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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Ancient Audio Lektor Prime, Raysonic Audio CD228, AMR CD-777 [on review], April Music Stello CDA-500 [on review], Aura Neo [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves), April Music Stello Ai500 [on review], Aura Groove [on review], Peachtree Audio iDecco [on review]]
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5
Speakers:Zu Essence, era 5 SAT, Amphion Helium 510 + Impact 400 [on review], Anthony Gallo Acoustics Strada + TR3 [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: €649/699 for the CDP and integrated respectively

The e-mailer was Canadian audio importer Richard Kohlruss. "I read with interest your review on the Amphion Helium 510 bookshelf. It is the speaker I presently have in my own listening room. I’ve been impressed with the product since listening to it at CES. To explain, Amphion were sharing their room at CES with Audio Analogue. As you may know, that is a company based in Monsummano Terme of Italy's Tuscany region whom I have worked with since the 90s. With Anssi Hyvonen from Amphion falling ill during CES, he was not able to fly out of Finland. Therefore I helped Stefano Blanda from Audio Analogue to set up their room at the show. Due to customs regulations, Amphion needed to remove their goods from the U.S. after the show. I offered to have them move to Montreal with my Audio Analogue gear.

"This gave me a chance to listen to the Amphions in a more controlled environment. I must say my reaction was like yours. The company obviously knows what they are doing. As a bonus, I also happen to enjoy the clean Scandinavian design. Where am I going with this? I have on hand some affordable electronics to match up with the quality of the Helium 510 for very enjoyable two-channel music listening. These are the just released Audio Analogue Crescendo integrated and CD player. As with the Helium 510, I feel these Audio Analogue components punch above their weight. Each component retails for $995 (€649/699 respectively) while still being manufactured in Italy. Obviously the company works on slimmer margins but the reaction from their distributors shows that they have priced the components very intelligently. I’m obviously excited. It brings back memories of my first success with Audio Analogue and their very first Puccini and Puccini Special Edition integrateds. I spoke with Anssi and Stefano late last week, asking Anssi if you could hold onto the Helium 510 for a longer period of time; and Stefano if he would be willing to ship out a set of Crescendo. As expected, there was a yes from both sides..."

I was being expertly set up to review a CD player without PC connectivity. It's something I'd vouched to no longer do. Was Audio Analogue really Sicilian by any chance? Alas, this was realsization turf. I could cut some slack. As it turns out, particularly the Crescendo integrated retaliates with a very unusual feature. It offers four user-selectable volume tapers which change the slope of attenuation to accommodate various scenarios. This proved instantly useful when I jacked my Grado PS-1000s into the headphone socket and was blasted when just two volume LEDs turned blue. The D slope moved that same output voltage into the 6 to 8 LED range in a few seconds. Bull's eye. Why haven't we seen such design smarts before? For €699, it was outright radical. The Crescendo clearly had it going on.

As is the channel balance over ±7dB, the desired attenuation slope of the unbuffered integrated resistor network volume control is selected through a menu function. For balance, the 15 blue mini diodes of the volume display become the temporary indicators. Sample 1 shows central L/R balance, sample B a 4dB reduction in the left channel, sample 3 a 7dB increase in the left.

For the volume taper, the LEDs of the first four inputs correspond to scales A through D as shown below. The Crescendo integrated has six line-level inputs of which the last can be converted as a home-theater throughput. That effectively creates a stereo amplifier with a fixed output. The first two programming options store in non-volatile memory through power-down. The bypass smartly asks for confirmation with each cycle to not surprise a different operator.

The Crescendo also has a fixed rec-out and a 12V DC trigger. There's a stereo mini jack input on the front—for an iPod for example—and the 6.3mm output auto-mutes the speakers upon insertion of a headphone plug. A push on the volume control transforms it into an input selector.

The Crescendo's linestage makes 6dB of gain, the output section 27dB. Power delivery is 50/80wpc into 8/4 ohms. The upper -3dB bandwidth limit is 150kHz, A-weighted S/N ratio at full power is an impressive >100dB.

Input selection is also possible from the remote. A toroidal power transformer supplies the pre and power sections with dedicated secondaries and the circuitry runs "calibrated and integrated" electronic overload and thermal runaway protection. The power stage is based on the National Semiconductor LM3886 IC run under optimized thermal conditions to make its 50/80wpc 8/4Ω rating at a claimed 0.005% of THD+N (requiring at least ±35V rails according to the part supplier's spec sheet). In insider parlance, the Crescendo is a gainclone. This explains the single 'transistor' per channel in the upper left detail photo. Think 47labs Gaincard, AudioSector Patek SE or Art Audio Lissa. The only items the Crescendo lacks are a front-panel USB charge socket for an iPod (iPod users should run a 30-pin-to-mini rather than mini-to-mini cable to bypass the iPod's volume control); and a variable output for a subwoofer such as might be used with mini monitors. Since the 5th input is already software configurable to go from variable to fixed, perhaps the rec-out could likewise become software configurable and convert to variable at the customer's discretion?

The matching Crescendo CD player sports a single pair of RCA outputs and one S/PDIF coax. Like all other Audio Analogue CD players, the drive mechanism is a metal-encased Teac CD-5010A module "specifically designed for high-end audio applications". The converter is an unspecific enhanced multi-level Delta Sigma 24/192 affair with a BurrBrown 24/96 digital receiver running of its own dedicated voltage regulator feed and less than 50ps of jitter. The analog reconstruction filter is an electrical 4th-order to which one pole in the DAC adds up to an effective 5th-order function.

The analog output stage is built around a dual opamp per channel whose supplies are separately bypassed. Besides the usual programming functions—some controls are multi-function—there's a sleep mode for programmed stand-by in 15-minute intervals from 0 to 60 minutes. Max output is 2V RMS, power consumption is 25VA and the noise floor is 126dB below the max output voltage.

Further Crescendo mates are the forthcoming Crescendo Tuner/USB DAC; the higher-end Fortissimo CD player with iPod/iPhone, USB and standard digital inputs; and the 100wpc Fortissimo integrated amplifier. "About this new Armonia line, we can say that it fine-tunes technologies employed by us over the past few years to develop the other products in our catalogue. We simply applied keen research focus on reducing production costs while keeping very high overall quality standards. The outcome is something that's from very difficult to impossible to find in this price range due to the raw materials we use as well as the final performance we offer. Of course certain parts had to be sourced from the Far East but all assembly, bench tests and quality control procedures occur right here in Italy. Our margins on these products are very limited of course." Follow this link for a brief tour of the Audio Analogue facilities, a time line of all their product launches and mini introductions and photos of the four principals.

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