Sonus faber Musica Amp Reviewed

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Users gain access to the device's half-dozen line-level inputs through a mechanical selector with switched 'ground line', while level is adjusted through a custom-made conductive-plastic volume potentiometer. The on-off rotary completes a symmetrical line-up, the switch positioned to the left, directly in front of the power supply. And the power supply is the heart of Sonus Faber's Musica. At its core is a large toroidal transformer, a brace of 'customised' 15000(F main capacitors, independent supplies and ultra high-speed 'Schottky' diode rectifiers in double bridge configuration for the input gain stages and output stages, and discrete voltage regulators for the input gain stage.

Which seems like overkill for a rating of only 50W/ch RMS into 8 ohms. Low power is Musica's most intriguing puzzle when you factor in its size and price as well. At 425x335x155mm (WDH) and with a weight of 16kg, Musica is no lightweight. And a price tag of 2490 means that it must compete with some seriously heavy-hitters, not counting the myriad separate pre/power combinations available at the price.

For the sake of brevity, can we accept one minor marketing concession? Is it alright if, from this point on, we assume that - like valves vs transistors - customers want either integrated amps or pre/power combinations? Otherwise we could be here for months, setting up face-offs between integrateds and like-priced pre/power pairings. OK with you? Fine: that means you need only think of Musica as battling the Krell KAV300i, the Classé CAP-100 and other 'high-end, entry-level, solid-state' integrated amps. Besides, we all know that a separate pre/power combination remains the committed audiophile's choice, if only because it ensures an extra power supply...

I know what you're thinking: Musica was made to drive Sonus Faber speakers, so you're expecting a litany of incestuous pairings. Wrong. You can assume correctly that the Musica was voiced to work with everything from Concertino on up, though the power limitations preclude satisfactory use with the now-departed Extrema, and the Guarneri demands the sort of amplification which knows no limits, including cost-based. So let's dispense with the blood ties first: I have now heard Musica with Concertino, Concerto, Concerto Grand Piano and Minima Amator, and there are no signs whatsoever of internecine warfare. with Sonus Faber speakers who's in the market for a sub- 2500 integrated amp must add Musica to the shopping list. And it would be bizarre if this amp work perfectly with its own kind. Far more revealing, then, are the other, non-Sonus Faber pairings I tried.

What you must understand from the outset is that (like Guarneri Homage), Musica is all about subtlety and finesse, with sheer power almost an afterthought. As such, Musica is not even in the running if you want brute force, and the likes of the Krell KAV300i or Classé CAP-100 with slaughter it in the muscle stakes. So, with this in mind, I used Musica with speakers which would wallow in its virtues, like LS3/5As, old Quad ESLs and the high-sensitivity New Audio Frontiers Reference. And it was playback through the old Quads which made me realise that I was in the presence of a very special amplifier indeed.

Using sources which included the Krell KAV-300cd and the Basis 2000/Rega RB300/Grado Prestige analogue front-end with NAD phono stage, Transparent interconnects and A.R.T. speaker cable, I assembled systems not that farfetched in terms of relative costs. What I did not expect was a combination of transparency, and liquidity which can only be described as valve-like, floating above bass which demonstrates all the control of solid-state amplification and none of the aggression. At the risk of sounding like a recent MOSFET convert, I have to say that this is the sweetest, most relaxing, most seductive non-valve'd amplifier I've heard since the original Primare.

Those with their ears to the ground know that Sonus Faber spent a lot of time tuning Musica, and that some of Europe's most refined golden ears were involved in the listening sessions. And two of those whom I know were part of the team are among the most learned, experienced and estimable listeners I've had the pleasure to know. As a result of this teamwork, Musica has been honed to display uncanny precision, especially in image positioning, retrieval of fine detail and transient attack. The mid-band is so exquisitely lifelike that vocals possess both the texture and the air which are required to make you think the singers are in the room. But it's the character of the treble which defines the Musica.

Think bells or chimes, running water, anything which tinkles without clatter. Dig out a recording with loads of glossy, glassy upper-octave information. Xylophone, castrati, triangles, Guy Mitchell whistling - doesn't matter. Just play it and listen to the way the upper frequencies shimmer. It's spine-tingling. It will have you lock an Iris Dement CD on repeat. And it's enough to make me want a Musica.

But nothing is perfect. I'd like to see a CD player in the same cabinet so as not to spoil the eye-candy effect; Musica is too pretty to place next to anything else. I'd like remote volume control. And a price just south of 2000 would make it a more sensible choice for owners of Concerto, Concertino and Minima Amator - especially now that the lire sits at 3,060 to the pound. But maybe I'm just being unrealistic. Or selfish. Because Musica, as it stands, is a gift.

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