Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Esoteric X03SE, Weiss Minerva [in for review]
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood AS WTB211, Grado Reference Sonata 1, Denon DL103, Clearaudio Nano, SQ-PH-1t [in for review], ASR Mini-Basis Exclusive [in for review]
Preamplifiers: Esoteric C03 [on loan], NAT Symmetrical [on loan], Wyred 4 Sound STP
Amplifier: McIntosh MA2275, Genesis GR360 & MDHR
Speakers: FJ OMs, Zu Essence
Headphone: Musical Fidelity Xcanv3, AKG K701
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Libtec, Slinkylinks RCA copper, Esoteric Mexcel balanced interconnects [on loan]
Power Cords: Zu Mother, ACCUSTIC ARTS Ferrite 2 [on loan]
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII, Isotek Titan [on loan], Isotek Nova [in for review]
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics and good 'ol wooden chest
Room size: 12' x 13.5' x 8'
Review component retail: $6100
This review will be first in a series of at least four, possibly more and similar in spirit to what I did a few months ago exploring preamplifiers. Each component will have its own feature review as this is not intended as a shootout of phono preamps but obviously parallels and contrasts will be drawn and hopefully, exceptional value shall surface. Throughout this series I will keep the front end of Acoustic Solid Classic Wood turntable, WTB211 tone arm and Denon DL103 / Grado Reference Sonata 1 constant to minimize variables. Although I did audition the Audia Flight at length associated with the superb NAT Symmetrical preamplifier, the Serbian has since returned to the distributor so the preamplifier of choice for this series will be the solid-state Esoteric C03.
One difference to the preamplifier review series will be the price range of phono stages considered here. The preamplifiers all belonged to the upper crust in terms of price and performance whereas the phono preamplifiers will be a more diverse crew starting with the $1500 tubed SQ-PH-1t from Sound Quest all the way to the $6100 solid-state Audia Flight with a few stops in between (Esoteric E03, NAT Signature Phono and ASR Mini-Basis Exclusive have already enlisted, a few more are considering jumping in). Interestingly—since my personal reference is the diminutive in size and price Clearaudio Nano—you can expect that the pricier models will be asked to show what they have to offer for the requested premium; and if the opportunity arises, I’ll also try and expand the price range at either end.
First to have the honors of the spotlight is the Italian Audia Flight Flight Phono, a superbly constructed two-box affair that has elevated silence of operation to an art. Being first though is not necessarily an advantage. I currently lack similarly priced references to make final conclusions on the Audia Flight’s performance. Hence this review will start off as an extended introduction, final conclusions to be added once I had a chance to compare the FL Phono to the Esoteric E03, ASR Mini-Basis Exclusive and NAT Signature phono.
Audia Flight has been enjoying a growing reputation in Europe over the past few years with the implementation of their current feedback technology as also employed in the FL Phono. Some of Audia’s early designs met a split verdict where the warmer but slower sound was not to everybody’s liking. In recent years however, the new versions of their CD players, preamplifiers, integrated and class-A amplifiers have been unanimously praised.