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This review first appeared in the September 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the Audiomat Aria in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio or Audiomat - Ed.

: Jochen Reinecke
Sources: iPod Classic 80GB, Pure I-20 dock, Marantz SA 7001 CD/SACD, Yamaha CD-S 1000
Pro-Ject Xpression III with Ortofon OM 30 Super
Amplification: Funk LAP-2 preamp, Myryad MXA 2150 power amp, NuForce Icon, Trends Audio TA-10.2 SE,
Yarland FV-34C III, Miniwatt M1
Loudspeakers: Neat Momentum 4i, PSB Acoustics Synchrony One, Nubert nuBox 101 with AW 441 subwoofer,
DIY TL with F120A widebander
Cables: AVI Deep Blue interconnects, Kimber 4VS LS speaker cable
Review component retail: €4.650

To go properly French
, I had real déjà-vu when, soft necklace of sweaty pearls draped across my forehead, I heaved 26kg of Audiomat Aria from its shipping carton. ‘twas the spitting image of our March tester Arpège. Same chassis, same triple spike interface, same semi-translucent dark acrylic fascia, same volume and source selector left and right. Instead of the central power mains however the Aria has two switches, one for power, one for mute. Closer inspection revealed another difference – five rather than four inputs. Et c’est ça as Hercule Poroit would say. How about under the hood?

This gets lengthier. Like the stable mate the Aria run three ECC83S drivers into two EL34 per side. Even so the circuit isn’t identical. Like the costlier Opéra Reference—reviewed here by Paul Candy—the Aria according to the spec sheet works in class A for 23 of its 30 watts whilst the Arpège transitions to class B at 10. The output stage operates in push/pull and for biwire fans there are two pairs of terminals per channel and 8-ohm as well as 4-ohm taps. Another difference over the smaller brother is circuitry not specific to signal buffering or amplification. The Aria gets remote over volume and mute and automated pre-heating.

Upon power-up the motorized Alps returns to counter-clockwise zero, the outputs get muted and the valves slowly ramp up over one minute before the circuit goes fully on line. Visual confirmation is via blue power LED. It blinks during the process before turning steady for go. The owner’s manual recommends to use the ‘mute’ switch before changing sources. Apparently the designers are keen to coddle their (your) valves. They also claim to have gone the extra mile to combat microphony beyond the three grounding spikes with ‘damping tack’ applied to specific parts – activated damping tack as Arnd Rischmüller of German import house H.E.A.R. added. Though Aria and Arpège share a fundamental house sound which might warrant revisiting the latter’s review, the Aria does eclipse the smaller sibling. But let’s start at the beginning.
Strong of character. My audition began with Bill Callahan’s "Riding for the feeling" from his latest Apocalypse effort. Clichés would call the song tailormade for valve amps – suitably down tempo, sparse instrumentation. Think shrum-shrum acoustic guitar base, lone and lazily decaying e-guitar tones, a few Wurlitzer e-piano chords, mellow percussion and last but not least Bill Callahan’s gristly baritone pipes. First impression and word in my note book? 'Live!' - very lively, very realistic. Callahan’s cracked nearly inebriated vocals radiated unbelievable warmth despite their porous nature. The Wurlitzer piano seemed to be in the room. It was tacitly obvious how this electro-acoustic contraption was recorded via its built-in speakers, not by direct wire to the mixing console.

Each membrane flicker was audible, each echo trail of Wurlitzer’s built-in tremolo effect rushed unimpeded through the room. The percussion meanwhile seemed nearly hyper realistic and particularly so the sheer breadth of nuance and thus believability of the various cymbal timbres. Even so these details summed into a harmonious picture for a successful merger of cohesiveness and precise individuation. I was surprised how much room the Aria granted each virtual source. Where other amps will nail down instruments more specifically into the panorama, this presentation focused on exceptional airiness and live energetics. If this reads too amorphous, let’s invoke a live performance where musicians aren’t nailed to the floor like stiff salt figurines but move. And the Aria portrayed exactly that atmosphere of constant physical fluctuations. Very interesting.