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This is the first audio brand that has taken me so long to understand before I felt comfortable to share anything substantial on it with our readership. When the full chain of Da Vinci Grandezza electronics -- consisting of two huge 30kg/ea. driver stages feeding directly into the grids of 300Bs inside the mono-parallel singled-ended amplifiers via a pair of 5-pin special XLR cable -- drove my Kharma Midi-Exquisite speakers, the musical experience shocked a few of my audio buddies.

This tube-based amplification chain seems truly state of the art. The whole concept puts signal purity ahead of everything. Signal goes to a transformer-based passive followed by the huge driver stage and the 300B mono amp. (I don't known of any other manufacturer building such huge transformer-coupled mono driver stages.) The whole system is based on interstage transformer coupling, a technique similar to Wavac Audio Labs from Japan. Da Vinci, however, takes this further by applying a hand-made transformer for each tube for each channel. These transformers are developed individually for each valve and hand-wound in the atelier of Da Vinci. The transformers are insulated with oil-paper and encapsulated in MuMetal cans to reduce electromagnetic interference. All cathode wire-wound copper resistors too are said to be developed individually for each tube and hand-crafted. Special high-voltage oil paper capacitors are applied as well for "continuous interstage coupling". This design endowed with a mere 16 watts would prove to drive my Kharmas better even than quite a few huge transistor amplifiers.

[The first transformer is a transformer potentiometer or TVC and thus the input transformer for the Passive Control Unit. The second transformer is an interstage unit for the 6C45 tube in the Line Driver Stage. The third is the output transformer for the 300B driver and input transformer for the parallel single-ended amplifier. The 4th and 5th transformers are the output transformers of the final stage and paralleled, one per 300B.]

The subsequent arrival of Da Vinci's Intonation speakers however was a little bit more difficult for me to understand regarding where right and wrong should fall. The first month's experience with the Intonation made me feel that I'd used the word seamless too casually in the past. In comparison with the Intonation, the musical picture projected by the Kharmas showed fractures here and there, especially in the high frequencies where the diamond tweeter was drawing too much attention despite the presence of tubes. While Kharma's ceramic midrange produced crispy vocals, it was nowhere close to the supreme vocal quality of the Supravox widebander employed in the Intonation with which you can feel the human flesh as it were. The radiant performance of Kathleen Battle in Vienna's New Year Concert in 1987 under the magical wand of Karajan was produced with such a commanding presence, it simply sounded like true human blood. My nephew who is a soprano singer in Hong Kong was attracted by the realism of Battle's voice radiating into my room. Although she is definitely not an audiophile, she was truly shocked by the realism. How can such big speakers inside a small room recreate a voice that is so free, so open and smooth, with varying energy over each changing octave? Of course, Franck Tchang's magical acoustic resonators share responsibility for such a seeming impossibility. Franck tweaks my room on each of his annual visits to Hong Kong as my setups mature.

Another area of definitive strength with the Intonation is anything with strings. Most other speakers may be able to delineate the details of one string versus another but never really prove capable of demonstrating the elasticity of the strings. Now I even felt the softness of the wooden violin body. Yet the softness of strings does not undermine transients. (A local audiophile now with Cessaro horns too shares this view on the extraordinary capability of string reproduction by the Da Vinci speaker.) The timbre is slightly on the rich side of my perceived neutrality yet coherence is simply one whole musical picture. The active bass system blends quite well with the Supravox although occasional readjustments of the crossover point and subwoofer output are required for certain recordings. The bass moves quite a lot of air. The 16-inch highly efficient woofer produces the kind of bass foundation that is simply unmatched by smaller bass drivers. This bass is fast though not as fast as the Hørning Eufrodite with its paralleled isobaric bass system. I guess this is simply physics. A sole 16-incher won't match the speed of massively paralleled smaller drivers. The Intonation also does not extend as low as the Hørning but its dipole bass energy transmission mechanism is more direct.

When I sit down and close my eyes, I feel as though listening in a concert hall. This is similar to what has been reported by JLam, Marvel, Studiogrey, Charles, Ken Chiu and a few other audio buddies. This could also be attributed to the immense soundstage capabilities of the Orpheus Heritage DAC over the Argento SMR Extreme Edition digital cable.

If the performance was so good, why did it take me so long to understand this system? The confusion arose from the dramatic differences between the playback of classical music and jazz/pop. The foremost confusion centered on the high treble. I am used to listening to a lot of detail in the high frequency area
as handled by the diamond tweeter of the Kharma. In the case of the Intonation, when I use my analytical mind to search for the details that were present before, they seem exchanged for blackness. Admittedly, the sound is far more comfortable to listen to than before. I asked myself, why should I care about those details when the rich tonality and coherence are simply so much better than with the Kharmas? It must have been the audiophile bug inside me confusing my thoughts. The Intonation's treble seemed definitely sufficient because hall ambience was plenty obvious during Belafonte Live in Carnegie Hall. Violin never sounded dark and dull. In the case of Dvorak's New World Symphony conducted by Kubelik, the bass moved quite a lot of air to fill the whole room without boom. (Many ear witnesses were surprised by how the whole Da Vinci system produced such large-scale orchestral fare in a small room.)

When I played other types of music by John Coltrane and Mile Davis, the whole system sounded a bit dark, lacking the flares and sparkles inherent in this material. My immediate perception was that the bass overpowered the midrange and treble. Most of the time, I set the crossover point at 55Hz as I sensed a sudden drop of the Supravox around 60Hz. I knew I couldn't change physics. An active 16-inch bass driver in a small room was going to produce lots of bloom. So I lowered the bass output bit by bit alongside of lowering the crossover point to below 50Hz. There was some mild improvement but the problem persisted. With such settings, I could not replay classical music because there seemed to be a big hole in the lower midbass now.

I then came to the conclusion that this was a system purely for classical music. At this juncture, my father suggested to add a super tweeter. In his perspective, it was not a problem of frequency extension but the lack of leading-edge speed. I was reluctant to add a super tweeter due to the mismatch of sensitivity, the lack of convenient placement location for a super tweeter as well as the need for another pair of speaker cables. I was afraid of creating further challenges and felt stuck for a month. That said, every time I returned to classical music over the Da Vinci, it was truly a unique listening experience and unmatched by all the other brands I'd come across thus far in my space.

To put the comparison in proper context, let's be realistic about how this system cannot be as ultra-dynamic as a Hong Kong listener's recent Cessaro hornspeaker installation. To a certain extent, the dynamics of the passive 215-2000-EXC Supravox widebander don't fully match the speed of the active bass system using the 215-400-EXC either. Yet the musical experience conveyed to me and my fellow fanatics remained unprecedented. It sounded like the real thing. The musical rendering by the
Da Vinci system was neither the Jadis type of French romanticism nor the Linn type of British genteels. The Da Vinci system peeled down layers upon layers of tonal color in front of the listener. It was never polite on orchestral crescendos nor brutal to force excess energy onto the body. If one dissects the musical picture according to the usual hifi attributes, they were all present but perhaps not that spectacular relative to the competition - say the glorious midrange portrayed by Kondo. The musical landscape portrayed by the Da Vinci system is always one full and uncut big picture brimming with color hues and more than adequate speed and dynamic. It is especially magical and inspiring to play back live recordings over this system. Then you feel as though you are there.

In the end, I bit the bullet and acquired a pair of Murata ES103 super tweeters. I connected them to the 300B mono amplifiers via a pair of Argento Serenity speaker cable. I located the Murata on top of the Intonation speaker with the front lining up with the central axis of the midrange and woofer. With huge expectations, I hit the 'play' button on the Orpheus Zero transport. Next a wicked smile inched slyly across my face. Like many others who have applied the Muratas, I felt as though nothing had been added yet this action seemed to clean up lots of dirt in the lower midbass. Transients not restricted to the top end seemed to be faster across all the frequency ranges. Attacks in the lower midbass were far more tuneful than before both with speed and weight. Did I mention that hall ambience was abundant without betraying the tweeters' location as 'somewhere up there'? Now the hall ambience extended into the Z-axis, making the soundstage even more palpable than before. The trumpet of Miles Davis had a stronger sense of metal and the agility of the upper highs carried more energy. The excitation of certain lyrics by Belafonte was more apparent and further enriched the whole musical experience with a vivid quality.

I tried hard to locate the presence of the super tweeter. Honestly, I felt they were there but not noticeable. But this was still during only the first two hours. I allowed things to burn in non-stop for another 2 weeks. I then wrote to Da Vinci reporting that the addition of the Muratas had solved the problem. (At this juncture, Da Vinci is researching the possibility of using another fullrange driver from Feastrex of Japan for the Intonation.) After two weeks, the super tweeter had clearly run its course because I found the leading edge to be highlighted and a little bit forward. Then I moved the super tweeter back inch by inch to find the right spot. If I moved it back by two inches from the original position, the sound of Byrn Terfel lost some virility. I finally ended up 1.2 inches behind the original position.

With the addition of the Murata ES103s, I now feel everything has becomes livelier while the strengths of the Da Vinci system remain untouched. The remaining problem is my small room. Again, I cannot change physics. I have to accept the occasional attack of standing waves from the interaction of the 16-inch woofers with my spatial dimensions especially during Jazz recordings (too bad that I cannot see the full improvement brought by the Muratas due to room limitations but I am sure the performance would extend all the way into the deep bass should space permit so in the future.)

Overall, the sound of the Da Vinci system is not only holographic but almost palpable (a big credit also goes to the SRA Ohio XL+2 vibration control platform which is simply in a class of its own). This setup does not deliver the kind of pin-point focus to seem real but instead the ultimate revelation of timbral color. The tonal density of vocals is solid and filled with varying tonal shadings. In fact, many visitors comment that the system does not sound like digital at all. On some older recordings, some feel it is very close to vinyl. I repeat again that I feel very much like being inside Carnegie Hall with Belafonte sharing the laughter and applause with the audience. The huge speaker simply disappears in my room along the rear and sidewalls. I am sure that when Srajan visits me again in the future, he will be far happier with my sound than last time.

In closing, there are no fancy technologies on tap here, just pure circuit craftsmanship from the old days alongside employment of the best components which are mostly hand-made. Peter at Da Vinci reminded me a few times that he is not trying to build a speaker to compete with other modern offerings in frequency extension and exotic driver materials. Coming from the Kharmas, it took me a while to understand Peter's philosophy. I am glad I finally did.

This is truly a unique system to serve music appreciation. I understand how the definition of musicality varies from person to person. Some put more weight on dynamics, others more on soundstage, others on tonal purity. Regardless of
your preferences, the Da Vinci experience really resembles an experience closest to the concert hall. In the end, you must experience it for yourself. Words really cannot do justice to what this system is capable of...
Quality of packing: Good for the speakers, average for the electronics.
Reusability of packing: Not reusable.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect.
Website comments: Good. Photography could be better.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Human interactions: Dealing with Jolanda is very pleasant. Peter doesn't speak English and relies on Jolanda for translation which delayed answers to certain technical questions.
Pricing: Expensive but cheaper than a complete Kondo system
Final comments: State of the art system for music appreciation especially with classical. It really sound like you're there in the concert hall. Vocals, strings and piano find no fault even from real musicians assessing playback.
Manufacturer's website