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To get higher SPLs at least for RCA-connected sources mandates opening the pot a lot. This is confirmed by the well legible light ring and unproblematic for all but loudness freaks who even at full throttle argue that they could stand more sound pressure still.

Perhaps you can relate to evaluating a new component to daily discover new facets when finally the penny drops. Suddenly one has locked in the sound to perceive the complete picture. Of course, the multi-layered subtleties of sound can't be reduced one-two-three into a few words (which makes personal auditions mandatory).

(An Alps pot handles attenuation. Setting is confirmed by the light ring on the face plate.)

But a core signature can be tapped, often by honing in on certain very obvious traits which make up the central attributes of the presentation such as dynamic verve or exceptional resolution. Or perhaps taut bass and somewhat reluctant treble venture into the foreground? With the Fonel, such an approach was more difficult. Its 'signature' concerned itself less with individual aspects and more with the whole. Defining the latter's gestalt in words risks becoming a bit too ambiguous or wishy-washy. Nevertheless, coherence and naturalness were the first qualities I honed in on.

Since I'm not a diehard classic lover and specifically no Mozart fan, Wolfie's Violin Concertos 3-5, brilliantly recorded by the Trondheim Solistene and Marinna Thorsen (2007) get spun chez Jörg's purely for analytical purposes. It was both wonderful then and personally out of order when the Fonel Emotion compelled no hair-splitting but unexpectedly had me simply follow the music without cares. With this CD, that rarely happens. Even with floorstanders of Thiel CS 2.4 ilk (perfectly suited for analysis and not necessarily silk-gloved with violins) and all their famed soundstage accuracy and resolution, this became surprising non-hifi and non-heady. To define a component solely from a nebulous macro perspective as being natural, compelling, non-abstract and unconcerned with analysis naturally won't do. This forces me to become heady and analytical for a moment and get to work.

There's the extremely colorful and substantial mid band. It not only doesn't run the risk to sound lean and thin with the above violin fare but remains satisfying, organic and steeped in the musical flow even with less carefully captured violins as on Oneidad's "The Eiger" [The Wedding]. Bleeding ears and questionable mastering jobs won't become synonymous over the Fonel. This is supported by its treble on which more anon.

Despite a tendency to please, Fonel's integrated doesn't pull a detail-obscuring wool blanket over the proceedings. The midrange is equally effortless as its voices are highly intelligible. This worked very well on the more experimental music project A Bed To A Small Mouth (Nurse With Wound, Zoviet France and others) which was recorded live in a multi-branched cave and, augmented by spacey ambiance, sports predominantly quite incisive talk-song. Despite all the secondary noises and echo-laden venue, the Emotion's finely nuanced, easily observed voices created involuntary involvement. (The above map shows the cave with its individual instrumental placements. The performers lived there for a while until their normal day/night rhythm was suspended.) A core quality of this amplifier is thus to sound tangibly musical yet, as though by coming in through the back door, maintain perfect accuracy and precision.

This includes staging. Whether string orchestra, expansive cave sonics or the gripping Jazz of the three gents Svensson, Berglung and Öström on EST's Leucocyte (2008), the resultant soundstages aren't merely exceptionally liberated, tangible and perfectly sorted but highly defined in the depth perspective. Yet image outlines never gravitate into our perceptional focus. They become apparent only when mentally checked in A/B comparisons. Co-responsible though not a direct staging quality per se is what the Americans call bloom. It avoids laser-trimmed performers stacked shoulder to shoulder. If you've encountered components which do that, they tend to lack differentiating airiness with its halos around instruments. They sound unnaturally polished and diminished in inner complexity. While otherwise accurate in the mere sorting of the stage, such a depiction lacks looseness and realistic presence. It's precisely what Fonel's Emotion stays clear of. Individual stage actors retain sufficient surrounding space to breathe.

In a similar vein, the multi-layered, harmonically complex play of acoustic guitars is rendered suitably nuanced. Pianos maintain their elongated decays without suffocating the hall echo. Saxophone (say on Robert Wyatt's Comic Opera) isn't homogenized and stripped of its seductive rawness - not that musically talented kit should but not all manage to this impressive an extent. Equally compelling is the bass. My hardest test for that is Dive's "Broken Meat" from 2003's Concrete Jungle album. Stoically hammered sequencer beats come in so low and potent as to cause fear for one's hifi. Well, not the Emotion. This machine has control and definition, extends surprisingly low for an integrated and with extreme material turns into a cracking bass generator, albeit without the hard-as-nails potency certain behemoth monos manage. Call it musical flow plus powerful precision then.

This leaves the treble which is airy, finely developed, silky, utterly stress-free and most of all, rich in textures and body. It's a personal highlight of this circuit. Knowing that tastes and ancillaries vary, I'd not call it exceptionally crisp or fresh though. In short, this is not a machine to inject a dose of electricity or wiriness into overly earthy or energetically diminished speakers.

The Fonel Emotion convinces with its coherent, embodied and hence very natural presentation which, as profane as it might read, is simply great fun to enjoy music at a high level with. First off, this amplifier is effortlessly musical and -- if such descriptions even fit -- more on the full/warm side of the fence than the fresh/electrified counterpart. Impressive power reserves, flawless accuracy in soundstaging, sorting and timing refuse to move into the usual audiophile foreground and instead 'merely' support our ability to effortlessly while fully involved follow the musical goings-on. Given the above, Fonel's Emotion occupies a very high seat in my personal pantheon of cherished audio components. I'm thus unusually keen for you to book a personal audition. Even challenging, impedance-critical speakers should pose no issue.

Fonel's integrated amplifier is characterized by...
  • A powerful realistic presentation that's involving but never artificially exciting
  • Flawless transparency and exemplary soundstaging with highly defined depth profile
  • A fully extended, clean yet fleet/flowing bass register
  • A colorful, airy and exceptionally corporeal midrange
  • An airy, friendly, sonorous and substantial rather than crisp and fresh treble
  • Immaculate rhythmic timing and good dynamics but this isn't an electrified sounding amplifier
  • First-rate fit 'n' finish include the quality and flexibility of socketry. With my loaner, the only practical criticism involved cross bleed from the right channel XLR to the asymmetrical inputs,


  • Category: Integrated amplifier
  • Weight: 29kg
  • Dimensions: 435 x 132 x 410mm (W x H x D)
  • Trim: Wood panels in high-gloss Ash, Mahogany, American Rosenut or high-gloss black
  • Output power: 2 x 200 Watt/8 Ohm, 2 x 300 Watt/4 Ohm
  • Power consumption at idle: ca. 40 watts
  • Operational class: AB
  • Inputs: 3 x RCA, 1 x XLR
  • Outputs: 2 switchable loudspeaker pairs, 6.3mm headphone socket
  • Other: €100 surcharge for pre-in feature, solid wood remote, quality power cord
  • Website
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