Bartolomeo Nasta - Unison Research
In the times of rampant digitization and the pursuit of better sound recording formats, it's important to remind ourselves of solutions that effectively resist being relegated to the past. Sometimes we get the impression that all the modern solutions create an ever greater need to escape to a world in which one can appreciate things such as turntables, vintage hi-fi and of course - tube amplifiers. There are few music lovers who have tried tubes and emerged from this experience without any emotion. This technology offers a unique sound, but on the other hand it is difficult to deny that there is something magical in these devices. Most of them are eye-catching and look beautiful, and if we add the Italian sense of style to this puzzle, we get exactly what Unison Research has been offering for years.
This company is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most recognizable in the world when it comes to tube amps, and it is also responsible for the hybrid Unico series and Opera Loudspeakers. If there's anyone who knows everything about the functioning of these companies, it's this smiling guy in the photo - Bartolomeo Nasta. During his visit to Warsaw, I decided to ask him a few questions.
You are of course one of the owners of Unison Research, but as we can see you also travel a lot and deal with marketing stuff. How would you describe your status and your job at Unison Research?
When I started working for Unison Research in 2004 I had just one country to work with - Germany. Now I take care of 37 countries, and I really enjoy it because I don't find it stressful.
Can you tell us how it all started? Because now Unison Research is one of the major manufacturers of tube amplifiers known globally, but what was it like in the very beginning and whose idea was it?
Unison Research was founded in 1987 by a group of passionate audiophiles led by Giovanni Maria Sacchetti. Born in 1945, Giovanni Maria Sacchetti devoted himself at an early age to the study and design of hi-fi systems, combining his interest in electronics with a passion for music inherited from his father, an expert pianist. After completing his studies in electronics, he devoted twenty five years to teaching, while at the same time designing and developing amplifiers for Unison Research. The first integrated amplifier he designed for Unison Research was the Triode 20. Its successor, the Simply Two, was a key step forward in the company's history - this legendary amplifier was instrumental in achieving great international success for Unison Research in a relatively short time. Our experience has increased over the years, along with our continuing research of high performance and high quality standards. This has led Unison Research to both historical achievements and great value when it comes to the development of our products. Best of all, we have achieved this through a completely Italian operation - from design to production. Unison Research is now recognized as the Italian leader in the production of tube amplifiers, and among the top ten in Europe.
What does your factory look like now? Can you give us some numbers - how many people are working in Unison Research right now, or how many amplifiers you ship every month?
We are constantly growing year by year. Last week I checked some numbers on Simply Italy amplifier and we sold almost 1000 pieces till now. I think it's a great achievement since this product came out less than three years ago. We just bought one more building nearby the factory because we need some more space. We are also looking for a new technician. Perhaps you know some good technician who would like to move to Italy? ;-)
A lot of people imagine an Italian amplifier maker as a couple of guys sitting in the sun, drinking wine and basically carving some elements out of wood until they look like an amplifier. But it's not true, is it?
It would be the best job ever! But to create something is difficult and you need to put a lot of passion and knowledge to make good things. Just with a normal listening test, you can spend weeks, or even months for a product to give the best possible sound. But I will try to evaluate your idea to move the factory to the seaside.
We were quite amazed when you told us that the design of your devices is not done by some fancy studio like Pininfarina or Bertone. Do you really do it all by yourselves? How are these amazing shapes born?
We used to work with an external design studio, but four years ago we decided to start everything again in-house with the help of my brother - Riccardo Nasta. This way we can react faster on all problems that can come out when we start designing new products, so we can make all the necessary modifications right away.
The design of your devices is without question very nice and interesting, but what about other things like reliability? Would you like to convince people that a product made largely by hand in Italy can be not only pretty, but also perfectly assembled? How can you ensure a long life of something like a tube amplifier?
The reliability of an electronic products in general, and in detail of our amplifier, is assigned to a proper design and to a strict selection of components. You have to be sure that certain special components, such as power and output transformers and are exclusively made for our design and their degree of reliability can be considered very high. In every stage of making our products, we order our engineers to do a scrupulous control of the parts. Only this way we are sure to be able to ensure quality and reliability. If our products were made in foreign countries, I think the quality and reliability would be lost. As for the valves, there are two main factors that guarantee the best possible performance - the quality of the tube manufacturer and the design for long life. We care about these two elements when choosing the tube suppliers.
You are famous mostly because of your tube amplifiers, and most of the products from the Unico series are hybrid circuits. Where did this love of tubes come from?
Love for the valves does not have a simple nostalgic value. What we feel more is a love for a product, not an old amplifier, but a new one using high technology and capable of extreme musical performance. In this respect, valves are still unrivalled, even today in multiple exclusive applications. We use tubes because we believe they can develop the best sound quality.
Some people say that it's not difficult to design or make a tube amplifier because it's a technology that has been explored by many, many people for years. The schemes are available, there are hundreds of amplifiers looking very similar, the tubes are mostly old designs, so there's no room for innovation. Would you agree with that?
On the web everyone can find 1000 schematics of a tube amplifier or a solid state amplifier. In our industry all major companies have designer teams, who study the schematics every single day to find the best solutions, improve the sound quality and give you the best experience ever with their technology. The same electronic circuit made with the same components, but different circuit solution (PCB) gives different results in terms of sound. So it's not as simple as one might think.
We are being flooded with cheap electronics in plastic boxes, but in your devices you use steel, aluminium, wood, glass and almost nothing else. These materials are very pretty, but also expensive. Aren't you afraid that one day even your smallest and cheapest amplifier will be beyond the reach of an average music lover?
At Unison Research we know that even the amplifier's case contributes to the good results of the sound. Magnetic characteristics, electrical conductivity features, mechanical vibration damping factor, thermal conductivity, flexibility, oxidability, and more besides must be seriously considered to make a good product. Not only for its beauty, but also functionality. All this is our commitment.
Nowadays the most interesting or trendy sector of the audio market are all the DACs, streamers and music servers. What do you think about this? Are you planning to introduce something like a tube amplifier with AirPlay or a tube streamer?
We are constantly doing research and working for some new solutions, and this year you can expect lots of new products, but not a streamer for now.
Apart from tube amps and Unico devices you also make Opera speakers, in the same factory in fact. Isn't it a bit too much for one company? Are these products meant to work together, or perhaps you treat these brands separately?
Opera Loudspeakers and Unison Research are in the same building, but workers are totally different. Only the export, managed by me, is the same - the rest is different. We of course test the speakers with Unison Research amplifiers, and the other way round, but those companies are two separate things.
You said that you fly home tomorrow because on Monday you have to go to work. Is it because you want to be an example for all your employees, or you just like what you do so much?
I'm not the boss, I'm a worker, and for me it's not a problem to work tomorrow because I love my job. But I love my holidays too.
So what are you working on now? What are we going to see in the nearest future?
We are working on some new products for the Unico line - three in total - and one for the Tube line. In a couple of months you will see them. We would be really excited to launch these new models.