Unison Research Unico Nuovo
Hybrid Integrated Amp
I first became aware of Unison Research at the 2012 Lone Star Audio Fest in Dallas, Texas where I met Colleen Cardas and Marc Phillips of Colleen Cardas Imports as they shared a room with Polk Audio. Yes, Colleen is of THAT Cardas family. She knows her stuff. The Simply Italy tube integrated amp was highlighted at the show with one of Unison's hybrid integrated amps as a static display. Everyone that heard the Simply Italy was amazed at the sound of this 12 watt set hooked up to Polk's top of the line speaker. ( For those of you that would like a more laid back audio show where you get to spend more time listening to music and talking to the exhibitors, even going out to lunch and dinner with them check this out: http://lonestaraudiofest.com/ .
I didn't think anymore about it until the 2013 Lone Star Audio Fest where the guy who ran the Polk Audio room the year before had his own personnel room with the Simply Italy hooked up and in discussion I found out that he had purchased it and said that Colleen and Marc would be coming by later, well you know me, I had to find something new to play with. It also didn't hurt that I was looking for something to replace the Yaqin tube integrated in my secondary system. After having a good talk with Colleen and Marc, we came up with the idea of me reviewing the Unico Nuovo (“new” in Italian) integrated for Stereomojo and as this would also give me the chance to hear it in my system. Unison Research is an Italian company, if yu haven't gathered that by now.
As I recall, I was watching television one morning and thought I should email Marc and tell him to send me the tracking number when the doorbell rings and FedEx had a package for me, the Nuovo.
The amp came doubled boxed and packed well, no damage here. The Nuovo is heavier than it looks and will fit right in with a lot of other gear as it does not draw attention to itself. This is not your cheap thin casework, the faceplate is 15mm thick while the case body is 1.5 mm thick. There are only two knobs on the front, one for volume and one to select inputs and the snappy looking wooden logo and remote sensor. Each knob has a green led which flashes upon warmup and protection and remains steady to show power on. The power switch is located on the side in a natural to reach location. My review model came with a matte silver front. There is a $150 added cost for a black front panel.
The Nuovo is a hybrid design using mosfets for the power stage and two Ecc83/12ax7 twin-triode tubes in the preamp section.
There are five line level inputs with one labeled for mm/mc phono though this is an option which carries a $225 charge. There's two pairs of speaker terminals to make bi-wiring easier and a line output that tracks the volume control which can be used to control a subwoofer.
The specifications are:
Output Power: 95W RMS/ 8Ohm
Frequency response: -0.1dB @ 10Hz, -0.5dB @ 100kHz
All hybrid and solid state models have complementary-pair mosfet output stages, electronic protection against overload and short-circuit (by-passable if required) and are fully auto-biasing and therefore need no adjustment.
I ran into several different published specification for the Nuovo with one claiming 80 watts, one 85 watts, and the current one 95 watts per channel. It seems that Unison Research tweaks the design from time to time without changing the model number and then re-measures the amp every couple of years and publishes new specs..
Taking a look at the inside of the Nuovo, it appears to be a well built and thought out design.
Three things stood out to me about the internal design.
1.Notice the rod running from the input selector. The inputs are switched at the rear of the amp near the inputs as to prevent the signal from passing over active circuitry and keep the signal path as short as possible.
2.The power transformer is located well away from the rest of the amp circuits.
3.The heat sink is nestled around the transformer to draw heat away and also act as a shield between the transformer and amplifier circuits.
Somebody is earning their money.
The Nuovo comes with a nice wooden encased remote with 32 buttons on it to control various other unison equipment.. The only negatives are that only two buttons are for the Nuovo, up and down volume, and the buttons are also rather small and I would liked to have seen a mute button.
Reference Music (Taken From)
Third Round by Manu Katche
Unplugged by Eric Clapton
Centerpiece by Al Grey
Satch and Josh by Oscar Peterson and Count Basie
Tim's House by Kate Walsh
0 by Damien Rice
Rickie Lee Jones by Rickie Lee Jones
Coal by Kathy Mattea
Soundtrack to Gladiator
Nickel Creek by Nickel Creek
In my listening I did use an Audio Art entry level power cord instead of the stock cord supplied and kept the tubes to the stock Tung Sol reissue ecc83. Since I have included a rather large selection of music I will not mention all cuts that I used to come to my conclusions, but just some of the tracks that highlight what I found.
To the bass, this is not your Krell bass that thumps your chest and rumbles your stomach but rather bass closer to tube bass. I don't mean fat and flabby but a little soft and undefined and not as tight and deep as some other solid state designs. This does not mean it sounds bad or lean, believe me there is “good” bass there, just not in your bones bass. The third track of Gladiator is titled “The Battle” the bass foundation is there but I sort of want it to build to a higher climax in the depth department. The Nuovo seems to just tease and taunt you into expecting deep powerful bass. Yet the bass is very musical in a tube sort of way. This is also very noticeable on “The Might of Rome” and “Strength and Honor, the bass is semi-soft but oh so mesmerizing. Mosfets or power mosfets as they were known in the past had a reputation as having a “mist” or “veiled” sound to them. As I recall this “mist” was first cleaned up by David Hafler when he introduced the Hafler DH200 power amplifier which I have owned. I noticed none of this mist or veil just a very good foundation to the music.
The mid range, well this is where we have the meat -n- potatoes of the audio world. The majority of what we hear in music is situated in the mid range. The Nuovo does not disappoint as there is speed, good tonality, dimensionality, clarity, and a naturalistic sound that belies it's price. Listening to various cuts from Manu Katche's “Third Round” I am blown away by the sound of the saxophone, piano, and drum set. On #8 “Shine And Blue” the sax is there in all it's glory with the cymbals shimmering with a pop and smash that has to be heard (goosebumps).
The sound stage on Eric Clapton's “Unplugged” was so real and three dimensional that I could make out the size and weight of the instruments. Female voices were clear and projected in such a way that I could close my eyes and almost touch them. Male voices were chesty and clean sounding. The background is as dark as molasses which also assisted in making the speakers disappear in my room.
This mid range has a big sound that fills the room and this is even in my game room which is open to a hallway and stairway.
The music is textured with layer and layer of harmonic richness. I am having so much fun listening to this amp that I find myself typing two or three words every couple of minutes.
The highs are clean and clear with a snap that makes you sit up and listen. There was no glare that I could detect. The sound stage is tall, not like some systems where the singer is two three feet tall. You get the full illusion as if a live person is in the room. On “Talk Of The Town” by Kate Walsh the squelch of fingers sliding across the strings of the guitar is so smooth that I keep hitting repeat as if to pinch myself to verify it's a cd playing. The ocean sounds and sea gulls at the beginning of “Is This It?” also by Kate Walsh is so real sounding I forgot that I was in North Texas.
I had to put in a much hotter sounding cd to further test the highs and Nickel Creek was the ticket. Chris Thile's voice can sometimes grate on you but through the Nuovo it is well tamed along with the mandolin, violin, guitar, and banjo your tweeters will get a good workout.
Piano is very percussive throughout Old Friends and as this is a live recording the crowd applause sounds like hands clapping as it should.
What I think of most when it comes to the $2,750 Unico Nuovo is it is down right fun to listen to. This is a well balanced design where the only nick pick I can come up with is the slight softening of the bass and lack of a mute button and maybe a power button on the remote. However, we all know of much more expensive amps that have no remote at all, so this is a plus.
The highs are smooth and non-fatiguing and can be listened to hours upon end. The highs are a tad laid back and when mated with the Be. tweeters of my Usher Dancer Mini 2's ( which are also a little laid back), are almost too laid back. The funny thing about it is when I start to zero in on the high end, something in the mid range grabs me and pulls me back into the music like a magician using deflection.
Being a little laid back makes the Nuovo just perfect for my Usher 6381's as they are forward and up front, the Nuovo pulls the sound stage back to just at the front of the speakers which is alright with me.
The mid range is clear with a silent background, good natural tone and very resolving. Most times when someone says resolving they are referring to high end reproduction but in this design you hear texture and layering from the mid range that belies the cost.
The sound stage is big and three dimensional with instruments placed in their own space.
The amp is a nice size and has that feeling of being solid and well built, a great looking amp to display.
The big thing is, because of its tube preamp/solid state amplifier design, you get the best of both worlds - the musicality of tubes with enough power to drive most resonably sensitive, say 88 db or more in a moderately sized room. Published speaker sensitivity is a vapourous world at best, so just let yur ears be the final judge.
You do NOT want a speaker that is too hard to drive, especially when there are so many that are easy loads for even lesser amps.
The Unison Research Unico Nuovo is an amplifier that I can be more than happy living with and could easily be the cornerstone of an affordable entry level high end audio system.
Colleen Cardas Imports
Contact: Colleen Cardas and Marc Phillips
Phone number: 512-262-6280
Amp: Consonance Cyber 800 tube mono blocks (6 Sons Audio Thunderbird pc)
Preamp: Belles 21a (6 Sons Audio Windigo pc)
Source: Virtue Audio Piano M1 cdp (Virtual Dynamics Testament pc) Yea, still using a cd player.
Speakers: Usher Dancer Mini 2 W/Be tweeter
Interconnects: Mg Audio Design Planus Cu2
Speaker Cable: Mg Audio Design Planus 2