We doubt whether you'll find a more imposing-looking CD player than the Unison Research Unico CDE – at least not for less than £2000. This is a solid, chunky machine that takes up a whole lot of rack space and looks worth all the money, and then some.
This CD player's build quality is up to Unison's usual standard, which means it's one of the sturdiest at the price point, and beautifully finished. If you want something that exudes luxury, we doubt you'll do better.
The front panel layout is simple, partly because there are only four control buttons. The remote handset is one of the company's nicely shaped wooden affairs; it's so much better to hold than the plastic offerings most rivals supply with their products.
We do have a couple of complaints, though. The handset's buttons are a little cluttered and poorly labelled, which makes it harder to use than it should be. Also, the player's display, while pleasantly large, is difficult to read in a brightly lit room from anywhere but dead-on.
Technology boosts performanceTake a look inside the CDE and you'll find Unison's usual neatly executed circuit layouts and a quartet of valves in the output stage. The company has decades of experience in valve technology, so it's no surprise to see tube-based circuitry included in this CD player.
More after the break
Valve circuits often sound more pleasant than transistor-based alternatives, adding a richness and fluidity to the audio that's very hard to get any other way.
Other technical niceties include a coaxial digital input so you can use the high-quality internal DAC with an external digital source, and a pair of balanced analogue outputs.
These outputs come into their own when used over long distances, say 3m or further, or when the listening environment suffers from excess airborne electrical interference such as you might get in a room with lots of electronic kit.
In use, this Unison Research doesn't impress straight out of the box, but that isn't a bad thing. This is not the type of machine that stuns with quicksilver dynamics, masses of low-level resolution or class-leading agility.
If you want those things we'd point you towards the Award-winning Cyrus CD Xt SE/DACX, combo, which is king at this price level when it comes to those areas.
King of easy listeningThis Unison is for another type of listener all together: the type who puts refinement and smoothness above all else on their shopping list, and top-class fluidity close behind.
This is a sweet and weighty performer that delivers the sound in a beautifully layered and full-bodied manner. As you'd expect, this kind of musical approach suits certain types of music very well.
Listen to Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa or Adele's Make you Feel My Love and we doubt you'll find a more seductive player for the money.
There's an ease and grace about the presentation that has huge appeal in long listening sessions. However, Unison's engineers have judged the balance well.
Easy listening is all very well, but it's no longer a positive if the music loses the ability to excite. Thankfully, the CDE still has enough in the way of bite, momentum and dynamic thrust to keep the likes of Busta Rhymes or Metallica interesting. This balance is something that too few manufacturers manage.
The Unico CDE isn't the most sonically striking of CD players at this money, and we can certainly see it losing out to more exciting machines in a quick-fire comparison at a dealer.
Nevertheless, give it time – weeks and months, ideally – and we reckon this player's considerable charm will become apparent, and the value of its easy going, yet still entertaining sonic balance will come to the fore.