I found it somewhat challenging to get a handle on the town of Civitavecchia, which is about an hour southeast of Rome. On the one hand, it has a sleepy, small-town feel—lots of narrow streets lined with cafes and restaurants, exuding charm and quiet, old-world sophistication. But Civitavecchia is also a major port that services Rome. I saw two enormous cruise ship monstrosities moored just offshore, out of which poured waves of tourists whom the locals seemed to bear with admirable patience.
Countering this swarm-of-locusts tragedy was Fort Michelangelo, a giant, graceful fort right on the Mediterranean Sea. It was designed by that Michelangelo and built back in the 16th century to protect the port from pirates.
Civitavecchia is home to Audia Flight, a manufacturer of statement-level electronics, and its sister brand, Alare, which makes equally statement-level loudspeakers. Audia Flight was the third and final stop on our Italian expedition, which was organized by the US distributor Fidelity Imports. As this was the start of tourist season, accommodations were at a premium, so our little caravan was split up over three hotels. I was billeted at the Hotel San Giorgio, along with the other journalists. The check-in process proved interesting.
The concierge handed my three companions their room keys one after the other: “203 for you sir, 204 for you sir, 205 for you madam.” All fine and good.
“Mr. Thorpe, you are in room 10. Follow me.” He turned on his heel and led me past the front desk and through a service door that also accessed the kitchen. We then turned into a side hallway lined with four rooms. My room was at the end, and it was this weird but kinda cool two-floor jobbie, with a big bedroom up top and a small sitting area at the entrance.
My fertile imagination began to speculate about this room’s purpose and undoubtedly colorful comings and goings. My own legend, which I concocted on the spot, is that this is where the mayor and his secretary meet on Tuesday afternoons.
Our group met later in the day with Massimiliano Marzi and Andrea Nardini, owners of Audia Flight, and Massimo Costa, Alare’s chief designer. Off we went for dinner. We dove into a raw seafood extravaganza, heavy on shrimp with long, wiry eyebrows, which I found rather challenging. I did manage to slide down my first oyster—an experience I’m not sure I’ll repeat. As the meal progressed, I began to worry that the restaurant might not own a deep fryer, but then out popped some breaded shrimp! I was saved! The wine was great, as was the company, and I vicariously enjoyed watching my companions revel in my discomfiture.
After a lovely continental breakfast the next morning, we made for Audia Flight’s headquarters in a small industrial park just outside of town.
The actual assembly and warehousing facility is quite small, employing 13 people around tidily laid-out workstations with a pleasant, cottagey feel.
As with Opera/Unison and Gold Note, all components, excluding a few fussy bits, are sourced from Italy and the EU. PCB boards and chassis panels are from suppliers fairly local to Audia Flight, as are the transformers. As with the previous two factories I’d visited, the concept of made in Italy and the pride that comes from using all-Italian parts was almost palpable.
About those transformers. Audia Flight uses a combination of toroidal and iron-core transformers, employing both in many of its products. Choosing which to use and which goes where comes down to the desired sound quality for the particular application. Each transformer is isolated in its own steel box, which is then filled with epoxy in order to eliminate any chance of vibration.
I saw one boxed-and-potted transformer on a workbench. It was about 11″ square, and I tried to move it. I probably could have moved it, but not without giving it my all. It felt like it was glued down. These enormous transformers were destined for Audia Flight’s Strumento power amplifiers—the N°4 stereo amp and N°8 monoblock, each of which weighs a substantial 210 pounds. Despite the potting and shielding, the transformers are further decoupled from the main chassis in a heroic battle against vibration.
For what are essentially enclosures built from aluminum slabs, the Strumento amplifiers exude style. There’s a flowing grace to the lines of their chassis, craftily highlighted by the engraved grooves on the front panels and on the tops. The power indicator light on the front of each is nestled into a recess that looks vaguely vaginal. In all, the Strumento amplifiers are the most graceful implementation of an overbuilt rectangular box I’ve yet encountered.
The Strumento N°1 preamplifier is absolutely lovely, inside and out. The transformers in the N°1 are fully potted also, and again Audia Flight places emphasis on shielding and resonance control. Of particular note here is the ability to expand the preamp’s functionality with a plug-in phono stage and DAC. These expansion cards can be installed in the field by the end user.
Our break for lunch that day was a visit to Pizzeria del Ghetto, a small, unassuming hole-in-the-wall located in Civitavecchia’s old Jewish quarter. They only make two types of pizza—cheese and no cheese. The sauce in the no-cheese version is made with tomatoes (obviously), garlic, anchovies, and parsley. Sweet blue Jesus, it was so astonishingly good that it was truly breathtaking. I ate far too much no-cheese, knowing I’d probably never have it again. I was determined to infuse my senses with as much as possible so that I’d always remember it.
Back at Audia Flight, we moved upstairs into a new wing of the building that Audia Flight is just starting to use for the assembly, testing, and shipping of Alare speakers. Here we got to see the Alare Remiga 2 in its finished version, as well as the slightly smaller Remiga 1 in a partial state of undress. The crazy Glossy Gray veneered finish is a real eye-catcher, and I circled the speaker, sucking in air through my teeth as I noted the extremely high level of detail.
The metal and glass top, the machined outrigger feet, the logical layout of the binding posts, the miles-deep lacquer finish—the Remiga speaker line just ejaculates grace and elegance.
This beauty isn’t just skin-deep. The Remigas are transmission-line designs, and their cabinets have constrained-layer construction, with multiple layers of MDF around a layer of birch ply.
The screws that affix the drivers to the enclosure thread into captured steel sockets. In order to further stiffen the enclosure, four steel bars are screwed through the sides of the cabinet. The sides of the cabinet are routered out with shallow voids, which serve as reservoirs to capture and retain the glue that’s used to adhere the lacquered side panels. A clever, ambitious design.
The drivers here are high-rent designs. AudioTechnology supplies the woofers, the midrange is from Accuton, and the tweeter, which comes from an unknown supplier, has a diamond or beryllium dome on the Remiga 2 or a beryllium dome on the Remiga 1.
The afternoon’s listening session commenced in a large, airy room with curtains that billowed in the warm breeze.
The system consisted of Alare Remiga 1 speakers, a pair of those massive Strumento N°8 monoblock amplifiers, the N°1 preamp, and the FLS20, a new SACD player.
On my continued quest to leave my fingerprints on every component with which I came in contact, I laid my hand, faith-healer-like, on the top of the N°1 preamp and found it to be quite warm to the touch. For some atavistic reason, I found this reassuring.
The music was a curated playlist of mostly classical pieces, although we rooted around in the back of the room and found some CDs that were also interesting. As we were switching songs quite frequently, I noted with interest that the mute switch on the N°1 preamplifier rolls the volume off as it’s engaged. It’s a quick rolloff, but I found it immensely gratifying in comparison to the hard start-stop of standard mute circuits. The sound? It was truly magnificent. Huge, weighty bass that straddled the line between tight and organic. Highs that blossomed out, with tails on instruments that went on forever. Images that were realistically sized and fully formed. This, I have to say, is as good as it gets. I’ve heard different systems, with different sound signatures, that were as good. But nothing in recent memory has bettered this system.
Sitting in that listening room, I found myself chewing on my own cognitive dissonance. The elegance of these speakers, the quality of the finish on the electronics, and the world-class sound coming out of the combination of the two were at complete odds with the small size of the company that produced them.
But perhaps that’s the point, the takeaway from Audia Flight, the smallest of the three companies I visited on this expedition. Start with a completely blank slate, decide what you want to build, and then make it happen. Without corporate oversight, you’re limited only by the purity of your goal and the talent required to make it a reality.
I heartily congratulate Marzi, Nardini, and Costa for producing one of the best-sounding systems I’ve yet heard. Snooping around the web, I am irked to see that my colleague Edgar Kramer of SoundStage! Australia has already scooped me with his review of the Alare Remiga 2 speaker. Since I feel that I have no choice but to attempt to recreate at least part of this sound, I suppose my next step is to get in some Audia Flight equipment for review on SoundStage! Ultra.
Postscript: I would be remiss if I failed to mention our dinner after we completed the tour of the Audia Flight facility. We took a lovely stroll through the narrow, ancient Civitavecchia streets, finally ending up at 80 Fame, an honest-to-God steakhouse, which was just hopping on this Friday night.
I was now into the swing of things with this Italian eating business. So I restrained myself with the bread, charcuterie, and bruschetta, knowing that a steak was on the horizon. I was not prepared, however, for the plate of gnocchi in some sort of cheesy cream sauce with sprinkled bacony bits.
It was so insanely good that I ate it all. And this was my downfall. As I pushed the last little nugget into my gob, I realized that I was in trouble. The steak I had ordered arrived moments after I’d swished the last bit of sauce down with a wonderful rinse of whatever fantastic red wine we were currently guzzling.
This was a magnificent filet slathered with a cream peppercorn sauce because why the hell not? I made a good account of myself, almost finishing it, but I really had to concentrate and decide where to put each piece in my stomach, kind of like a digestive Tetris game. What a magnificent dinner. What a way to end a great week. After dinner was over, around midnight once more, we resisted the urge to just go back to the hotel and marinate in our own juices. Instead, we took the opportunity to go for a stroll partway around the massive Fort Michelangelo. It took about an hour for that steak to settle down, and then it was back to my secret-chamber hotel room to think about all I’d seen over the past week.
Senior Editor, SoundStage!