NORMA Revo-DS1 audiophile CD player w USB / SPDIF DAC

NZ$ 8,750.01 ea (incl. GST)
Norma Audio

NORMA AUDIO’s target is to utilise Technique, Science & Art to create products that reflect NORMA “musical reproduction”.

"Helming the heavy artillery is a rack of rather conservatively designed but still distinctly Italian; Norma Audio electronics. Norma’s Revo IPA-140, which boasts 140 watts per channel but feeling like much more to my senese. senses.  Moronic: odd ways to describe myself for picking up the album jacket to a record that we weren’t even listening too. I don’t know if anyone noticed this, but I did and blushed. Turns out, the spinning record player was a decoy for the Norma Revo DS-1 CD/DAC, which played the compact disc we were listening too. Nice to meet you Norma. Either I’m getting old or digital is finally welcoming the competition that analog has been bringing to this hobby since day one. Lines are blurring and I swear, I haven’t had a drink this entire show — yet." ...... Eric Franklin Shook™ in RMAF 2017 
NORMA'S REVO DS1 Digital Source. It is an extremely interesting product, both for its outstanding technical content and for its noticeable versatility, obviously combined with the rigor of NORMA musical tradition. In addition to a CD player section that represents the evolution of the REVO CDP1R, the NORMA REVO DS-1 source offers a complete set of digital inputs. As a matter of fact, there is both a full bandwidth USB input (192.0 KHz) as well as 4 SPDIF inputs, coaxial, optical and XLR. Therefore, all the features for an advanced digital source are contained within a single frame, and they are able to meet even the most demanding user’s needs with no limitations, both in terms of versatility as well as of listening quality. The same conversion section and the same output stages that made the REVO CDP1R unique, famous and appreciated, are used in REVO DS-1 enabling it to reach top world production levels as the quality of sound reproduction.

In a historical moment when we witness the proliferation of DACs for “computer music”, exclusively designed around the parameters of the so-called technical modernity and cost reduction to the detriment of the potential sound performance of high resolution devices, NORMA proposes a “universal machine” which is highly sophisticated in all the aspects relevant to sound output. You can finally truly appreciate the actual quality of high resolution files, without the limitations imposed by inadequate implementation. A complete set of NORMA DS-1 enables the user to manage and store all digital parameters independently for each input. For instance, it is possible to enable the over-sampling feature at any frequency as the user wishes as well as disable it if undesired.

It is also possible to select the Master Clock source between the Low-Jitter local oscillator and the input signal’s one. Finally, it is possible to vary the upsampler parameters, the digital filter’s response, the absolute phase and the volume of the output signal. All of this can be carried out both via the local controls as well as by remote control.






TEAC CD Player Mechanics, with 5 seconds read buffer of
- Switching between CD player and DAC modes.
- 5 digital inputs, USB, 2 x SPDIF RCA, SPDIF OPTICAL, AES-EBU.
- USB input and SPDIF full bandwidth, up to 24 Bit / 192 KHz.
- Possibility to select the oversampling frequency 44.1-48.0-88.2-96.0-176.4-192.0 KHz or AUTO.
- Possibility to customise for each digital input all parameters, including the value of oversampling.
- Possibility to use as the master A/D clock source the local oscillator or the clock form input signal.
- Two separate local clock oscillator for the two values . 22MHz / 24 MHz (44.1 / 48KHz).
- Local Oscillator high stability, low Jitter and low phase noise.
- Possibility to configure one of the 2 RCA inputs as digital output.
- Two PCM 24 Bit Digital to Analogue converter.
- Digital filter x8 oversampling.
- User selectable filter roll-off (Sharp & Slow).
- Proprietary I-V architecture conversion.
- Analogue output stage based with full discrete devices amplifier.
- Extreme low noise, high resolution and high speed.
- Wide band ( >2 MHz ) schematic topology.
- RCA and Balanced output connection.
- Separate power supply for Digital and Analogue Output stage.
- High filtering capacity with numerous low impedance capacitors.
- 13 Powers supply regulators.
- Full aluminium non-magnetic frame.
- Toroidal transformer specially designed for audio applications.
- Remote control of all functions.


Connections Inputs :
IN1 : USB, 2.0 High Speed
IN2 : SPDIF RCA, 75Ohms
IN3 : AES/EBU XLR, 110Ohms
IN4 : TOSLINK OPTICAL, 96 KHz, (192.0 KHz may be achieved, but not guaranteed)
IN5 : SPDIF RCA, 75Ohms (IN5 can be set as SPDIF Output by CD Mechanism)

Sampling Frequencies: 44.1KHz, 88.2KHz, 176.4KHz, 48.0KHz, 96.0KHz, 192.0KHz
UpSampler Frequencies: 44.1KHz, 88.2KHz, 176.4KHz, 48.0KHz, 96.0KHz, 192.0KHz, AUTO MODE
Based on TI SRC4392
Clock performances: +/- 2ppm typ. at 25°, +/- 10ppm at 60°
Digital Filter: Slow & Sharp mode, based on TI DF1706
De-emphasis: 44.1KHz, 48.0KHz, auto e manual mode
Connections Outputs : Line RCA output, XLR Balanced
Outputs Voltage: 3.0 V RMS (+10 dBV) RCA (at 0 dB), 6.0 V RMS (+16 dBV) XLR(at 0 dB)
Output Impedance: 200 ohm
System Frequency Response (CD Mode): 0,0 to 22KHz +/- 0,3 dB (limited from CD standard)
Analogue Output Filter: 0,0 to 180 kHz +/- 3 dB
Analogue Stage Frequency Response: 0,0 to 2MHz +/- 3 dB
Configuration: Solid state
Oversampling: DF 1706 8 x Digital Filter
Oversampling Filter: User selectable Sharp & Slow Roll-off filter response.
D/A Converter: PCM 1704 Multibit 24 Bit D/A converter
I/V Conversion: I/V Conversion by proprietary topology with discrete component
Output Stage: Proprietary topology with discrete component, high linearity & low noise
Supply: 230 V AC / 50 Hz, (100V AC or 115 VAC / 50-60Hz in some country)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 75 x 430 x 350 mm
Weight: 10 Kg
Note: Integrated Digital Source with full remote control


f it’s a choice between sounding as good as the NORMA REVO DS-1 or playing a numbers game with no guarantee of a sound as good as the DS-1, I’m going with the DS-1.
Alan Sircom

SUMMARY:It would be wrong to think of the DS-1 as just a CD player, because of that transport mechanism front and centre. It’s actually more of a digital hub with a CD transport built in. The rear panel is the giveaway here; it bristles with digital connections
One of the great things about the NORMA REVO DS-1 is that it’s extremely adaptable, thanks to the adjustable filter. This helps it make a better ‘fit’ into a far wider range of systems than most media players. You can specify ‘slow’ or ‘sharp’ filter (as well as spec any form of upsampling). This has more depth than simple system matching, because in a multi-source digital world, not all services are created equal; a well-manicured local collection of high-resolution files and accurately ripped CDs generally sounds a lot better than a haphazard collection of music files curated on an internet ‘music discovery’ service. The NORMA REVO DS-1 allows the listener some opportunity to make the Deezers and Spotifys of this world sound more like audiophile sources, without sacrificing our existing material.

REVIEW: The REVO DS-1 by NORMA is very much a ‘now’ product. It’s the link between the world of spinning discs and the world of computer audio. We’ve long considered computer audio to be an extra shelf on your system; the DS-1 puts it on the same shelf as your CD player.

It would be wrong to think of the DS-1 as just a CD player, because of that transport mechanism front and centre. It’s actually more of a digital hub with a CD transport built in. The rear panel is the giveaway here; it bristles with digital connections (USB, Toslink, two S/PDIF, and even an AES/EBU connector) but only one of the S/PDIF connections is marked ‘out’. All the rest are inputs direct to the DAC board at the rear of the DS-11.

It’s hard to think of NORMA products without thinking of the ethos underpinning NORMA products, and the DS-1 is an intrinsic part of that product design brief. The idea is that the engineering must be excellent (because, let’s face it, the people who build NORMA products are the same people who build test gear), but that is merely the starting point in the process that involved structured listening tests focused on timbre, colouration, transparency, dynamics, soundstaging, grain, and freedom from artificiality. Frequently, too, this is predicated on tests using the human voice, as we are adept at hearing limitations in voice reproduction. It’s this additional design criteria (which, in fairness, is a process common to many brands, but perhaps not in so structured a manner) that helped create the REVO DS-1.

The great thing about this is if you pop the top on the DS-1, you aren’t met with the typical box of air found in some surprisingly high-end products. In fact, you are greeted by three separate PCBs; one for power supply, one for digital conversion, and the largest one as a dual mono output stage. There’s also a toroidal transformer and a smaller daughter board on the DAC board for USB. This last features the popular XLINX chipset for asynchronous USB connection to 24/192. The DAC section itself uses two 24-bit Burr Brown PCM1704 chips, with separate high-grade clock oscillators for multiples of 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampling rates.

Moving back to the CD mechanism, it’s a TEAC unit (although not a VRDS design) with a five second buffer. This means it’s not the quickest of units to work when you press play, but does mean the error correction is at least notionally better than standard unbuffered CD replay. We are in an interesting time with digital disc; as we hear rumours of older discs decaying and even new discs sporting errors, this buffering system is a good idea.

The all-discrete component output stage is – as is common to NORMA products – a wide-bandwidth design: although even a 24/192 track hits the Nyquist-Shannon brick wall at 96kHz, the amplifiers are capable of a frequency response into the 2MHz range. This is to prevent any high-frequency cut-offs working their way down into the audio band, but requires solid engineering to prevent the DS-1 making those ‘papada, papada’ noises when mobile phones periodically poll their nearest cell. Fortunately, as discussed earlier, NORMA is all over the ‘solid engineering’ bit, and the cabinet is as well made as it is elegant. It’s a sandwich design, similar in some respects to Edge’s G-Series amplifiers. The big difference between them is the NORMA makes this sandwich construction look elegant, while Edge… makes it look like an Edge G-Series amplifier.

The output stage also comes with XLR terminals alongside the single-ended RCA sockets. However, you are strongly advised to use the RCA sockets; XLR is best considered vestigial, a sort of pseudo-balanced connection that shouldn’t be used unless your preamp is balanced only.

The Italian player exudes cool, sophisticated charm all over, except for the remote handset. It’s out of place here; an oddly shaped plastic curvy thing that looks as if it came from a £30 supermarket DVD player. Worse, it has function buttons that come with cryptic descriptions like ‘F1’. There is a nicer-looking and optional system remote coming.

One of the great things about the NORMA REVO DS-1 is that it’s extremely adaptable, thanks to the adjustable filter. This helps it make a better ‘fit’ into a far wider range of systems than most media players. The difficulty for a reviewer is that makes it hard to pin down in sound quality terms. You can specify ‘slow’ or ‘sharp’ filter (as well as spec any form of upsampling). This has more depth than simple system matching, because in a multi-source digital world, not all services are created equal; a well-manicured local collection of high-resolution files and accurately ripped CDs generally sounds a lot better than a haphazard collection of music files curated on an internet ‘music discovery’ service. The NORMA REVO DS-1 allows the listener some opportunity to make the Deezers and Spotifys of this world sound more like audiophile sources, without sacrificing our existing material.   

Put simply, ‘slow’ is more of a full-bodied sound; rich and legato, and describing the elegance of the music rather than its raw intensity. On the other hand ‘sharp’ puts emphasis on transient performance and gives the sound a little more pep in its step. There’s a tendency at this point for people to ask “yes, but which one is better?” This is wrong. It’s not about ‘better’; it’s about what best suits you, your musical tastes, and – perhaps most importantly –what best suits your system.

 It’s also easy to get the filter and upsampling options wrong and think the DS-1 a Jack of all Trades, and that the ‘slow’ setting means ‘soggy’ and the ‘sharp’ setting means ‘aggressive’. In fact, the DS-1 does have a common character. It has a rich, refined midrange that gives instruments a sense of harmonic finesse, and builds up and down from there. It doesn’t tame – I played Janis Joplin’s Pearl album [Columbia] both through CD and USB and it gives her raucous energy full throat (which is saying something; her vocal chords were fully weaponised by then) – it just gives body and structure, and that holds throughout.

An important consideration of this ‘shape-shifting’ quality of the DS-1 is not just best ‘fit’ in a system, but how it helps bring out the best in good recordings. But even this ultimately comes back to personal taste. So, the archetypal old-school audiophile, with their collection of 1950s jazz and classical music will gravitate toward the imagery and unforced dynamics of ‘slow’, and those who like audio to replay Infected Mushroom recordings are likely to go for ‘sharp’.

Filter settings, aside, the upsampling options also work not only to highlight good recordings, but also help the less good ones bring out their best. Not everything recorded in the 1960s is fabulous, and the Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills Super Session [Columbia CD] can sound edgy and brash at times. But, by increasing the upsampling, the DS-1 made it possible to listen ‘through’ the harshness, making listening a more satisfying experience in the process.

I am aware that I have devoted more time discussing the filter and upsampling than the sound of the DS-1. But a good digital source should be a discreet and ideal match for the amplifier, and the DS-1 is just that. Those filter and upsampling options just make the DS-1 a match for more amplifiers.

There’s an interesting test that inevitably comes out of this: comparing the sound of ‘live’ CD with the same CD ripped, stored and played through a computer. The best system on the planet isn’t going to shine if it’s one-sided, but fortunately the DS-1 is equally adept at disc and disk. There should be no marked shift in tonality, detailing, dynamics, or overall image size between a well-ripped and a well-played disc, and that holds here. It’s ‘similarity’ rather than ‘identicality’, and I marginally preferred the sound of the CD transport in most cases (the exception being Martha Argerich playing some Chopin preludes on DG, where the ripped version sounded slightly more solid and authoritative by comparison). But, even in the most marked differences, they were at best subtle. Of course, when faced with a really good recording – Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth [MCA] for example – it manages to shine both in an audiophile manner and by presenting the music as a highly enjoyable album in its own right.

Digital is dividing into several niche markets at this time, and NORMA is taking an admirably pragmatic line with the DS-1. If you want to play your CDs, fine. If you decide to rip them to a computer and you want to play them that way, that’s fine too. If you want to play 24/192 files downloaded from the internet, that’s fine as well. OK, SACD and DSD replay are beyond the DS-1, but if it’s a choice between sounding as good as the NORMA REVO DS-1 or playing a numbers game with no guarantee of a sound as good as the DS-1, I’m going with the DS-1.

Here are in any case very beautiful devices that know how to take advantage of our silver patties (CDs).

SUMMARY: The sound recording here is illuminated by the presence of the instruments and the ability of the sound recording to add a lot of material and density to the recording, which is quite unusual for a CD player at this price level. In a simple way, it is possible here to say that everything is there, in a naturally credible way so as not to have to ask the least question about the correctness of the restitution brought by these readers....... If you want good, reliable and efficient players to perform (sorry for the pun intended) your CD collection, listening is really essential. You will most certainly be won over.

REVIEW: A large part of our work consists of listening to and choosing devices that we assess on their relevance and their musical quality / price / reliability / resale capacity for the client.

We also strive to find the ideal marriage between the devices to obtain sets with impeccable musicality. It can often take a long time to discover a device of interest. A lot of listening for ultimately few chosen. And it sometimes happens by the greatest of chances, that listening is not surprising. 

Over the past two years, we have listened to over twenty CD players. To date, only three readers have been referenced.
Today, we are going to present one of them to you, because it is precisely in this section that we call “happy discovery”.

When we received the NORMA REVO DS-1, we had in principle to test its integrated DAC, and not especially that of the CD player. The very dynamic importer of NORMA in France, did not have the immediate possibility of entrusting us with another device. Our curiosity and impatience being the strongest, we obviously agreed. Of course, in addition to its DAC, our curiosity did not wait long before we throw an attentive ear to the reader himself. And there it was a whole other story…

Three hours of heating for a brand new device out of its box seemed to us to be able to show us what it was capable of doing. The DAC of this device is in itself talented for its price but, one of our silver pancakes in the front drawer and presto, we started listening to PUCCINI's orchestral works by Riccardo CHAILLY. A minute later, we looked at each other and realized that we had come across something promising. 

What sound, what image and what sound perspective! A very convincing respect for timbres, a remarkable balance in bandwidth, precision combined with high class sound delicacy, material, rigor, subtlety and transparency as we like. Yes, all of that. And in order or disorder, it comes down to the same thing: high class! And when the price is put in relation, one becomes all the more attentive. 

So of course, very quickly, the importer gave us his NORMA REVO CDP-1BR which does not have a built-in DAC, only to find that the reading mechanics were strictly the same, like his sound signature of course.

These NORMA players allow themselves to listen to the album “ Organ Music Before Bach ” - in CD format - to be better than the same song in file scanned in high definition read by a streamer of the same price category. We then say that we must have an ear problem. This listening is repeated up to 4 times.

The conclusion is clear. 
These NORMA CD players give off an extra life and naturalness which makes the music seem less cold, more warm than the digitized file.

In " Comme Parlait Zarathoustra " by Lorin Maazel or even " Tableaux d'une exposition " by Moussorgsky by James Levine, we come to the same conclusion about the superiority of the CD format. It is ample and majestic. The organ unfolds in space in a coherent way, with a lot of material and energy. The superimposition of the orchestral sound plans is particularly credible. And what a dynamic! NORMA offers us exciting music that sends you beneficial sound waves.

In Christian McBride's "Conversations", the artist's double bass is very present and the natural resonance of the instrument is well embodied. The REVOs are capable of reproducing the low frequencies with a total absence of blurring. It is not runny or heavy. The bass sounds are well structured and structured. They provide a rather surprising listening comfort in this price range.

The same is true with "The eye" by YELLO. The percussions are here brilliantly rendered and a definition quite remarkable. It goes down very low, without overload. It hits as it should and it's a real pleasure to listen. But it is in the mediums that the REVO bring listening comfort with great mastery. Human voices are distilled there with a great nuance of timbre, all with a definition combined with a delicacy that goes very far.

On Julia LEZHNEVA's album, the extraordinary singer allows us to appreciate her vocal range and her mastery of the Mozart repertoire at its fair value.

In the same way, listening to "Live in Montreux" by Rachelle FERRELL allows us to enjoy the artist's very extensive vocal performances - to say the least - in the most demonstrative way. is.

But where the REVOs stand out compared to other devices is that everything is returned with great restraint and subtlety. Everything is there: dynamic, speed, generous sound. But nothing will hit or tire your ears: accuracy and tonal balance, smooth reading, profusion and details of the recordings but no exuberance that would distort the sound message.

It is even more possible to touch these qualities with your ears, listening to "The Chicago Sessions" by Clark TERRY. The superlative sound recording of this HDCD also finds its corollary: listening certainly full of punch but which can be aggressive in the long run with a CD player which is not up to par. It is true that there is a lot to transcribe on this album which has a feeling of life and spontaneity that we do not find so often in the recordings. The dynamic side of the album can often take precedence over the subtlety of the definition.

The REVOs do not fall into this trap here and deliver us an airy and exciting music which does honor to the qualities of this recording. These CD players are just as comfortable on symphonic recordings. In "Orchestra! »From Sirba Octet, the sound scene is reproduced in a very broad way and such that we could be given the opportunity to listen to it in real life. It sings, it lives and brings us exciting moments as we like them. But it is on symphonic formations still spacious that the REVO show the extent of their talent.

In Anton Bruckner's symphony No. 6 by Simone Young, the orchestra is well rendered and the ambitus which follow one another in tutti, unfold in large and deep dimensions. The brass and percussion instruments are not only correctly positioned, but appear particularly credible in terms of the dimensions they assume within the orchestra.

We always find this irreproachable sound presentation with the symphony No. 10 by Dmitri Chostakovitch by Mariss Jansons.

The sound recording here is illuminated by the presence of the instruments and the ability of the sound recording to add a lot of material and density to the recording, which is quite unusual for a CD player at this price level. In a simple way, it is possible here to say that everything is there, in a naturally credible way so as not to have to ask the least question about the correctness of the restitution brought by these readers. For all self-respecting CD players, however, it remains an essential step to subject them to. We are very keen on a simultaneous comparison with vinyl recordings.

Why such a whim?
It's very simple. We are trying to find out if a reader is capable of providing a sound reproduction that ignores the cuts provided by digital processing. Yes, still this barrier between digital and analog perception… Our test is immutable. We have the original recording of Oscar Petersen Trio's “We get requests” and compare it to our CD version. Then comes the turn of the 4th symphony of Bruckner by Sir Georg Solti, to finish with the album "Communiqué" by Dire Straits.

The REVOs get away with it once again.
So certainly, one of our referenced CD players is even closer to analog playback. But the REVOs are just behind. We can blame them for a little extra shine compared to the vinyl recording, or even a brio, a more accentuated shine. But nothing unacceptable or excessive in any case.

Mediums with listening to voices are particularly comparable to listening to vinyl. The bass is a little more punchy, but it does not affect the quality of the sound image on the contrary. Treble can appear with a more accentuated sound perspective, but the increased definition of REVO is probably the cause. Here are in any case very beautiful devices that know how to take advantage of our silver patties.

For those who plan to acquire a DAC at the same time as a CD player, you could build up a beautiful, very musical ensemble for their REVO DS-1.

The REVO CDP-1BR as a single player is certainly not the most economical of CD players on the market, but for its price it often offers much more than the competition. If you want good, reliable and efficient players to perform (sorry for the pun intended) your CD collection, listening is really essential. You will most certainly be won over.


The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior sound. Try. Play someone a system you've spent ten years comparing and meticulously refining. You're convinced of its quality. But if that person doesn't like it, nothing will convince them. There's no proof that your system is better than theirs. This drives engineers batty. If they design the fastest race car, get the best driver and have just a bit of luck, they win the race. Posting the best time proves that their car was fastest. Zero ambiguity. But hifi is full of it. Ambiguity. And the other stuff.

Naturally marketeers don't capitulate so easily. They exploit our human desire for proof and certainty with snazzy figures. With hifi amps that used to be power. More was better. Eventually that got ridiculous. Who really believed they needed 2 kilowatts? Then the game became a bit subtler. Now it was about total harmonic distortion or IMD. The more zeros behind the decimal point the better. Once that game was up—people soon realized they couldn't hear the difference between 0.0001% and 0.000075% THD—marketeers aimed for the still empty space in front of the decimal point. Hello sampling rates. At press time we already had three D/A converters—Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum, Gryphon Kalliope, exasound e20—which could do DSD 256 at 11.28MHz. No such software exists. Yet. No matter. It's basic psychology. Higher numbers win.

Jim Ricketts of TMH Audio applies this type of proof again to the pre-decimal space but now amplifiers. He focuses on their slew rate and bandwidth. His comparison table lists Soulution's 710 and 720 models and the darTZeel CTH-8550. At 100kHz the first Swiss amp gets clobbered by the second Swiss which offers 1MHz. That one gets hammered by the Norma with 2MHz.

It also annihilates the darTZeel's 88V/μs slew rate with 175V/μs. Soulution's isn't available. Norma for office! What does slew rate sound like? It's all very suggestive, no explanations required. Like that 2MHz is just an octave over 1MHz. Or that human hearing cuts off at 20kHz. Two bands below. Why would you want such excessive bandwidth? Never mind. The biggest numbers win. Welcome to hifi marketing 101. Flip a page in Jim's book and you get to the equally Italian Alef brand. That weighs in with 6MHz bandwidth. "Think Soulution but executed at a much higher level!" That's how he puts it with a capitalized emphasis. Naturally Alef didn't make it on his Norma comparison chart as this might steal sales from himself. Plus Alef's 180μs slew rates—just five more than Norma—could raise uncomfortable questions when this type of math finally hits its limits. Are we dazzled yet?

Enrico believes there is proof. But you need educated ears. 

It took seven years and a concentrated R&D project started in 1991 to quantify how hifi gear compromises signal purity. Enrico's company Provision began manufacturing Norma gear in 1997 but had already built measurement equipment to have him well familiar with the necessary tools: Living and being headquartered in Cremona influenced me. Our city is steeped in music and musical instruments. Think Monteverdi, Ponchielli, Giuseppe Verdi, the master violins of Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri. They left a great legacy to our school of violin making and the university's music faculty. I fondly remember student competitions to insure the few free subscriptions our school provided for concerts at the Teatro Ponchielli. The human voice and song are one of my greatest passions. Listened to attentively, the correct reproduction of the human voice is one of the most difficult tasks. If the recording quality allows, the micro/macro dynamics of a beautiful voice are incredible as are the richness of detail, expressive nuances and delivery refinement. And unlike other musical instruments the human voice is known to all. This enables immediate comparison. It's why I often use the human voice in the development of Provision gear.

Beyond material aspects it's important to understand a product's design philosophy. Over the years folks hearing Norma products asked what our secret was. As direct expressions of our perception and thinking, we though them simple and devoid of secrets. But over time we concluded that as often happens, what's really important isn't obvious to outsiders. What's the secret to the Stradivarius sound? After exploring all possible combinations of wood, ageing and lacquer, we still don't know. Perhaps the real secret was the designer's sensitivity, taste and love which intuitively or strategically guided very specific choices. In the absence of such intense desire, none of the available materials and processes would have ended up being shaped as they were.

Playback electronics influence the sound even more than what's generally believed. Here we distinguish between sonic appearance and quality. Elements of appearance ease our perception. Its parameters include tonal balance, soundstage articulation and certain dynamic aspects as long as deviations remain tolerable rather than become irreparable compromise. Sonic appearance is what strikes and impresses a listener at first. Aside from creating something like an imprint, it then loses importance little by little. With ongoing listening more important parameters reveal themselves mostly related to the actual structure of the sound we perceive. This no longer is about basic ingredients but how they were treated and combined. With fruit it'd be the degree of ripeness and flavour. With a person it'd be character and intelligence, not height, weight, race and gender.

This gets us to quality which also gives pleasure but is neither short-term nor a coincident mechanism that connects with an emotional memory of a previously pleasurable experience. Sound quality is a kind of long-term love that arises with a more intimate discovery of sophisticated features. Perception of sonic appearance is instinctive. Perception of quality is learnt and depends on being able to perceive specific traits, then assign values to them. Here we deal with the absence of distortion and grain, with the quality of speed, micro/macro dynamics, spatial relationships within the soundstage. More so than any other parameter, the one we're particularly concerned with is lack of playback artifice. We accept that whenever an audio signal passes a circuit, it exits degraded compared to how it entered. The very best audio gear can hope for is to commit the least possible degradation. Without an ability to capture and assign values to specific quality aspects, there can be no deeply fulfilling design work. Consider a wine novice. The best initial impression might come from a glass of fresh sparkling lambrusco. Only with deepened exposure and refinement of the palate does the true universe of wine open up. One cannot truly love that which one doesn't know.

The art of sound reproduction is no exception. It relies on a more profound understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Here one arrives at a more fundamental level than superficial instinctual sonic beauty. The easiest way is to alter the sound to make it more pleasant yet one cannot fix something faulty by adding another fault. Two faults don't make one right. The interpretative approach is also limited and not universal. Soft focus works well in a wedding photo but gets annoying in a landscape. Altering one parameter to improve it invariably affects other parameters in unpredictable ways. More is lost than gained. Subjective gains in appearance can thus mean a loss of quality.

The elements of audio electronics which influence sound span circuit type/topology, parts quality, mechanical engineering, power supply and more all of it interdependent. It's imperative to have the broadest possible understanding to properly gauge how particular choices interact. To design a winning Formula 1 car everything must be perfectly integrated and of the highest quality, from the engine to the chassis, suspension, tires, driver, pit team and more. During our 7-year R&D project we attempted to investigate the totality of factors influencing hifi sound and how they interrelate. Starting with circuit topology, we saw that minimalism itself guarantees no good overall performance. Returning to the F1 car, a single-cylinder engine won't lead to victory. Our Norma circuits are thus very elaborate. Another important aspect is dynamic delivery. Whilst it's often considered sufficient to have bandwidth that only slightly exceeds the audible spectrum of 20Hz-20kHz, in our opinion bandwidth must be far greater. This relates directly to overall circuit speed and its ability to supply instantaneous current.

Returning to the automotive industry, one might calculate a certain drag coefficient and the power required to maintain it at 130km/hr, say 25KW. Based on the audio bandwidth example, one might conclude that a 40KW motor is sufficient to guarantee a good driving experience. Now imagine a car with a 200KW engine driving at the same 130km/h. It will respond better to acceleration and give us more pleasure and performance. Compared to the speed changes of driving, the scope of music's dynamic gradations has a crest factor of 1:100 which is a power scale of 1:10.000. From that follows that bandwidth, speed and current can never be too high. To be fair, frequent solutions to bandwidth increases come at the cost of sonic naturalness. At Norma we have worked very hard to combine these seemingly irreconcilable aspects.

Just as the best F1 car won't perform without high-octane gasoline so the best circuits rely on adequate power. For this reason all our power supplies are extremely refined and account for power-grid isolation, DC, very low residual noise and very low output impedance all the way up into the ultrasonic range. Continuing our F1 parallel experience teaches us how important materials and parts are. How often have we seen an F1 car at the edge of the runway with its engine smoking? Some sophisticated tech solutions cannot be implemented without the proper parts. Certain parts are vital to realise certain circuit topologies whilst signal-path components can have a very marked influence on the sound. Unfortunately the best parts are nearly always difficult to source and very expensive. One example are seemingly trivial resistors. In certain strategic locations our resistors are about 1.000 x more expensive than already excellent 1% metal-film parts. The same is true for semiconductor batches of 1000 where each is measured, graded, selected and matched for each unit's left and right channel. Our mechanics are carefully engineered and free from ferromagnetic elements except for the power transformers.

With our SC-2 preamplifier the external power supply contains a first stage of stabilisation followed by further voltage filtration in the main unit by means of independent l/r-channel circuits. The volume control which so often is a bottle neck is a programmable analog digital attenuation scheme which optimises attenuation accuracy, channel balance and resolution with minimal signal impact. Steps are 0.5dB from 0 to -127.5dB with ±0.01dB accuracy. The switches are electromechanical relays to overcome limitations of solid-state switches, CMOS DACs, solid-state potentiometers and such. In addition all our preamps operate either active or passive. In passive mode the signal is tapped right behind the volume control and sent directly to the outputs to bypass the active gain stage. This can be triggered by remote.

Back to sound, timbre is almost exclusively a function of the speaker/room interaction. In our opinion alleged electronic influences on timbre are side effects of limited bandwidth or a typical transistor issue of graininess which suggests excess treble. Bass is very dependent on a power amp's power supply. In our products we aim for absolute frequency linearity across the widest possible bandwidth without narrow-band colorations which would alter the ratio of frequencies. Transparency is an absence of blur and haze. This makes statements like 'this sound is too transparent' idiotic. Just like vision can never be too sharp so sound can never be too transparent. What people really mean by excess transparency is that they hear issues being unmasked elsewhere. Real transparency as we understand it isn't a function of treble emphasis but must start at 0Hz. With Norma electronics, shortcoming elsewhere in the system will be exposed.

Dynamics, speed and modulation are three facets of dynamic behavior which must track the continuously variable music signal whilst applying gain. Here the power amp's job is hardest because besides amplifying voltage, it must also deliver current to the speaker and absorb kicked-back electromotive forces. Failures on those counts change the wave form to become distortion. Success relies on bandwidth, speed and ultra-fast delivery of very high currents. Under dynamic conditions our Norma electronics behave like a fine 12-cylinder engine: powerful, flexible, responsive, fast, perfectly torque balanced and capable of also running at very low RPM to reproduce both minuscule changes and large voltage swings.

Soundstaging is primarily a function of a precisely symmetrical speaker setup to exploit the arrival-time difference between let and right ear for a virtual recreation of what the microphones captured. Apart from extreme channel imbalances, electronics are more or less excused from responsibilities in soundstaging. Which gets me to the first watt, a concept virtually unknown in Italy at the time. I was introduced to it at an Athens show with our Greek importer who showed our electronics and low-power tubes plus a classic American dynamic speaker and a well-known high-efficiency variant. When we arrived the latter were set up with the valve gear. As a gesture of welcome the importer offered to switch to our Norma electronics with the American dynamic speakers. Being curious we asked to hear the highly efficient speakers on our gear which the importer was reluctant to do expecting detrimental results for both his products. But he did anyway and as a result that combination played for the duration of the show offering one of the best sounds we've heard. This first-watt phenomenon is a classic Achilles heel for transistor electronics which during very small power demands exhibit parasitic phenomena like inherent background noise, grain, crossover distortion and such. After this experience we examined the subject at length and conducted numerous comparisons to insure excellent performance on this count. Our Norma amplifiers are thus equally suitable for very high-efficiency and very low-impedance challenging loads.

Grain is related to the physical mechanism whereby current flows through a semiconductor. This gives rise to a separation of the conduction current into discrete charges. To simplify, consider closing down a running water tap until a very thin stream of water stops running continuously but transforms into individual drops. Something similar happens to the electrical charges in semiconductors. This includes a component of parasitic noise generated by a similar process. It translates into an audible but hard-to-define quality which is perhaps best described as the discomfort of a pinching shoe. It explains listener fatigue or feedback of the sound being too accurate. The truth is the opposite. The sound is too coarse in both texture and background noise. Here Norma electronics are truly extraordinary by offering a fineness of grain almost unique.

Artificiality is the least technical aspect but for us the by far most important. We've always pursued the creation of audio electronics which sound the least artificial. If we created two parallel events—one live, one playback—beyond matching all parameters as ideally as possible, what would most differentiate them is this artifice. Its reduction or lack is what generates ongoing listening pleasure over long sessions and many years. It's perhaps for this reason that once people have heard Norma gear, it's very difficult to listen to anything else.


Norma DS1 video