As my June feature review detailed, the Coda-Continuum Unison integrated amplifier sonically already embodied the sterling caliber of Bel Canto's fabulous eVo2i. This was verified by head-to-head comparisons against the latter's stand-ins of PRe1 and eVo 200.4. In standard guise and as submitted for evaluation, the Unison at the time merely lacked certain cosmetic and functional details to, er - satisfy the complete package expectations the Tripath-based unit from Minnesota had unapologetically set as the new lofty standard for its price point.

Unperturbed, the engineers and designers at Coda decided to take my toxic Teutonic criticisms to heart. In what appears nearly unprecedented for a full production unit, they rose to the occasion by addressing all of my complaints - and then some. Turn-'round time for this miracle? 60 days, give or take. I'm speechless. I guess being a serious OEM player makes for quick response times, plus the requisite infrastructure to implement them. However, that alone didn't entirely explain the willingness and comprehensiveness whereby Coda responded to a lone reviewer's nit picky cries in the audiophile wilderness.

Regardless, the moment I unpacked the model's upgraded Limited edition -- and not at all sure what to expect -- the pet name "Silver Surfer" landed softly on my shoulder. It stuck around like a little genie and wouldn't leave. One glance and you'll appreciate why.

Rather than merely bolting a clear-anodized aluminum face plate to the front, the beach boys at Coda went through the considerable trouble of redoing the heat sinks in bead-blasted alu naturel as well. They also threw in a non-magnetic/non-resonant silver top cover and fastened it down with stainless low-head screws to complete the all-silver makeover. Some beach bums, eh? But then, Sacramento is rather land-locked. Surfing is accomplished in the imagination, not on real waves...

Were they carried away by a convivial spirit of spring cleaning next? Or was a counter challenge of "We'll show this German audiophile nut case" on the secret ballot? Those questions must remain unanswered for obvious reasons. Still, a quick inspection of the Limited came to suggestive conclusions. They revealed further upgrades. Being of the potentially audible kind, they would clearly mandate a return to critical listening mode.

Perhaps Coda wanted to make me work for a living, not tell this follow-up story in pictures alone? Since they sweated the very unexpected efforts of taking my criticisms seriously, I was honor-bound to take their return challenge -- to my little pink tools of the trade -- in equal earnest. Here's to friendly competitive spirit. Cheers!

Standard upgrades over the Unison as previously reviewed include Cardas CTFA RCAs for all line-level connections; elimination of wire lug connections on terminal posts; Vishay resistors in preamp stage input-signal path; preamp supply voltage rails of now +/-12V (previously +/-5V) for compatibility with far "hotter" input signals; Avel Lindberg toroidal transformer for significantly quieter performance; clear anodized face plate; improved illumination multi-color LED scheme; reflective illuminated logo; power increase to 120/240-watt into 8/4 ohms for high-bias Class A versions.

The Limited then adds the following: Cardas CPBP billet copper posts and EUBPC protective rubber boots (terminals may be substituted with Cardas CCGR, CPBP, WBT 0763, or other new stock connectors of choice); Cardas Quad Eutectic copper/silver solder for all component-to-PCB connections; Jena Labs immersion-cryo'd chassis wiring for inputs and amp outputs (Cardas Golden Litz optional); new alternate display mode; fancy URC learning remote; custom Delrin feet from Coda's larger amplifiers; clear anodized cover and heatsinks.

Whew. Someone had been busy as beaver. Coda's Silver Surfer now clearly saved our audiophile galaxy from terminal black Henry Ford aesthetics. Would the upgraded terminals, hook-up wire, audiophile solder, new transformer and preamp stage alterations additionally equate to a subtle while bonus performance gain, akin to the hotter Class A bias as described in the main review?

The original review unit still in residence just begged for a direct A/B. And, as a certain reader once put it bluntly, inquiring minds wanna know. Was the Limited also an audible and not just cosmetic/ feature step forward over the standard version? The Unison once again found itself in my main rig, black stacked atop silver, some choice CDs and a small Turkish glass of Warre's Special Reserve Warrior Port on hand. I must have been dreaming - I was doing this shit for a living? Hallelujah & thanks to the aural deities! Here goes:

Gremlin #1 slain. The new 100% more expensive power transformer, like the Plitron humdinger in BPT's just-reviewed balanced power conditioner, exhibited no discernable hum even when placing the ear directly atop the cover. Gremlin #2 vanquished. The new -- and apparently award-winning -- "Home Theater Master" learning universal remote control in fetching metallic-blue hard-plastic casing obliterated previous niggling over modesty unbecoming. The do-me-in-the-dark illumination of sanely laid-out buttons; the input-direct access eliminating the previous click-thru routine? All welcome new features.

Ditto for the reprogrammed numerical display. Now conforming with intuition -- by increasing values while raising levels and flashing its digits during muting -- the whole functional aspect of working the unit had been fixed: Gremlin #3 impaled. The option of extinguishing, safe for volume proper, all bright blue miniature indicators (for input, power, subwoofer and monitor) now enhanced late night listening if one disliked audio equipment to glow like a reflector-fitted Honda Goldwing cruiser; or one of those Mack trucks converted into a Christmas yacht.

To be honest, these cosmetic and functional alterations alone -- no potential sonic advances necessary -- already catapulted the Unison Limited into the rarefied strata of our Blue Moon Awards. Why? Because it would have ended up there previously if not for its then unacceptable binding posts, the very counter-intuitive and potentially dangerous volume display (0 equated to full output, 99 to fully attenuated) and the somewhat sub-standard remote. Upgraded sonics? Those would purely be whipped cream now, an unexpected and frankly unnecessary boon to be considered a first-rate, highly commendable component. But, as chief engineer Eric Lauchli seems fond of saying, "it's all in the connections". Meaning, signal fidelity remains contingent on the quality of transitions encountered on its path from input to output: Solder joints, chip pins, flying leads, RCAs, speaker binding posts. Having upgraded all of those in the Limited, the question remained whether and how much of it would be audible. If it were? It'd be a vindication for our collective audiophile religion of nuttiness that claims how all these little things matter - even if textbook engineering predicts they shouldn't because wire is wire and solder is solder. Textbook science versus audiophile assumptions. Who'd win this time - because, sometimes, designer parts are just more expensive, not audibly better at all?

Perhaps because of their comprehensiveness; perhaps because of our religion needing a revitalizing shot in the arm; perhaps because Coda wouldn't have bothered spending extra money on inaudible snob appeal - the parts upgrades of the Limited versus the old standard (remember, the new standard already benefits from some of the refinements I encountered in this Limited) were clearly apparent. Using my Analysis Plus Oval 9 shotgun cable with WBT bananas to accommodate the black unit's binding posts and enjoy very quick wire swapping, the verdict was easily arrived at: Guilty as charged. Mo betta! By how much? You be the judge.

On Anouar Brahem's dreamy Blue Moon Award winning Le Pas du Chat Noir [ECM 1792], the effect on François Couturier's piano in particular were extended decays. The acoustic's natural reverb setting had added a few notable microseconds. I could hear distinctly more ringing out of strings, more cavity reflections, making the piano sound less brittle, more enhanced as a very resonance-rich instrument especially with its damper pedal lifted. This wasn't subtle at all and clearly a function of higher resolving power down into the pond scum crevices of dem der digital pits.

With José Cura's romantic rendition of Leancavallo's "Musette! ... Testa adorata" aria from La Bohème [Verismo, Erato 3984], the same quality manifested. On both orchestra and lyrical tenor, the Limited unearthed considerably more air and spacious expanse, making the Standard sound drier, dimensionally flatter and especially in the farther recesses of the stage, laterally smaller. A second benefit most notable on melodic peaks?

Cura's crescendoes on climactic phrasing went farther, demonstrating the flip side of spatial micro resolution, of the old philospher's stone of "what goes down must come up": Quieter pianissimos (longer decays) equalled louder fortissimos (greater dynamic envelope). More emphatic excitement, more ambient resolution. In other words, the Limited wasn't just another pretty face. The audiophile accoûtrements presented welcome advances. While it's impossible to affix numerical values to them, I'd guesstimate on the magnitude of perhaps up to 20% to give a rough idea. The more resolved a system, the more noticeable such refinements. Unlike with the higher Class A bias which netted a shift in timbre, the effects of better signal path transitions operated in the realm of micro details and dynamic range.

I'm particularly fond of discovering stellar integrated amplifiers. As a breed, they combine value, practicality and thus real-world rather than fringe lunatic appeal. Really? Les Turoczi, a former reviewer for The Audiophile Voice, recently e-mailed to request recommendations. He finds himself in the planning stages of rebuilding a very complex, multi-amped, multi-box speaker system, transforming it in the process into a CDP/integrated/2-way affair of reduced complexity and box count but with superior sonics. As you can see, even formerly excessive types can crave integrated solutions when they're as accomplished as the Unison Research Unico, the Bel Canto eVo2i - or today's Coda-Continuum Unison 3.1 Limited. A chivalrous tip o' the rapier to the forehead: The Coda design team's nailed their latest mission of presenting us with a no-compromise integrated amplifier that offers stunning looks, comprehensive features, flexible power options and superior sonics.

Which leads us to the concluding question - the price penalty for all this enhanced goodness. [Left, in 'Pacific Rim' gold-anodization, available by special order also domestically.] According to Mark Ward, Coda's Director of Marketing & Product Development, the new & improved standard version with now black, silver or gold face remains the same: $2,950 factory-direct, or $2,665 without the 14-day return privilege. I'd say that's pretty damn righteous, to improve the product but not charge one pretty penny extra! Naturally, the Limited incurs an upcharge. In the exact guise as reviewed, add $688. However, Mark sent me a 3-page PDF that itemizes the options - a variety of jacks and binding posts, the silver/gold top & heat sinks, the fancier remote, the taller feet, the wiring/solder upgrade...

In other words, once you order from the Limited menu, it's custom, Jack. Just don't have Jill ask for pink, okay? The most one could spend? An additional $30 for the Cardas CCGR rather than CCBP terminals, an additional $200 for the all-gold package that involves some gnarly shop processes to get perfect. But you could spend less if you were interested only in specific items and not others. Very trick, this Harley-Davidson-esque after-market customization. But it gets better. Until October 1, Coda offers factory-direct customers a 20% discount on the Limited's upgrade extras. And better still? 6moons readers can get a 10% discount on the total Unison price until year's end just by mentioning this review. Saints? Martyrs? Or just savvy business men? Who cares, it strikes me as a very square deal. Check out Coda's website for more specific information on the available upgrades - and for the special promotional offer to our readers.

Incidentally, stay tuned for further opinions, on how the Unison Limited performs in different systems and to different ears. My colleague Tom Campbell at Positive Feedback On-Line has this very unit en route for further reportage from his Boston/MA digs. Coda-Continuum calls the Unison their entry-level offering. Guess what that means? We'll be taking a look at Coda's brand-new S-Class that'll demonstrate what Eric Lauchli & compatriots can achieve when not targeting a specific price point. It never ends, this audiophile madness. Does it now?

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