Not familiar with the Italian audio firm Bluenote from Firenze myself -- and assuming the same might hold true for you -- I asked president Maurizio Aterini to provide some background. We learn that Bluenote was formed in 1985, as originally a socio/cultural project uniting thirteen musicians, engineers and audiophiles who soon actively contributed their various talents. By 1992, some of them began concentrating on the distribution and production of HiFi goods for home use. Others remained entrenched in one of Italy's most important music conservatories that operates its own exclusive recording studio and is partnered with many government institutions.

Bluenote soon began importing renowned US audio brands while producing innovative accessories to be used in conjunction with its own and other products. This first line of accessories became so popular that 10 years after introduction, many like the Midas tube dampers still remain available today. By 1994, with experience and a solid commercial infrastructure for Italy and the US in place, Bluenote began committing resources to its own vertically integrated line of affordable audio products with true audiophile performance.

By 1997, the launch of the Industrie Audio Vox aka I.A.V. offering included turntables, tonearms, CD players, stereo amplifiers and speakers, all of which incorporated "the goals of price ratio to quality and an attractive Italian look". In late 2000, and after 3 years of continuous research and experience garnered from the budget line, Bluenote followed up with a higher-priced, more ambitious line dubbed Villa that, by 2002, had opened the doors for expanded international commerce in Western Europe. the US, South America and several Pacific Rim countries.

Today, Bluenote is partnered with local vendors for its own custom parts, professional assembly and packaging and remains flexible to respond to fluctuating domestic and foreign requests. This includes facilities for very quick prototyping and special product manufacture on demand.

Bluenote's main officers include president Maurizio Aterini who studied mechanical and textile engineering and holds a Masters in marketing. After working as sales manager for various textile and mechanical companies, he joined Bluenote upon formation of its HiFi division in 1992 and advanced to the position of president by 1997 when the internal structural conversion to in-house audio manufacturing was completed.

Elena Basciano is Bluenote's business manager who oversaw Benetton Accessories' Spanish and Portuguese operations from 1989 to 1995 before managing several Italian textile firms and joining Bluenote in 2001. Mechanical engineer Stefano Bartoli spent 10 years working with two of the preeminent Italian speciality automotive component manufacturers. He is one of Bluenote's original 1985 founders and joined its HiFi division in 1992. From 1988 - 2002, electronics engineer Loris Sottocritti ran an OEM company that supplied vacuum tube, solid state and loudspeaker solutions to other firms and Italian audio magazines before joining the Bluenote brain trust in 2002. Architectural professor and interior designer Giusi Salis arrived in 1998 after being involved in research and design work for various Italian institutions. Ennio Aterini is the firm's accountant and implements his vast 30-year experience of controlling and managing various medium- to large-size companies.

Today's Demidoff Signature remote-controlled integrated with inductive power supply is the outgrowth of Bluenote's investigation into the reasons for the "bad & harsh" sound of solid-state amplifiers. It first resulted in the design of a preamp using a novel mirror circuit to compensate for the common effects of even minute offsets in power transistor matching. A parallel arena of research involved power supplies. The first amplifier to incorporate the learned lessons was 1997's Steroid 1.

According to Maurizio, the use of rectangular solid copper distribution bars in the power supply and output stages made for an internal appearance of these products that initially spelled so unconven-tional and hand-made (true for about 60% of it) that reviewers at first refused to even listen to them. This began to change when the first Internet writers of TNT Audio looked at the Steroid 1 and pronounced it a runaway success.

The Demidoff Signature is currently the most advanced expression of Bluenote's research into solid-state amplification and the result of 6 years of R&D. It will be shortly followed by a 100/120-watt amplifier said to take the same basic architecture to the next level. True dual-mono and outfitted with twin pairs of output terminals for discrete bi-wiring and 6 coaxial inputs, 1 tape out and 1 converted balanced input (optionally available with the two small 1:1 trafos required for true balanced operation), the Demidoff's colossal size of 17" x 16" x 9" and 90+ pounds make its sheer mass a surprising counterpoint to the conservative 50-watt single-ended transistor power rating said to control most speakers on the market regardless.

The old adage of "the magic's in the power supply"? It finds Green Hulk-sized visual vindication once the stainless steel cover is removed to reveal the diamagnetic folded chassis with its massive twin banks of four heat-sinked AC-decoupling inductors each. Those are mounted atop transparent acrylic longitudinal rails that each ride atop four 80V/4700mF caps on red PCBs and two hand-wound power transformers in each corner. All this iron and the 5mm thick U-shaped chassis contribute to the Demidoff's very substantial weight.

The cyan transformer-coupled precision VU meters tap into the output signal in parallel to accurately deflect their needles with power draw and, like the discretely powered attenuator, are isolated from the signal path for best performance. The front panel is a 3/4" thick slab of mirror-polished black acrylic with a chromed vertical dress bar below the three oversized central knobs which, from left to right, select between the six inputs, control volume and power the unit up.

The stainless steel cover, despite considerable thickness, is a very ringy affair and would benefit from liberal applications of SoundCoat or similar glueback damping sheets. The included blue plastic remote adjusts volume and, in a very nice touch, ramps up very slowly unlike many motorized competitors that jump steps too quickly to mandate repeat and frustrating back-and-forth shuttling before the desired volume is fixed. The feel of the controls at the end of their long actuator shafts sticking out through the frontal acrylic is a bit clunky and, like the overall appearance, solidly yeoman but not a statement on ultimate refinement such as practiced by neighboring Aloia or Pathos who share Bluenote's belief in inductively filtered power supplies. Considering the Demidoff's $5,995 asking price while staring at its comprehensive AC filtration and overbuilt constructional details generates awe coupled to a secret wish for a touch more "la dolce vita" styling.

With the sad demise of industry legend Leo Massi last year, HiEnd Audio Imports' US distribution for Bluenote has been taken over by young Adam Dragon. He worked with Leo in the latter's shop until, perhaps anticipating his own death, Massi rather spontaneously offered Adam the business one day, prepared to simply shut it down otherwise. In operations for about 5 years, the company changed hands in June of 2002. When Adam called one day to introduce himself and inquire about review interest in his products, Joe Fratus of Art Audio had already alerted me that Bluenote's solid-state gear was perhaps the best-sounding on the planet - this from a guy who designs expensive tube amps to a guy who's owned tube amps for years. To say my curiosity was piqued would be calling a veined Jalapeno Chili pepper mild. With about 200 hours of break-in on its broad shoulders, I strapped this single-ended into the harness of the usual system to let it ride. And that's where today's subject -- first in May of this year and then retailing still for an impressively value-oriented $3,995 -- ran head-long into a dead-end: High-frequency ringing distortion correlated to the music signal such as to suggest an engaged snare like you'd find on the underside of a drum, getting excited each time adjacent sound pressure triggered the drum skin.

Maurizio immediately suspected shipping-damaged VU meters and asked me to disconnect them. This didn't solve the distortion so the amp went back to Adam. Three month later, a replacement arrived. It had since benefitted from a reworking of the storage capacitor banks. On the earlier unit, those were mounted to acrylic rails. In current production, they're soldered to circuit boards while retail has gone to $5,995. Never mind that surprising 50% price hike probably forced by today's sorrily skewed Euro/Dollar balance - I had distortion again, albeit of a different kind this time. Now it was a high-pitched, very metallic, non-correlated ringing suggestive of engine noise. Disconnecting the inputs didn't eliminate this 8kHz-or-so squeal which kicked in just above full attenuation and disappeared only a half click away from full throttle. Because it occurred at first in only one channel when the CD input was used, I didn't suspect the amp right away. I waltzed into the kitchen instead with an unfriendly eye toward the refrigerator - that's how motor-generated this whistling appeared. Ambling back into the sound room with perplexion written all over my face, I scooted past the DUO hornspeaker and bingo - the whistling came out of its tweeter. Trying different inputs duplicated this noise on the other channel as well. Switching power cords or line conditioners, going straight into the wall and putting three days worth of AC through the amp didn't mitigate this problem.

Talking with my friend Dave Clark over at Positive Feedback On-Line, I since learned that their first Demidoff Signature loaner had suffered shipping damage as well. Unlike mine, theirs was of the broken-box, busted-innards kind. At this point, common sense forced a simple conclusion: Blue Note's Demidoff wasn't ready yet to brave the vagaries of international shipping. I'm confident that the amps worked flawlessly in their Italian factory. However, three out of three review units arrived damaged or working improperly in the US. Most certainly, this is a function of extreme weight which, no matter how well padded, remains subject to severe physical shock whenever dropped, mishandled or plunked down heavily from a carrying position such as a UPS or FedEx handler is liable to do. While Blue Note revisits this subject, I also suggest they move to stockier feet. The current rubber bumpers are of such low profile that lifting and setting down the amp nearly equates to squashing one's fingers.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. The second unit's sonics were very promising indeed, its immediate chief attraction a treble very tube-like and refined in its tactile quality. Until Blue Note has solved the current challenge -- of getting its flagship amplifier safely from Firenze to America -- I've made arrangements to have our own Paul Candy take a look at the firm's $1,295 Steroid 1 Signature remote-controlled integrated, from the very next US shipment expected in a few weeks. Adam's assured me that this dual-mono but far smaller and lighter amp has encountered no problems at all. Perhaps it will be the one to first introduce our readers -- and myself -- to the sonic flavor of Blue Note's amplifiers?

US distributor's website
Manufacturer's website