poniedziałek, 18 lipca 2016

The Fezz Audio Titania Tube Amplifier [English Version]

Last year, in December, I wrote about a premiere tube amplifier, a product of the polish company called Fezz Audio; it was the Silver Luna model (read the test HERE), based on the EL34 vacuum tubes. This amplifier was a big success throughout Poland, a lot was written about it, and there have been several very favorable reviews - the device has hit spot-on, right in the middle of the hopes, expectations of Polish music lovers. It may well be stated that that the market was waiting for this very type of amplifier. The designers at Fezz Audio, flying on the wings of success of this debut project, have since prepared a new amplifier, more advanced, this time one that is founded upon the KT88 vacuum tubes. It has been given the name Fezz Audio “Titania”. It was first presented in May this year, a premiere at the High End Audio Show in Munich. Moreover, at the very beginning of June, this model has arrived for auditioning tests at Stereo i Kolorowo.

Before I shall carry on with the description of the Titania, may I remind you that the very existence of Fezz Audio was made possible by the Lachowski Brothers, out of Księżyno, adjacent to Bialystok, who have grown up with this project stemming out from another of their companies, namely out of www.toroidy.pl (as founded by their father). Toroidy.pl is a designer and manufacturer of toroidal transformers, power supplies and other components, intended for audio equipment. It is worth mentioning that the company has undertaken the difficult task of applying toroidal transformers as power supply and output speaker transformers, adressing the needs within vacuum tube based amplifiers. Especially for this purpose, innovative technologies have been developed for the production of cores, as well as special wire winding methods. Several years of research have resulted in speaker output transformers that may be designed for virtually any type of tube amplifier (Single-Ended, Push-Pull. etc). Whats more, they managed to achieve such high and precise values of the technical specifications of their toroids, that now, even the Japanese folk may feel ashamed. And all of this has happened in an establishment located in a small village called Ksieżyno, adjacent to Bialystok ...

General Feel and Build
Just as the "Silver Luna" name may be interpreted as the "Silver Globe" (such as our near Earth orbit, our Moon), the Titania - most probably relates to a moon of the planet Uranus, as one of it’s satellites has such a name (as derived from Greek mythology). Moreover, there is yet another amplifier under preparation, in “the works”, one based on the 300B tubes, called the "Mira Ceti". The Mira Ceti is a variable star within the Cetus constellation… But coming back down to Earth now ... the new Fezz Audio Titania is a design development stemming from the Silver Luna model. And a very successful one, as worth noting. Visually, both look somewhat similar: a slightly vintage style, the same knobs for the volume control and the source selection, the same finishing touch to the steel casing with a metalic paint and the whole units supported by neat chrome legs. The differences between the units pertain grossly to their size – the 'Titania is much wider than the Silver Luna (410 cm versus 320 cm) and in weight (17.5 kg vs. 15.3 kg). The top chassis of the Titania is equipped with slightly different transformer enclosures. The round one is similar, but instead of one single, elongated cover (as was the case in Silver Luna), the Titania makes use of two triangular shaped covers.

It need be noted that the Titania looks great. It is an ascetic design, but an impressive one. Not overly contrived. Attention is drawn not only to the original design, but also to the first-class workmanship, attention to finishing details, the sleek lacquer casing (available in several different colors), and the chiseled plate with the Fezz Audio logo at the front. All this gives a feeling that one is communing with a highly thought-out, robust and reliable product. Complete. And yet the experience of Fezz Audio in the production of tube amplifiers does not exceed one year!

Similarly as in the Silver Luna, this amplifier is equipped at its back with just three pairs of input jacks and a set of separate 4 and 8 ohm speaker impedance taps. There is also an IEC socket and a power switch. Economy and purism. No frills, such as digital interconnect sockets, no Bluetooth connectivity antennas, no iPhone sockets. I am one hundred percent convinced. The Titania is a stereo tube amplifier, and not some multifunctional device.

Speaking of tubes, the Titania is structurally founded on the KT88 output power vacuum tubes, and on the ECC83 (12AX7) within the preamplifier. The buyer receives a whole set of tubes (in a separate box), for self-assembly. It is worth stressing that the KT88 and ECC83 tubes come from a reputable manufacturer, Electro-Harmonix. Maybe not the top-of-the-charts manufacturer, but certainly one that is robust and perfectly maintains technical specifications. After unpacking the amplifier proper, the vacuum tubes need be insterted in the correct slots (they are carefully labeled with numbers from 1 to 6). Even a child would be capable of dealing with this task. A nice surprise is that the manufacturer supplies the amplifier already with BIAS settings that are properly measured and adjusted. You do not need to do this by yourself during initial start-up, but of course, some time, after one or two months, a check-up would be useful. The whole procedure of setting the correct BIAS is described in detail in the amplifiers manual (as contained in the box or available from the Fezz Audio website). Unfortunately, the tubes have no mechanical protection - there is no protective cage included. Perhaps, in the future, the producer will start offering some such thing?

It would be fitting to quote Fezz Audio, which describes its amplifier design in the following words: ".. Toroidal Signal Transformers, as applicable in the context of tube amplifiers output transformers, are a component, to which the company Fezz Audio has committed a lot of time. Alone the construction of special measuring stations, adapted for different types of vacuum tubes, was a tedious, time-consuming task, that lasted nearly 12 months. During this period, approximately one hundred prototype transformers have been manufactured, allowing extensive testing, but also enabling to gain a wide knowledge base as to the mechanisms that govern the operation of a toruses within the output stage of a vacuum tube amplifier.

This research has shown that the application of toroidal cores triggers some very interesting advantages over equivalent E-I lammel based cores, as used within the same system. A structurally optimized toroidal output transformer boasts, above all, an excellent degree of coupling as achieved between the primary and secondary windings. This then yields an unusually low value of stray inductance. In conjunction with a very high value of inductance as achieved in the primary winding, the whole amplifier achieves a very high level of the quality Q factor."

Technical Specification
Type: stereo vacuum tube amplifier
Output power: 2 x 45 W / 8 Ω
System architecture: Push-pull, class AB1
Output impedace: 4 Ω / 8 Ω
Inputs: 3 x RCA
Distortion THD: < 0.2 %
Frequency response: 18 Hz-103 kHz (-3 dB)
Power consumption: 180 W
Fuse: 3.15 AT
Weight: 17.5 kg
Dimensions: 420 x 410 x 175mm
Vacuum tubes: KT88 x 4 (power output), ECC83 (12AX7) x 2 (pre-amplifier and power drivers)

The Electro-Harmonix vacuum tubes are delivered in separate boxes

The tubes need be installed by the customer. This is not a complicated task, and user manual is very helpful in this respect

The KT88 vacuum tubes, as the main stars of the project

 A modest, yet attractive design

Triangular transformer covers

Titania as standing on the Rogoz-Audio platform, and this - on a Solid Tech audio shelf

In the middle – the Eryk S Concept Kestus loudspeakers

To the outside – the Triangle Esprit Antal EZ loudspeakers; to the inside – the Pylon Diamond 28

Sonic Impressions
I hooked up the Titania amplifier primarly with three types of floor-standing loudspeaker pairs: the Pylon Diamond 28, the Triangle Esprit Antal EZ and the Eryk S Concept Ketsus, as well as with the Studio 16 Hertz Canto One New monitors. The speaker cables used were the XLO UltraPLUS U6-10, exchangeably with the AirTech Evo. A detailed list of associated ancilliary equipment is available at the end of this text.

As a foreword to the listening experience: previously, the Fezz Audio engineers were able to offer a very successful model, an EL34 vacuum tube based model, called the Silver Luna. This amplifier provides a great sound and at the same time, does not cost a fortune. The Silver Luna primarily represents a saturated, realistic sound, and at the same time - accurate and natural. A sound without any signs of aggression or nervousness, but smooth and colorful. A well balanced and rhythmic sound. Sort of like a "not-from-a-vacuum-tube" sound, as per popular perceptions. Stating which, I do not want to suggest that the Fezz Audio is a true, one hundred percent pedigree transistor unit, because it is friendly to the ear, it has this delicate warmness to its midrange, and a slightly rounded bass. Generally is sounds fantastic. And it's hard to argue with that. Therefore, after receiving the Titania model for testing, I was wonderinf if this new amplifier can actually sound even better, in absolute terms, than the already sublime Silver Luna? Because sometimes … sometimes improvements and extensions of systems within Hi-Fi Audio do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with any distinct and noticeable progress, but come only with a slight change. But this was not the case with Titania, as it really constitutes progress as compared to the Silver Luna, and thus being said, in a whole broad range of sonic extent.

The Sound of the Titania may be described as offensive and rhythmic, mighty and malleable, but at the same time as examplary in its rigorousness and endearingly colorful. It is a blend of tube and transistor styles, but with a predominant indication of the latter. In terms of “tube-ishness”, the Fezz Audio bears in itself a kind of lightness and ethereal sound,with a certain warm charm and roundness of the tones, but without any hint of sweetening-up, over-warmth, or glueing-up of the sound (…as some tube amplifiers tend to). One can feel its great heat and energy, but without any fatness, or slowing down of the sound. The sound is full, but not exaggeratedly so, it is not overgrown with excessive lard. The presentation is full, dense, with a discernible distant echo, with clear soundstage planes and with a very nice timbre. The first few soundstage planes are strong and thick, but also of a high resulution, so that they easily present a lush midrange, and a vastly diversifed upper range. The trebles are beautifully separable and well voiced. Deeper soundstage planes are also present, but they are not as fabioulously diferentiated as it is in the case of the first few planes. They are still visible, but they are wearing a light veil, you can hear their ‘distance’. This is by no means a complaint, just a mere statement of fact, as the challenge to show the true depth of the real soundstage is a feat commensurable for amplifiers with a price tag of 15 000 PLN or more.

It is worth noting that Titania has a great feel of the soundstage and that she distributes it suberbly. The soundstage is very wide. No doubts about it, it spans wider and beyond the outer side limits of the loudspeakers. It even steps slightly forward, in front of the line of the loudspeakers. It comes close up to the listener – one can literally feel it at arms length, at the reach of your fingertips. As for the stereophony, it is proportional, it propagates symmetrically, like mirror images. This is a very big advantage of the Polish amplifier.

Now, a few words about the cooperation of the Titania with loudspeakers. As mentioned earlier, I connected the Titania with four pairs of loudspeakers: the floor standing Pylon Diamond 28 (90 dB effectiveness), the Triangle Esprit Antal EZ (92 dB), the Eryk S Concept Ketsus (91 dB), as well as with the Studio 16 Hertz Canto One New monitors (87 dB). The amplifier boasts quite a good power, for a tube device, with as much as 2 x 45 Watts, a parameter that is sufficient to properly drive even some difficult loudspeakers. With those available for the test, the Titania coped easily and freely. I do not want go into detailed descriptions of the exact nature of the sound of each and every set, because they all played more than just correctly, amicably and symbiotically. Even the seemingly difficult load, such as the Canto One New (due to their lower efficiency, 87 dB) sounded complete and realistic. The sound was saturated, crisp and strong. Thus, I believe that the Titania is predisposed to cooperate with a significant majority of loudspeaker units that are available. It has so much power and clout, that it effortlessly controls the transducers of many a loudspeaker. It has a fair chance of sounding very well, if not even remarkably. For examples sake, when paired up with the Polish Pylon Diamond 28 loudspeakers, I consider such a system as a reference in its class and pricepoint. This is living proof that a system with a price tag of 14 000 PLN (Titania - 7 500 PLN and Diamond 28 - 6 500 PLN) can sound like a thoroughbred High-End. Stylish, full-blooded and mature.

The Fezz Audio Titania is a great tube amplifier! Reliably designed, executed more than just decently, with classic, although very individual looks. The sound may best be described as passionate and powerful, full-bodied and malleable. Dense and of a high resolution. High Class.

I would recommend that you listen to this Fezz Audio Titania, because it is an amplifier that can fascinate and hypnotize with its sound. And then it shall stay for years to come as a permanent piece of equipment of a true music lover, one for whom music is most important.

The price of the Fezz Audio Titania is 1 950 EUR.

The test system
Amplifiers: Hegel H160 (test HERE), Pathos Classic One MKIII (test HERE), Audia Flight FL Three S (test HERE), Cayin CS-55 A (test HERE), Eryk S Red King Premium (test HERE) and Dayens Ecstasy III (test HERE).
Loudspeakers: Triangle Esprit Antal EZ (test HERE), Studio 16 Hertz Canto One New (test HERE), Eryk S Ketsus Special (test HERE), Pylon Diamond 28, Polk Audio T50 and Guru Audio Junior (test HERE).
Digital sources: player CD Musical Fidelity A1 CD-PRO, Schiit Bifrost Multibit (test HERE) and NuForce Air DAC (test HERE).
Computers: MacBook Apple Pro, Acer Aspire ES13 and Asus Pro P43E.
Turntables: Nottingham Analogue Horizon with an Ortofon 2M Black (test HERE), Pioneer PLX-100 with an Ortofon Quintet Bronze and Lenco L-90 with a Goldring Elan (test HERE).
Phono Preamplifiers: iFi iPhono (test HERE), iFi iPhono2, Primare R32 (test HERE) and Trilogy 906 (test HERE).
Tuners: Rotel RT-1080, Yamaha T-550 and Sansui TU-5900.
Cassette Deck: Nakamichi Cassette Deck 1.
Minisystem: Pioneer P1-K (test HERE).
Headphones: RHA MA750 (test HERE), Final Sonorous II (test HERE), Final Audio Design Adagio V (test HERE), Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI (test HERE), Oppo PM-3 (test HERE) i AKG K545 (test HERE).
Headphone amplifiers: Cayin C5 DAC (test HERE), S.M.S.L. sAp-8 i Divaldi AMP-01 (test HERE).
Cabling: speaker cables: Cardas 101 Speaker (test HERE) and Melodika Brown Sugar BSC 2450 (test HERE). Seria XLO UltraPLUS. Full cabling set: AirTech, Evo series.
Accessories: Phono audio base: Rogoz-Audio 3SG40 (test HERE), Loudspeaker bases: Rogoz-Audio 4QB80 (test HERE), anti-vibration feet Rogoz-Audio BW40, Audio shelf Solid-Tech Radius Duo 3 (test HERE) and a turntable mat Harmonix TU-800EXi (test HERE). RCA cover plugs Sevenrods. Speaker Terminal Jumpers: Sevenrods Speaker Jumper.

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