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Enrico believes there is proof. But you need educated ears. It took him seven years and a concentrated R&D project started in 1991 to quantify how hifi gear compromises signal purity. Enrico's company Provision began manufacturing Norma gear in 1997 but had already built measurement equipment to have him well familiar with the necessary tools: Living and being headquartered in Cremona influenced me. Our city is steeped in music and musical instruments. Think Monteverdi, Ponchielli, Giuseppe Verdi, the master violins of Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri. They left a great legacy to our school of violin making and the university's music faculty. I fondly remember student competitions to insure the few free subscriptions our school provided for concerts at the Teatro Ponchielli. The human voice and song are one of my greatest passions. Listened to attentively, the correct reproduction of the human voice is one of the most difficult tasks. If the recording quality allows, the micro/macro dynamics of a beautiful voice are incredible as are the richness of detail, expressive nuances and delivery refinement. And unlike other musical instruments the human voice is known to all. This enables immediate comparison. It's why I often use the human voice in the development of Provision gear.

Beyond material aspects it's important to understand a product's design philosophy. Over the years folks hearing Norma products asked what our secret was. As direct expressions of our perception and thinking, we though them simple and devoid of secrets. But over time we concluded that as often happens, what's really important isn't obvious to outsiders. What's the secret to the Stradivarius sound? After exploring all possible combinations of wood, aging and lacquer, we still don't know. Perhaps the real secret was the designer's sensitivity, taste and love which intuitively or strategically guided very specific choices. In the absence of such intense desire, none of the available materials and processes would have ended up being shaped as they were.

Playback electronics influence the sound even more than what's generally believed. Here we distinguish between sonic appearance and quality. Elements of appearance ease our perception. Its parameters include tonal balance, soundstage articulation and certain dynamic aspects as long as deviations remain tolerable rather than become irreparable compromise. Sonic appearance is what strikes and impresses a listener at first. Aside from creating something like an imprint, it then loses importance little by little. With ongoing listening more important parameters reveal themselves mostly related to the actual structure of the sound we perceive. This no longer is about basic ingredients but how they were treated and combined. With fruit it'd be the degree of ripeness and flavor. With a person it'd be character and intelligence, not height, weight, race and gender.

This gets us to quality which also gives pleasure but is neither short-term nor a coincident mechanism that connects with an emotional memory of a previously pleasurable experience. Sound quality is a kind of long-term love that arises with a more intimate discovery of sophisticated features. Perception of sonic appearance is instinctive. Perception of quality is learnt and depends on being able to perceive specific traits, then assign values to them. Here we deal with the absence of distortion and grain, with the quality of speed, micro/macro dynamics, spatial relationships within the soundstage. More so than any other parameter, the one we're particularly concerned with is lack of playback artifice. We accept that whenever an audio signal passes a circuit, it exits degraded compared to how it entered. The very best audio gear can hope for is to commit the least possible degradation. Without an ability to capture and assign values to specific quality aspects, there can be no deeply fulfilling design work. Consider a wine novice. The best initial impression might come from a glass of fresh sparkling lambrusco. Only with deepened exposure and refinement of the palate does the true universe of wine open up. One cannot truly love that which one doesn't know.

The art of sound reproduction is no exception. It relies on a more profound understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Here one arrives at a more fundamental level than superficial instinctual sonic beauty. The easiest way is to alter the sound to make it more pleasant yet one cannot fix something faulty by adding another fault. Two faults don't make one right. The interpretative approach is also limited and not universal. Soft focus works well in a wedding photo but gets annoying in a landscape. Altering one parameter to improve it invariably affects other parameters in unpredictable ways. More is lost than gained. Subjective gains in appearance can thus mean a loss of quality.

The elements of audio electronics which influence sound span circuit type/topology, parts quality, mechanical engineering, power supply and more all of it interdependent. It's imperative to have the broadest possible understanding to properly gauge how particular choices interact. To design a winning Formula 1 car everything must be perfectly integrated and of the highest quality, from the engine to the chassis, suspension, tires, driver, pit team and more. During our 7-year R&D project we attempted to investigate the totality of factors influencing hifi sound and how they interrelate. Starting with circuit topology, we saw that minimalism itself guarantees no good overall performance. Returning to the F1 car, a single-cylinder engine won't lead to victory. Our Norma circuits are thus very elaborate. Another important aspect is dynamic delivery. Whilst it's often considered sufficient to have bandwidth that only slightly exceeds the audible spectrum of 20Hz-20kHz, in our opinion bandwidth must be far greater. This relates directly to overall circuit speed and its ability to supply instantaneous current.

Returning to the automotive industry, one might calculate a certain drag coefficient and the power required to maintain it at 130km/hr, say 25KW. Based on the audio bandwidth example, one might conclude that a 40KW motor is sufficient to guarantee a good driving experience. Now imagine a car with a 200KW engine driving at the same 130km/h. It will respond better to acceleration and give us more pleasure and performance. Compared to the speed changes of driving, the scope of music's dynamic gradations has a crest factor of 1:100 which is a power scale of 1:10.000. From that follows that bandwidth, speed and current can never be too high. To be fair, frequent solutions to bandwidth increases come at the cost of sonic naturalness. At Norma we have worked very hard to combine these seemingly irreconcilable aspects.