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Just as the best F1 car won't perform without high-octane gasoline so the best circuits rely on adequate power. For this reason all our power supplies are extremely refined and account for power-grid isolation, DC, very low residual noise and very low output impedance all the way up into the ultrasonic range. Continuing our F1 parallel experience teaches us how important materials and parts are. How often have we seen an F1 car at the edge of the runway with its engine smoking? Some sophisticated tech solutions cannot be implemented without the proper parts. Certain parts are vital to realize certain circuit topologies whilst signal-path components can have a very marked influence on the sound. Unfortunately the best parts are nearly always difficult to source and very expensive. One example are seemingly trivial resistors. In certain strategic locations our resistors are about 1.000 x more expensive than already excellent 1% metal-film parts. The same is true for semiconductor batches of 1000 where each is measured, graded, selected and matched for each unit's left and right channel. Our mechanics are carefully engineered and free from ferromagnetic elements except for the power transformers.


With our SC-2 preamplifier the external power supply contains a first stage of stabilization followed by further voltage filtration in the main unit by means of independent l/r-channel circuits. The volume control which so often is a bottle neck is a programmable analog digital attenuation scheme which optimizes attenuation accuracy, channel balance and resolution with minimal signal impact. Steps are 0.5dB from 0 to -127.5dB with ±0.01dB accuracy. The switches are electromechanical relays to overcome limitations of solid-state switches, CMOS DACs, solid-state potentiometers and such. In addition all our preamps operate either active or passive. In passive mode the signal is tapped right behind the volume control and sent directly to the outputs to bypass the active gain stage. This can be triggered by remote.


Back to sound, timbre is almost exclusively a function of the speaker/room interaction. In our opinion alleged electronic influences on timbre are side effects of limited bandwidth or a typical transistor issue of graininess which suggests excess treble. Bass is very dependent on a power amp's power supply. In our products we aim for absolute frequency linearity across the widest possible bandwidth without narrow-band colorations which would alter the ratio of frequencies. Transparency is an absence of blur and haze. This makes statements like 'this sound is too transparent' idiotic. Just like vision can never be too sharp so sound can never be too transparent. What people really mean by excess transparency is that they hear issues being unmasked elsewhere. Real transparency as we understand it isn't a function of treble emphasis but must start at 0Hz. With Norma electronics, shortcoming elsewhere in the system will be exposed.


Dynamics, speed and modulation are three facets of dynamic behavior which must track the continuously variable music signal whilst applying gain. Here the power amp's job is hardest because besides amplifying voltage, it must also deliver current to the speaker and absorb kicked-back electromotive forces. Failures on those counts change the wave form to become distortion. Success relies on bandwidth, speed and ultra-fast delivery of very high currents. Under dynamic conditions our Norma electronics behave like a fine 12-cylinder engine: powerful, flexible, responsive, fast, perfectly torque balanced and capable of also running at very low RPM to reproduce both minuscule changes and large voltage swings.


Soundstaging is primarily a function of a precisely symmetrical speaker setup to exploit the arrival-time difference between let and right ear for a virtual recreation of what the microphones captured. Apart from extreme channel imbalances, electronics are more or less excused from responsibilities in soundstaging. Which gets me to the first watt, a concept virtually unknown in Italy at the time. I was introduced to it at an Athens show with our Greek importer who showed our electronics and low-power tubes plus a classic American dynamic speaker and a well-known high-efficiency variant. When we arrived the latter were set up with the valve gear. As a gesture of welcome the importer offered to switch to our Norma electronics with the American dynamic speakers. Being curious we asked to hear the highly efficient speakers on our gear which the importer was reluctant to do expecting detrimental results for both his products. But he did anyway and as a result that combination played for the duration of the show offering one of the best sounds we've heard. This first-watt phenomenon is a classic Achilles heel for transistor electronics which during very small power demands exhibit parasitic phenomena like inherent background noise, grain, crossover distortion and such. After this experience we examined the subject at length and conducted numerous comparisons to insure excellent performance on this count. Our Norma amplifiers are thus equally suitable for very high-efficiency and very low-impedance challenging loads.

Grain is related to the physical mechanism whereby current flows through a semiconductor. This gives rise to a separation of the conduction current into discrete charges. To simplify, consider closing down a running water tap until a very thin stream of water stops running continuously but transforms into individual drops. Something similar happens to the electrical charges in semiconductors. This includes a component of parasitic noise generated by a similar process. It translates into an audible but hard-to-define quality which is perhaps best described as the discomfort of a pinching shoe. It explains listener fatigue or feedback of the sound being too accurate. The truth is the opposite. The sound is too coarse in both texture and background noise. Here Norma electronics are truly extraordinary by offering a fineness of grain almost unique.


Artificiality is the least technical aspect but for us the by far most important. We've always pursued the creation of audio electronics which sound the least artificial. If we created two parallel events—one live, one playback—beyond matching all parameters as ideally as possible, what would most differentiate them is this artifice. Its reduction or lack is what generates ongoing listening pleasure over long sessions and many years. It's perhaps for this reason that once people have heard Norma gear, it's very difficult to listen to anything else.


Back to the beginning. Where a US importer talked of isolated specs—bandwidth, slew rate—to imply his product's quality and superiority, its actual designer mentions the very same specs merely in passing. To him everything matters. In fact the most important quality can't even be measured or clearly defined. Absence of artificiality. Try centering a marketing strategy around that. Yet that's precisely the difference between primitive marketing hype and a deeper level of insight which appreciates just how everything is interrelated. Any change made here affects everything connected to it there. One can't single out any one or two specs and claim better performance just because of them.