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This review first appeared in the June 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the Fonel Renaissance in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio or Fonel - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Sources: Fonel Simplicité, Laptop with foobar2000, Northstar USB dac32, Benchmark DAC1 USB
Amplification: Fonel Emotion, Funk MTX Monitor V3b, Belles 21A, Audionet AMP monos
Loudspeakers: Thiel CS 3.7, Sehring S 703SE
Cables: Straight Wire Virtuoso, Vovox, HMS Fortissimo, Reson LSC 350
Power delivery: Hifi-Tuning Powercord Gold incl. IeGo terminations, MF-Electronic power strip
Rack: Lovan Classic II
Review component retail: €6.499

Thankfully writers aren’t always expected to know how to pronounce certain things they write. Otherwise Dr. Sergey Buchakchiysky’s name as contributing designer and PR contact for Fonel in Germany would cause me some—cough— embarrassment. Severodonezk already rolls somewhat easier off the tongue. That’s the Ukrainian town where Fonel’s core team works away. Thanks in part to their 5mm steel casings, visits from Fonel are never casual affairs. This dress code has today’s Renaissance preamp deposit a solid 16kg on that pesky bathroom scale. Primary focus for such mass isn’t material excess for bragging rights. It's resonance control and the suppression of microphony effects.

The machine then adds functional pounds. Standard trim includes an internal MM/MC phono board and DAC with async USB for high-resolution computer communications. There are 4/2 RCA/XLR inputs respectively, coax/optical digital sockets and RCA/XLR outputs. First impressions are of a relative heavyweight and multi tasker. While I’ve been unduly fond of their transistor machines, the Fonelators have a particular affinity for valves. In the Renaissance four NOS Sovtek 6N23P/E88CC work in shunt-regulated push/pull or SRPP*. This well-known and circuit-wise not complicated variant on the ubiquitous push/pull principle was refined by Fonel and already is very linear without global feedback whilst offering relatively high amplification factor.

* The SRPP is an elegantly simple circuit and really a small output transformerless amplifier. It was widely used in TV circuits for delivering significant current into heavy capacitative loads. It was first patented in 1940 by Henry Clough of Marconi and has returned in may guises since. Interestingly it was not referred to as the SRPP until quite recently and instead had a variety of other names like 'bootstrap follower' and 'shunt regulated amplifier'. The circuit uses two triodes usually in the same envelope. Each triode is biased identical. The lower triode acts as a common-cathode gain stage with an active load, the upper triode as common-anode gain stage with an identical active load. This is about as close to a complementary transistor pair as valves get. The reason the circuit is push-pull and not single ended is that the signal reaching the bottom triode causes the signal on the grid of the top triode to be in anti phase with it. When the top triode conducts more drive current into the output coupling capacitor, the other conducts less. When the top triode conducts less, charge stored in the capacitor is returned and flows down into the lower triode. Unlike the mu follower, the output should be taken only from the cathode of the upper triode.

Fonel prefers no global feedback which in the output stage of the Renaissance leads to "better microdynamics, resolution and realism" explains Dr. Buchakchiysky. The 24/192 DAC is a Cirrus Logic CS4398 augmented by an Italian M2Tech USB transceiver based on their OEM hiFace module. This enables low-jitter asynchronous streaming whereby the receiver/DAC controls the delivery timing of the host/computer’s USB packages here via two discrete quartz oscillators for the 44.1kHz and 48kHz families of sampling rates.

Custom drivers available by download from M2Tech circumvent Windows Audio kernel mixer/ASIO solutions and raise the 96kHz USB ceiling to 192kHz [click on the graphic for that driver download page - Ed]. To eliminate digital/analog contamination the Renaissance puts the DAC section into sleep mode during phono sessions and runs off its own power toroid. The other two toroidal transformers supply the left and right analog channels which despite a shared circuit board creates true dual mono gain processing claims Fonel. The Z-shaped steel shield inside separates signal path circuitry from power supplies and micro processors.

The latter switch on the power supplies in sequence, control input selection, the Alps pot, DAC functions and are powered from a simple fourth transformer. On source selection and volume control, the 18 closely spaced control buttons include ± volume (I personally prefer old-fashioned rotating knobs).

This makes for unavoidably tiny identifiers and at least initially anything but ‘in your dream’ certainty of hitting the intended button. But never mind, I certainly did find the rear-mounted power mains switch. Attentive readers already know of my weakness for Fonel’s transistor kit. Their Emotion integrated amp and Simplicité CD player have been in fairaudio’s work machine portfolio for years. Needless to say I was curious what would make Fonel’s latest Renaissance with those glowing bits tick; and whether there’d be any significant personality apparent already at first listen. Without delay the machine was leashed to my system with Northstar’s USB dac32 on the inputs (fed with WAV data via Foobar) and my Audionet AMP monos on the outputs. Later I’d check on USB direct to isolate Fonel's internal converter.