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This review first appeared in the June 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Fonel Simplicité in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. 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 High Fidelity or Fonel. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacuła
CD player
: Ancient Audio Lektor Air
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, Miyajima Laboratory Waza
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Regenerator power supply version II
Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
Interconnects: CD-preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp-power amp Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2
Audio stand: Base
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD player, Pro Audio Bono platform under CD player
Review component retail in Poland: €5.250

I first encountered Fonel Audio during the 2007 installment of the Munich High-End show. I was surprised by the stylistic similarity to Italian products which ruled that particular event. The only thing I knew then was that Fonel hailed from Berlin instead of Venice and was rather young. To get the basics, I asked company head Mr. S. Buchakchiysky for some facts. Here is his bulleted overview:

  • Start of design activities – 1999
  • Founding of the company Fonel Audio GmbH – 2003
  • Number of present employees – 30
  • Research and development centers in Berlin and the Ukraine
  • All production, design and servicing occurs in house
  • Individual circuits are owned by Fonel and protected by patents
  • All works is done in Europe. Where Fonel can’t perform the work in house like for example lacquering wood trim, this is subcontracted in Berlin.

Although Fonel has Ukrainian roots, the nationality and residence of its owner make it a German company headquartered in Berlin. I dealt with a similar business model before with the company Art Audio Lab and its m25.3 amplifier. This was a cooperation of a German company with Russian designers. Fonel however seems much more ‘German’ than Art Audio Lab. Yet certain construction elements are similar like the usage of tubes and wood.

For review I was sent the Simplicité CD player with integrated volume control. In such cases I always have a problem classifying the device. To simplify things, I assumed some time ago that where the output voltage is a standard 2V (+/- 10%), I refer to it as a CD player with volume control. Where the output voltage is significantly higher, I refer to it as a CD player/preamplifier. This purely personal scheme renders the output voltage the decisive element, not the number of i/o ports.

Besides intended amp-direct connection, another decisive feature is the presence of three electron valves in the analog section. The company explains their presence with a minimized feedback loop and simplified voltage gain stage. The tubes apparently work in the input buffer as amplification elements but also in the I/V conversion similar to the recently reviewed Loit Passeri. Fonel’s circuit is fully balanced. Among the design characteristics the company lists:
  • Precision clock for the DAC chips better than 50ppm
  • Cirrus Logic CS 4398 DACs
  • Input tubes E88CC/6922/6N23P
  • Sowter output transformers
  • Noratel power transformers especially made for Fonel
  • Separate power supplies for analog and digital sections
  • Precision resistors (better than1%)

The visually most distinctive element of course is the wood appliqué as we see it generally with the Italians (Unison Research, Pathos, Lector-Docet), Japanese (Leben, Accuphase, Luxman) but also the German/Russian Art Audio Lab. Fonel offers a choice of ash, redwood and walnut. A surcharge and special order can secure piano-black lacquer or other wood species. A lovely touch is the wooden remote wand. The only thing missing is any kind of digital input. Srajan refuses to test such players any longer, I do not. But this omission should not go unnoticed. I will add that the player comes with a nicely looking solid HB Cable Design power cord made especially for Fonel. The Schuko plug marks the hot pin so make sure it is inserted correctly. The review was conducted using this cable.