I think, that many of you do remember my first clash with the brand, which was a bull’s-eye hit from the beginning, due to the fact that it debuted quite recently on our market, and thus was not easy to acquire, and secondly, because even the cheapest component requires already a substantial sum of money to be left at the store if you want to pay for it. I hope that you also remember, that this episode was based on a meeting with a second hand device, where at the end I have made every effort to make the next one official, prepared in cooperation with the distributor. Now please imagine, that after a few months of ice-breaking with the Slovenian guardian of the brand, having an opportunity to listen to the Japanese Audio Tekne gear in the meantime, I received, quite unexpectedly, a full FM Acoustics set for review – without speakers however. So, being very happy with how things turned out, I would like to invite you to a test, probably slightly subjective, of a “dream system” consisting of a line preamplifier FM 155, linearizer FM 133, phonostage FM 122 MkII and monophonic power amplifiers, operating in “discreet class A” FM 108 connected together by interconnects and speaker cables from the same company. I have to add, that this set was provided by the company Natural Sound.
Looking at the arrived system, we see a unified design, regardless of the role of the device. This may have its justification in the production costs, but I would not treat that as an axiom, as the price quotes would allow more designer freedom, if desired, so I think this may also be due to a certain idea for beauty shared by the owner of the company, and main constructor at the same time. Of course I am just guessing, so to defend the looks of the components, I will just add, that those seemingly modest boxes offer a lot of audiophile glitter. The chassis themselves are champagne gold in color, while the rectangular buttons are pure gold. Besides the mentioned buttons, each component has the knobs and dials required to operate each of them, depending on the function performed in the system. Starting to describe each one of them, I will start with the power amplifiers, which, due to the simple function they perform – add power to the audio signal received – offer us only a power button, located to the right of the front panel, and a round window on top of it, which shows the green lit company logo when powered on. Going a bit ahead of myself, I will just tell, that each component has the power switch with the round logo located at the same place. Returning to the power amps, on the back they have just one XLR input, single loudspeaker terminals, a gain knob, but about that in a moment, a fixed power cable and a significantly large heat sink. As you can see this is quite modest, but as the devices will work with a complete set, this is absolutely enough for them to perform their function. The line preamplifier has a larger variety of sockets and regulators, as beside the already mentioned power knob, there is a volume button, three switches – Tape, Mono and -20 dB, and to the left we have the input selector. The back panel has a wealth of RCA inputs and outputs, a ground lift switch and a multi-pin socket for the big external power supply unit. The next product is the Linearizer, with the same power button on the right, it has two more on the left – Tape/Main and In, with a few knobs adjusting sound in a few, carefully chosen points in the frequency spectrum – I will describe how it functions later. The back of the “mastering improver” as I would like to name it, has double set of inputs and outputs for Main and Tape, a ground lifter and again a multi-pin socket for the company PSU. Finishing this long paragraph I will briefly mention the phonostage, as it was described with more detail in a separate review. This gramophone preamplifier offers, besides the usual, two knobs for adjusting the correction curve to a given record. Once you know the needs of the record you are going to listen to, you set the correction using those to knobs, and you can enjoy all the truth that was recorded on the black disc. Due to the popularity, the most common RIAA correction is clearly marked. The back of the phonostage features the PSU socket, a slot for a module adjusting the unit to popular cartridge types, ground terminal, ground lifter and a set of switches used to adjust the unit parameters to less typical cartridge. So this is how the complete set presents itself. After you analyze the text, you can clearly see, that the constructor decided to remove from us the burden of choosing power cords, hinting that there are more important things to take care of – like to spend your money on the records you will be listening to. Once you know, how the tested units look like, and how to connect them, I would like to invite you to continue reading about the clash of the Japanese with the Swiss.
I will start my description of the sound with thanks to Hari Strukelj, who came from Slovenia especially for that occasion, and allowed me not to configure the system by myself, and knowing, that a true audiophile does not read any manuals, unless the system does not give any sound from it, so he did calibrate the system as ideal as the system requires. Ok, let’s get serious. The startup procedure is maybe not overly complicated, but when it is not performed, we may not discover all the potential of the FM Acoustics set. It is about the tuning of the system to the listening room, but not using DSP, or another electronic gadget, that usually destroys sound, at least in my experience, but by simple adjustment of the volume of each channel to match the not fully symmetrical listening room. This is done by putting the preamplifier into mono mode, and then adjust the position of the vocalist to the middle line between speakers using the gain potentiometers on the back of the power amplifiers, but you do need to know the used material, to be able to verify the result once the system goes back into stereo mode. Another important advice from the manufacturer is to adjust the sensitivity of the power amps in such a way, that the volume we usually set is between 10 and 14 “hour” on the volume knob. This should allow all the units to operate within the best sonic parameters. Of course if those adjustments are not done, the system will still play, but if this is recommended by the manufacturer, then this should be done, without too much deliberation about it.
Well, when I started listening, I thought, that writing a few pages of text will be easy as pie. It sounds nice, so we can just write away, and the clients will be happy. Unfortunately, as it is usual with me, if something sounds in an unusual way – in positive terms, I have big issues with gathering my thoughts into an acceptable description; not overly long and understandable for the readers. If you think, that I am searching for a key to be able to defend my conclusions, then you are wrong. From my point of view the tested set is the quintessence of finding music in music. It concentrates around the midrange, putting emphasis on the best possible reproduction of the depth of the musical stage, and what comes with that, on positioning of the artists with proper reproduction of the volume of sounds they generate, regardless if we are talking about vocals or instruments. This is the supreme goal, to which the rest of the sound spectrum is subordinated. This results in a kind of rounding off the ends of the sound spectrum, as those are not emphasized upon. But this does not cause any dullness or slowing down of the sound, it just creates the homogeneity we are so often looking for, while the resolution of the sound is spectacular. Interestingly, if I would not have the chance of listening to the Swiss set with speakers of completely different sound aesthetics to mine, coming from the Polish company Ardento, I would not know, what this set can do. You may wonder, but for the first time I put my Isis in the second row, but this is caused by this emphasis on the quality and energy of playing in the midrange. As you know, my speakers are very heavy contenders in terms of timbre and saturation, so they make it more difficult to find such assets in tested electronics. Yet the Polish open baffle speakers I mentioned, while very good in reaching heights of smoothness with the company set, when paired with the FMA reached previously unknown levels of organicity loaded with energy and – beware – with full contouring of the sound spectrum extremes. Phenomenal bass, fleshy and alive midrange covered with sparkling brass due to shiny treble. You will just sit and listen – I conveyed this all to the constructor of those speakers. I can fully support the statement, that this combination might be the fulfillment for many people for a long, long time. But let us return to my system. Here I need to clarify a few things. This because you need to be educated in terms of confronting what we hear, with what we expect, to be able to assess the FMA set driving speakers oriented towards saturation, like mine. The result of this assessment is as simple as the statement that we will be closer to the truth. Against appearances, the combination I praised a moment ago, was very “artificial” in absolute terms, while my configuration, somewhat tempering the drawing of the virtual sources, seems to be closer to the truth. This of course requires appropriate musical material – recorded in one take, which I have plenty of, but when you catch what this all is about, then you will drive away from going over the top, from over-brightening in the liking of the new LED TV sets versus the old kinescope ones. How do I see it? This is easy. If you have a too readable insight into the back rows of the musical formation, then for most audiophiles this is a sign of ideal black background. But this does not exist in real life, and creates artificiality in the perception of the whole piece. Yet a slight averaging of the contours of the artist – I am not talking about a spot, but about a delicate fog adding intimacy to the sound – allows to absorb that as something natural, especially as the material is recorded in a big room, that results in similar perception of the sound. I showed to my guests many times, what I like in this game, and frankly speaking they initially usually preferred the artificially boosted reproduction, after I pointed out some nuances, they acknowledged my point of view. Probably they still are fans of the first, boosted reproduction when returning to their homes and systems, but this is their choice, as sound is for us, and not the other way round. Leaving aside the midrange, I will just add, that the slightly rounded bass does not mean any mudding, it offers superb support without artificial edginess. The whole is amended by the treble, which goes in the direction of gold aesthetics than the more shrill silver. Another important aspect is, that all what I wrote has one more asset. I mean avoiding blowing up the virtual sources, a common issue with electronics wanting to catch the clients by appearance. Here such artifacts cannot happen, the violins have the size of violins, and not cellos or basses. Most interesting aspect of that is, that many audiophiles like that exaggeration of size, they do not see a problem in a situation, when a triangle jumps out in front of an orchestra, intimidating hundred other musicians, as if it would be made from rebar, while in reality it is a small instrument hidden in the last rows. You do not know, how long I waited to write those words, but I finally was able to find the right moment. This is really not the right way, but you either need to grow up to that, or become enlightened. Anyway, I would like to praise the Swiss system again for the very proper reproduction of the width and depth of the sound stage, which is helped by avoiding the blow-up of the size of the virtual sources. And here I will repeat on purpose, that if the main nave of a church a vocalist sings, then the main source of the phrases should be at the height of his mouth. It cannot be just below the ceiling, as this is not how the acoustics of this place works. And I would thank the constructor for avoiding such a King Kong mania.
Trying to end this test of the “Dream system” I would like to write a few words about the phonostage. Theoretically you can read the main conclusions in the review posted on this page a few weeks ago, but today I would like to mention the ability to adjust the correction curve to the one used for mastering the vinyl; something I was not able to do then, due to the lack of time. Keeping things short, I will put it like this: even if you only have RIAA pressed vinyls, then the corrections proposed by the 122 Mk II will allow you to adjust the sound to your preference, and while it will be a departure from the original recording, this will for sure not destroy the joy of listening. I really recommend to play around with the settings, because we can have a quite significant influence on the way sound is processed, starting with the bass, through midrange to treble. This will also allow to easily fit the phonostage into any audio system.
When I looked at the number of words generated by me with this, seeming short package of information, I noticed I am already at a high count, and yet there is a very important product I need to describe, at least in a very abbreviated way. So really finishing I would like to tell a few thoughts about the Linearizer FM 133. This small box is a very interesting idea for improving things, that were dismissed by the sound engineer as insignificant. To show, what this device is about, the constructor supplies a disc with the startup package, including a very detailed description of each of the recordings placed on it and a calibration of each of the regulators on the unit. After choosing the song, we set the knobs in the position recommended and pushing a button on the front, we are able to quickly compare the original signal with the theoretically improved one. Of course we can also try out our personal settings, as the described ones are only a proposition. You think this boring? Then you are very wrong, as during the visit in the Audiophile Club (KAIM) we had lots of fun trying to improve the original. Interestingly similar diagrams were prepared for vinyls for the 133, but due to the fact I did not own the discs needed for the checkup, I decided to stay only with what was proposed on the silver disc. Finally another important information – about the placement of the Linearizer. According to the manufacturer you can choose freely if you want to place it before or behind the line preamplifier. In my setting it was placed after the pre – and based on the statement of the constructor, if refrained from making any changes to that.
The name “Dream system” means something different for each one of us. Everything depends on how much money we have. However regardless of the pricing point, it should fulfill at least one basic purpose – make listening to music a pleasure. Of course it would be even better if it would also offer a sound quality comparable to the audio truth, which is actually unreachable in your home listening room. I do not know, how you will perceive my today’s test, but regardless of your individual interpretation, I will defend the statement, that it is much closer to providing this musical truth rather than trying to impress us artificially. Here you need some education in listening to music, because often moving to higher quality levels, usually the most important assets, from the point of view of the truth, are becoming obscured. Anyway, I will recommend to listen to the tested system at your own leisure, in your own listening room, with some good music. It may turn out, that you are open and discerning enough, that you may skip the part of being enchanted by the artificial wow factor, in favor of the music itself.
Distributor: NATURAL SOUND s.r.o.
– FM 122 MKII: 10 920 CHF Net
– FM 133: 10 680 CHF Net
– FM 155: 9 990 CHF Net
– FM 108: 8 980 CHF Net/each
System used in this test:
– DAC + CD transport: Reimyo CDT – 777 + Reimyo DAP – 999 EX
– Preamplifier: Reimyo CAT – 777 MK II
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL ISIS
– Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (bass section)
– IC RCA: Harmonix HS-101 GP
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC-350M2R Improved Version
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Antivibration stand for the power amp by Harmonix TU-505EX MK2, Harmonix Enacom improved for AC, Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA