Audia Flight CD Three

by admin on March 5, 2011 · 18 comments

in Digital

An Audiophilia Exclusive: The First review of the Audia Flight CD Three

by Andy Fawcett

I don’t recall exactly when I first stumbled across Audia Flight, but do remember being mighty impressed by a Stereophile review of their Phonostage, suggesting it gave the revered $30K Boulder 2008 some stiff competition at one-fifth the price. I mentally filed the company away in my “These guys are serious!” category, and thought no more about it. After all, their impressively constructed, aluminium-clad range occupied a price band where I didn’t expect to be doing much digging.

Things changed when, while discussing an unrelated issue with the ever-helpful Boris at Absolute Hi End, one of Australia’s main distributors of the sort of gear that makes your palms sweat, I casually mentioned a desire to upgrade my digital source. I had no issue with the Meridian’s sound but, with an increasing number of SACDs appearing and all the buzz around computer audio, an integrated Red Book CD player just seemed a little bit like yesterday’s news. So, when Boris told me that Audia Flight had released a new entry-level player at a more attainable price point, I was curious but hardly saw it as anything other than a sideways move; yet, such was his enthusiasm for the device that there didn’t seem to be any harm in having a listen. Resorting to a quick Google search revealed that, though the model had been released back in April 2010, not a scrap of information – no reviews, no forum posts, no show reports, no retailer listings, nothing bar a brief description on the company’s website – could be found for it … which, I guess, makes this an Exclusive!

The Company

Audia Flight were founded in 1996 by industry veterans Massimiliano Marzi and Andrea Nardini. Based in Civitavecchia, north of Rome on the Adriatic coast, all of their products are handcrafted in Italy and exemplify that nation’s obsession with style and sophistication. Encompassing amplifiers (integrated and separates) and CD players, the range is distinguished by long product lifecycles – reassuring for the purchaser – and a preponderance of beautifully-machined aluminium in understated, classically elegant designs. While they have extensive worldwide distribution, Europe and the Far East have been their main markets, with a presence in the States only since 2006.

The company’s principals had originally been united by the conviction that conventional differential amplification using voltage feedback could not be fast nor stable enough to provide their desired outcomes of high slew rate, extended frequency response and low colouration. Over two years, they developed a circuit that instead used only localised current feedback, resulting in extreme linearity of response and the ability to easily control even difficult, reactive loads. One thing I will say; they certainly know how to lay out a circuit board, as the following internal shot of their FL Preamp confirms. I wouldn’t be challenging whoever is responsible for that to a game of chess!

FL Preamp circuit board

Audia Flight FL Preamp circuit board

The Player

The CD Three is the junior member of Audia Flight’s small range of integrated CD players. Taking their CD Two machine as the starting point, its basic circuitry was retained while a number of cost-cutting measures – abandoning the fully internally-balanced topology, using surface-mounted instead of discrete components, losing one of the two transformers and, most obviously, a more economical case – have hopefully brought much of its performance to a lower price point. All things are relative, though; at a RRP of US$3900, this is no budget component and faces stiff competition. The CD Two is currently undergoing mild revision, to accommodate a new drive mechanism, but remains in the range, while the venerable CD One player will henceforth be offered as the CD One-M (Media), its new digital inputs (including USB with full 24/192 capability) allowing it to integrate with computer sources. We’re getting off-topic, though; back to the CD Three. Offering both balanced and single-ended outputs, plus SPDIF digital output, its Philips disc drive feeds the datastream via an Analog Devices AD1895 upsampling chip to a Cirrus Logic CS4398 24/192 DAC. Upsampling (to 192 KHz) is permanently applied, with no ability on the user’s part to modify or disable it. CD, CD-R, CD-RW and MP3 formats are all supported and, though unadvertised and probably considered irrelevant, the player also offers HDCD decoding. Boasting of “rock solid construction” (not entirely borne out by its 8kg mass, and what appears to be a thoroughly conventional pressed steel enclosure), highest quality parts and an “ultra precision reference clock”, it also implements the company’s proprietary Class A output circuitry. Just beware of the 2.5V output, which may be a little higher than other players you’re comparing it with.

Audia CD Three detail

Audia Flight CD Three detail

In Use

It’s a safe bet that the first reaction of most observers is the same – this thing is huge! Emphasised by an only average height of 90mm (3.5”), its footprint of 420mm x 410mm (roughly 16” square) consumes plenty of shelf space. Perhaps because of this ungainliness, its looks took a while to grow on me … but I have come to appreciate the elegant simplicity of its design, the flawless machining and finish of its 15mm brushed aluminium fascia, the illuminated company logo (whose avian motif I can only characterise as “a seagull on a stick”!), the classy blue screen and a high overall standard of fit and finish. Packaging is excellent and the user manual was also well-written, albeit with one or two inaccuracies – for example, it is actually possible to eject a disc using the remote control, by holding down the ‘Stop’ button for 2 seconds.

Speaking of the remote, it merits comment on a couple of different levels. It is superbly constructed from solid aluminium with ball-bearing buttons – in which respect it mimics the player’s own front panel – and one of the very few I’ve seen to use a disc-type lithium battery (which, contrary to my initial fears, has held up to six months of heavy use and counting). Yet, with all of those tiny buttons clustered into its upper half, and a far from intuitive layout, it is not the nicest to use. While 5 different intensities of display illumination (including ‘off’) can be selected from the remote – a nice touch – only the most basic track elapsed time readout is offered. A constant frustration for me is that the disc must first be loaded (by pressing the ‘Drawer Open’ or ‘Play’ buttons) before a specific track can be selected. Worse still, while the intention appears to be that the player remain in Standby mode when not in use, the company logo (permanently illuminated during normal operation) then flashes conspicuously every 5 seconds. Why any light should flash, other than to indicate a fault condition, is incomprehensible to me.

So, if the CD Three didn’t entirely endear itself from the off, worse was in store when I started spinning discs; it sounded horrible! The manual mentioned that the player had already been run for 50 hours at the factory, and would need another 100 hours of burn-in for full performance. Boris had warned me that the true figure would be much higher than that, probably 200-300 hours of play time. In retrospect, I should have just stuck it on ‘Repeat’ and walked away, but not being in any great hurry I listened to it instead. Within a couple of days, things were improving and by the 50 hour mark it had indeed found a good level of transparency and resolution. But the real shock came at around the 250 hour point; one Sunday morning I turned it on and, from the very first note, it was apparent that something big had changed. No kidding, its sound had suddenly improved out of all recognition – like the player had gone through puberty overnight, and emerged with a giant pair of hairy swingers! It appears that Boris had an identical experience with his own demo sample, so caveat emptor. What follows relates to the sound in its fully burned-in state.

Audia CD Three rear plate

Audia Flight CD Three rear plate

Sound Quality

As few readers will have heard an Audia Flight CD player before, let’s set the agenda straight away with some broad-brush word association: Big, confident, resolved, exciting, coherent, smooth, musical. After living with the CD Three for several months, those are the first words that came to mind in trying to describe its sound; now we just have to fill in the gaps. The bass performance is very fine, with greater extension and power than I’ve experienced in my system before, though even my most bass-heavy discs could not cause it to lose its control and poise. Likewise, what is unquestionably a full and extended top end provides vividness and transparency aplenty, yet could not be provoked into anything resembling unnatural brightness; a fine line that I find essential to long-term listening pleasure, and one that this player walked with conspicuous success. Tonal balance is, I guess, somewhere close to neutral … I was not intuitively aware of any significant departure from neutrality, while conscious analysis confirmed a roughly equal oversupply of everything! Seriously – wherever in the frequency range you listen there seems to be a lot going on, yet the net effect is beautifully balanced, resulting in a very vibrant, colourful, energetic character that works well with all types of music. Don’t assume from this, though, any lack of subtlety in the CD Three’s sound. Its rendering of instrumental tone could be startlingly realistic. It has an exceptional ability to resolve timbral and harmonic signatures and hall ambience, within a huge and wonderfully precise soundstage, while correctly contextualising all of this as inner detail; enhancing rather than obscuring the musical message.

Now, you could take all that as emphasising the corporeal over the cerebral, or as promoting light over dark … however you paint it, it honours the aspects of music and of the listening experience that matter most to me. I used the CD Three with two different sets of amplifiers during the review period, and the differences were instructive. The first set particularly emphasised the feisty, energetic side of its character and, while I never tired of the visceral excitement of this presentation, it wouldn’t be what everyone would choose when sinking into the sofa at the end of a long day. With the second set of amps, a more harmonious balance was achieved; still exciting and involving, yet with a more refined demeanour that promoted the atmospheric and spacious aspects of its sound. System matching is, always and forever, the key.

Setting aside the expected veneer of objectivity, the bottom line for me was that everything that came out of the CD Three (good recordings, bad recordings, any genre of music you like) was just so damn musical, so damn enjoyable! I still don’t really have a handle on what it is, but there’s something fundamental in the ability to communicate the spirit of a piece of music that this player does extremely well. Certainly, it all but disabled my critical faculties, as the abnormal paucity of my listening notes attests. If the player has a fault, it may be in a slight lack of low-level texture to the sound; this is one area where vinyl still reigns supreme, and an aspect that seems to have fuelled the recent trend back to tube output stages and ‘antique’ converter technology in many high-end DACs and players. If the CD Three’s sound was not exactly analogue, then, it belongs to that category of digital reproduction for which absolutely no apology need be made. Utterly devoid of “digital hardness”, compellingly musical in every respect and with a confidence and rhythmic integrity that I associate with the better 24/192 implementations, I adored it unreservedly for what it was, rather than (as do many vinyl advocates, I suspect) fretting about what it wasn’t!

Conclusion

Reading through the few available English language reviews of Audia Flight kit, there is a reassuring consensus on what, we must deduce, is their “house sound”; big, dynamic, smooth and musical. I shan’t be adding much to that, because it neatly summarises my own experience with the CD Three. This is not a player for those who like their music mellow and inoffensive; its high octane, colourful, communicative and exciting character will inevitably require a little care in system matching. Get it right, and you’ll enjoy an exceptionally natural rendition of recorded detail, a sound blissfully free of electronic artefacts, and an intensely passionate presentation that is impossible to ignore.

Although marked by some operational annoyances, the player is not ‘quirky’ as such but thoroughly engineered and well built, with decent perceived value. Whether an integrated Red Book CD player is the best way to go with so much attention on DACs, downloading and hi-rez formats needs careful consideration; the CD Three’s price of $3900 certainly brings a lot of other options into the frame. For me, though, rationality went out of the window, as the prospect of having to send the CD Three back was too much to bear … yes, I bought it!

Based on the performance of this entry-level machine, there is clearly much to recommend the Audia Flight brand. Do try to seek it out for yourself; the stunning new Strumento amplifiers, particularly, look set to make an impact at their rarefied price level, while the CD One-M’s greater flexibility would likely have been a better fit to my needs (though sadly not to my wallet). Seems I was right all along – these guys are serious! And, let’s face it, anything with the initials “A.F.” has got to have something going for it!

Associated Equipment

Analogue: Linn LP12 / Lingo PS / Ittok LVII / Audio Technica OC30
Digital: Meridian 507
Amplification: Custom-built AC Magnum dual mono P200 pre and power / ModWright amps (under review)
Speakers: Acoustat Spectra 1100 hybrid electrostatics
Cables: Antipodes Audio Komako interconnects / MAC Shotgun speaker cable / MAC Burly, HC & Digital power cords
Accessories: Sound Mechanics Performance isolation platforms (on each source component) / Target & Sound Organisation stands / Herbie’s Audio Labs isolation products / Caig ProGold /Belkin PF40 power conditioner

The Audia Flight CD Three CD Player

website
email

Source: Distributor loan
Warranty: One year parts and labour
Price: US$3900

{ 1 trackback }

The Audia Flight Strumento n1 Stereo Pre Amplifier — Audiophilia
08.15.13 at 10:46 am

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

admin 03.05.11 at 9:38 pm

Very thorough review, Andy. Great job! Thanks.

Cheers, a

admin 03.05.11 at 9:49 pm

‘… like the player had gone through puberty overnight, and emerged with a giant pair of hairy swingers!’

I don’t think I’ve ever read that description in an audio review! ROFL!!!

Andy Fawcett 03.06.11 at 3:11 am

What can I say - must have been reading D H Lawrence that day. ;-)

admin 03.06.11 at 7:59 am

A Pom genius in the Oz school curriculum? Never! :)

Peter Singleton 03.06.11 at 3:48 pm

Audia are a great company to do business with. I have had a CD ONE for a few years, when it developed a fault. I shipped it back to Italy, where it was repaired and had extensive upgrades filled. Total cost for this out of warranty service was £0.00 !! Just the shipping costs.

With my limited experience, this is far the best CD player I have ever heard. Its a true friend. It is used nearly 8 hours a day in CD mode or as a DAC. Without doubt I would recommend Audia to anyone

roy harris 03.07.11 at 7:59 pm

hi andy:

how would you compare the audia flight to your meridian ?

would you prefer to listen to a tubed cd player of your choice over the audia flight ??

Andy Fawcett 03.09.11 at 4:01 am

G’day Roy,
in my system, the Audia is in a whole different league to the Meridian (which, in fairness, was not a current-generation model).

I’ve heard some very impressive (heavily hot-rodded) tube DACs, but I don’t know that the Audia gives much away to them and likely has more rhythmic drive. With DACs clearly the way of the future, it seems to me that integrated players are now aimed at a different type of buyer, so it wasn’t a comparison I pursued. One of these fine days … !

Russell Lenehan 03.13.11 at 3:37 am

Andy, Nice review. I get a good sense of the players attributes from your description. Seems like a well sorted player.

koen 03.24.11 at 5:55 am

Nice review. I bought the audia three a week ago. It is still in a warming up mode. The sound is already impecable. Now i am waiting on that ‘gone through puberty overnight’ moment. Great review Andy!

Andy Fawcett 03.26.11 at 1:58 am

Glad you found my impressions helpful, koen. Did you audition the Audia player against others before making your decision? Do please check back with your findings in due course.

George 10.27.11 at 12:52 am

Great review. Just curious why you didn’t review the CD player along with one of their integrated amps. I have the AudiaFlight 3 integrated and think it’s a brilliant piece of equipment easily capable of running a variety of 86-91 dB speakers.

Andy Fawcett 11.01.11 at 7:43 am

Thanks George. Congratulations on your FL3 integrated, which I know has had some very good press, but my speakers are an awkward load and generally mandate something bigger. The Modwright amps that arrived during the CD Three evaluation turned out to be an inspired choice - review to follow soon.

I’m happy to report that, contrary to my initial scepticism, the lithium disc battery in the remote is still going strong after more than a year of heavy use! As the rest of the system has improved, the CD Three’s abilities have come to the fore; it really is a lovely sounding player.

pierre 12.15.11 at 3:42 am

Dear sir good day
as you used it, would you please confirm if this player actually owns HDCD decoding circuit ( french importer does not confirm surprisingly… )
also, are XLR really useful ( is circuit really balanced )
intend to pair this with primare i30 but do need HDCD decoding and real balanced out
with many thanks
b rgds

Andy Fawcett 12.17.11 at 4:28 pm

Hello Pierre,
the CD Three’s chipset certainly has HDCD decoding, and indicates on its display when an encoded disc is being played; I’ve only ever noticed it on a handful of Linn recordings and a couple of Keb Mo discs, though. The owner’s manual states that the XLR outputs are true balanced, and I did specifically confirm that at the time in correspondence with Massimiliano.
Hope that helps, and please let us know how you get on with it!

George 07.08.12 at 6:00 am

Just thought I’d add another comment to my 27 Oct 11 post. After much consideration and voluminous reading of every article on CD players I could find (including re-reading Andy’s excellent write-up many times) I went out and bought the AF3 CDP. I’ve now had the player for around six months and have to say it is without any doubt the best player I’ve owned. I won’t attempt to out-do Andy, but if you’re in the market for a CD player and are around that budget, I don’t think you can do better. This player simply has no weak points. It’s tremendously musical, detailed, smooth, and natural. It is simply so well balanced, it’s almost impossible to criticise. I have it paired with an Audia Flight3 integrated amp via Chord Chamelion interconnects. Speakers are Osborn Eclipse Reference speakers (via Greg’s silverlink cables). Main artists I played to form my opinion include Melody Gardot, Rebecca Pidgeon, Loreena McKennit, Laura Fygi and Hayley Westenra (who surely has the voice of an angel). I compared it directly to the all-tube Doge6 CD player, a NAD Master series M55, an Oppo 93 BDP and a friend’s Bryston BCD 1. My friend said the Bryston was much better than the Yamaha S2000 and the Cyrus CD 6, but that the Audia Flight was better again.

admin 07.08.12 at 6:16 am

Many thanks for the detailed follow up.

Cheers, a

admin 08.01.13 at 11:07 am

I’m going to do a quick review of their Strumento series next week.

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