ReMusic visits DaVinciAudio Labs

18.10.2012..

DaVinciAudio logo

DaVinci, although a name you would obviously place in Italy, is instead somewhere near Bern, exquisite city and enough warm for the Swiss standards save for its winters, well different from those in Tuscany… The brand of the violin and the harp, which pays homage to Leonardo’s achievements, sets the goal of great talent and striving simplicity: if I can think it, I can also made it. But how? Simple. Ambitious in the project, but linear and essential in the realization.

 

Why I am here

In the Swiss lucid determination of getting a smooth result, without any roughness, lasting and not re-thinkable, I recognize a bit of myself. There is a sort of affinity between “Swissness” – yes, it does exist – and the subalpine-Piedmontese producing intractability that I immodestly represents and which I recognise myself in. They have in common a wonderful craziness, even if sometimes it could appear a little worrying. Strange people at times, indeed, but with a precise aim in their mind and with their mind thrust forward to reach it. I am very interested in the achievements and stories of those manufacturers who have followed their instinct and their credo, for intuition or in reason. Independently from their commercial success.

 

The tonearms

Take the tonearm, ad example. The DaVinci tonearms to be more precise. The Nobile and the Grandezza have been the typical objects of the most affirmed production of the brand. We also remind that the 12” carbon fibre tonearm of the Thorens TD 550, the TP 125SE, had been commissioned just to DaVinci.

You have to use your head to think and realize now an arm like the Master Reference Virtu Tonearm. A reference piece, by the way, as it is currently the top model of the production line. Its assembling takes place on a Rolex watchmaker bench. Comprehensibly, around Bern you can find whatever thing pertaining to high watchmaking. This fact is for DaVinci and other Swiss manufacturers a unique competitive advantage for increasing the quality of their production.

The arm pillar is made of steel, galvanized brass and rhodium brass. The armtube has four small cylinders in ebony wooden, steel and aluminium, starting from the joint. Both for the arm pillar and the tonearm, the idea is that so different materials consent to a reciprocal damping of the vibrations, a distribution of the weights and a manufacturing precision.

Differently from the previous DaVinci tonearms, this one is not straight and, thanks to its conformation, is possible to change the armtube easily. Here, most probably, there will be a debate between who is pro or con the straight arm or the “S” arm. We only report the absolute quality of the arm make and our listening impressions.

The great innovation of DaVinci, is the cardanic joint, a worldwide unique design which features 4-point gimbaled magnetic-sapphire bearing, like in the movements of the mechanical watches. When you lift the tonearm, its movement is very sweet, sexy indeed… If you ever asked to yourself which kind of sensation you could feel by lifting a butterfly…well…you can feel it here.

The headshell leans on the tonearm on three internal spots and there is a standard T4 SME headshell locking collar. Tungsten counterweigh, magnetic damping, wired antiskate. The tonearm allows a continuous adjustment of the VTA, also on the move… I point out that the calibrations are deliberately reduced to the minimum, since Peter things that a wide range of intervention on them can only lead up to human errors.

The tonearm package, near the high-sounding name of DaVinci Virtu Master Reference, has a solid zinc external box and perfectly dimensioned foam housings that are more similar to a holster than to a case for musical instruments.

 

The approach

Hence, Divide et impera. Splitting the problem and offering the best solution. I like Brem’s approach: because simple and rough-hewn.

 

The staff

It has always been like that. Although Peter had to fight against a throat tumour, being stubborn is one of his faults. In this case a merit. It seems trivial, a stereotype maybe, but, being forced to live each day as his last day, has convinced Peter to do what all of us want to do in the last day of our lives. Doing what we actually want to do. Leaving a mark. Luckily, Peter is not alone. His wife, Jolanda, born in Bern but with Friulian mother, and his son Sandro are as much DaVinci as Peter himself. And what about Mr. Vinci, Jolanda’s doggie, mascot and company attraction?...Joking aside, Sandro is the house “watchmaker”, design engineer and in charge of fine-precision manufactures. Jolanda, well, Jolanda is Peter’s “henchman”, commercial and marketing manager of the firm: always smiling but inexorable! I have seen her “working” on Facebook for DaVinci with an awareness you can hardly find in the big multinational companies: many compliments again…

 

History

Back to the boss. Well known, mostly in Germany, Peter has realized great things during the years, often falling in love with “impossible designs”. Historic are his former tonearms, already quoted, the Unison turntable or the equally famous high efficiency speakers with Altec drivers, although I have already been intrigued by his dipole speakers, without crossover and with Supravox components. More recently, we have to take our hat off to His Majesty The Turntable, the Gabriel, DaVinciAudio Reference Turntable MKII, approximately 100 kg with one tonearm base, some tens more in the configuration with two arms, as you can see in the photo gallery. The cylinders of the turntable have been milled out of blocks of aluminium alloy at high content of copper, which improves the damping features. A dream at sight, a technical folly, a visionary achievement.

 

Regarding the increasing of the signal, during the years Peter has shifted from superb tube amplifications – 300B, VT52, RE604 – with intensive use of transformers, to solid state minimal amplifications with massive use of transformers. Coupled, center-tapped and output transformers. The main reason is the intrinsic, although relative, slowness of the tubes if compared with the best transistors. If you listen to the DaVinci devices, you can notice one of the best mix of velocity, analyticity and naturalness never heard before. It is not as a second best. When it is said that in medio stat virtus: the Latin phrase used by philosophers of the middle-aged scholastic to seek the balance between the two opposites, therefore outside any exaggeration. In the worst sense, sometimes it implies mediocrity. This is not the case. Balance is rare. Here we can find it within components that work in great synergy, as always happen in such levels of quality and sophistication. The DaVinci front ends and amplifications speak a common language: the sources are highly revealing, the signal elevation degraded it the less possible, also at the expense of the final gain.

 

This has to be said: since the first achievements and even more now, the DaVinci amplification is thought in function of high efficiency speakers and systems.

It seems easy.

Finding the balances to make express speakers with more than 100 dB, dynamics on paper, with naturalness and without any aggressiveness, is not an everyday occurrence or suitable for all. Otherwise, all of us would have high efficiency systems. I try to chase them considering the low efficiency only in few cases where the “simplest” module – read “resistive”- or the lightness of the transducers and the simplicity of the crossover have not convinced me.

Listen to the music with high efficiency speakers is not so simple, because usually the big dynamics does not go along with the pursued sensation of sound “naturalness”.

 

The present

During my visit, I have been able to appreciate the cabinets of the newborn Nifty monoblocks, machined with numerical control machines. Socket head screws instead of screws and no panels that can vibrate, only one massive aluminium block finely machined, sometimes with five axes milling cutters. But why not? No compromises: it is the gist of high-end.

Maybe for the extreme simplicity of the circuits, not for the manufacture that is more mature, the Nifty remind me the historical integrated Kelvin Labs, The Integrated precisely.

 

In the main listening room, what stood out was an eviscerated prototype of the DaVinci Masters Reference Virtu mono pre amplifier with transformers, during the run-in and fine tuning, in the meantime put into production. The stages of signal elevation, from RIAA on, use coupled transformers. The principle is known: coupling every stage with a transformer, raising the signal and lowering the noise floor.

Please note that DaVinci makes the transformers by itself because Peter thinks that the still very good Japanese Tango and Tamura are not good enough. Sic. Homemade transformer, hence, made one by one, in Super Permalloy, “C” core, number of coil decided at home and dipped into a Mu-metal container. Every part made with the home-produced transformer winding as it was an “ordinary domestic” appliance.

 

Which sound I have listened to

At the time of my visit, the DaVinci reference and home system was composed by Virtu Master Reference tonearms, Gabriel turntable, and as I said before, a prototype of what is now the phono preamp Master Reference Virtu.

A step backwards for the cartridges: we started from the DaVinci Grandezza, and kept going in alphabetical order, not of merit, with the Kiseki Blue, an old Ortofon SPU Moving Coil rigorously copper-made, as Peter does not like silver, and a ZYX UNIverse.

For the record, a Studer A807 open reel, considered also its dimension, towered over. On it we have made spin amazing tapes of the ’59 still provided with an expressive passion to applaud to.

In this temple of the analogue, a Micromega CD-30 CD player peeped shyly out. This has been a “courtesy exchange”, since the Micromega owner has bought a DaVinci phono amp: noblesse oblige…

The power amps were the Masters Reference Virtu: mono, 40 watts per channel, only ten pieces, not pairs, per year.

The reference speakers were the Swiss SE Mastering Studio Monitor, chosen by the Sony Music Studios in Tokyo, here just on stands as the subwoofer section was missing.

To my exact question on which cables were in use, I have received a precise and unequivocal answer from Peter: “in copper”. LOL

 

Only records, no CDs. Not for a demerit of the Micromega but, being in the kingdom of the vinyl and analogue, the comparison would have been inappropriate and uneven. Besides, with his beloved microgrooves, the cheeky attitude of Peter is brightening, even funny. With nonchalance, he took the records out of the covers and put them on the turntable, without brushing them from dust. In front of this behaviour, almost defiant toward the magic rituals of us idiophiles, the analogue triptych cartridge, tonearm and turntable “tracked” inexorably: a plough driven by a tank.

 

What a sound I have listen to…

 

Relaxed, natural, dynamic in the right amount. Proportionate, not exaggerate, never tiring. A very “sound”, correct, balanced outcome – I say again – complete. Dynamic ability not compressed. Detail and precision: natural, not forced. The inter-instrumental vacuum was similar to the music reproduced by natural instruments. The instrumental mix was very realistic, like the sound box, which is typical of the orchestra listening made from the stalls, and not from the first rows. In general and in absolute, one of the best performances and reproductions of music played with unamplified instruments. Recently I have had the chance of listening to unamplified natural instruments. What I have heard has seemed to me coherent with the memory I have of Peter’s outcome. An example for the whole: the differences among instruments, where also with pairs or more exemplars of the same typology, the timbre differences, body and “voice” of the instrument, were easily and immediately detachable.

 

A clarification

N.B. I have to say that, in my opinion, the sound was strongly personalized - I do not mean penalized – by the speakers: totemic and excellent monitors, but maybe a little “lazy” on the bass range. For sure, their big woofer did no justice to the velocity and the interpretative ability of the other pieces of the chain. I agreed with Peter. Probably the integration of the SE monitors with their subwoofers would have given that “extra oomph” on the extreme bass, which was clearly detachable in the room for the harmonics of the higher frequency, not for the fundamental one. I am coming and cannot wait to listen again to the chain enriched by this part of frequency spectrum.

 

Let me stay

The aim of my visits is not discussing or questioning someone’s sound, but realizing what has been achieved and make the most honest reportage.

In my opinion, Peter’s target - the “musicality” of his components – has been widely reached. The synergy among DaVinci devices is a reality. The estimators should aim to this reality: the creation of a complete chain by DaVinci.

There are no distributors worldwide, no “authorized brokers”, and no showrooms. Simply, DaVinci worth doing a trip. Peter, Jolanda and Sandro can welcome you for one of the listening sessions that all the audiophiles around the world should do. Let us say it: it is one of the high-end myths. And I think that the myths have to be known, that certain listening experiences have to be done, that being just once “in the field” counts more than reading thousands of tests.

 

Peter is an audiophile like us, with great experience and many listening sessions, differently from us. A hyper exigent enthusiast, unsatisfied with what is available on the market, he has created DaVinci and his achievements to get what, in his opinion, had to be done and was not yet done. With great intellectual honesty, Peter often says, with a disarming candour, that what he does “is the best he can do”.

Peter Brem’s DaVinciAudio is already legend, one of the purest experiences you can have. And he is a splendid hardliner of high-end.

 

 

 

Jolanda, Peter and Sandro Brem, but the posed protagonist is Mr. Signor DaVinci, in Jolanda’s arms.
previous slide next slide
From left to right, Sandro, Jolanda and Peter Brem.
From left to right, Sandro, Jolanda and Peter Brem.
An authentic Rolex watchmaker bench for assembly and tonearm assistance.
An authentic Rolex watchmaker bench for assembly and tonearm assistance.
In the picture, a DaVinci Nobile tonearm.
In the picture, a DaVinci Nobile tonearm.
Assembling a DaVinci Virtu Master Reference tonearm.<br />On the bottom a pair of gimbaled magnetic-sapphire bearing, like in the movements of the mechanical watches.
Assembling a DaVinci Virtu Master Reference tonearm.
On the bottom a pair of gimbaled magnetic-sapphire bearing, like in the movements of the mechanical watches.
The DaVinci Virtu Master Reference Tonearm finalized.
The DaVinci Virtu Master Reference Tonearm finalized.
Detail of the arm pillar, the movement is very sweet, sexy indeed…
Detail of the arm pillar, the movement is very sweet, sexy indeed…
The package of the DaVinci Virtu Master Reference tonearm, with the external box in solid zinc.
The package of the DaVinci Virtu Master Reference tonearm, with the external box in solid zinc.
The transformer windings, DaVinci makes them exclusively by itself, one by one.
The transformer windings, DaVinci makes them exclusively by itself, one by one.
In the lathe spindle a hinge of the Virtu tonearms joint. When it is said fine making.
In the lathe spindle a hinge of the Virtu tonearms joint. When it is said fine making.
Inactive measurement instruments…
Inactive measurement instruments…
At work… Please note the output linearity of a DaVinci transformer on the test bench, more evident in the next picture.
At work… Please note the output linearity of a DaVinci transformer on the test bench, more evident in the next picture.
Cabinet of the newborn Nifty mono power amps machined from aluminium blocks through numerical control machine tools.
Cabinet of the newborn Nifty mono power amps machined from aluminium blocks through numerical control machine tools.
Maybe for the extreme designing simplicity, the Nifty remind me the historical integrated Kelvin Labs, The Integrated precisely.
Maybe for the extreme designing simplicity, the Nifty remind me the historical integrated Kelvin Labs, The Integrated precisely.
His Majesty The Turntable, the Gabriel, DaVinciAudio Reference Turntable MKII, approximately 100 kg with one tone arm base, some tens more in the configuration with two arms.
His Majesty The Turntable, the Gabriel, DaVinciAudio Reference Turntable MKII, approximately 100 kg with one tone arm base, some tens more in the configuration with two arms.
The prototype of the DaVinci Masters Reference Virtu mono pre amplifier with transformers, laid bare,<br />during the burn-in and fine tuning, just a simple simple object…
The prototype of the DaVinci Masters Reference Virtu mono pre amplifier with transformers, laid bare,
during the burn-in and fine tuning, just a simple simple object…
DaVinci reference and home system, with Studer A807 open reel and Micromega CD-30 CD player. This last one has been a “courtesy exchange”,<br />since the Micromega owner has bought a DaVinci turntable: noblesse oblige.
DaVinci reference and home system, with Studer A807 open reel and Micromega CD-30 CD player. This last one has been a “courtesy exchange”,
since the Micromega owner has bought a DaVinci turntable: noblesse oblige.
The power amps are Masters Reference Virtu: mono, 40 watts per channel, only ten pieces per year.
The power amps are Masters Reference Virtu: mono, 40 watts per channel, only ten pieces per year.
The reference speaker on the left is the Swiss Strauss Elektroakustik, model SE Mastering Studio Monitor, chosen by the Sony Music Studios in Tokyo,<br />here just on stands as the subwoofer section is missing.
The reference speaker on the left is the Swiss Strauss Elektroakustik, model SE Mastering Studio Monitor, chosen by the Sony Music Studios in Tokyo,
here just on stands as the subwoofer section is missing.
The nameplate data of the SE Mastering Studio Monitor.
The nameplate data of the SE Mastering Studio Monitor.
by Giuseppe Castelli
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