Component of the Year 2002

From our Italian peers of high style comes the suave, shockingly affordable Unison Research Unico 80-watt integrated with radio-frequency (i.e. wall-penetrating) remote and 12AU7 triode-based twin-tube input & MOSFET output stage. Then add the following: Sandblasted, very substantial natural aluminum fascia with wooden logo insert. Super-chunky yet immaculately contoured knobs with luxo action. Understated silver-gray silk screening. Wooden handset. $100 optional phono stage. Four inputs, one tape loop and dual-pair speaker terminals. All for a paltry $1,395 without phono...

Many competitors will likely manage an unfriendly public smile in acknowledgment while silently contemplating assassination attempts. Once they'd lift the bed sheets -- er, Unico's top cover -- such temporary insanity fantasies would hopefully soon be replaced. With professional disblief and envy. How the heck ever does Signore Giovanni "Diavolo" Sacchetti do it? No corner cutting on the insides either. Instead, techno-geek poetry and artful rather than terminal execution.

Even his own landsmen at Audio Analogue -- certainly no slouches when it comes to delivering well-built, high value/performance gear -- couldn't be too happy these days. Worse (but great for us consumers), his team at Cereda di Cornedo/Vicenza won't leave good enough alone. Expect an unapologetic 1-2 follow-up with the imminent release of the matching Unico CD ($1,795). The word is that it'll be based on 24/192 upsampling, a new industrial-strength CD/ROM transport and Unison Research's own transformer, tube output stage and unique "La Dolce Vita" styling. >>

[Photo of pre-production unit. The final appearance of the Unico CD's front baffle will likely be a bit different and the nomenclature silk screen may change size and placement.]

Back to today's stereo integrated. With 2-100,000Hz bandwidth, 9.5dB of feedback and the firm's "improved dynamic Class 'A' symmetrical stage with complementary power MOSFET pair" architecture, the Unico consumes 340 watts at full boogie, weighs a stolid 35 lbs but only measures 17" x 13.5" x 3.75" WxDxH.

To appreciate my own too-good-to-be-true (and while-the-going's-good) hasty acquisition reaction (to drive my radical but power-hungry AKG K-1000 earspeakers that still appreciate tubes somewhere in the chain) let's walk 'round the Unico as though it were parked in a ritzy lot drawing undue attention. You won't get my keys, but the review will take you on a passenger-seat joy ride nonetheless.

But first, final operational notes before I fire 'er up. With the aft power switch flicked, the unit undergoes a 20-sec thermal stabilization phase during which both small green LEDs up front flash furiously and the volume control should be set to mute/zero. When the lights go solid, the sonic curtain rises - unless the LEDs should flash again. That would indicate thermal protection and result in intermittent auto shotdown until the condition has passed or been remedied. Unwitting mains interruption or brief power failure will automatically trigger the start-up cycle once AC flows again. The Unico is further fitted with a loudspeaker short protection circuit whose internal jumpers JP16/17 can be removed for bypass if desired.

The optional phono board replaces the standard AUX input and offers gain provisions for both MM (50-60dB) and MC (40-50dB) via clearly marked jumpers. +/- 10dB gain fine-tuning is possible by changing links JP102/10 on the board. MC input impedance is 100Ohm @ 440pF, the equivalent MM values are 47kOhm @ 220pf. RIAA equalization is compound passive/active, tolerance said to be within +/- 0.1dB.

Ready for some window shopping? Hover your mouse over pix for commentary.

front with remote front with remote's backside
the business end bi-wire ready terminals
under the sheets close-up
techno poetry thermionic glory
a heavily shielded toroidal transformer and storage capacitors
the white arrrows point at the twin pairs of speaker protection jumpers

As you can see, Unison Research only skimped on breaking your wallet. 80 watts is plenty stout for the kind of speakers audiophiles shopping for amps in this range are liable to partner up with. Fit'n'finish are first rate, the sheer heft of the piece, with its honkin' tranny and unusually thick case work, further gratifications for the American morale of "that's heavy, man".

Which leads us now to its sonics. In combination with the entire package -- looks, functionality/features, price, value -- Sam Tellig's plea to Stereophile Editorial, to award the Unico Component of the Year, expectedly feel on deaf ears due its entry-level pricing. But Sam's voice in the wilderness didn't go unheard.

The Unison Research Unico would have gotten our Blue Moon Award without breaking a sweat. Seeing that its review turn coincided with the end of the year; and browsing our shortlist of previous winners to identify the one single overachiever whose highlighting of a "Best of Year" distinction would benefit the greatest number of readers? 'twas was the proverbial lobotomy - Italian-style, where they fill your brain with Gelato and Cappucchino after frying it in pesto oil. Hence, give it up for 6moon's first-ever "Component Of The Year". Con brio. Con fuoco. Con amore!

input selector shaft and tubes