the Unico PrimoCD player. Marc is very knowledgeable, and one of the nicest guys you will meet in the business. He clearly has a passion for high end audio. The Unico line, by the way, focuses on hybrid (tube and solid state) designs. The main Unison Research line consists of tubed components and turntables.
The subject at hand is the entry level CD player in the Unico line, called the CDPrimo. The CDPrimo is priced at $2295. It is a 24 bit, 96 Khz upsampling player that is out fitted with a Teac transport, Wolfson DAC chips, a Burr Brown sample rate converter, and a gain stage that is designed around a single 12AU7/ECC82 double triode tube operating in pure class A. To make it even more interesting there is a USB digital input, as well as a coaxial SPDIF digital output. According to Unison Research, “the USB digital input is designed to be connected with any streaming device such as PC or laptop and accepts isochronous audio data. An auto recognizing IC performs a pure conversion of data to standard S/ PDIF format feeding the DAC circuit.” By the way, the Unico CDE, the flagship player in the Unico line, comes with a host of additional features, like balanced outputs, multiple digital inputs, and upscale parts, and more.
The CDPrimo out of the box is visually stunning. My review sample came with a silver faceplate. The front panel buttons are laid out artistically, and there is a large square shaped LED display. As a nice finishing touch, attached is a beautiful wood logo. The Unico line is also available in black as well and, from what I have seen, is equally as stunning. The remote control is a thing to behold, with a sculpted wood shape and aluminum front panel filled with buttons that can control a host of Unison components. Leave it to the Italians, even the remote is stylish! The build quality is superb, and beyond what I expect at this price point. By the way, the CDPrimo is made in Italy, in case you were wondering. No outsourced Asian, or Third World, manufacturing here.
Set Up & Listening:
I set up the CDPrimo with Symposium Rollerblocks, a DH Labs Encore AC cable, and Kimber KCTG interconnects. The first thing you see when powering on the player is a “Valve Warm Up” thirty second countdown. When I first hit the eject button I was very impressed with the smoothness of the tray. That is actually pretty important to me, as I have encountered some rather rickety trays on players in this price point and even well above. The CDPrimo’s loading tray was as smooth as butter. I also was very appreciative of the large front panel display, which allowed me to see the track numbers and times from a good eight feet away.
After getting a handle on the CDPrimo’s sonic attributes, a few operative words come to mind. I felt the CDPrimo was bold, vivid, full-bodied, and exciting. This was the farthest thing from a dull component. That is NOT to say it was bright, edgy, or thin sounding. That would be the furthest thing from the truth. It was one of the most tonally beautiful and voluptuous players I have come across.