A Splendid Pair of Amplifiers From Fern & Roby

Fand R 3

Regardless of which Fern & Roby integrated amplifier you choose, the instant you turn it on, you will be taken back by the sheer quality of the sound that comes out of these small, well crafted cast iron boxes with bronze control knobs. Great sound is always the requirement here, but when great sound is combined with great industrial design, especially when it’s in a timeless manner as it is here, that’s an instant home run. The Audiophile Aparment is way to new to be handing out awards yet, but this amplifier is worthy.

Beyond the aesthetics of the F&R amplifier, there is a high density of thought that has gone into this piece to make it as special as it is. While not high power, the sound that it produces is of extremely high quality. If you’ve ever wished to get thirty watts worth of $10,000 amplifier sound in a compact, stylish package, your ship has landed. And stylish it is. The rounded corners and bronze control knobs have such a wonderful feel to them, you don’t want a remote control, you want to get up from the couch and interact with this amplifier. If you’re the kind of person that loves the way a Bentley door closes, or that soft “clunk” that a Leica camera makes when the shutter is depressed, you’re going to love the F&R amplifier. And the clear top panel lets you see the craftsmanship inside, instilling further confidence.

Fand R 2The F&R gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s built like a tank – seriously, the outer case is cast iron. I could probably drive a Ford F-150 over this thing and not do any harm. It’s got either four line level inputs (the $2,800 model) or three line level inputs and a Moving Magnet phono stage. (the $2,300 model) Both feature an output for a powered subwoofer too, so if you want to press one of these mighty little amplifiers into duty for a compact yet high performance 2.1 system either to rock your apartment or make for a stunning stereo home cinema system, this amplifier is up to task.

Both models look identical, and ironically the one without the phono stage actually costs more. Suffice to say that this model features a beefier preamplifier, where the phonostage went and higher grade, hand picked parts throughout. It’s kind of like getting that $4,000 gear set for your bike versus the $1,000 set. There’s an ease to the performance that the lesser model doesn’t possess. Both are great; the phono equipped model will be the choice for most, yet the more crazed audiophiles in the crowd (especially those with a high performance record player and phonostage) will appreciate the extra finesse that the $2,800 model without phono brings to the table.

While the F&R integrated amplifiers are solid state, and that’s a good thing, they have a warm, organic sound that might remind you of vacuum tubes. If that top plate wasn’t clear, you might even be able to be fooled that there’s a glass bottle or two inside. That magic is courtesy of master amplifier Michael Bettinger, who has been more than around the block as a major audio industry veteran. The circuit was designed with painstaking care to where every component was placed – each one rearranged for the perfect outcome, a zen-like approach.

Prepare to consume a glass or two of your favorite beverage and sink into the couch for some uninterrupted personal time with the Fern & Roby integrated amplifier. Whether you are a seasoned audiophile or new to this game, you will be impressed. And while you’re shopping, check out the other cool things on the F&R site…

www.fernandroby.com

Fand R 1

REVIEW: Technics is Back!

It just seemed fitting with the Technics C700 integrated amplifiers 80s vibe, with a mint, vintage Technics SL-1200 turntable connected to spin A-Ha’s Hunting High And Low. Although in this case, it’s more like when Chris Griffin is bouncing in and out of this classic video. If you’re expecting the warm sound of vinyl, forget it, as the C700 is a digital amplifier throughout, converting analog signals into digital before amplification.

Good sound, yes. Analog warmth, no. So, whether you’re a new convert to the format or an aging vinyl lover, records played through the Phono input of Technics new C700 sound more like high resolution digital downloads (not necessarily a bad thing) than LPs. We never had anything like this in the 80s. For those of you wanting the technical overview, click here. (http://www.technics.com/us/products/c700/su-c700.html#features)

You could do a lot worse for $1,600. The C700 offers a lot of sound and functionality in a compact package, and that’s the perfect thing for the audiophile apartment on so many levels. With multiple digital inputs, an input for a turntable, an additional analog input (cassette deck anyone?) and a headphone jack on the front panel, think of the C700 as an audio bento box. There’s a little bit of everything inside.

On the outside, the C700 is finished in a matte silver with a slight texture. The controls are the utmost in simplicity; power button on the left, input selector on the right, with a larger control knob in the center for volume. The power meters are backlit, as are the inputs, listed in a small, sans-serif font. The style points are indeed high in the C700. While understated at first blush, it’s worth mentioning that the C700 has the build quality of a much more expensive piece. This is one of the perks that Technics brings to the table; massive depth in engineering and manufacturing.

su-c700-img-product2-exProducing 45 watts per channel, the C700 should easily be able to drive any pair of speakers you feel like using with it and we had great luck with everything from a vintage pair of JBL’s to the latest Tablette Anniversary (review here). The C700s clean, crisp sound grabs you immediately, filling your room with sound. It’s super coolio power output meters on the front panel glow in the dark with an oh-so soft blue luminescence and are sure to bring a smile to your audiophile Dad’s face.

Setting up the 18 pound box is quick and easy. Plug in the power cord; hook up your speakers and your favorite sources. Those wanting to spin records need only to know that the phonostage is designed for a Moving Magnet (MM) phono cartridge. There are three coaxial digital inputs (RCA), an optical digital input and a USB input for direct connection to your computer, which accommodates all digital files in PCM format up to 24bit/192khz resolution as well as DSD files.

Windows users will need to download the driver from the Technics website in 32 or 64 bit flavor but Mac users need do no more than plug in and rock, which is exactly what I did using the Roon server software streaming files from my NAS and Tidal. Both work equally well, despite the extra labor to download Windows drivers.

Unable to get out of the 80s groove, I drove everyone crazy revisiting my college years before succumbing to some current music. No matter what kind of music you love, the C700 will provide hours of enjoyment. The overall sound is very balanced and this small amplifier will make more than enough noise to get you evicted or make new neighbors. It does a fantastic job of revealing the nuances in your favorite recordings without ever sounding harsh or fatiguing.

Technics by Panasonic was a ubiquitous brand in the 70s and 80s when Japanese hifi ruled the audio world. It looks like they are making an excellent comeback. Watch TONEAudio Magazine for further reviews on their reference components and possibly the new turntable that Technics has just announced.

 

www.technics.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Plinius 980 Integrated Amplifier

PLINIUS 980 moody 2

 

In a small apartment setting, space is always at a premium. The Plinius Inspire 980 Integrated addresses this challenge by combining an amplifier, linestage, MM phonostage and DAC in a modestly sized case to provide its owner extreme versatility for digital and analog playback. It is a fantastic hub to your system with a minimal footprint—just add speakers and source components.

The unit’s dimensions are modest—about 18 inches wide, 14 inches deep and 3 inches tall—though the slender frame is somewhat deceptive when lifting the unit. It weighs in at a surprising 22 pounds, a result of its burly transformer for Class A/B amplification which delivers 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms and roughly double that into 4 ohms. Around back lurks inputs for a turntable, two optical inputs and two single-ended line-level sources. There’s also a set of XLR inputs for a CD player, plus an Ethernet port and a USB input for networking from computer-based audio sources and DLNA-capable devices. As a nice bonus, the 980 also offers a wireless connection option.

As with other Plinius products, the 980 features simple and understated aesthetics. The smooth, bead-blasted aluminum faceplate is interrupted only by a volume knob and two buttons to toggle source selection. The 980 comes with a remote, but the $7.99 Plinius Arataki app (available on the iTunes store) makes controlling the unit from your listening chair even easier.

The unit’s dimensions are modest—about 18 inches wide, 14 inches deep and 3 inches tall—though the slender frame is somewhat deceptive when lifting the unit. It weighs in at a surprising 22 pounds, a result of its burly transformer for Class A/B amplification which delivers 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms and roughly double that into 4 ohms. Around back lurks inputs for a turntable, two optical inputs and two single-ended line-level sources. There’s also a set of XLR inputs for a CD player, plus an Ethernet port and a USB input for networking from computer-based audio sources and DLNA-capable devices. As a nice bonus, the 980 also offers a wireless connection option.

PLINIUS 980 rear viewThe Plinius sounds neutrally voiced, with little glare, grain, or stridency. It does not romanticize music or lean towards euphony. There’s just a slightly forgiving and relaxed quality to the sound; a delicate balance between warmth and stark realism is the name of the game here. The 980 has no noticeable roll-off among high frequencies. Piano key strikes in the upper region have the requisite plink, ring, and ambient decay. There’s no lack of bass either, with a solid, punchy grip that goes deep.

The internal 24-bit/192-kHz DAC can handle any digital files you have on hand except DSD, but for 99.99% of you, that won’t be an issue. It does a stellar job on CD quality files as well as high resolution digital files, if they are at your disposal. Those migrating from iTunes, Spotify and the like will be equally impressed at the sound of MP3 files through the 980.

Vinyl lovers will find the Moving Magnet phono input equally handy and the 980 turns in not only an excellent performance, but one that is equal to the rest of the components inside the box, making this a well balanced all rounder.

The Inspire 980 costs $4,450, which is not chump change. But given the quality of all the elements within—amp, preamp, DAC and phonostage—it’s a far better value than similarly performing separates. For those who don’t need wired or wireless home networking capability for music retrieval from a networked drive, the Inspire’s little brother, the 880, offers the 980’s prowess for $3,650.

If you have limited space to dedicate to your hi-fi system or if you simply want to scale down the number of components in you audio arsenal, this all-in-one component offers a lot to love. The Plinius 980 integrated amp is recommended enthusiastically.

PLINIUS 980 front 34

http://www.pliniusaudio.com/en/Plinius_Range/Integrated_Amplifiers/Inspire_980.html

REVIEW: The Other Great Mini From the UK – ProAc!

 

In many ways the Brits are the kings and queens of getting great sound out of small speakers. A typical British listening room is usually in the neighborhood of about 12 x 15 feet (3 x 5 meters), so this suits apartment living well. ProAc calls this diminutive speaker the Tablette and commemorating 30 years of production, calls this model the Tablette Anniversary. Typical British understatement.

The Tablettes need about 30 watts per channel to really sing, but should you be a more crazed audiophile, the better your source components are, more giddyup the Tablettes will have. Powered by the Fern & Roby integrated amplifier $2,800 (review link here) that we currently use as a reference in the Audiophile Apartment, makes for an amazing combination. Music lovers on a budget will do well to consider a Rega Brio-R amplifier at $899 (review link here), which was TONEAudio Magazine’s Product of the Year in 2011 and still a favorite around here. Hell, if you’re on a tight budget, spend all your money on the speakers and grab a Harmon Kardon 730 vintage receiver. You can grab one on Ebay for $150. You can always buy a better amplifier later.

The minute you fire up these tiny (10 5/8” H x 6” W x 9 ¾” D) marvels, you’ll be knocked back like the dude in the Maxell chair. These little speakers rock the house with full range sound that is incredibly disproportionate to their size. And yes darling, they produce real bass. Ok, you won’t be able to blast Skrillex or Deadmau5, but on all other program material they have enough reach in the lower register to listen to anything else. Auditioning Stereolab’s Dots and Loops proved very palatable indeed, with sounds bouncing all over the room! The next track, “Lift Off” from Mars & Mystre keep the energy high and we’re all striking poses around the living room like we’re at Fashion Week.

AUD-APT-Tablette-review-detailStreaming the title track from the Afghan Whigs Gentleman album via Tidal at high volume, Greg Dulli’s voice reaches right out of the speakers pulling me to attention. These little boxes can play loud, really loud if you need them to. Slowing it down for Elvis Costello’s rendition of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” from The Spy Who Shagged Me brings the vibe back to a more relaxed mode, revealing the character that defines his voice. Just letting my laptop swim through my music library, served up by ROON (www.roonlabs.com) made this review a ton of fun; there was nothing these little speakers can’t handle.

You can place the Tablettes anywhere in your room. If you place them up on a shelf, try to get them out from the wall as far as possible as their rear port will do wonky things to that glorious bass if you place them right up against the wall. For more critical listening, we suggest some 28” speaker stands so that the tweeter is pretty level with your ears. This will give the most expansive sound, but if you have to compromise as many of us apartment dwellers do, you still won’t be disappointed.

$2,200 is a lot of money to spend on speakers, but the ProAc Tablettes are so damn good, these could be the last pair you buy. And should you ever move out to that big McMansion, you can always add a subwoofer, but that’s another story!

AUD APT-Tablette review

The ProAc Tablette Anniversary

 

MSRP: $2,200

 

www.soundorg.com   (US importer)

 

www.proac-loudspeakers.com (factory)