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Battriaa phono stage
as reviewed by Graham Abbott
A Holfi? What did you just call me? Holfi is a Danish high-end audio manufacturer that is virtually unknown on this continent, at least as far as I can tell. They make a full line of components, including pre and power amps, a CD player, and three phono preamps. The top-of-the-line Battria Signature Edition phono preamp is the subject of this review.
All the Holfi products seem to march to the beat of their own drum. (How about a CD player with a green, "light-absorbing" LED next to the laser?). The Battriaa is no exception. Holfi claims that the circuitry comes from its top-of-the-line NB1 preamp, and I'll have to take their word on that. What I can tell you is that the Battriaa is well built, with solid casework and a neatly laid-out circuit board. It is powered by two 12V, sealed, maintenance-free batteries, but is designed to be plugged into the wall at all times. Holfi uses no global negative feedback in their products, believing that this ensures a "homogeneous and easy flowing musical reproduction." Finally, and very importantly, the Battriaa is a current rather than a voltage amplifier. Huh?
Moving coil cartridges vary as to voltage output, but as Holfi's website points out, even a low-output MC can generate as much current as a moving magnet cartridge. Holfi claims that amplifying current will give the "lowest possible distortion and noise," as well as compatibility with a very wide range of cartridges. Speaking of wide range, how about a claimed dynamic range of 8Hz-1.3MHz?!!!
I hooked up the Battriaa between my Nottingham Spacedeck and Cary SLI80 via its high-quality WBT RCA connectors, and there wasn't a speck of hum. My Ortofon Kontrapunkt B has a healthy output (470uV), and on the advice of a friend I ran the Holfi at -10dB of gain and found everything just right. Without having a lower output cartridge available, I wasn't able to test Holfi's compatibility claims, though the Battriaa's adjustability supported the idea that many cartridges can be accommodated. Finally (again on the advice of a friend), I left the unit powered up for almost the entire review period. Out of curiosity, I turned it off for a day or so a couple of times, and it did need at least a day to settle down each time.
How does it sound? Holfi pretty much nails it when they call this phono stage "homogenous" and "easy flowing," but there is more. The Battriaa sounds liquid, liquid, and more liquid. It is all about musical line and pace, with beautiful, rich textures along for the ride. Images are clearly delineated and dense, nicely balanced against an open, airy, wide, and deep soundstage. Balance is the key here—no attribute outweighs the others. Lush recordings sound lush, but they are light-footed and swinging, never syrupy or slow. Smoothness seems to be fundamental to battery-powered gear, whether it is plugged into the wall, as is the case here, or totally independent of the power grid. However, while some reviewers have criticized the micro- and macro-dynamic performance of battery-powered gear, the Holfi sounds just right to me. There is steel on the leading edge of guitar strings. Symphonic brass and strings swell quickly and bite when necessary. Drums and bass start and stop nicely, and snap and crackle on demand. If you want to cut cheese with the leading edge of transients, or stand to attention when a trumpet blows hard, the Battriaa isn't for you, but it will satisfy those who want an integrated and natural (read: non-hi-fi) view of their music.
Holfi claims a 20-dB drop in noise floor because of the batteries, and while I can't verify that number, I can tell you that detail pops out of a jet-black background. Saxophone keys click, guitar strings rattle and squeak, and halls and studios reverberate with ambience. Deep bass is phenomenal. Every plucked note is clear, its pitch distinct. In fact, the Holfi's deep bass is so deep (and rich, and downright scary good) that it makes the highest highs seem ever-so-slightly rolled off—losing just that last bit of sparkle and luster that the very best phono stages can muster.
The Holfi Battriaa is the Honda Accord of phono stages. It won't drop your jaw in any one area, but it does everything so well that it is really satisfying over the long haul. It is very musical and cohesive. It is also fairly priced, well built, and well engineered, and unlike the Honda Accord, you won't see a Battriaa everywhere you go. Graham Abbott