It's easy to forget that, once upon a time, the doyen of Italian speaker manufacture made amplifiers. They were mainly valved, oozed the sort of woodcraft found in the company's speakers and sported daft names like 'Quid'.* They were not as successful as they deserved to be, but, hey, the company more than made up for it with a decade-and-a-half's worth of stupendous loudspeakers. Now, for whatever reasons which might motivate a manufacturer to stray from its traditional (or return to a previous) path, Sonus Faber has produced its first new amplifier in more than a decade. And it was worth the wait.
Dubbed 'Musica', which tells us that the firm learned a lot about nomenclature in the intervening years, this compact integrated amplifier looks exactly like something which could only have been created by the souls who gave us such exquisite, trend-setting aesthetic triumphs as the Electa Amator, the Concertino and the Guarneri Homage. Naturally, it's as heavily wooded as you'd expect from a marque with Sonus Faber's traditions, though use of this Mother Nature-sourced, biodegradable material is limited to the front panel. Hence, you get a sensation of a substantially be-timbered product like a loudspeaker, when in reality it's only one of the enclosure's six panels; the rest are metal. But not just any ol' tinny, folded stuff.
Here's where attention-to-detail alone is enough to make you want a Musica. Once you get past - if you can - the glorious, curved-and-grooved, solid-walnut fascia, with its slim, gold, inset panel housing the on/off, source select and level rotaries, you see a completely perforated metal lid finished in a textured black paint. OK, so the holes imply ventilation and therefore either pure Class A or tube circuitry, but within lurks neither. Rather, the orifices allow you to see the four red LEDs which indicate the safe operation of the various stages.
You might argue that this is unnecessary, given that a sexy blue LED on the front panel tells you that the power has been switched on. But you can forget any installation which limits the view of Musica to its front panel. So sublimely attractive are even the top and sides that you won't want to site a Musica anywhere other than on an open shelf or table, just so you can gaze on all its surfaces. Like other deceptively simple devices which continue to fascinate with slowly-revealed details - fine pens and wristwatches spring to mind - Musica doesn't shout out its stylistic fillips. You have to look for them.
You want f'rinstances? OK: The cage is held in place by four thumb screws so you can remove the lid with ease, either to drool all over the innards or for access to the fuses in the power supply. They also proved useful when I tried the NAD PP-1 phono pre-amplifier and couldn't find an earthing post on the back of Musica; hooking the PP-1's earth lead to one of the thumb screws worked perfectly. Next, there's a 35mm diameter gold disc on the top of the cage with the unit's serial number engraved in 6mm tall digits; not for Sonus Faber a mere etching on a sticker at the back. (In case you're wondering, the review sample was No. 049.) And when you do take off the lid, you notice other heart-warming touches like strips of felt on every surface where the cage makes contact with the chassis, to deaden it and prevent vibration.
Now I'm not saying that this is the only amplifier which appears to have been designed without a single detail omission, but - turntable earthing post aside - I can't find one unattended tweak concern...even underneath the unit. Musica sports not four but three feet for levelling on even rough surfaces, a trio of large copper cones plated in gold. And they're not sharpened to furniture-damaging points. Instead, they terminate in 10mm 'flats'. And why the need to worry about placing Musica on a less-than smooth surface? Because this baby would look stunning sitting on a raw slate slab...
At the back, as you'd expect given the rest of the unit's gilding, Musica contains substantial gold-plated phono sockets for all inputs and a single pair for the buffered tape outputs. For CE compliance, the amp is fitted with multi-way WBT binding posts, gold-plated but sheathed in clear plastic, while AC power reaches Musica through a three-pin IEC socket.
Inside are more clues to a thorough development program. The main circuitry resides on a large, thick PCB, fitted to posts which raise it around 25mm above the case. The power supply at the extreme left is assembled on a completely separate PCB, also well-isolated from the enclosure. The PCB is left/right symmetrical, with extensive use of surface-mount technology with an eye, er, ear to short signal paths. Input is via dual-differential JFET, while the output stage is 'error-corrected' MOSFET. Protection covers DC, short circuit and thermal, with a couple of easily-accessible fuses on the power supply PCB.