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- Written by Randall Smith Randall Smith
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 01 February 2011 01 February 2011
After five years of reviewing, I’m still surprised at how often I hear of a new audio company: constantly. But in this day and age, when new companies pop up daily, it’s nice to learn of a company that has been producing quality audio gear for almost 15 years.
Audia Flight is headquartered in Civitavecchia, on the coast of central Italy, not far from Rome, and was founded in 1996 by Massimiliano Marzi and Andrea Nardini. Both men had backgrounds in the professional electronics industry, and their goal was to design and build components that neither altered the audio signal nor slowed its transmission. From their work was born, in 1997, the company’s first success: the Audia Flight 100 power amplifier. Audia Flight products have been distributed in the US since 2005.
The Audia Flight Two ($5700 USD) is a moderately powerful integrated amplifier that outputs a claimed 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 180Wpc into 4 ohms. It weighs a stout 41.8 pounds, the bulk of that weight on the left side, where the power supply is. The low-profile chassis stands only 4.5” tall; the rest of the box is a squarish 16.5” by 17.3". The faceplate is brushed aluminum, while the top and side panels are formed from a single continuous piece of aluminum painted a textured black. On the left side of the top surface are a number of 2.33”-long slots for ventilation. They’re needed -- throughout the review period, the Two emitted a lot of heat. Even when idling, it was quite warm to the touch.
On the rear of the Two are six pairs of inputs: one balanced XLR; four single-ended RCA, labeled 1, 2, 3, 4; and a fifth pair of RCAs, labeled Monitor. There are also two pairs of single-ended RCA outputs: one set, Pre, can be connected to a power amplifier so that the Two can be used as a preamp only; the other set, Rec, sends the signal to a recording device, whose output can then be fed back into the Two’s Monitor input. Also on the rear are an IEC power inlet and two pairs of binding posts, the latter placed close together on the panel’s right. Banana plugs will work best here; the spades of my Analysis Plus speaker cables proved challenging to affix without turning the cables upside down. No real problem there, though it’s a bit of an eyesore: the cables stick up in the air. The silver-colored sheath of the provided power cord makes it look more like a good aftermarket cord than the standard cords most companies provide.
On the front panel is a small display indicating the volume setting and which input is selected. Below this are six buttons: On, Input, Monitor, Balance, Set (for the setup menu), and Mute. To the right of these is a large rotary knob for adjusting the volume and navigating the setup menu. Also provided is a simple but weighty remote control whose eight buttons perform the same functions as those on the faceplate, with a finish to match.
The setup menu can be used to adjust the gain, in 12 steps of 1dB each, to match different sources’ output levels. Also adjustable is the phase of different source components, and the inputs can be edited: you can change the readout of, say, Input 1 to the source component’s name connected to Input 1. Finally, there’s a feature that’s a must for me: Bypass. With this I can connect my home-theater receiver to the Two to use only the latter’s power-amp section while bypassing its preamp section. The volume is then controlled by the receiver.
The Two has two 100W RMS high-bias amplifiers and a pair of large 520VA toroidal transformers, the latter accounting for much of the unit’s considerable mass. Having two transformers, in this case, means that the Two is a dual-mono design. The Two has a claimed signal/noise ratio of 95dB and a slew rate of greater than 180V/μs. According to Wikipedia, “the slew rate represents the maximum rate of change of a signal at any point in a circuit. Limitations in slew rate capability can give rise to nonlinear effects in electronic amplifiers.” Audia feels that having a high slew rate gives the Two greater transient capability.
For this review, the Audia Flight Two powered my pair of Rockport Technologies Mira speakers. My digital source is an Apple iMac running Amarra 2.1 and iTunes, which sends a digital signal to my Weiss DAC2 digital-to-analog converter. All cables are Analysis Plus. The system is set up in a dedicated listening room treated with acoustical products from Real Traps.
After a couple of weeks of breaking in the Audia, I decided to break my ears in with a little Tower of Power. I’m a fan of this R&B, soul, and funk band from San Francisco, whose first album was released in 1970. Direct Plus (CD, Sheffield Labs 10074) is a 1997 reissue of Direct (1988), which was recorded live in the studio, and “Fanfare/You Know It” displays much of what makes the band great: a brilliant brass section playing with other great musicians in a cohesive sound that has lots of drive and great flow. The track opens with the producer arranging the brass section for the opening of the song. Each horn had its own space on the soundstage, and the depths of the voices were reproduced and laid out within the space in very realistic proportions. At reference volume levels, the extreme highs of the horns can push the limits of a tweeter and, more important, of the listener.
My Miras can handle such extremes without losing their composure, and I found the Audia Flight equally capable. While the Two sounded mostly neutral to my ears, it was a bit warmer than dead neutral. Its ability to map a soundstage was razor sharp, its retrieval of minute detail very good. The pace of “Fanfare/You Know It,” from the drive of the bass to the dynamics of the highs to the in-your-face brass section, remained intact and properly reproduced. The only drawback was that the Two’s soundstage wasn’t as deep or as wide as that of my reference integrated amp, the Simaudio Moon Evolution 600i ($8000).
The next track was a new addition to my library. I’m a big Ray LaMontagne fan, and his new album with his new band is quite enjoyable. The lyrics of the title track of God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise (CD, RCA 65086) appear to be a letter written a century ago, by a logger to his love back home. The song opens with eerie steel guitar and several prominent drumstrokes that dance across the soundstage. It’s those drumstrokes that draw my attention -- each explodes within the recording space, and the engineers have captured plenty of ambient cues. The Two properly reproduced not only the weight and impact of each stroke, but its presence in the recording venue as well. It’s often the little things in recordings that end up meaning the most to us; the Audia Flight Two was capable of retrieving such details.
Lately, it seems that every one of my reviews mentions a Neil Young track, and this one is from Live at Massey Hall 1971 (CD, Reprise 43328), a great live recording. Young precedes his solo performance of “Ohio” by tuning his guitar, a sound I knew well throughout my teens -- hearing friends tune their guitars, over and over, imprinted those sounds in my brain, and hearing Young do the same, reproduced by a great audio system, brought those memories rushing back to me. In fact, the warmth of the Audia Flight Two made Young’s guitar sound far more real than it does through the Simaudio 600i. The pitch of each note, the way the sound changes as the string is tightened or loosened -- it all felt quite right. And the Two’s touch of warmth helped smooth the harshness of the upper register of Young’s voice. The Simaudio sounds a bit sibilant in comparison.
The Two’s ability to retrieve and lay out a soundstage was one of its strong suits, even if it couldn't quite match the extraordinary 600i. One track that offers a challenge in this regard, with many different instruments playing simultaneously, is “I’m Trying to Break Your Heart,” from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (CD, Nonesuch 79669), the album that brought Wilco into the mainstream and inspired a number of critics to label them America’s next great band. The track opens with a drum kit imaged directly at the center of the soundstage, and the sounds of an out-of-phase keyboard ringing everywhere in the room; meanwhile the sound of a bell drifts in and out, until two acoustic guitars enter, one in each channel. The unusual sounds at first seem mismatched, but come together into a cohesive whole that is ultimately soothing and melodic. This track was made for a great hi-fi audio system, and in its recording and in its reproduction, transparency is the key. With pinpoint imaging, and a proper amount of space and air around each instrument, the right audio system can re-create something more than a simple song. The Audia Flight Two was capable of bringing this track alive in my room: individual plucks of strings, keystrokes of the piano, and unintended sounds within the recording space -- it was all there, just as it should be, stable on the soundstage, with razor-sharp leading edges.
Finally, I found the Audia Flight Two to be as gutsy in the bass as any other integrated I’ve had in my system. A fun track for testing the quickness and stability of an integrated’s power is Jack Johnson’s “The 3 R’s,” from the Curious George soundtrack (CD, Brushfire R 718348), which puts a big drum kit in your listening room. The punch of the kick drum was very tight through the Two, providing great impact. My Rockport Miras, with an impedance of 4 ohms, are capable of playing down into the low 30Hz region in my room; while the Two wasn’t the most powerful amplifier I’ve used with the Miras (those would be power amps from such companies as Coda and Classé), the sound never seemed to run out of steam in the lowest octave. The Two exerted great control over the Rockports, particularly in the bass.
At $8000, the Simaudio Moon Evolution 600i costs $2300 more than the Audia Flight Two, but it did provide a great comparison. Many think the 600i is one of the best integrateds on the scene today -- in fact, Philip Beaudette felt it the best integrated he’d ever heard.
What do you give up by spending $2300 less? First, the Two is no piece of audio jewelry; the 600i is. While the Two isn’t unattractive, it doesn’t immediately draw your gaze when you see it. Second, while the Two’s volume can be adjusted in 0.5dB increments, the 600i offers truly fine tuning through the heart of its operating range, in increments of only 0.1dB. The 600i also makes it easier to switch between inputs by requiring you to press only one button on the remote; with the Audia Flight, you first press Input, then the “+” or “-” button to scroll through the inputs. I also found the Two’s remote less responsive than the Simaudio’s.
But in terms of sound, the two integrateds were more alike than different. Both sounded basically neutral, the Audia Flight being slightly warmer in the highs. The Simaudio provided the wider soundstage, but was a bit more sibilant in the highs. The 600i also revealed more ambient detail, a subtle difference that was nonetheless apparent with the right recording -- for instance, the decay of each drumstroke in the Ray LaMontagne song lasted a bit longer with the 600i than with the Two. And both models provided adequate power to my Rockport Miras. In the end, I found the differences less apparent when I switched from the 600i to the Two than when I switched from the Two to the 600i. I concluded that spending $2300 more for the Simaudio Moon Evolution 600i will indeed buy you more, but I’m not sure it will be worth $2300.
It’s always great to discover a new audio component that brings you closer to your music, and that’s how I feel about the Audia Flight Two. Before its arrival, I’d never heard of Audia Flight. Now, after several months with the Two, I know what I was missing: It brought music alive in my room in a way that moved me. And that’s perhaps the highest compliment I can pay it. The Audia Flight Two is a great performer at a fair price, and one that I could enjoy listening to for a long, long time.
. . . Randall Smith
- Speakers -- Rockport Technologies Mira
- Integrated amplifier -- Simaudio Moon Evolution 600i
- Sources -- Apple iMac, Weiss DAC2, Amarra 2.1, iTunes music player
- Speaker cables -- Analysis Plus Silver Oval
- Interconnects -- Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In
- Power conditioner -- Blue Circle BC6000
Audia Flight Two Integrated Amplifier
Price: $5700 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Audia Flight S.n.c.
Via delle Azalee 13/E
North American distributor:
6 Mayflower Court
Milford, CT 06460
Phone: (203) 877-7776
Fax: (203) 783-0500