If we gave an Award for the most unusual product name, the Union Research Simply Italy would have a good chance of winning. This distinctive all-valve integrated – from one of the world’s leading valve amplifier manufacturers – is so named to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the country’s unification.
The Simply Italy, like every other Unison Research valve amp (including the legendary £30,000 Absolute 845) was designed by Professor Gianni Sacchetti and engineered to the same standards as its bigger brothers.
Despite all this, it costs the same as a decent conventional transistor amp. On paper then, a highly tempting proposition.
Unison Research Simply Italy: Tech specs
An update of the Simply Two (more than 10,000 sold over a six-year lifetime), the Simply Italy has a simple circuit layout that uses just four valves. The smaller ECC82s pair at the front are used for pre-amplification duties, with larger EL34s behind providing the muscle.
Perhaps ‘muscle’ is putting it too strongly. Power output is just 12 watts per channel which, while low, turns out to be not quite as limiting as it sounds. Stay with speakers that are relatively easy to drive and you won’t go far wrong in small- to medium-sized rooms.
There’s a small toggle switch on the top panel between the valves (below). This governs the amount of negative feedback used in the circuitry. Unusually, for an adjustment of this type it’s perfectly safe to switch between the settings while listening.
The adjustment is slight, and the choice is between 1.8dB or 5dB. While acknowledging the superior fluidity of the lower setting we found ourselves preferring the 5dB setting with every speaker we tried.
We prefer the improved grip and control it offers. The adjustment isn’t a make or break thing for the Simply Italy’s performance, more of a subtle tweak to tune it more to taste.
Unison Research Simply Italy: Sound quality
In the finest valve-amplifier traditions this Unison Research never turns harsh or aggressive. Ask too much, either in terms of volume or particularly difficult speakers and the result will be a gentle squashing of dynamics, and the onset of confusion, rather than any outright assault on your ears.
Get it right, and the Simply Italy gives you a sense of unforced ease and fluidity that transistor alternatives don’t come close to delivering.
Take a listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and this amplifier sparkles. Despite being well over 50 years old, this recording is lovely, sounding natural and dynamic. This amplifier does a fine job conveying those qualities – it has the finesse to render instrument textures with accuracy, while giving the presentation an appealingly natural, organised, full-bodied sound.
Move onto the likes of REM’s Out of Time in 24bit/192kHz form from our reference Naim NDX streamer, and the results still impress.
There isn’t quite the raw energy that the likes of Roksan’s Caspian M2 or Naim’s Nait XS unearth from songs such as Losing My Religion. However, the Unison Research counters with its rich, yet informative, way with higher frequencies and ability to convey the emotion in Michael Stipe’s voice convincingly. Importantly, it always remains an entertaining listen.
Union Research Simply Italy: Build quality
Move away from sound quality and this little amplifier piles on the plus points. It’s built very well: every control and switch has a nice chunky feel to it.
As for appearance, you can judge for yourselves. We love the retro looks, but whatever your opinion it certainly stands out in the world of sub-two thousand pound amplifiers.
If you want a taste of the valve sound at a relatively sensible price, we can think of no finer option than this Unison Research. It’s well built, solidly engineered and sounds great.
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