I’ve had this particular silver disc spinner for a little over a two years now and so I thought it about time I put fingers to keys and write a review about it.
The first thing that strikes you about the Italian unit is its distinctive appearance. For sure this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite like its styling. Apart from the wooden ‘badge’ with its gold and silver Unison logo the front panel is dominated by a large LCD display and then just 4 small buttons controlling the player’s main functions. There is also the infra red receiver window for receiving instructions from the substantial wooden, yes wooden, remote control. I’ve found that the remote is pretty much obligatory as the front of the unit quickly becomes a little grubby if you use the onboard controls. The remote control looks and feels absolutely glorious, but in use it’s actually a little bit fiddly for a sausage fingered oaf such as me.
Not strictly in the appearance category, but relevant non-the-less, is the back panel of the primo and it is here where things start to get a little more interesting. Of course the usual suspects are all present and correct (the mains IEC socket, the RCA analogue outs and the RCA digital output) but what sets the Primo apart from other CD players is the inclusion of a USB input. This is interesting as it means that you can use the Primo’s DAC stage for streaming your laptop to – it’s very simple; connect the primo to your computer with a USB cable, switch to USB input via the remote (you can’t do this from the front panel controls) and away you go.
Speaking of the DAC section, the Primo has its on a slot in PCB which allows for very simple upgrades should Unison Research create a new and improved one. Now, the CD primo boasts a class A valve output stage and duties in this respect are taken care of by one 12AU7A tube.
After a while you get used to the little idiosyncrasies of the Unico Primo and to be fair there are a few to get used to. I’ve mentioned the fiddly remote but the one thing that does take a little bit of time to get used to is the time taken for “valve warm up” – effectively you can’t use the player for 30 seconds after you switch it on, which is no biggie but it does catch me out even now. With my player the display screen also seems to have a bit of a life of its own and once in a while will display nothing but gobbledegook. Another minor hassle is the fact that the on/off switch is conveniently sic located on the front of the side panel which in itself isn’t a hassle unless you want to locate the Primo in a rack with solid sides…as I wanted to – the solution is of course to have the player on top of the rack or to use a rack with open sides.
Recently I bought myself (another) Squeezebox Touch and found to my dismay that when changing things on that, the Primo’s drawer opens and other functions can be operated from the Touch’s remote – again the easy solution is to simply turn the Primo off when not in use…but how to get to that infernal switch on the side. Needless to say the Primo is now atop the rack so I can get to the on/off switch with ease, but there was a degree of shouting to be had. The Primo can also be quite noisy in operation, but I found that ensuring the player was dead level helped this out no end.
Ok, so the remote is a bit quirky, the display has a mind of its own, it takes time to get going, the on off switch is in a daft place and it becomes possessed in the presence of the Logitech Squeezebox, but how does the Primo sound. I’m listening to Songbird from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album as I type (I only have the one cd it would seem, as it always gets an airing when reviewing kit) and the voice is full, warm and full of emotion. The guitar sounds in the background of the track are easy to pick out and inhabit their very own space in the sound stage. “Warm” sounding to me often suggests that detail is lacking and the sound is bloated but this certainly isn’t the case with the Primo. Pop into the tray (It’s a TEAC CD ROM transport by the way) something a little bit more bouncy and you are rewarded with a toe tapping extravaganza with the bass lines of Lee Perry’s “Secret Laboratory” having all the weight and “umph” that you’d expect from the dub master supreme. Living in Brittany it would be rude of me not to include a little of the regions fayre and Nolwenn Leroy’s rendition of Alan Stivell’s Tri Martolod is delivered with aplomb, with the rich tones of the traditional instruments being particularly well rendered. The bombard, which can be a little ‘shrill’ is rounded off a little and I am inclined to think this is the valve output stage at work.
In conclusion I like the Primo. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and it’s quirkiness may put a few folk off, but get past these minor foibles and you will be rewarded with a rich, warm, vibrant sound that is also full of detail and bounce. Current price in the UK for the CD Primo is £1350 and whilst this is far from bargain basement territory it is not expensive in the grand scheme of things and I do believe it represents excellent value for money.