Audion Lo Sfizio Headphone Amp Reviewed

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 Audion Lo Sfizio Headphone Amp Reviewed

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Audion designed and built the power and output transformers in-house, direct derivatives of their high-end amplifiers. The rather prosaic chassis is actually made from a special aluminum alloy, completely non-magnetic. And the amplifier demonstrates minimalism without masochism: three line inputs, a line out for recording, IEC mains input and decent 5-way binding posts for speaker connections on/off switch at the back, and up front an on/off rocker, yellow power-on indicator lamp, rotary volume control, rotary source selector, tape monitor toggle and a 1/4in headphone jack, 'which makes Lo Sfizio a unique example of real headphone tube amplifier.' Sorry, Luciano: without effort I can think of four others....

With such limited power, I restricted my sessions to the PMC DB1+, Wharfedale Diamond 8s and other speakers that can get by with little juice. But I couldn't resist trying it with LS3/5As, which it drove to listenable levels. Hey, you don't need me to tell you how a 12W/ch rating limits your options. Sources included the Musical Fidelity X-RAY v3 CD player and the SME 30 Mk II turntable, Series V arm, London Super-Gold cartridge and Audio Research PH5 phono amp. Not, I admit, the analogue source one would expect to feed into an 850 integrated.

Squashing as best as possible my pro-Italian/pro-tube prejudices and my admiration for anyone taking a stand like Macri's, I was able to sit back and enjoy many hours of low-key, humble but wholly pleasurable listening. I was reminded of a friend's defense of the Citroen 2CV - the antithesis of a Ferrari but a helluva lot of fun for little outlay, with the total removal of unnecessary complexity. And, damn, is this amplifier musical and sweet, if utterly lacking anything in the form of grunt or kick. It is, indeed, very much like a good single-ended triode, and I wallowed in the vocals of the Hi-Los and the Crew Cuts (mono and stereo 1950s LPs), some Prima and Dino on LP, and the new Mamas & Papas 4CD anthology to listen through those peerless harmonies. Without argument: this amplifier caresses the human voice.

All I could think of was the old STAX F81 electrostatic speaker: you fell in love with it despite the fact that it could never provide bass or level. What remained was so nice that it was irresistible. So, too, this little amplifier sings, like Macri's neighbour, the ghost of Caruso at Villa Bellosguardo. It is devoid of nastiness, it is open and transparent, and it creates a jewel-like soundstage reminiscent of a Victorian puppet theatre. If that sounds twee and precious, it isn't meant to: that's simply Macri's notion of down-sizing. As I once said of the LS3/5A, it's like sex with a dwarf: small, but wonderful.

Even so, can I recommend this to you in the face of the Asian-made PrimaLuna Prologue One, which costs less, looks great and will even drive WATT Puppies? Recommendation depends on one thing and one thing only: your concern for Europe's and America's loss of their manufacturing capabilities. If you do care, and are prepared to vote with your wallet, go for it. Remember: you're being advised by someone who has denied himself of his favourite fruit because the only blueberries he's found in the UK are French. So look to your heart and repeat after me: 'This isn't an amplifier. It's a political statement.'

Read more high end headphone and headphone amp reviews from the likes of Grace, Stax and many others here.

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