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Reviewer: Jan-Petter Egidius
Source: Muse Electronics Model Ten CD/DVD player
Preamplifier: Audia Flight Pre
Power amplifier: Audia Flight 100
Loudspeakers: Peak-Consult In Cognito Monitor
Cables: Argento Serenity, speaker and signal
Power cords: 2 Transparent Reference (Amps), 1 Cardas Golden Reference (CD)
Rack: Finite-Elemente Pagode Signature – 4 shelves
Tweaks: Finite-Elemente Cerapucs under all electronics and under the rack. Dedicated Audio Cable Towers
AC: 2 separate AC lines, 1 grounded
Room: Dedicated listening-room, 6 meters long x 4.5 meters wide
Review Equipment Retail: ca. Euro 4000 for Flight PRE; 8,000 for Flight 100

Warm greetings from Italy
On a warm day in April (!), I returned home from work and was greeted by a questionable smirk from my wife - not the "honey you're home" smile but the "are you out of your friggin' mind" kind. She had just taken delivery of 2 big boxes and struggled to get them down to our house together with the delivery guy, one a plywood crate, one a more normal-sized cardboard box. It was the crate that caused the trouble. After all, it was almost 55kg and the lorry driver wasn't in very good shape. My wife is - but she isn't in the market to becoming a cheap schlepper. Not an ideal constellation.

This is a review of 2 products from one of Italy's premier manufacturers of high-end audio like Unison Research, Pathos and of course Sonus Faber. I first saw an Audia product at a high-end dealer I know near Vicenza. He gave me a demonstration using B&W 801s. I spent only 30 minutes listening but was impressed by what I heard. Yes, it was the old Roger Waters CD with the dogs - you certainly know it. But more on the sound in due course.

And it gets warmer
Then what happened? Well, I had to get the beasts out of their boxes. Tools were needed because the monster power amp was way deep in the plywood box. The Audia Flight 100 weights in at 48 kg and I struggled down to my listening room with it alone while my wife enjoyed a nice martini in the kitchen. After this exercise, I was - er, charged. I am still thanking the higher powers for watching my back. Even the Audia Flight Pre weights 15 kg, quite heavy for a preamp.

A brief description of the products
The Audia Flight 100 puts out 100 watts into 8 ohms and doubles into 4 and 2 ohms. It gets really hot due to a massive power supply consisting of two 700VA toroids weighing 5kg each and pure Class
A bias. It can be driven balanced and unbalanced and the single-wire binding posts are of high quality. In short, it looks nothing short of stunning and seems to be very well built - your classic high-end amplifier, big and heavy.

For more details on technical issues, I refer you to the manufacturer's website. What matters to me personally is how it sounds, plus reliability and build quality. I should mention that you can optimize the coupling of a preamplifier by adjusting the input impedance among four different single-ended input values.

The Audia Flight Pre is equally impressive to look at. The circuit design is based on local feedback and transconductance amplification and uses a precise constant impedance attenuator with 0.5dB steps. The chassis is designed to achieve complete separation between each stage in a single chassis. It includes two discrete power supplies (one per channel) and a third for the control logic.

You can use the Flight Pre balanced (2 inputs) and
unbalanced (4 inputs). For each input, gain can be adjusted by +/- 6dB. All in all, it's a dream to operate. The blue display was readily visible at a distance of 10 feet. It includes a mute-function, balance control, dimming - all you need and then some. All functions can also be accessed via the absolutely gorgeous remote control. Yes, they do know how to make attractive products in Italy, no doubt. Both units performed flawlessly during the review period and were dead silent.

Warm nights - early spring
The units on tests were not new but tested by a Danish magazine prior to their arrival in my listening room. Before any serious listening session, I fired up the power amp approximately 2 hours ahead of time while the preamp was left on 24/7. Both units get warm because of their circuit design but the huge power amp got so hot that the temperature in the listening room rose by 4-5 degrees Celsius over a 3-hour session! It was so hot that I almost could not touch it. No need for that, of course, so I just left it alone.

I used the two units as a set for the entire duration of the review. I was in the middle of an upgrade of my reference system, with both my former preamp and power amp on their way to their new owner.

Do warm electronics produce a warm sound?
It's a silly question of course but relevant in this case. My first impressions were somewhat mixed. My InCognitos can be tricky to drive but the Audia
Flight 100 drove them with ease, never getting out of breath even when pushed hard. But I also felt that something was missing. It took me a while to pinpoint what that was and I will try to describe what happened when I played music. Don't think of this combination as anything less than a solid pair of performers but one should expect high performance from a set that costs about $15,000 in Europe. In general, this initial impression was one of added warmth and a small lack of transparency. The sound was a bit slow and the bass wasn't the firmest I've heard. In short, all very nice but the music lacked a little drama.

The music played with ease, warmth and...
I would like to begin the evaluation of these two products with some thoughts on what to expect from expensive, modern high-end equipment. In my opinion, this should include speed, transparency, lots of air around the instruments, depth and neutrality. Then put in deep and firm bass, rhythm and of course a soundstage presented in the best possible way given the production itself and the space where the recording took place.

With the two Audia products [photo of matching CD ONE above], I enjoyed many of these aspects but not all. I started with some of my favorite women - singers that is. Human voices give you a good indication on the performance of equipment because we are of course very used to hearing voices and therefore relate easily to how a component or a system performs in reproducing them.

First up was the German singer Muriel Zoe and her CD Red and Blue [2003 Act Music]. She sings many of the standards and does it really well. When played through the Audias, her voice did not seem to have quite the transparency that I'm used to. Her voice was thicker than normal and had a bit too much energy in the midrange, say from 500 – 1000Hz. The sound was airy enough though and the trumpet on several tracks had a really brassy feeling to it that was delivered with both great power when called for and subtlety when necessary. The bass on the other hand was like what you hear with older tube gear - somewhat slow and lacking in definition.

I have lived in Munich for three years and playing the Zoe CD, my mind wandered to an old jazz club where I used to hang out drinking beer during (too) many nights. A

good thing you might think but I got almost the same foggy experience in my listening room without the beer. That means a warm "you are there" feeling but not as transparent as I would wish for. You get the picture.

Moving on to the brilliant Holly Cole and her Temptation, this is a truly great CD and in my opinion perfect for critical listening because of all the details on it and the production moving from the really low bass tones to the crystal-clear cymbals. The story with the voices continued here, meaning that Holly's voice had gained some weight and was simultaneously more prominent. That said, the sound with this CD could impress many and the soundstage was pretty wide and deep and all the little details audible. On track number 6 (a favorite), I really got the feeling that I was in the studio with the musicians and could literally reach out and touch them. But I also got the feeling that Holly was standing behind a curtain in the same room. The Audias almost got it right but just missed by a fraction.

Last girl out with something to prove was Patricia Barber and her Modern Cool on Premonition records. As always, her voice (in my opinion) is too dominant but with the two Italians, her pipes grew even more in your face and a bit chestier than I appreciate. But the guitar and piano carried outstanding levels of impact and drive and sounded really good and lifelike. The bass on the other hand lacked some foundation and sounded a little bit muddy. It certainly was deep enough but I have heard the plucked strings on Arnopol's bass sound crisper. After this, I decided to move on to other artists and types of music. I was a little bit disappointed at this point, to be honest. However, I never got tired listening to music with the Audia set regardless of playback levels. And I did not have to play loud in order to hear all the details in the music either. It was pleasant but not dangerous or dramatic.

The piano trios, an ongoing love affair
I love them. Why? Because done right, they reflects much of my own personality - calm and moody, with reflective aspects in the music. That makes me think. Then I am always patiently waiting for the surprising moment when the music suddenly hits that special note. The best trios are like this and are able to give me these special thrills. Over the last 2 years, I have developed a sort of intimate relation with The Tord Gustavsen Trio. Their music gives me incredible satisfaction. For this review, I returned to their first CD. Their latest The Ground is a masterpiece but I don't know it well enough yet. Here's a tip for you - go and see them live if you have the chance. They really know how to improvise and swing hard - very different from their CDs.

Changing Places can be divided into 4 elements - piano, bass, drums and the studio that on this CD plays an important part of the experience when listening through a high-performance system. The Audia set didn't quite recover this spatial magic. Now here's a weird example of how I listen to the music sometimes. The little details when Tord Gustavsen works the pedals on the piano did not get through. You know what I mean? You should see that the microphone is placed very near the small hammers inside the piano. You feel the little sound that comes off the strings when the hammers fall. Now, how important is this you might ask? Good point. For me this has a lot of meaning when I know that this sound is on the CD. These are the little 'being there' feelings that should be present when you listen to music in a high-end system. Did I hear the pedal actions with the Audia set? Yes, but not clear and evident enough.

As far as the soundstage is concerned, I felt that the three musicians stood very closely to each other. Everything happened between the speakers and not over a wider stage. This is where the fourth element kicks in, the studio. The producer of this CD has captured the studio and the ambiance in a great way. Through a really good system you can hear the piano far right and the bass in the middle. On the left you can hear the creative drummer and goose bumps happen all over when he hits the cymbals. The sound travels several meters backwards in the studio, it is amazing. This did not happen as much as I would have liked with the Audias. The soundstage was too narrow and not deep enough. It did not open up and the whole experience for that reason lost some of the anticipated magic. Again, I am picky but I know for a fact that my speakers and CD player have the ability to portray this magic with the right equipment.

And now for something different.
Have you heard No fear, no die with Abdullah Ibrahim on Enja? If not, buy it. If you want to impress yourself and fellow audiophiles with good bass performance and a wide and deep soundstage, this is it. The first time I heard this CD was on a really good system with Krell, Nordost Valhalla and some very nice Swedish speakers. I instantly found a new favorite. "Calypso Minor" has the fattest bass lines and I have never before seen my woofers move this much when I played this track loudly as with the Audia duo. And here is where my job gets complicated. When playing this CD, I was suddenly pretty satisfied with what I heard. Yes, I did detect some gratuitous warmth but to say that this bothered me would be a lie. The horns were reproduced in a great way and with all the power and realism I could ask for. Only the
soundstage seemed a little foreshortened, by how much I cannot exactly say, just a little. What does this mean? Nothing except that some gear seems very comfortable with specific types of music and how their recordings are produced. With this CD, the Audia combination had a major ball, plain and simple.

Fine music is also made in Brazil and Casa with Morelenbaum² and Sakamoto on Sony Classical is a good example of that. The unique combination of vocals, cello and piano makes it very interesting and accessible. The core trio here is assisted by guest musicians on some of the tracks just to add some Brazilian flavours - very tasty indeed. A great track for me is # 3. I can almost smell the coconut suntan oil when I close my eyes. It places me at the Copa Cabana with its Bossa Nova rhythms. But if the listening room was hotter than normal due to the massive Flight 100, the music left me colder. The vocals were less lifelike and I had the feeling that it was forced on me due to excess energy in the midband. Meanwhile the cello, masterfully recorded, lacked some body. It was as though they had suddenly pulled the microphone a few inches away from the instrument. Sakamoto's piano (what a great musician
he is) sounded okay but I missed some of the authentic realism I usually hear listening to this highly commendable CD. One could say that the sound got too warm but not because my mind wandered off to the tropics or because of the extremely hot amplifier.

I also played New Dawn with Dominic Miller and Neil Stacey on Naim Records. This is one awesome CD and by far the best recording of classical guitar I have ever heard. The Audia set also liked it, with the warm-sounding amplifier doing a good job with the plucked guitars. If something lacked in the sound, it was a fraction of air surrounding the instruments. But I might be moving in the wrong direction here being too picky and grumpy. The sound from the CD was overall very good, period! And, give me an example of the perfect gear. You can't find it. Neither can I. I could of course go on and tell you that much of the same repeated itself when I played Gaucho with Steely Dan, some Bill Evans material or Jacques Loussier doing his thing with Bach, Satin or Ravel.

I could play as loud as I wanted and things never got out of control. The sound did not get harder when I pushed the Flight 100. The sonic character did not change at all. It just got louder. And this is a good thing no doubt.

Summing things up
This was a difficult review to write. Like I confessed earlier, I have been very picky because I feel that expensive products like the Audia combination ought to sound very good. And they do but in my opinion not quite good enough to defend their high prices. The reality is that I have in my system tried less expensive products that simply sounded more transparent, alive, neutral and more truthful to the music.

That said, I could easily imagine that many would really fancy the particular qualities of these Audia components. I have another pair of speakers for review that just recently arrived. They are very different from my InCognitos in that they are a tad brighter. I have only used them on the Audias for a few hours but it may well be that the Italians benefit from speakers on the brighter side of neutral. But this is suggested with caution. Potential buyers need to verify this in their own systems.

One more thing. A few weeks ago, I tried the very good Audia Flight CD One. This player is a little bit more forward sounding than my Muse Model Ten. It could make a more copasetic match, meaning that the stable mate CD player will push the pre/power duo to a more lively presentation of the music. Well, that's just speculations of course but I think it is fair to mention it.

So can I recommend these components? Yes I can. But, the recommendation is qualified by a "must try at home" proviso. The Audia components are musical, warm-sounding products and seem to be very well built. They do however lack the last inch of transparency in my system and I would have liked a little more punch in the bass. The soundstage was fair enough but not the widest or deepest. As always, it's a matter of taste and system matching. In HighEnd audio it always is. Take this set home, buy a good Chianti and enjoy. But leave the windows open - you get a new fireplace included in the price!
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