Audia Flight FLS1 preamplifier Page 2

Wow! Simply miked, recorded with an Ampex 354 tubed tape deck, and mastered by Bernie Grundman, this record is a stunner! Those two geezers are right! My bad—and my loss—for never having played it! Recorded live in a Montreal church, this production has it all: huge space, and a brass quintet that goes low with a bass trombone and high with a piccolo trumpet. And, of course, there's that pants-flapping pipe organ. Enrico O. Dastous's arrangement is so canny that I don't miss the orchestra—each movement sounds and feels fully fleshed out and complete.

I seriously enjoyed this album through the FLS1: It conveyed well the richness of the brass, the enormous sense of space—especially depth—and seemed to plumb the deepest frequencies of the pipes controlled by the organ's lower pedals. Switching to my reference darTZeel preamp demonstrated that the FLS1 was guilty of no sins of commission, adding to the brass no grain, etch, or hard edges.

Playing The Planets through the darTZeel demonstrated that the FLS1 did lose some bass weight and some sense of drive in a long-held organ note in Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, and softened the brass's subtle attacks. Through the darTZeel, the image height goes through the roof, and the space opens farther, from very good to "you are there" (though I've never been there). Brass attacks and textures went from pleasingly burnished (Audia) to properly metallic (darTZeel).

I entered the digital domain. Pipa player Zhao Cong's Sound of China (CD, Modern Records MCD3101UHQ) is a superbly recorded collection of classical Chinese music and hybrid "East/West" blues/jazz kitsch, engineered in Copenhagen by Hans Nielsen. The result sounds like a soundtrack for a contemporary Chinese film, with depth-charge bass-drum thwacks and delicate flutes, plus strings, guitars, pianos, Chinese lutes, and voices. I'd played Sound of China often through the darTZeel, on both CD and LP, and was familiar with its spectacular sound: sharply drawn 3D imaging, generously wide and deep soundstages, precise transients, super transparency, subterranean bass, and every other desirable attribute of an audiophile sonic spectacular. It's occasionally corny, but it's a lot of fun.

The FLS1 passed it all in a balanced, evenly diminished form: Those bass thwacks lost some weight and slam, overall dynamics were somewhat diminished in scale, the midrange richness (one of the Audia Flight's most attractive qualities) reduced transparency somewhat, transients were slightly softened, and instrumental textures somewhat homogenized. But once my ears acclimated, I enjoyed it as much as I had through the far more expensive darTZeel NHB-18NS—again, the Audia Flight FLS1's only sins were those of omission.


The best $1000 phono preamp
While it's unfair to compare a $1000 phono card that slips into a high-quality power supply-and-switching infrastructure to a $1000 outboard phono preamplifier whose cost includes its power supply, case, and chassis, the FLS1's phono card performed well above its price point in every way.

I ran an Ortofon MC Century (0.2mV output) and a Lyra Atlas SL (0.25mV), among other cartridges, into the Audia Flight's MC input, and the combination of enough gain and "black" backgrounds resulted in a dynamic expressiveness that did sonic justice to these cartridges. I also tried MuTech's RM-Kanda Hayabusa, which I reviewed in "Analog Corner" in the March 2019 issue—in terms of output (0.45mV), an even better match for the phono preamp's gain.

Regardless of cartridge, the sound of the FLS1's phono card was commensurate with that of its line stage: it leaned somewhat toward the warm, midrange-rich side. Depending on where you wish to go, you could add a somewhat bright- and/or aggressive-sounding cartridge, a Shelter 301 or Denon 103R to make things sound warmer.

The FLS1 owner wanting to play vinyl without investing too much would be smart to drop the $1000 for the phono card, rather than compromise on a less-expensive outboard phono preamp.

Headphone amplifier
Other than on airplanes and at the gym, I don't use headphones much. Nonetheless, I plugged my AKG 701 headphones into the Audia Flight FLS1's headphone jack. The AKGs have a reputation for sounding bright and analytical, though I've found that, with enough break-in, they don't sound actually bright—they're revealing, which is a nicer word for analytical. Through them I hear everything, and their bottom end is impressive.

Drive them with a relatively powerful, well-designed headphone amplifier like the one built into the Audio Flight FLS1, and they sing sweetly—even if the FLS1's headphone amp is specified to output 12W into 8 ohms and the AKGs have an impedance of 62 ohms. I enjoyed the sound, but not being an expert on headphones or headphone amps, I'll leave it at that.

Happy conclusion
Though designed to retail for $6995—in today's High End, that's considered a moderate price—the feature-packed FLS1 doesn't look, feel, or sound as if Audia Flight has compromised on quality. Everything about the Audia Flight FLS1 made for pleasant listening and reviewing.

While the appearance of an audio component isn't critical to its sound, it does matter—especially when that component is a preamplifier. The preamp, after all, is where you meet and greet your system every listening session, and hopefully will for a long time.

The FLS1 looks good. You get a deluxe experience when you interface with it, via either its front panel or its solid, brushed-aluminum remote control. The FLS1 feels solid. From the outside (I didn't open it up), it seems well built, and its logically designed menu system was a pleasure to set up and use. I especially liked the big, easy-to-read display.

The FLS1 sounds good. Its sound was very well balanced—essentially neutral, especially throughout the midrange. Though the FLS1's overall sound was on the smooth, rich side, its clean transient attacks and generous sustain kept it from ever sounding bland or boring. The performance compromises made by Audia Flight's designers to bring the FLS1 in at under $7000 were made carefully enough that they were either inaudible or at least easy to ignore. And the options of easily adding an impressive-sounding, highly configurable phono preamplifier for $1000, and/or a DAC for $2000, only add to the FLS1's attractiveness.

If you're in the market for a versatile preamplifier for under $10,000—and especially if you play vinyl—add the Audia Flight FLS1 to your list.

Audia Flight
US distributor: The Audiolux Group
Rochester Hills, MI