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This review first appeared in the March 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end has a link below it to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of or Magnat - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Source: Esoteric SA-10, C.E.C. TL51XR, ISEM Audio eGO phase 4, Audiomeca Obsession II
Amplification: pre/power - Bel Canto PRe3/M300, Myryad MXP2000/MXA2150, Funk LAP-2.V2; integrated - Accuphase E212
Loudspeaker: Sehring 703 SE, Thiel CS 2.4, Rondo
Cables: low-level - HMS Sestetto Mk3, Straight Wire Virtuoso, WSS KS1 Silverline; high-level - HMS Fortissimo, SilverLine Lautsprecherkabel LS2, Ortofon SPK 500
Review component retail: €2.850

Wooden or woody?
Once upon a time, no cars, cell phones or thrice-weekly visits to the luxury spa and fitness club were required to convey status. 10-high stacked towers of button and slider-infested hifi machines did the trick even though the privacy of your own four walls did mean the outside world remained blissfully ignorant of -- and thus unimpressed by -- your, ahem - achievements. Actually, strike that. Cars always were important. But, expensive fi was readily identified by its wooden cheeks then which, if memory doesn't play tricks, remained en vogue well into the 90s. What I remember vividly is that such goods never flooded my living room. Something about permanent "check's in the mail" status of my wallet at the time.

"What wasn't then can be now" might be my revenge even though that's not entirely apropos either. Fonel's Simplicité -- we concern ourselves with the transistor machine today -- adopts not wooden cheeks but a wooden façade for a touch equally luxurious. Naturally, various wood species are available for your preference.

New Concept Electronics GmbH ...
... is what the deliverer of individualized woody design dreams goes by, naturally not just for this but all the firm's models. The company launched in Berlin in 2003 and besides Fonel also -- don't smirk -- issues the car audio brand Areon for an upscale clientele. In a reversal of what I usually hear, manufacture proper occurs in the Berlin headquarters, development and design 'offshore' in the Ukraine where a 30-head strong R&D team works on both brands.

The Simplicité's ingredients too reflect a polyglot attitude. The transformer is German Noratel AG issue, the very intricate display from an upscale Japanese vendor, the transistors Wima and (should one be interested in the CD player's tubed version) even UK outfit Sowter makes an appearance. While more about certain ingredients anon, imagine your eyes closed while I handed you the Simplicité. Asking for your best guess, you'd first joke "boat anchor". Then, after a quick tip to get to 'warm', "amplifier". To correctly hit on CD player would require opening your eyes in disbelief.

Doing such a solid doesn't result from the usual thick-as-a-thumb face plate but the entire construction, predominantly the milled steel sides but even the cover, rear and foundation which are unusually massive, something
not immediately apparent to the eye but most certainly your muscles. Raison d'être is the fight against microphony inclusive of disc spinner damping. Even the far from ordinary footers -- no ubiquitous rubber -- hint at Fonel's seriousness about resonance attenuation.

Ordinary won't cut it with the innards neither. Fonel relies on class A outputs and discrete circuitry exclusively. They regard inflation-retardant integrated circuits as significantly inferior for sonics. And these Berliners rate the transport of equal importance. Here it is a Fonel-modified Teac DVD sled claimed to offer exceptionally low read errors and ultra precise laser focus. D/A conversion is compliments of Cirrus Logic joined to an in-house developed clock (15ppm or 0.0015% error rate) said to result in reduced noise, better channel separation and improved jitter reduction. Both converter and clock benefit from discrete power supplies to eliminate cross-coupled currents.

Last but not least: Fonel's Simplicité offers not merely a bank of solid RCAs inclusive of a digital output but also AES/EBU connexions. Balanced and balanced isn't always the same, hence knowing implementation is vital in any discussions of superiority even when on paper, balanced should be better. Requisite phase inversion for balanced drive here doesn't occur in the final analog output stage as is often the case with even upscale machines. Fonel relies on a fully complementary circuit front to back which generates its counter-phase signals well ahead of the DAC. This not only avoids sending the already converted 'finalized' analog signal through a phase inverter but enables noise cancellation of artifacts generated in the conversion process.

On to sonics ...
How come the entire species of CD player has fallen into ill repute with a certain diehard vinyl contingent? And why do even those who habitually reach for CDs express a desire for analog sound (which, exactly, is what?) as I note with regularity? While I'll avoid higher philosophy or dogmatism (reader e-mails to fairaudio are welcome on such matters), I do think that the subject is ripe for the picking especially as it pertains to the Fonel Simplicité's sonic character.

With many CDPs, I'm personally left wanting for that laissez-faire flair, the ability to both resolve fine detail but present it effortlessly integrated with the whole to remain non-fatiguing over the long haul. Put differently, it's not enough to dig out the smallest nits in all their nakedness for an 'aha, gotcha' reaction but to take the time to show how the 'gotcha' (inclusive of what happens in-between) relates to the greater surroundings.

If a component manages solely to unearth musical minutiae (in principle brilliant) but robs them of their often subliminal subtleties which make up all-around relevance, then such components are referred to as analytical. At first, they often don't signal any lack whatsoever to sound exceptionally transparent in fact. Particularly during a dealer dem, with extra concentration to listen predominantly with one's head, such machines can be rather entertaining.

The lack of subtlety never tends to telegraph when one efforts to listen consciously. It's when you relax at home that things change (a condition of vital importance to all fairaudio reviews). Then substance proves amiss, with the fine stuff, flow and musicality missing in action. Music turns synthetic, unduly demanding or thin. The connective filler tissue is gone and sonics are bereft of mass. In my experience, further digital stress factors appear as soundstaging's lack of audible space, reduced air between instruments and how typical timbres come across as unnatural or with insufficient contrast. Some interesting stuff on the subject can be found in Robert Harley's Complete Guide to High-End Audio. (There of course is also hard technical substantiation for this phenomenon. Particularly musicians are familiar with the term Hüllkurve [the tonal envelope of Attack, Decay, Sustain und Release]. Beside the transient attack, the steep tonal rise on which angular analytical playback relies, each tone is further defined by other aspects such as sustain, something our earlier reviews routinely cover.) Back to the Fonel Simplicité which solves the above dilemma of connecting high resolution with realistic tone colors and musical flow with rare bravura.

In the phone book, LA native Daedelus goes by Alfred Weisberg Roberts and his album Denies The Day's Demise, as a music review put it, offers "an unusually multi-faceted sonic carnival". This very opulence can readily induce an unwanted side effect, particularly when the Bossa-Nova or Jazz-reminiscent percussive structures enter the picture. Without highly resolved rhythmic fidelity at the source, things quickly degenerate into ill-defined sonic goo. Is Denies The Day´s Demise handled too analytically, too disembodied however, the listening experience easily defaults into frenzy and an artificially etched-sounding and plainly forced ride for the ears.

Truthfully, I initially viewed this album as patently unlistenable particularly over my Thiel CS 2.4. This changed with the Fonel Simplicité. With great exactitude, one is bombarded across the range with jagged sounds and percussion hits yet the Fonel lacks the underlying frenzy. It simultaneously manages to sound particularly colorful and, despite the advanced angularity embedded in these numbers, delightfully flowing. The Fonel expresses this gift for realistic tone colors while maintaining precision and neutrality even with extreme fare. Stig Nilsson's Solo + dishes out violin pure (most varied, emotional and virtuoso, a consummate tip) to present a razor's edge for hifi kit. It's gotta sound very energetic at times and in places where the strings are bowed with fire, outright aggressive and nearly shrill, never mind that the jagged bow work needs to remain intelligible and visual. At least to my ears, such music often runs the risk of emotional disconnect where, due to poor recordings or a bad hifi, the instrument itself turns into a questionable weapon.

Not so with the Fonel Simplicité. It reveals the tiniest vibrations, digs into details, serves up a realistic dose of dynamic aggression yet clocks zero stress factor. Despite its highly energetic transmission of these virtues, the Fonel remains sufficiently warm and deeply colorful. I was impressed and didn't know such music lent itself to extended consumption.

The next extreme check concerned itself with dimensionality under duress, i.e. with dirtier, more bass-heavy yet still complex fare. It's challenging indeed to parlay avantgarde jazz arrangements and nearly heavy-metal guitar riffs or bass runs into a pleasing listening experience. One critic described the extreme bassist Jonas Hellborg's Art Metal as follows: "Here Indian polyrhythms clash with busy percussion work, massive rock beats, wild guitar trippery and the masterful but no less trippy bass work of Hellborg himself." (

Said trippiness poses no issues to the Fonel which by now was expected. Ditto for hard-hitting dirt (never fear, the metal elements in Art Metal are very short-lived flares). To be sure, I also ran some other discs but the Simplicité clearly knows how to rock out, with such great balance of blackness and punch in the bass as to elude any and all criticism in the nether regions. The same continued with correct instrumental textures and spatial cues where many digital sources have a tendency for sameness.

Even in the acoustic thick of Art Metal, the Fonel proved unfazed and granted sufficient space, excellent sorting and clearly assigned timbres to each musical actor. Soundstaging too wasn't merely cleanly allocated but showed incarnate bodies and great three-dimensional resolution whereby the music separated cleanly from the loudspeakers.

Can't I pin any dirt on Fonel's transistor deck?
Admittedly rare, I really find nothing on my sonics list to criticize. The Simplicité delivers a fully mature and balanced performance. This even remains true in amplifier-direct drive (the outputs are variable) where sonic demerits tend to be the norm, not the exception.

Merely the insufficiently fine attenuation gradations might raise the ire of impassioned low-level listeners. Though it never bothered me, here and there the player also produced a marginally elevated background rush when, with no signal but active amplifier connected, it awaited the next disc. The wooden remote spells bespoke chic but is pushier before commands take - you have to press harder. And levels occasionally jumped before I got to where I wanted.

I'm so smitten with Fonel's Simplicité that it'll remain in house as an ongoing work and comparison machine. Sonically
a superb all'rounder, it operates on a very elevated plateau across the board. Whether fans of 'digital' values like precision, fine resolution and speed or flow, realistic warmth and oft-cited musicality as will be the case with vinyl lovers, the Fonel Simplicité demands an intensive audition. Beware proper AC polarity however or you'll undermine the analog charm by a few clicks.

The Fonel Simplicité is characterized by ...

  • Balance: It handles the entire frequency band with the same speed, rhythm and detail recovery as it applies musical flow and long-term pleasure.
  • Exceptionally natural sound with compellingly organic tone colors embedded in neutrality.
  • Tactile soundstaging with good sorting and localization focus yet plenty of air and space around the performers.
  • Variable outputs for amp-direct connection (I in fact achieved the best results that way) which could offer smaller steps however.
  • Impeccable fit 'n' finish.
  • 5-year manufacturer's warranty.
  • Unusually luxurious remote control whose buttons demand more muscle than usual and whose action is occasionally jumpy.

  • Retail: €2.850
  • Weight: 15.6kg
  • Dimensions: 89mm x 420mm x 335mm (H x W x D)
  • Finish: various wood options for the front
  • Connectivity: RCA and XLR, optical and S/PDIF digital outs
  • Operational class of output stage: class-A, discrete circuitry
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Features: variable analog outputs
  • Manufacture and distribution:
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