It seems to me that between two Polish audio producers, based in Jarocin, PYLON AUDIO , a loudspeaker manufacturer, and FEZZ AUDIO located in Księżno, a town near Białystok, several similarities can be pointed out. The first is obvious - they are Polish companies. The second, less visible one is equally important - these are companies built from scratch by their bosses, and family businesses in addition.
Both have their headquarters in small centers. And finally there is something that makes them more than just a local curiosity - they are dynamically developing.
An example of this is the series of phono preamplifiers with the Fezz Audio logo.
Established in 2014, the company specializes in the production of tube amplifiers, and recently also semiconductor phono preamplifiers.
Its base is a well-known company producing toroidal transformers - Toroidy.pl. Fezz Audio is run by Maciek Lachowski, and Toroidy.pl by his dad, Lech Lachowski and brother Tomasz.
No wonder that Fezz uses its parent company experience in all of its products, even when it comes to speaker transformers. Her offer was built slowly but consistently.
The company showed its first project, Laura amplifier, during the Audio Video Show 2014 exhibition. A year later, it presented the basis of its offer, based on EL34 tubes, an integrated push-pull amplifier called Silver Luna . Then came the next ones on KT88 and PCL86 tubes, and then returned to SE projects, with the Mira Ceti models on 300B tubes and Mira Ceti 2A3 , the amplifier on 2A3 tubes, which is used, for example, by Wojciech Padjas from RMF Classic radio and violinist jazz Adam Bałdych. Last year it was time to develop the offer naturally. Phono preamplifiers appeared in it. Maciek Lachowski, director of Fezz Audio, will talk about the latest project, the Gratia preamplifier.
We have been considering the issue of introducing phono preamplifiers into the Fezz Audio range for a long time. We were aware that this was the most obvious thing we should do.
After all, a tube amplifier and turntable is an absolutely natural connection, which resulted from many conversations with our clients. The project was a bit delayed due to the commonly known ... lack of time. Wojtek Padjas turned out to be the catalyst for its completion, who asked me to design and build a phono preamplifier that he could use in the conditions of a radio studio while preparing the program Music under the needle for RMF Classic radio.
The assumptions were: the device was to support MM, MC, HO MC cartridges, including mono, it had two separate inputs for work with a studio turntable equipped with two arms, it had to have two parallel outputs, a mono adder, gain control and the ability to change the tone.
This is how Gratia is created - a photo from the Fezz Audio workshop
We started design work in January 2019.
Tests and final closing of everything in a compact housing took us almost four months. We wanted to finish this project before the first of June 2019, when the Kościuszko Mound was to host a special edition of Music from a Needle Live, under the patronage of "High Fidelity", prepared jointly by "Wojtków two", i.e. Wojtek Padjas and - known to the state - Wojtek Pacuła :)
The device sounded, although not yet as we would like. After this event, I called Robert Bajkowski (the guy running the blog Audiofezzowanie.pl) wanting to tell him a little bit about Music from a live needle .
Robert has been designing and making cinema audio installations for 25 years. It so happened that he just upgraded his CD player, in which he used Burson operational amplifiers (opamps).
He offered to lend me these "cubes" so that I could try them in this Wojtkowa preamp, from which I was still not completely satisfied (Wojtek was not).
I replaced the first opamp and sat down again for listening. And indeed - their exchange brought a very clear improvement in the way the sound was presented.
wasn't sure if the sound I would like would suit Wojtek, so I cut a hole in the preamplifier housing above the opamp stand and sent it to it, adding a few different opamps to the package.
The set includes such basic models as 5532, more advanced OPA2132, also the mentioned Bursons. Wojtek's final choice fell on the orange Burson V6 version - nomen omen - Classic.
Then this our prototype preamp went to the hands of Paweł "Bemol" Ładniak , a mastering specialist who liked the opportunity to easily exchange opams. Maybe it's stupid to write like that, but together with Wojtek they praised the sound of our preamplifier for hours, which - I can't hide it - was very nice. So we knew we had a good product. We only introduced minor changes to it. We have removed "studio" functions that are unnecessary in home systems, we have added what might be useful, such as a subsonic filter, and this is how the Gratia MM / MC model was created. In the production version I decided to use the Burson Audio Supreme Sound V5i integrated circuit. I decided that the sound is the most universal. The name of the preamplifier does not have any special genesis. The entire series had to start with the same letter. In this case it is 'G'.
The preamplifier line will be crowned with a tube Gloria.
Gratia is the largest Fezz Audio phono preamplifier so far. In addition to this manufacturer's offer, we will also find two smaller devices of this type: costing PLN 1099 Gaia mini and Gaia mini, both intended for MM and MC HO cartridges, for PLN 1599. Both are small - their front wall is 70 and 163 mm wide, respectively. The first one is for MM inserts, and the second for MM and MC HO inserts. Gratia is bigger, because it is a (almost) full-size device, the front of which is the same width as the amplifiers of this company (340 mm). In the tested version, the casing, made of rigid steel sheet, was painted black, with the front in black to a high gloss. In addition to black, there are also three others that the company also uses in its amplifiers: white, red and burgundy.
I wonder how Gratia would look like in a "hammer" varnish, from which audio devices were known in the 1950s, for example QUAD ... functionality
| The tested preamplifier is made extremely solidly and sensibly. On the front panel we have nothing but the white backlit, laser cut manufacturer's logo, because all the buttons are on the back. We have an insert type switch there, we can turn on the subsonic filter, choose the gain for the MM input and change the stereo signal to mono. There is no load regulation for MC cartridges. Cartridge type - known: MM or MC, or Moving Magnet, with an output voltage of up to 5 mV and Moving Coil, with a voltage of 0.5 to 2 mV. The first of them is loaded with an impedance of 47 kΩ, and the load of the second manufacturer closes in the range of 50 - 1 kΩ, but does not give the exact value. Thanks to the gain switch (+5 dB) we can also use MC HO cartridges. The entrances were somewhat unusual. Usually there is one common for both MM and MC cartridges. Here we have separate inputs for each type of insert. So, for example, you can connect two arms at the same time. Or else - we can also connect a matching transformer (so-called step-up ), shortening the signal path - we enter directly into the MM section. Or simply use the MC HO cartridge, which will have a short signal path. And this is probably what it was about - shortening the path in which the signal is transmitted. technique
| Electrically, it is an elegant, quite simple system. The MC input is supported by low-noise transistors, while the MM input, and thus the second amplification stage for the MC, through a single integrated circuit for both channels (to which we will return soon). The board is classically made using through hole assembly, so it was possible to use high quality passive elements. The circuit board with the audio system was placed at the back wall so that the input and output sockets - really nice - were soldered directly to it. As a result, the signal path is shortened, and thus noise is reduced. And the noise in the phono preamplifier is the biggest problem, because we amplify the microscopic signal to a level comparable with the output of the CD player. Interesting fact - the amplifying systems and the power supply are bolted to an additional element, stiffening the structure, and this is bolted to the top wall, i.e. the systems are upside down. This technique is known and often used, but in tube amplifiers. What can you see in the tube DNA from Fezz Audio? The casing is additionally damped with mats stuck to the upper and lower walls. The power supply for the entire system is single, with one symmetrical voltage and one unbalanced. It uses a high-class Supreme Audio Grade toroidal transformer Toroidy.pl. It was locked in a metal screen. Voltage stabilizers deal with integrated stabilizers. Let us add that the electrical system is responsible for the engineer Fezz Audio, Mr. Zdzisław Kulikowski - the man also responsible for the creation of Silver Luna - and the final optimization of the RIAA curve was carried out "by ear" Maciek Lachowski.
| BURSON AUDIO, which is the reverse of the integrated circuit Opamp starring
| The main amplifying element of the Gratia preamplifier is the Burson Audio Supreme V5i integrated circuit . This is a risky move for the manufacturer, which is associated with lamps. However, as far as I understand it, the idea was to offer music lovers a product that would be affordable. Read - inexpensive. And indeed, looking at the prices of all three models, how carefully they were made, despite very decent prices, it seems that the idea has burned out. There are a lot of inexpensive, cool phono preamplifiers on the market. For larger companies, it's enough to mention Pro-Ject, Cambridge Audio, Arcam, NAD, and Music Hall, and there are plenty of small producers, often almost at the DIY level. To stand out, it was not enough to propose a good or even very good product. So Fezz Audio reached for an idea that was known but surprisingly rarely used in commercial products - it offered the user the opportunity to change the main amplification system. Replacing opampów
| I don't know if you remember, but some time ago there was a product on the market that offered something similar - it was the ASUS Xonar Essence One digital-to-analog converter, available in three versions - basic, Xonar Essence One Plus and Xonar Essence One Muses. For the latter, the user received tweezers and additional integrated circuits that he could exchange, changing the sound as well. The most expensive version has permanently installed expensive, valued Muses 01 systems from the Japanese company New Japan Radio (my test of these transducers in the 2013 Audio magazine HERE , access: 23.03.2020). In the preamplifier the Gratia is similar. It's just that "Fezzowcy" went all this time. Already in the basic version we get an excellent, rarely used (because expensive) integrated circuit Burson Audio Supreme V5i. This is an integrated (operational) circuit about which the manufacturer says "hybrid circuit", enclosed in a metal screen. 'Hybrid' because, although its basis is the SMD operating system, the screen also includes high-class capacitors and resistors from the Japanese TDK company. This system has FET input and is a replacement for a lot of different systems, for example from Burr-Brown OPA series, but also classic NE5532. Vivid / Classic
| Together with the Gratia preamplifier, we received from Fezz Audio two other systems - even more expensive and even more interesting:
Burson Audio V6 Vivid Dual and Burson Audio V6 Classic Dual. According to their producer, they are the result of twenty years of work and five previous generations.
These are still the so-called OP-AMP, or operational amplifiers , but they have little in common with "chips".
The element that connects them is an eight-leg mounting in the base, but apart from that almost everything divides.
You probably don't remember, but in the '70s and' 80s a popular choice of Polish music lovers was the Unitra Amator receiver (models 1-3, produced in 1976-1985). Beginning with the DSS-201 ('2') version, instead of integrated circuits, hybrid "thick-layer" integrated circuits GML-026 were used. It was a big novelty and the pinnacle of technology in Poland, and they were produced - among others - in Kraków's Telpod factory, where I had my internships a few years later.
Well, the Burston '6' series are very similar to them. These are, in fact, two printed circuit boards with electronic components applied to them in SMD technology. Thanks to this, the advantages of integrated circuits (short signal path) have been combined with discrete ones (low noise). Exactly the same way Marantz HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) circuits were once made, presented - let's add - for the first time in 1992 in the PM-99SE amplifier.
Both Burston V6 series have the shape of high posts - their base has dimensions of 14.5 x 12.4 mm, and they are 29 mm high. The housing of the Fezz Audio preamplifier has been chosen to fit easily inside. Vivid and Classic models differ in the color of the plastic housing - red for Classic and orange for Vivid. They also differ in their electrical system.But both were equipped with a protection against the effects of reverse insertion into the cradle; this protection is called reverse voltage .
In their casings slots were cut inside. Discrete FET (field effect) transistors and precision passive components work there - for example, TDK capacitors and resistors with 0.5% tolerance. I will add that the transistors are selected manually. V6 Vivid and Classic are expensive, highly specialized circuits that can be plugged in instead of classic integrated circuits. However, you have to reckon with the expense of PLN 300 for one such arrangement. And it is said that lamps are the most expensive .
HOW WE LISTENED
The Fezz Audio Gratia phono preamplifier was tested in the "High Fidelity" reference system. The signal path looked like this: BennyAudio Immersio turntable → Fezz Audio Gratia phono preamplifier → RCA Crystal Cable Absolute Dream interconnect → Ayon Audio Spheris III line preamplifier → RCA Acoustic Revive Absolute interconnect → Soulution 710 power amplifier → Siltech Triple Crown loudspeaker cables → Harbeth speakers M40.1. Gratia was compared to my long-term reference, the RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC preamplifier . During the test I used three different cartridges: Ortofon 2M Black (MM), Denon DL-103 (MC) and Miyajima Laboratory Madake (MC). I would add that I placed a Nordost QPoint noise generator on the preamplifier , which took care of reducing interference inside the device, and the signal from the turntable to the preamplifier was sent via Amplifier Surgery interconnects .
| Burson Audio Supreme V5i
After a careful look at the circuit of the tested preamplifier, and then after listening to how it sounds , it will be difficult to get used to the fact that this is not a "transistor" sound, much less what we would expect from integrated circuits. And I'm not talking about the real world, because my RCM Audio preamplifier, with which I tested turntables for 1000 and 300,000 PLN, and which is simply a unique product, also works with integrated circuits and does not sound "transistor". I'm talking about stereotypes.
And the stereotypical sound of semiconductors is cold and emotionless. And it still happens, and many early semiconductor products sounded like that. But once, not all (see: Scully 280-2 based on germanium transistors , Sugden amplifiers, etc.), and two are a thing of the past. Today, in a blind test, it is difficult to say unequivocally whether it is a lamp or a transistor. At least if we are talking about the best products - see Vitus Audio .
It is similar with the Gratia preamplifier. In a blind test I would say that they are playing lamps. And this is because its sound is full, smooth, I would even say - sweet. Already on the first album, the reissue of The Voice by Frank Sinatra, that is the age recording, first copied from 16 "transcriptional" records and acetates on tape, and then only pressed on vinyl, I heard what remained with me until the end of the listening session.
It's about balance. It's a sound that works well with Sinatra, and with the Art Ensamble of Chicago released immediately afterwards, physically transporting us to the studio, but also with John Coltrane's Giant Steps , and in the Rhino version, pressed directly from the analog master tape. By the way - the latest version was released recently, released for 60 years, in Japan in the SHM-CD version. Anyway, Gratia played all these discs in a complex, dense, good way.
She demanded our attention, but not through details or details, but through emotions. Because, if so, you can say "emotional" message. There is a lot of love, warmth and tension in him. This is not a particularly selective playing, we will not get information about the exact location of sources in space, or about the exact, precisely described aura accompanying the instruments. But when I write this, I have to remind myself that this is - after all - a preamplifier for a small amount of money, and I automatically evaluate it as awesome tube products for 10,000 and more zlotys.
For my excuse, the Fezz Audio preamplifier is so pleasant to receive, so well-tailored to listen to music in longer sessions that we automatically jump from the price range in which it was placed to higher. This does not mean that Gratia sounds like preamplifiers for PLN 10,000 and more, that's not the point. The point is that we perceive it this way, it impresses us. So - within the limits imposed by the budget, we managed to prepare a device that does not expose the problems specific to products in this price range.
This was achieved by saturating the midrange and slightly rounding the sound attack. The bass is dense and strong, but also a bit soft. These modifications do not exceed the limits of good taste, and even - I have to say it - they taste this sound. The low bass output from the Brothers in Arms Dire Straits disc , in the Mobile Fidelity version, on two 45 rpm discs, so they were really low and strong. This version has a slightly overclocked low tones, and Gratia showed it nicely, without imposing its character on the whole.
One of the advantages of such playing is the large, extensive sound stage with the "fluid" of air between the performers. Because the preamplifier does not emphasize the attack and does not burn the top of the band, the travel noise and crackles are at a very low level, and this further improves the depth of its sound. And this is why Brendan Perry from the Ark sounded in such a credible way, against the background of a tight synthesizer background, with a guitar added here and there.| Mono / Stereo
Listening to the preamplifier began and ended with monophonic discs: the mentioned Frank Sinatra at the beginning and Strange Days The Doors at the end. This second album was released in 2017 on the occasion of Record Store Day on 180 g of vinyl, in the original mix. In both cases, the mono / stereo switch on the back of the device helped to play them, significantly improving their listening, and my comfort. Why is such a switch not so standard? - Hard to say.
The differences are not very big but important. After the signal from the stereo cartridge is monophonic, the sound becomes more mature, more solid. Also in this case, the crackling in stereo disappeared, sometimes heard, so that the straightforward transmission was more reliable, it was the only transmission. Although the use of a mono cartridge brings even more benefits, the compromise of playing music from the stereo cartridge and adding the signal from the left and right channels, as here, is what we need, because it costs nothing.
| Burson Audio V6 Classic Dual / V6 Vivid Dual
Gratia's sound in the basic configuration is very good, cool, addictive. But ... Replacing the system with the V6 Classic Dual is a bit like switching to another place. Everything is more resolving, better differentiated, but the overall character of the sound, i.e. a bit tube-like - remains. My first record at this rehearsal was a monophonic recording of Bach cantatas from 1960, released by Archive Production, a department of Deutsche Grammophon. With the V6 Classic Dual, the voices could be heard more strongly, more densely, they were also better "fixed in space".
Replacing the system with the V6 Vivid Dual moved the sound towards a greater opening at the upper midrange, making the voices clearer. At the same time, however, the visual art that had previously delighted was no longer as addictive. On the other hand, the Dire Straits disc was a bit different - it was the V6 Vivid Dual that gave a stronger, better defined sound, with a slightly withdrawn vocal, which was previously shown a bit higher and had a thinner low midrange. Although the changes should be similar every time, depending on the music, the Vivid and Classic versions gave different effects.
At the end of the day, as Anglo-Saxons say, I chose the Classic version. It gave the best saturation of the material, it was also best tonally balanced. It was "my" playing. But not because the Vivid version was bad - on the contrary, in many systems it may be the right one. Density and dynamics are more appealing to me, and I got them with an orange layout.
Fezz Audio's Gratia is a thoughtful, mature device. I missed the load regulation of the insert a bit, but I understand that somewhere you had to make savings to be able to do something else. In my opinion, this is a good compromise. Because, besides, this is a well-equipped device, and the mono button, if of course we have such discs, is a great help and really improves the reliability of the message.
Gratia's sound is mature, saturated and full. It gives a sense of communing with a high-shelf product. It resembles the sound of tubes, although of course it is not synonymous with it. But without lamps we get a lot from what they offer. Especially when we use the Burson Audio V6 Classic opamp. In this version it is a preamplifier, with which we can listen to really expensive turntables and cartridges without feeling that we are missing something and not using something.
As usual with Fezz Audio - good job! ■
Technical data (according to manufacturer)
Type: Phono preamplifier for MM, HO / MC, MC cartridges
Power consumption: 12 W MM input impedance
| MC: 47 kΩ | 50 Ω - 1 kΩ Stabilized power supply path + Supreme Audio Grade toroidal transformer Toroidy.pl
Gain system: Burson Audio Supreme V5i
Dimensions (width x height x depth): 340 x 320 x 80 mm Weight: 4.2 kg
Πληροφοριες και τιμες εδω :