AUDIA FLIGHT Strumento No1 MkII State-ofArt Preamplifier (MM/MC phono optional)

AF 21 PA STR NO1
Price on application
Audia Flight

"Our products come from the synergy between sophisticated and original design, Italian style."

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THE STRUMENTO SERIES
The Strumento series of Audia Flight products represents the culmination of eighteen years of expertise, research, and success, ultimately resulting in the world's finest amplifiers. Currently comprised of a true reference preamplifier and stereo amplifier, Strumento sets a new standard for the no compromise class of consumer audio products. Given Audia's immediate international success with the Strumento No.1, No 4 and No 8, Strumento products (both current and forthcoming) are destined to set a new standard in performance, build quality, and style.

"My mouth fell open, stayed open all the way, till side one came to an end. All good properties suddenly shine even more. Playing a record can only be compared to listening to studio masters in high sampling rates. This Strumento N° 1 is an open window to the music for every detail available in the recording. It just flows and flows. I could listen for hours and hours without any stress or getting tired. I invited some friends over on several evenings, the three of them well known for golden ears, used to deal with high end equipment and often to be found on life performances, either for jazz of classical music. Just to make sure my ears and mind did not betray me. The one who only loves tubes admitted this was a solid state setup comparable with only the best tube amps. Another one got (almost) permanent goose bumps. Number three stated that this Strumento N° 1 was by far the best preamp he ever heard. In my humble opinion they are completely right. This Strumento N° 1 is amazing."……. René van Es \Freelance audio journalist for Hifi.nl and Music Emotion

STRUMENTO N°1 mk2 Stereo Preamplifier 
It has long been said, “the heart of any audio system is the preamplifier.” The preamplifier’s job sounds simple: convey a purity of sound, without coloration or adulteration of original audio signal, with nothing being added but also nothing being lost in translation. 

Okay, so it’s not that easy. And yet that’s where our efforts at Audia Flight have elevated the preamplifier state of the art. 

The Audia Flight Strumento N°1 mk2 Stereo Preamplifier is the perfect device to transfer a perfect signal to any power amplifier with its precision, accuracy, dynamics and incredible signal speed (bandwidth more than 1MHz). We’ve used our trained human ears to aide us with circuit refinements over the original Strumento N°1 (such small, but critical changes include the value of resistors and capacitors). This effort has allowed us to more closely achieve our goal of sonic perfection with the Strumento N°1 mk2, much like a luthier uses years of experience, craftsmanship, and keen ear to find the perfect tonal character and emotional response for their instruments.

The Strumento N°1 mk2 chassis begins its life as an ultra high grade, bespoke aluminium cast. After the CNC finishing work is completed, every part is then closely inspected and “mirror polished” by hand. Some critical areas are further finished by hand, with shot peening and anodisation completing the beautiful metal work. The final touch is an elegant silk-screening process.

Within the Strumento N°1 mk2’s gorgeous chassis one finds it is powered by four toroidal transformers (two 75VA toroidal audio transformers for the main stages, one 25VA toroidal audio transformer for the control boards, and one 15VA toroidal transformer for the logic board), all enclosed within a ferromagnetic shield and encapsulated by epoxy resin. The main power supply is extremely low noise, the filter being made by ultra-fast rectifiers and n.40 680µF 100V extra low impedance capacitors. On the electrolytic capacitors an EMI shield and vibration damping material is used to reduce any physical noises to a minimum.The main power supply is composed of eight, very low noise power supply stages. Each amplification channel with its fully balanced circuitry is on an independent print board. Custom printed circuit boards with an extra high-grade surface copper are used, as ultra pure copper bars are used for ground and power supplies. After the input selection and a buffer, the input signal meets the volume control.

A crucial point in all preamplifiers is represented by the volume control. Often the volume control can introduce a variable impedance element as a function of the attenuation value (that is to say, the position of the potentiometer). The undesirable result is that the frequency response, slew-rate and even the internal impedance couplings among different stages are not fixed and become a function of the attenuation value (volume). 

This ultimately reduces the preamplifier’s ability to produce an accurate signal for the power amplifiers to further amplify. For this reason, Audia Flight has developed a constant impedance attenuator. This custom Audia Flight attenuator is composed of discrete components (low-noise metallic film resistors and relays) and provides a gain range as high as 127 dB while providing constant steps of 0.5 dB. 

The accurate high-performance result we have obtained with this attenuator likely is well beyond standard attenuators found elsewhere, as our measurements show that the Strumento N°1 mk2 has an out of the ordinary extended frequency response (3Hz / 1MHz –3 dB) and the high value of slew rate (>250V/µs throughout the entire gain range (-90 / +10 dB). 

This completely new volume control has constant impedance and it is absolutely silent as the volume is raised and lowered.

The Strumento N°1 mk2’s gain stage is an exclusive Audia Flight design consisting of an entirely class A current-feedback circuitry. 

It is fed by four stabilised independent stages per each channel: two for the input stages and two for the output stage. 

The gain stage is enclosed within an aluminium box and encapsulated by epoxy resin to grant a thermal stabilisation for all gain stage’s components. 

Additionally, a large aluminium plate is used to dissipate thermal energy of the gain stages. 

The high-current low-noise output stage is made of Class A biased MOSFET audio devices, and is able to drive any kind of amplifier.

Aa modular system of cards for MM/MC phono inputs; SPDIF and USB 192kHz/32bits digital inputs; analog unbalanced and balanced inputs; and other options (inquire)

......comes with a reputation as the best, the first in the world!  

Specifications

Reviews

Videos

Specifications

Inputs - 
              2 balanced XLR and/or unbalanced RCA ;
              3 balanced XLR only

Outputs
               2 balanced XLR and 1 unbalanced RCA

Gain range - 90 dB / +10 dB
Gain resolution - 0.5 dB
Frequency response (1W RMS -3dB) 1 Hz ÷ 1 MHz
Slew-Rate (@ 8 ohm)/strong > 200 V/µS
THD < 0,05 %
S/N Ratio - 105 dB
Input impedance - 10pF 15 kOhm balanced or unbalanced
Output impedance - 5 Ohm
Main voltage AC (50-60Hz)  - 100, 110-115, 220-230,240 Volts
Stand-by Power consumption - less than 0,5W
Nominal Power consumption - 90W
Dimensions and weight - 450x120x450mm (W x H x D) - 28kg
Shipping dimensions and weight - 580x300x580mm (W x H x D) - 40kg

Reviews

Rest assured that these components are truly superb sonic performers built to spectacular standards on par with the very best.
Edgar Kramer

REVIEW SUMMARY: Female and male vocals were outstandingly real and present via this talented pairing. Lifelike—there is that word again—was often used in my audition notes. And layered too. The combo cast a massive soundstage with extremely accurate placement of full-bodied images that reached well behind the speaker plane especially with the Wilson Audio Alexia having been dialed in to the max via their comprehensive aspherical propagation delay system. Not only did the speakers vanish but via the Strumenti they threw an all-engulfing soundfield I simply wallowed in or was swallowed up by.

Rest assured that these components are truly superb sonic performers built to spectacular standards on par with the very best. In fact I’ve reviewed some very heavy hitters well above $50K for our domestic print magazines and the Strumento N° 4 in particular would not be embarrassed by any in terms of either musical merit or construction quality.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Volare Italia. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Maserati, Prada, Versace, Giorgio Armani... these are brands which are aspirational, which are most desired around the world and which generate the very highest pride of ownership. The common thread there obviously is that they all come from that Latin boot-shaped country. In the world of audio this Italian design flair combined with technical excellence has translated to equally desirable brands such as Chario, Diapason, Eventus, Pathos, Rosso Fiorentino, Unison Research (and its loudspeaker cousin Opera) and most notably Sonus faber. Whilst a large percentage of these are speaker manufacturers where the most stylistic panache can be let loose, a relatively new electronics player is now making a mark in the upper echelons of the high-end arena. Enter Audia Flight with three electronics ranges; the entry point ‘Three‘ Series, the mid-level ‘Classic’ series and the subjects of this review, the preamp/power amp combo from the stellar high-end ‘Strumento’ Series.

Fasten your seat belts!...

The Strumento N°.1 preamplifier is immaculately assembled and sports a massive rotary volume knob on the right side of the fascia’s gently curving display window. Below that is a row of five chromed metal buttons for switching input, balance, power, (menu) set and mute. That’s all. The rear panel is a whole ‘nutha story resplendent with all manner of audio connectivity. There are two XLR and high-quality WBT NextGen RCA inputs (switchable) and three additional balanced-only inputs. Outputs include two XLR pairs and one RCA with a fixed ‘record out’ on RCA. There are two removable latch spaces for optional DAC and phono modules. 

The Strumento N° 1’s gain operates across a range of -90dB to +10dB with a step resolution of 0.5dB. Frequency response within 1w RMS and -3dB parameters is 1Hz-1MHz with a high S/N ratio of 105dB. Input impedance is 15kΩ balanced or unbalanced whilst the output impedance is a nicely low 5Ω. The included remote control is beautifully styled, milled from solid aluminium and features small round metal buttons that make a somewhat intrusive clicking sound when pressed.

Equally impressive specifications are quoted for the Strumento N° 4 stereo amplifier. This is an absolute beast weighing in at 90kg. I don’t tend to gauge amplifiers by the kilo but this is one heavy mutha with the promise of overkill power supply componentry and transformers. Adding to the weight is extraordinarily solid aluminium case work which in a nice touch extends over the extensive heatsinking to cover what in other designs are chin-slicing edges. Audia Flight quotes output power of 200/400/800 watts into 8/4/2Ω respectively. Inputs are switchable RCA (again WBT NextGen) and XLR while the speaker binding posts are the WBT clear plastic-shrouded type. The Herculean power supply features a mammoth 3KVA principal transformer, two additional 150VA toroids for the gain stage and yet a further 15VA for the logic board. Capacitor banks are substantial at 200.000µF for the output stage and 42.000µF for the voltage gain stage. Circuit gain is 29dB while the frequency response (1w RMS at -3dB) is given as a very wide 0.3Hz to 1MHz. Input impedance is somewhat low at 7.5kΩ meaning it’s just as well the matching preamp has such low output impedance. The amp requires a 20-amp IEC power lead. A generic one is provided but I used a Shunyata.

The two units come in well-designed wooden crates that dismantle around the components via tool-free metal clip fasteners to leave them sitting only on the base for easy lifting. Not that lifting nearly 90kg is ever easy. Heavy internal foam protects the components from uncaring couriers so overall Audia Flight has catered appropriately for freight around the world. Quality leather-bound instruction manuals are included.

I asked owners Massimiliano Marzi and Andrea Nardini about some of the ideas behind the Strumento components. There were some language barriers commendably surpassed by Marzi and Nardini with the aid of Australian distributor Absolute Hi End’s affable Boris Granovsky which led to succinctness.

I first asked if all circuit and technical aspects of the Strumento pre/power combo were designed in-house and what output devices were preferred for the Strumento N° 4 amplifier. "Yes, all parts were designed in-house and we use bipolar Semi ON transistors."

I then enquired as to the volume control’s design. "The volume control is a constant impedance design. The Achilles heel of many preamplifiers is represented by the volume control since usually it introduces variable impedance as a function of attenuation value (that is, the position of the potentiometer). The result is that frequency response, slew rate and even the internal impedance coupling among different stages are not fixed but a function of volume. This is a problem which affects above all the usual potentiometers. Using instead integrated attenuators—ICs dedicated to volume control or D/A converters—solves the problem of variable impedance but not that of frequency or absolute velocity response.

"For this reason Audia Flight developed a constant impedance attenuator realized with discrete components (low-noise metal-film resistors) which provides a gain range as high as 127dB with constant steps of 0.5dB. The result obtained probably overcomes the wall of standard performance limitations since Audia Flight offers an extremely extended frequency response (3Hz-1MHz –3dB) and high >250V/µs slew rate across the entire gain range (-90 to +10dB)."

The aluminium casework is of extraordinary quality. Where was that done? "Like with all our components, the case is 100% made in Italy. One company makes the CNC chassis for us, another does the anodizing."

What were the main attributes aimed for with each component? "I think the best component of our flagship Strumento series is the sum of our vast experience. Our design has been perfected over many years. We spent hundreds of hours listening and making the right choices. The sound, the 'soul' of our products is a mirror of our culture not only for the high-end but our life too. If I have to identify some parts I am not able to do so because I think it is a synergy of all parts. It is like a chorus. Each has its own contribution." 

Just on the point about the Strumento chassis it must be emphasized that the assembly quality, machining and finish are absolutely first class. Most of the chassis joinery is free of fasteners and of seamless integration while the aluminium is of the highest grade and flawlessly anodized. These are components that have the look and feel of true high-end products in the literal sense of the expression.

In full flight.

Fire up the preamp and you may get startled by the volume control logic system as it returns to the previously-set level prior to turn off. The multiple relays click away in an orchestral show that is actually quite enjoyable to witness and hear – the same process in reverse occurs when powering off as the relays count down to zero prior to powering down... click, click, click. Fun.

Relay shenanigans aside, the sound from the first few bars impressed with its fullness and authority. The beautifully captured live violin and piano from the Audiofon label’s Sonatas by Mozart, Prokofiev, Beethoven, Brahms and Blochas played by Pavel and Lazar Berman just flooded the listening room with an all-enveloping soundscape. The violin was sweet and detailed, full of bow and string nuance but with the instrument’s resonance rendered in full. So was the enormity of the piano in its entire majesty across the keys left to right. This was truly engaging and gorgeous solid-state amplification at its best. Much like the best valve systems this transistor combo provided a sense of corporeal reality to instruments and voices that was very lifelike.

I recently attended one of the most unforgettable live performances I’ve ever enjoyed. The Jenolan Caves—a massive network of stalagmite- and stalactite-rich labyrinthine caves a short drive from my new home in the upper Blue Mountains—-was the unlikely venue for the world-renowned local Paganini Duo and a performance of Gypsy music from Romania, Russia and Hungary. Deep inside a natural amphitheater considered internationally as having the best acoustics in the world, the duo played some of the most heart-wrenching soulful music I have ever heard. After the performance I had the pleasure of chatting on a number of musical and other subjects with violinist Gustaw J. Szelski and guitarist/cellist Georg Mertens-Moussa. I of course purchased the duo’s Blue Mountains Gypsies CD on the spot duly autographed by both musicians. 

Upon returning home that night I fired up the system and promptly gave the CD a whirl. A flood of recently acquired unforgettable sensations came flooding straight back. This recording was made in a studio but with the performance captured live and while the acoustic environment was wildly different, the Strumento combo provided a live and energetic rendition of the violin and guitar which sounded remarkably like it had back in that glorious cavern. 

The Strumenti components provide a very delicate rendition of detail with excellent microdynamic shading and precise separation of instrumental layers. On Curandero’s Aras the intricacies of the various instruments and vocal sound effects can confuse some components and make tracks like "Segue" sound congested and closed in. But here I was hearing an extremely well-resolved mix with very accurate timbral information and an openness and spatial freedom that were quite enthralling.

I frequently use the Yim Hok-Man Master of Chinese Percussion album to determine a component’s ability to convey realistic dynamic expression and low-end control. Here I discovered how the N° 4 is stunningly dynamic, exerts uncompromising control of the bass registers, is extended and refined in its top end (there’s quite a bit of cymbal and bell content here, not just crazy powerful drums) whilst providing a tonal truth that rivals the best valve designs. The preamp was equally adept at presenting beautiful textural timbre and all other fundamental sonic qualities required of a preamp at this price. However I felt that it could not match the excellence of the amplifier nor my other preamp references in one area: that of dynamic intensity. The Strumento N° 1 marginally tapered the fortissimo slams, it subtly abridged the dynamic chasms between pianissimo and fortissimo. That is the only area where it scores four rather than the five stars it merits in all other aspects.

Female and male vocals were outstandingly real and present via this talented pairing. Lifelike—there is that word again—was often used in my audition notes. And layered too. The combo cast a massive soundstage with extremely accurate placement of full-bodied images that reached well behind the speaker plane especially with the Wilson Audio Alexia having been dialed in to the max via their comprehensive aspherical propagation delay system. Not only did the speakers vanish but via the Strumenti they threw an all-engulfing soundfield I simply wallowed in or was swallowed up by.

As much as the amplifier in particular was able to slam hard which made it more than suitable for heavier musical genres such as hard rock, I’d have to say that it was also among the most refined, tonally sophisticated, nuanced and texture-rich solid state amplifiers I’ve ever had the pleasure of auditioning. And the same would go for the preamp lest you’re after ceiling-lifting dynamic contrasts.

Conclusion. 

Yes there’s an increasing number of companies releasing electronics and speaker systems which reach towards stratospheric price points even above the aforementioned $50K mark. Heck, just off the top of my head as I write I can think of around ten! The Strumento N° 1 and No 4 are around a quarter and third of that. Could the Strumenti be poster boys/gals for the 'diminishing returns' maxime? Perhaps. That after all is an individual’s call.

Rest assured that these components are truly superb sonic performers built to spectacular standards on par with the very best. In fact I’ve reviewed some very heavy hitters well above $50K for our domestic print magazines and the Strumento N° 4 in particular would not be embarrassed by any in terms of either musical merit or construction quality. Here at the Kramer’s ‘Mountain Retreat’ they will be missed. Forza Italia!

.......Edgar Kramer

Quality of packing:Solid wooden crates with foam-lined internals. 
Reusability of packing: Indefinite.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy task with fasteners not requiring tools. 
Condition of component received: As new.
Completeness of delivery: All as should be.
Quality of owner's manual: Nicely presented leather-bound manuals with useful information within.
Website comments: Well designed website with adequate product information. 
Warranty: 12 months. 

It should be enough to state that I am going to buy the Audia Strumento N° 1,.. later on I might buy the Strumento No4 amp too...
René van Es \Freelance audio journalist for Hifi.nl and Music Emotion

REVIEW SUMMARY: My mouth fell open, stayed open all the way, till side one came to an end. All good properties suddenly shine even more. Playing a record can only be compared to listening to studio masters in high sampling rates. This Strumento N° 1 is an open window to the music for every detail available in the recording. It just flows and flows. I could listen for hours and hours without any stress or getting tired. I invited some friends over on several evenings, the three of them well known for golden ears, used to deal with high end equipment and often to be found on life performances, either for jazz of classical music. Just to make sure my ears and mind did not betray me. The one who only loves tubes admitted this was a solid state setup comparable with only the best tube amps. Another one got (almost) permanent goose bumps. Number three stated that this Strumento N° 1 was by far the best preamp he ever heard. In my humble opinion they are completely right. This Strumento N° 1 is amazing.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Although the Italian audio company Audia has been in business since the last century, it took till 2011 that I had the opportunity to listen to one of their class A power amps, the Audia Flight 50. It was just what I was looking for at the time and I bought one to use in my main system. This year (2012) I met the Audia guys on the High End Show in Munich to take a look at their top range named Strumento, consisting of just one power amp and a separate preamplifier. With a little help of the Benelux distributor Durob we soon agreed to review the pair. Unfortunately I live in an apartment on the third floor, without an elevator, and to bring up a 90 kilo Strumento Nr.4 over seven stairs promised a mission impossible. We therefore agreed to use my own Flight 50 in combination with the Strumento N° 1 preamp, with additional an Audia Flight CD One M player and some Yter balanced interlinks. Unfamiliar with Audia preamps and very happy with my own beloved tube line stage, I was in for a surprise as soon as I switched on the Strumento.

The Strumento series from Audia consists of just these two products, a pre- and a power amplifier. The N° 1 is a sculpture in two colors aluminum and has the unusual size of 45 cm wide, 45 cm deep and 12 cm height. With a weight of 28 kilos. Only five buttons are to be found on the front together with a large (multifunctional) volume control. A dimmable display shows the menu options, the chosen input or the volume setting. Turned off, a blue LED will light up the listening room. The back side is far more crowded with all its inputs and outputs. The first two inputs are configurable for either XLR (balanced) connection or RCA (unbalanced) use. Three additional inputs are XLR only. A RCA tape-out is provided. The signal output consists of a single pair RCA’s as well as two sets of balanced XLR’s. This leaves only the mains power input, the mains switch and RJ connectors to communicate with other Audia devices. What is inside the box remains a bit of a secret. I know the preamp has a power supply with 60.000 uF buffer capacity, which is more than a lot of power amplifiers have on board. A total of eight power circuits are used. Special audio transformers, copper bars, print boards with extra copper and ultra-fast rectifiers are inside. The volume control is setup with resistors and relays, to make sure the signal path is short, even more important the output impedance of the volume control always has the same value. Relay clicking is audible when changing the volume, but only mechanical and never through the loudspeakers. The amplifier circuit is fully balanced from input to output, with reasonable chosen gain (-90/+10 dB) to be able to use very different power amps. Input switching is also by relay of course. After a couple of hours use the complete chassis warms up, more than any other preamp I know that has no tubes inside. No wonder since the Strumento is using a maximum of 50 Watt from your mains. Some additional information, like a bandwidth over 1,5MHz, a gain resolution of 0.5 dB, frequency response is (-3dB) 1 Hz up to 1 MHz and S/N Ratio of 105 dB. The input impedance is 10pF over 15 kOhm balanced or unbalanced, the output impedance is only 5 Ohm.

It took a short moment to configure the inputs for RCA, set the balance to zero-zero, etcetera. Input gain setting is possible in case one or more sources sound either too soft or to loud. The Strumento N° 1 replaced my hand build tube preamp and formed a combination with the Audia Flight 50 over Yter balanced interlinks. The preamp is powered through Kemp Elektroniks filters. Besides a Magnum Dynalab tuner three different sources where available. The Audia Flight CD One M as a stand-alone player, or digitally connected to a NAS with the use a Logitech Touch digital output. The second source uses the same NAS and Touch, now connected to an Esoteric D-07 D/A converter. In both cases a second pair of Yter cables is brought in. Last but not least a Transrotor record player with SME5009 arm and Transfiguration Axia cartridge spins records, connected to a hand build, tube based, phono preamp. The loudspeakers are a pair of PMC fact.8 transmission lines, wired by Crystal Cable speaker cable. I am very familiar with this system, which is in daily use.

Any amplifier needs time to warm up, so do both the Audia’s, before serious listening starts and maximum performance is reached. Since I wanted to hear what the Strumento does, I used my Esoteric first. It hit me hard as soon as music played. After two weeks I am still not used to the incredible upgrade the Strumento N° 1 is capable of in my system. It is just three weeks ago I told some friends I would never get rid of my tube preamp, now all I want is the Strumento. First of all, no matter what kind of music I play, the impression is always the same. Which means in any music even the smallest details are presented with ease. Not in a technical or clinical way, they are part of the music that flows into the listening room. This flowing is neither romantic, colored nor laid back. It is fast, to the point, pure and natural. Voices and midrange are spread out wide, in the correct proportions. No singer has a mouth like a crocodile or compares to a mouse. Tonally I could not wish for more neutrality. The volume control does not affect the sound, loud or even extremely soft, your attention is always attracted to the music. A FLAC rip of the Blu-ray of Adele Live At The Royal Albert Hall brought tears to my eyes as soon as the audience joins her singing. It was amazingly easy to beam myself into the public and join them. To time travel to the London hall. A Chinese singer with the name of Luo HaiYing, singing in her own language on Supernatural Yala, has musicians behind her with traditional Chinese instruments. The impact of the large drums is immense. The rumbling was never clearer with each strike apart from the previous or next one. Bass is one of the strengths of the Strumento N° 1. It goes very, very deep, well detailed and with impact. It will not overblow or drive your neighbors into madness. It is just there, solid enough to get air into motion. A plucked bass is presented with ease, bass drum hits you in the stomach, fast and powerful. The higher tones won’t upset you in any way. They are light in tone, like the triangle that is present on Legende by Giovanni Angeleri, the (SA)CD contains some of the most famous pieces for violin and orchestra by Sarasate, Paganini, Bazzini and Wieniawski. Or like in the tambourine, with every bell separated from the other. This is by far the best presentation of detail, speed and musicality combined, compared to any other preamp that ever made it into my system. Did I mention the soundstage the Strumento is able to recreate? Just close your eyes and you will never be able to pinpoint the loudspeakers. The stereo stage is width, deep and has enough height. Recreating depth is not that easy in my room, the Strumento simply overrules physics and makes a habit of fooling your brains.

The smooth operation of the top loader door on the CD One M CD player is a delight to be seen. Like everything else in the Audia products it is pure luxury and made for life. Compared to the Esoteric D/A converter, the Audia Flight CD One M sounds just different used as a DAC over S/PDIF. Not better, not worse. It has a bit more speed and better timing, on the other hand the sound is a little more upfront. These differences are highlighted because I upsample the digital information in the Esoteric to DSD format before decoding. While the CD One M sticks with PCM encoding. As a stand-alone player it sounds a bit more shut in, a little more precise and lacking the small additional hardness streaming always seems to suffer from. There is no denying the family relations between Audia products. The CD player, the preamp and the power amplifier reinforce each other’s properties. This was heard with the pre-power, even more when the CD player is added. Although the Flight 50 is not an amplifier with a balanced circuit, it does have XLR inputs. Comparing XLR to RCA shows all benefits that XLR brings, from DAC or player all the way into the power amp, over RCA. The Yter cables seem a match made in heaven as well. So, what we have is a chain bringing out the best digital sound in my system up till now due to the Strumento N° 1.

What is left as a source is the record player, waiting for the grand finale. I lowered the Axia diamond into the groove of the Eva Cassidy record Songbird and that was it. My mouth fell open, stayed open all the way, till side one came to an end. All good properties suddenly shine even more. Playing a record can only be compared to listening to studio masters in high sampling rates. This Strumento N° 1 is an open window to the music for every detail available in the recording. It just flows and flows. I could listen for hours and hours without any stress or getting tired. I invited some friends over on several evenings, the three of them well known for golden ears, used to deal with high end equipment and often to be found on life performances, either for jazz of classical music. Just to make sure my ears and mind did not betray me. The one who only loves tubes admitted this was a solid state setup comparable with only the best tube amps. Another one got (almost) permanent goose bumps. Number three stated that this Strumento N° 1 was by far the best preamp he ever heard. In my humble opinion they are completely right. This Strumento N° 1 is amazing.

It is useless to repeat all the compliments made above. To repeat how well each Audia component blends with the other. CD player, preamplifier and power amplifier. It should be enough to state that I am going to buy the Audia Strumento N° 1, although it will cost me 12.000 Euro’s. I have reviewed even more expensive stuff, of course also a lot of more cheaper audio, this Strumento N° 1 comes into my small list of most wanted products. To get the money for this Italian beauty I have three options: sell my wife to the highest bidder, sell my car or sell my second audio system. I made my choice, anyone for second hand audio equipment? Because I want that Strumento N° 1. Later on I might need even more cash, as soon as we figure out how to get the Audia Strumento No.4 upstairs. If you are in the market for a special preamp, drop in with your dealer and ask him to play a little music through this device. If the setting is right it might just as well grab your attention as it did mine. Enjoy the disappearance of any loudspeaker in use. Music or singing is just there, existing in front of you. Don’t open your eyes to lose the magic, all you have to do is enjoy the true high fidelity reproduction of whatever is on your records and CD’s.

Note: The above review will be published in Dutch in the December issue Of Music Emotion

.......René van Es \Freelance audio journalist for Hifi.nl and Music Emotion

......it does what the very best of solid state can do in the here and now. As such, a ‘great’ solid state preamp. Tube guys, hear this preamp.
Anthony Kershaw

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Strumento n1 will be purchased by those wanting a flexible hi fi system with a heart of a lion. With it in your system, it can be also deliver analog and computer files, and will always be there to provide maximum musicality, maximum flexibility, and yes, even value. You’ll never need another. Highly recommended. 

 

EXTENDED REVIEW: The Italians get a rough ride when it comes to high end audio. Flaky kit, manuals that have been edited by Basil Fawlty, iffy distribution, etc. Sure, it looks good, and often sounds divine, but will the company be here for the long haul? I just reviewed a pair of Italian loudspeakers from Chario. They were superb, exquisitely designed and manufactured. That speaker went a long way to eliminating my prejudices (real or imagined) about Italian gear. Another manufacturer that added to the elimination of misconceptions is Audia Flight (AF).

Audiophilia’s Andy Fawcett the Audia Flight CD 3 CD player three years ago. He loved it. I never got to hear it, but was, once again, worried that Andy may wake up in the Outback and realize there’s no one there to help in case things went wrong. Wrong, again! Audia Flight is going strong and by all the positive notices continues to design and manufacture superb electronics. After Andy’s review and an introduction at last year’s Toronto Audio Show, I wanted to test a piece of Audia Flight kit for myself. I opted for the Audia Flight Strumento n1, the company’s top of the line Stereo Pre Amplifier.

At over US$16K, the n1 is AF’s top preamp and is part of their ‘Strumento Series’. It’s a Line Stage and comes with a hefty metal remote. There are modular system cards slots for phono inputs and SPDIF/USB 192kHz/32bits inputs. With the two extra cards on board, your musical needs, both digital and analog will be looked after for some time. I did not listen to the n1 with phono stage or via the USB, only in its line stage configuration.

More high end prejudices exist when discussing the need for a preamplifier, especially one costing many thousands of dollars. True, there are a plethora of fantastic DACs and Servers out there trying to put the CD Player and Preamp out of business. Not so fast. Every time I listen to a great system with a gorgeously musical preamp, I am reminded they are the heart of a truly flexible and musical system. The AF n1 is no exception.

Structurally, the n1 is a beast. The design is Italian, but with a Germanic heft. It features ‘…fully balanced circuitry, highly selected components, a power supply built with extra low impedance, computer grade capacitors (60.000µF only on the main power suppliers), 8 power suppliers, special print boards with an extra high surface copper, copper bars, special audio transformers, ultra fast rectifiers, are only few of main elements. For the volume control, which also controls the balance of the preamplifier, AF uses only high-precision, low-noise, 0,1% tolerance metal foil resistors. The completely new volume control has constant impedance and is absolutely silent during the commutation, without clicking noises’.

AF boasts the n1 ‘…is the perfect device for transfer of the signal to the power amplifier with the best precision, energy and speed (bandwidth more than 1,5MHz). The Strumento n1 is an unrivalled preamplifier where ultra low noise, speed and control ability are elements close to perfection’.

The unit I reviewed was already broken in. The aluminum front fascia has five buttons along with the largest volume control knob I’ve seen on a high end preamp. The bright display shows menu options, input or volume. The display may be dimmed. The rear sports XLR or RCA connections (Inputs 1 and 2). Inputs 3, 4, and 5 are XLR only. A RCA tape-out is included. The signal output consists of a single pair of RCA’s as well as two sets of balanced XLR’s.

I focused on a few favorite CDs to get a handle on the sound. I was lucky enough to review the unit through Raidho D-1 Loudspeakers (in their size, among the best on the planet), the Audia Flight CD One M CD Player and AF’s Strumento n4, the n1s power brother. More structural beasts featuring magic within (reviews forthcoming).

I am a true admirer of Raidho speakers and am very susceptible to any changes in its ‘house’ sound. The AF preamp gave no indication of coloration — certainly, no straight wire with gain, as it ‘added’ a synergy to the system that was so musical. But, what blew me away with the n1 was the bottomless noise floor. So low, so black. Like a magical elixir. It allowed for many nuances to shine. The new reissue of Billy Joel’s greatest hits emphasized this wonderful quality. Never the best recorded (lots of ‘studio’ artifacts), yet Sony has released a winner. The studio artifice has been removed for the most part, and what’s left is Joel’s amazing musicianship and the wonderful surrounding virtuosos. But, it was instruments such as harmonica and Joel’s own piano that caught my ear. The front edge of the harmonica, with its breathy articulation and the brilliance of Joel’s ‘pop’ piano playing. The piano on his recordings can never be mistaken for a Bosendorfer in a beautiful hall. Here, the piano’s transient and decay was lovely. It was involving instrumentally like few pop recordings from the 70s through the 90s. Usually, all glitz and glamour with string machines and imaginary drummers. The reissue’s engineering helped a lot, but the Audia Flight unravelled the lines magically, too. The noise floor, again.

Voices on CDs from The Cowboy Junkies, Anita O’Day, and Linda Ronstadt floated in the soundstage between and around the Raidhos. This preamp knows how to reimagine a voice, and with the effortless control of the very best preamps. Everything is locked down and solid, but all the musicality and enchantment came through. So many high end devices get the technology but the music remains elusive. The AF is fleshy, but shapely. Every bump in the right place. Audia Flight has taken great pains to use top of the line parts, solid topology and exceptional ‘tuning’ to get the balance right. You would not confuse the n1 with a great tube preamp like Audio Research, Lamm or VAC, but it does what the very best of solid state can do in the here and now. As such, a ‘great’ solid state preamp. Tube guys, hear this preamp.

Orchestral music in this system rocked the room. The Raidhos can outperform just about anything I’ve heard for orchestral replication, and the wonderful trio from Audia Flight matched them every step of the way. I ended with my 1969 von Karajan Beethoven 9, last movement. Always a snarky, red headed stepchild when trying to deliver the music diaphanously. Much like Beethoven’s vocal writing, recordings can get bogged down, especially in the opening orchestral volley, ‘ Millionen’, and the contrapuntal string writing in the 6/8. The n1 did a wonderful job in allowing me to hear the magnificent instrument that Karajan developed (inherited?). Once again, the AF loved to get timbres correct — piccolo (always swamped in this recording), bow on strings in the scrambling 6/8, and bass drum clear as a bell in the back of the Jesus Christ Church in Berlin.

The Strumento n1 will be purchased by those wanting a flexible hi fi system with a heart of a lion. With it in your system, it can be also deliver analog and computer files, and will always be there to provide maximum musicality, maximum flexibility, and yes, even value. You’ll never need another. Highly recommended. 

.......Anthony Kershaw

the Audia Flight performs in an extremely fast, open, and enthusiastic way, but tonally still behaves in a sonorous, pleasant, and minimally warm way within the sound spectrum. It's just marvellous!

STATEMENT
Audia Flight's mk2 version of the Strumento n ° 1 presents itself as a near-perfect high-end preamplifier: in an absolutely convincing manner, it seems to be uniquely dynamic abilities, tremendous attention to detail and precise transparency with a coherent tonality. Vibrant sound colours and a rock solid bass foundation ensure that they are always in tune with the state of the art.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Many audiophiles believe that they can get along without any preamplifier in these digital times. However, I do not share this point of view: "To me a preamplifier is an indispensable partner that, by the way, so should have sufficient balanced inputs. Yet, the Audia Flight does not just impress with its five XLR inputs that were kept on board so in the new mk2 version. There's a lot more to it than that.

Even if there is some excellent value-for-money rated D / A converter as the mytek Brooklyn not only offer analogue input, but highlight a front-to-back analogue signal path, I can not do without a preamplifier. On the one hand, the next, almost every single one of them is being used to make the sound the power amplifiers which sit beside the speakers. So to cover that distance, the signal should be processed in an optimal way. In other words, the output stage should provide a certain current delivery capacity and a very low output impedance. The dogma, the components within the signal path should, in principle, I can not confirm by any of my experimental trials. Converters without analogue volume control I never run without a preamplifier, not even for a short test, because I constantly fear that reducing the volume thus reduces the resolution at the same time. No matter how much I have been enthusiastic about digital technology over the past five years, I remain conservative when the preamplifier comes into play. not even for a short test, because I constantly fear that the volume is reduced. No matter how much I have been enthusiastic about digital technology over the past five years, I remain conservative when the preamplifier comes into play. not even for a short test, because I constantly fear that the volume is reduced. No matter how much I have been enthusiastic about digital technology over the past five years, I remain conservative when the preamplifier comes into play.

Audience Flight with their Strumento n ° 1 mk2. Audia Flight is a company well known for the appreciation of classic high-end values paired with an appropriate use of materials. Einstein's The Preamp, This Italian preamplifier is delivered in a heavy wooden box. Still weighs 28 kilograms. This is due to the extremely attractive and high-quality processed aluminium housing. And in addition, the 40 low ohm filter capacitors designed for voltage up to 100 volts, each with 680 microfarads, as well as the four ferromagnetically shielded and potted mains transformers thus significantly contribute to the weight. So consider the two 75 watt toroidal transformers for the audio circuitry of each of the two audio channels, a 25 watts transformer for the control electronics, and one with an output power of 15 watts for the logical circuitry. The kilograms certainly mount up! The power supply for the audio circuit shows ± 60 volts ± 18 volts for each channel.

Balanced supply voltages of 60 volts do in fact provide lots of "headroom," or high overload stability, as well as nearly unrestricted dynamics, as well as power amplifiers as they are within the hi-fi world audio applications, due to cost considerations. They usually only make sense if they are built up with discrete components. In the studio equipment sector, SPL has been successfully using this technology for years as the test report on the Phonitor 2 and the Director from their Pro-Fi line for home use show. The electrolytic capacitors are located in a special plate to provide electromagnetic interference.

In order to illustrate the circuit topology of the preamp, I follow the signal from the input to the output sections. Let's start with RCA or one of the five XLR inputs. The connection to the non-active XLR inputs from the circuitry; two buffer amps take care of the inverted and the non-inverted part of the now purely balanced signal. The non-inverted signal for the tape recording output is then branched off and fed to the RCA output sockets after further buffering. Behind the two buffer amplifiers of each channel, the Audia Flight features not less than two volume controls: a discrete one with very low-noise metal-film resistors and relays, and one using the PGA2310 IC. The control electronics of the preamplifier decides which one of the two has to be active in the signal path. When the volume level changes, the PGA2310 immediately takes over, as it runs totally silent during the control process unlike the discretely operating controllers. After the relays and resistors have adjusted the required volume level, the control electronics switch the discrete ones back into the signal path.

The company's director Massimiliano Marzi notes in his e-mail that the PGA2310 works so well that it is used in many competitive products for the level control itself. However, their proprietary design with relays and resistors gets a good bit closer to the ideal conception of a complete loss-free volume control with a constant-impedance behavior. And in his eyes that just over justifies the additional expense. Only if the loss of time does not change the momentum in the volume attenuation process. Audia Flight's "constant attenuator" leaves other solutions far behind, and allows for the extremely extended frequency response from 3Hz to 1mHz with a deviation of a maximum of 3 dB and a rate of more than 250 volts per microsecond in the entire level range from -90 to + 10dB. The circuit's control range is 127dB in constant steps of 0.5dB, with the level adjustment runs fully silent without creating any noise in the loudspeakers.

The volume attenuation section is followed by two "gain stages" or voltage amplifiers per channel. This involves a discrete circuit designed by Audio Flight with current feedback, operating in Class A mode. The voltage amplification stage is housed in an aluminum enclosure and is encapsulated with epoxy resin for reasons of thermal stability of all components. A large aluminum plate serves for heat removal. The subsequent, very low-noise output stage, also works in Class A mode. Due to its high current supply capability, it is said to be capable of driving any existing power amplifier, and was put into practice with MOSFET transistors, after having tested circuits with EXFET and bipolar transistors in long listening sessions. The fact that each of the two stereo channels is accommodated on its own printed circuit board, that the conductor tracks feature a particularly thick copper layer, and that grounding and voltage conductors are executed as copper rails, does not really surprise at all in view of the previously described elaborate solutions.

Even though this Strumento n°1 mk2 has already been played at some trade fairs, I offered it a week or two of refreshment on the grid to acclimatize in my listening room. In the meantime, I became familiar with its operation. After pressing the "Set" button, the level of each input can be varied by plus/minus 6dB in order to avoid volume jumps when switching between the inputs due to sources providing different output levels. In the next menu item, the inputs 1 and 2 have to be defined as balanced or unbalanced. Under "Direct" you are able to deactivate the volume control for an input of your choice destined for the operation of the Strumento n°1 mk2 in a multi-channel system—but who, for goodness sake, wants to ever connect such a fine high-end preamplifier to a home cinema system? The next step is "Edit," which offers the possibility to name the inputs individually. "Link" takes care of the configuration of trigger voltages, in order to switch other components in the audio system on or off together with the preamplifier. "Default" restores the factory settings. Last, but not least, you get the version number of the firmware displayed.

The display of the Strumento n°1 shows "DAVE," and I click through the relevant songs stored on the Melco's hard disks, which the Chord DAVE then provides as an analogue signal to the Audia Flight. However, with Muddy Waters' album Folk Singer, which was re-released by MFSL almost a quarter of a century ago, I rest quite a bit longer: a voice, two guitars, a bass and a minimalist drum set—really not that big challenge for a high-quality audio system. And yet I am struck by what the Strumento n°1 gets out of this well-known record. Initially there is this large, brightly illuminated recording studio, added by the sometimes mellifluous, sometimes explosive voice. The vigorously picked guitar strings pounce with a rarely heard vehemence. Willie Dixon's double bass mumbles along as usual due to the recording conditions, but rhythmically it still delivers with propulsion. And when now and again Clifton James kicks his bass drum; this happens with lots of pressure. Dynamics, speed, and clarity get combined by the Strumento n°1 with enthusiasm and vibrancy in an exceptionally harmonic way—and that without a single trace of cold analytics! Over the years, I am more and more weaned off associating design features or the technical data of a component with the sound impressions that I experience. But here the correlation between the preamp's short rise time and the playback's dynamics is virtually imposing. In any case, Einstein's The Poweramp and, without missing the slightest bit, the Kawero! Classic, are inspired by the output of the Audia Flight to new dynamic heights.

On the hard disk, I then come across a recording that is a long time ago Les Cargos by L'Orchester des Contrebasses. The waltz "Beret, Beurre, Cornichons" has not lost anything of its fascination-yeah, if my memory does not deceive me, it sounds even more exciting. Not least because of the Strumento n ° 1, the seven voluminous performing basses act here with an enormous joy of playing and a virtual swinging lightness. What is the difference between the low-frequency impact and the smooth flowing of the melodies. For pure enjoyment I listen to the radio play for seven double basses: In "Week End a Deauville" They describe the car's journey to the sea: wind, crying seagulls, chugging marine diesels, the tooting of a ship's horn, and even the rattling of the rigs in the wind. The excellence fine detail resolution and the extraordinary transparency of the Strumento n ° 1 allow a clear view of the tremendous virtuosity of the septet in its creation of sound effects. While I am still intrigued by the squeaking of a long-term fading away, and while thinking about the further progress of the story, the initial intense impulses of "Vertigo" suddenly startle me. Oh no, you do not need any further polemic words against too-short track intervals in modern CD recordings-as reasonable as that would be.

Lots of speed, openness, and differentiation could theoretically, of course, be a little too much of a good thing. Therefore, I briefly give Van Morrison's "Whatever Happened to PJ Proby?" a listen, which has proven to be a bit critical in the presence range during my testing of the terrific Diapason Astera. With the Strumento n ° 1 paired to The Poweramp and the Kawero! this is no longer in question. The quite open-hearted presence now faces a proper lusciousness in the lower frequencies, as the the Kawero! S very well make clear. No, the Audia Flight performs in an extremely fast, open, and enthusiastic way, but tonally still behaves in a sonorous, pleasant, and minimally warm way within the sound spectrum. It's just marvelous! Even if the preamp goes over it too honestly to blamed for playing too euphonically, It does not belong to that kind of analysis. This is an extremely successful approach, which is only to be found.

Over the last few weeks, I have been listening to the Audia Flight, enjoying music for pure relaxation without missing the slightest bit. Nevertheless, Patrik Heral's mandatory percussion improvisation recorded in the monastery of Noirlac, the Einstein suggests a somewhat deeper spatial image. The seven basses in "Beret, Beurre, Cornichons" appear to be slightly more fleet-footed over the minimally slender Strumento n ° 1. The intense beginning of "Vertigo" with the Einstein is at least as exciting as with the Audia Flight. Van Morrison's album Down The Road can be played with the preamp while grooving more intensely. The positioning of the instruments in the imaginary space and their demarcation against each other, on the other hand, are delivered by the Strumento n ° 1 with a little more precision. Regrettably, the listening impressions correspond exactly to the general stereotype: The tube preamplifier performs with a few percent more of emotion; its solid state counterpart plays with a bit more of transparency. Here the individual button has to take over the decision. Both amps differ sonically only in shades, but have in common that they operate at an extremely high level. I really could be happy with either! The tube preamplifier performs with a few percent more of emotion; its solid state counterpart plays with a bit more of transparency. Here the individual button has to take over the decision. Both amps differ sonically only in shades, but have in common that they operate at an extremely high level. I really could be happy with either! The tube preamplifier performs with a few percent more of emotion; its solid state counterpart plays with a bit more of transparency. Here the individual button has to take over the decision. Both amps differ sonically only in shades, but have in common that they operate at an extremely high level. I really could be happy with either!

STATEMENT
Audia Flight's mk2 version of the Strumento n ° 1 presents itself as a near-perfect high-end preamplifier: in an absolutely convincing manner, it seems to be uniquely dynamic abilities, tremendous attention to detail and precise transparency with a coherent tonality. Vibrant sound colours and a rock solid bass foundation ensure that they are always in tune with the state of the art.

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