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The front panel also provides a switch to sum left and right channels when listening to mono recordings using a stereo pickup as most of us do. In case of an all Audia Flight system it is also possible to link the various components through RJ45 connectors and run the FL Phono as master or slave in the chain. As also mentioned earlier, the MC board provides for any loading one may theoretically desire. Ten predetermined loading values can be selected by moving jumpers in various configurations (choices are between nine values ranging from 7 ohm to 980 ohm, removing all jumpers offers 47kOhm) but in case none of these float your boat, Audia Flight also provides for the possibility of inserting any 0.25A-type resistor of your choice to fine-tune cartridge loading. This gives enough options to keep you in audiophile hell—sorry heaven—for years but I can see that for some very esoteric cartridges, this capability may come in handy. For most of us, the generous preset loading options are all we shall ever need.

Similarly the capacitive loading of MM cartridges can be completely customized but the FL phono also provides twelve pre-set options between 47 and 600pf. It’s again hard to imagine that anybody would need more options but Audia Flight anticipates even the most obsessive amongst us. I like this attention to detail - reasonable simplicity for those who want flexibility without pain, complete and absolute customization for those seeking customized matches.

One word of caution. When moving jumpers around, the recessed access is narrow and the jumpers are small. Even thin fingers could easily drop one of the jumpers inside the enclosure (the access panel is not separated from the rest of the interior space so if you drop a jumper, it will fall anywhere inside the main chassis) and the use of long-nosed pliers is highly recommended (another reason to think of a more convenient implementation for a next generation).

Moving to its musical performance, I sense that even the most blasé will pay attention to the way the FL treats music in a unique combination of boldness and finesse that I usually associate only with the very best electronics in any category. It’s a sense that nothing can faze this component out of absolute silence of operation, transparency and refinement of tone to give an impression of rare elegance.

Starting with Tarentule – Tarentelle, a collection of medieval gems recreated by Atrium Musicae and recorded by Harmonia Mundi in the seventies, revealed the FL Phono’s superb ability at discerning subtle tonal differences and complex intertwined instrumentation. Each instrumental line acquired a clarity and precision I had not heard from the other phono stages already on hand. Imaging also gained in rigor and the FL phono will be a delight for intensely 'visual' listeners. Tube units like the SQ-PH-1t have a more holistic approach to imaging and staging but the solid-state FL phono is truly stunning at delineating musicians in a very wide and deep stage. The beauty of vinyl is that this precise imaging never turns excessive or sharp like it can with digital at times. It’s the best of both worlds where the analog medium brings a feeling of density while the Audia Flight organizes the information in a finely chiseled picture without ever getting close to over-sharpening the edges.

Another area of excellence this LP revealed was the finesse and extension of the FL Phono’s treble. I was actually surprised by how much information the Denon DL103 was capable of retrieving. It exceeded what I’d heard it before but once properly loaded (I preferred a 980-ohm loading), the resolution in the upper octaves seemed unlimited. Coupled with the ribbon tweeters of the Zu Essence and Genesis 7.1f, this yielded a treble presentation that was both shimmering yet without a single undue sharp angle. I am not an unconditional defender of vinyl but the Esoteric X03SE won’t produce such a natural sounding treble even from SACD (the Esoteric D05 came close though).

Moving on to massive orchestral ensembles such as Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony directed by Leornard Bernstein showed that whatever reluctance in macrodynamics may have been attributed to older Audio Flight designs was not to be heard with the FL phono. Orchestral mayhem surged, drums thundered and horns blasted with unrestricted reserve. You could easily point to the fact that 97dB speakers fronted by 360 watts of the finest class-D amplification available today may have had something to do with unconstrained dynamic swings but in reality, neither the SQ-PH-1t nor the Clearaudio Nano could match the sense of effortless scale provided by the Audia Flight.

Yet the Audia Flight is not just another brute capable of massive current swings but nothing else. On simpler fare like Beethoven’s Spring Sonata for Piano and Violin, I was mesmerized by the complexity and detail revealed in Sir Yehudi Menuhin’s interpretation. In the past I always found the violin on this disc to be a little screechy, harsh and bereft of Menuhin’s magical touch but the FL phono proved that everything was there; I simply never had a chance to hear it before. When played back properly, this recording actually conveys the impression of the violinist standing and the piano being slightly lower and to the left – I know this was my brain tricking me but what a nice height illusion it was.