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Positive Feedback ISSUE45
FL 3 integrated
as reviewed by Victor Chavira
What do operatic diva Cecilia Bartoli and the Audia Flight FL3 integrated have in common? They are both proudly Italian, richly musical, and beautiful to look at. Whereas Ms. Bartoli's credentials are well known, the FL3 requires some introduction. Audia Flight has been highly regarded in Europe for many years. Recently, Audia Flight has started to establish its presence in the North American market through Musical Sounds in Milford, Connecticut.
The FL3 represents Audia Flight's entry level 75 watt integrated. However, in the FL3's case, entry level does not amount to compromised. The 33 pound FL3 is built to a standard that exceeds expectations at this price. The thick brushed aluminum face plate is nicely beveled on the sides. Switches are countersunk into the fascia and the volume knob has a comfortable rounded profile. The motorized control turns down to zero when the unit is in standby and returns to its last setting when powered up. Audia Flight's glider logo is backlit by a soft blue light that pulses like a beacon when the unit is in standby. Five buttons across the bottom of the fascia control power, input up or down, and mute. The final switch disengages the speaker output for listening through headphones. The remote manages functions not accessible from the front such as balance, and display brightness. The user can also assign names to each input on the blue alpha-numeric display.
After several weeks of listening, I can report that the FL3's most notable attribute is it's total lack of harshness or glare from the mid band to the upper octaves. Lesser 75 watt solid state integrateds tend to sound stiff and bland from the mid to high frequencies. Music may pulse along at a good pace but fail to engage the discriminating listener. In contrast, the Audia Flight FL3 paints musical pictures with virtuosic brushstrokes worthy of a great Italian masterpiece.
Returning to the aforementioned Celilia Bartoli, I listened to her iTunes download of "Vedrai, Carino" from her album of Mozart Arias with György Fischer and Wiener Kammerorchester on Decca Digital. The FL3 rendered the orchestra with harmonic realism excellent depth of field. Through the mass of instruments, Ms. Bartoli's voice glowed angelically like a gently flickering candle in a darkened room. Inarguably, Cecilia Bartoli's voice would sound sublime through an old broken car speaker but from that moment on, the FL3 impressed me with its nuanced and transparent amplification.
Subtlety is good but can the FL3 bring the thunder? Respighi's "Pines of Rome" as performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with conductor Louis Lane on Telarc should answer that question. The FL3 triumphantly replicated each massive drum beat and horn blast without a hint of strain. The seventy-five watt integrated impressively handled the demanding rise in dynamics gripping the listening room with tight pulses of low energy while maintaining fine focus on the airy spaces around the brass and cymbals. This balanced approach to power transfer is the mark of a well executed design.
The FL3 also performed admirably as the centerpiece of my two channel home theater. I set up the Oppo BDP-83 Blu-Ray player to down mix the multi-channel content for two full large full range speakers with bass management turned off. One evening my two young nephews visited the family. I inserted Transformers Blu-Ray into the player and watched as my nephew's jaws dropped at the spectacular sights and sounds. Scene two is punctuated by a throbbing soundtrack, military dialog, slow whirling propeller blades, and the mechanical transformation of Blackout from assault helicopter to raging deception. A barrage of gunfire ensues before Blackout unleashes several devastating electromagnetic blasts that flatten the camp. One could conclude from the thrilling intensity of sound that high-watt monoblocks were powering the action. But the slender blue tinged FL3 pumped out crisp dialog and dynamic sound effects like a titan.
The FL Three can be ordered with an optional phono board. However, I choose to listen with my reference E.A.R. 834P phono preamp. Recently I saw a Genesis concert recorded live in Rome in 2008 on cable TV. They looked and sounded great so I dusted off their 1983 LP Genesis. I wanted to hear the thumping big drum beat from songs like "Home by the Sea" and rapid fire snare on "Just a Job I Do" through nostalgic ears. Back then, though, I did not have a proper front end playing through a slick integrated like the FL3 not to mention a pair of $10,000 speakers. The music sounded much much better than I could ever remember. Like many rock drummers from the era, Phil Collins was experimenting with synthetic percussion. The shape and reverberant quality of actual percussion versus synthetic beats was easily distinguishable. The LP also possessed an enhanced depth of field missing from the CD. Vocals sung in unison were given space and air. Overall, the dynamic drive of the FL3 and the expressive qualities of my front end fit together like hand in a Fratelli Orsini glove.
The Audia Flight was also impressive for its responsive input stage. Early in the review period I listened to iTunes playlists from the headphone output of my computer with a meter of Monster Cable mini to RCA interconnect. The sound was adequate but far below what I felt the FL3 was capable of. A fine veil of haze cloaked the musical performances. Fortunately, I had a length of handmade mini to RCA interconnect from Silver Circle Audio. The change was satisfyingly revealing. The mist was lifted and music approached the clarity and dimensionality I had experienced with USB DACs. I fact, many afternoons were spent enjoying playlists directly from the headphone output my iPhone. The FL3 transformed my iPhone into a genuinely musical source. Bill Frisell's "Ghost Town/Poem for Eva" is a wonderful piece of guitar music that I enjoy no matter the source or system. With the iPhone connected to the FL3 I could hear the resonant woodiness of the instruments, picking techniques, and microdynamic variations. Musical images emerged clearly but not a sharply focused as with a good USB DAC. Perhaps future models of the FL3 will offer a USB DAC card as an option.
So far I have described the Audia Flight FL3 as a well designed integrated with a balanced tonality and excellent manner with beats and notes. Instrumental and vocal timbres are rendered faithfully as possible given the sources I had available. All in all, the FL3 is to Audia Flight's model line as an F430 is to Ferrari's model line. They are both entry level but very high performing and functional works of art. The Audia Flight FL3 is a welcome addition to the short list of esteemed medium powered European integrateds. Bravo Audia Flight! Victor Chavira
FL 3 integrated
North American Importer