As this editorial goes live, it’s October 1, and that means in a little over three weeks I’ll be on a plane to Warsaw to cover Audio Video Show 2023, to be held October 27 to 29. This will be my fourth visit to this show and I’m stoked.
Warsaw draws me in. It’s not traditionally beautiful by any stretch, although the Old Town area is utterly lovely, with its thousand-yard stare, and that ancient, bone-soaked feeling—a charm that comes from age and pride—which makes me realize how new Toronto really is.
For the most part, though, Warsaw has a stoic feel to it. The last Soviet troops left Poland in 1993—30 years ago. But it still feels like some remnant of that crushing weight is pressing down on the city. There are ancient parts of the city, sure, but then there’s evidence of more recent events—mid-20th-century buildings with large-caliber bullet holes pockmarking their sides. Poland went through the wringer in the Second World War, and I can still feel the weight of it as I walk around. I’ve visited and felt humbled by the Warsaw Ghetto Museum and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, with the deep-felt knowledge that if things had gone differently back then, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
Warsaw is quite cosmopolitan in parts. There’s a thoroughly modern mall a short walk from our hotel and cool bars and restaurants also within striking distance. That said, a long walk around town reveals much Eastern Bloc architecture that—to my eyes anyway—has its own charm.
For our last three visits to the Warsaw show, Doug Schneider and I arrived a few days early, which gave us a chance to acclimate to the time change and do some sightseeing. This year, young-gun Matt Bonaccio, a regular contributor to SoundStage! Hi-Fi, will be joining us. Warsaw Audio Video Show is a very large hi-fi event—the second largest next to Munich—and given that it’s spread over three venues—two hotels in close proximity to each other and the PGE Narodowy sports stadium—Doug and I felt it would be advantageous to have another team member to help cover it.
We post our coverage in real time on SoundStage! Global so that you, our readers, can get a feel for the show as it’s actually occurring. It’s easier to write our reports while the show is still fresh in our minds. And—so I’d like to think—the result is better because we’re reporting on events while we’re still enthused and while it’s all still going on. Also, if we need more information, we can nip back to the room in question and get any missing details. In my books, the big payoff is that come Monday morning, we’ve finished our coverage and can drop back out of bullet time and catch our breath on the flight home.
At last year’s show, Doug and I were stopped in our tracks by Fezz Audio’s Titania power amplifier. We both commented on the slickness of its industrial design, with its rounded corners and clear tube cage. The toroidal transformers and bridgeable architecture made it clear that some serious engineering had gone into this thing. The price was also very reasonable.
In early 2023, I participated in Fezz Audio’s EISA (Expert Imaging and Sound Association) product presentation, and we learned that the company is affiliated with Toroidy, a transformer manufacturer, so the plot thickened substantially, bestowing an additional push on our plans for this review.
Back at the show, we’d laid some preliminary groundwork on a review sample of the Titania, but Fezz Audio’s North American distributor network was just getting started, and we lost the thread. The EISA presentation got my juices flowing again, so I got my finger out and contacted Bluebird Music, the company that now represents Fezz Audio in North America, about getting a review sample.
Bluebird Music didn’t have a Titania handy, so they suggested we start with Fezz Audio’s Lybra 300B integrated amplifier. In retrospect, this seemed an even better choice—what’s more Ultra than a nutty triode amplifier? You can read the review right here on SoundStage! Ultra.
It’s quite clear that I enjoyed my time with the Lybra, but now, nearly a week after I submitted the review, the Lybra is still in my system, and I’m still loving how it sounds through the Totem Acoustic Sky Tower speakers that I used for most of my listening. This is the most fun I’ve had with my system in years.
Now, while I can heartily recommend this amplifier, I have to qualify this—the Lybra is not for everyone. First off, you’ll be limited in your choice of speakers. And even finding speakers that will work well with the Lybra isn’t easy. There’s some science—you’ll need something with even impedance, no wild electrical-phase swings, and at least reasonable sensitivity—but that only gets you so far. The Lybra’s incredibly low damping factor means that the amp will impose its own sound on the speakers, so there’s no for-sure perfect pairing.
I found that the Estelon XB Mk IIs were a fun but qualified match, and I got real lucky with the Totems. If the Sky Towers hadn’t worked well, I’d have had to throw my Aurelia Cerica XLs into the mix and hope they’d play nice.
I had six pairs of speakers at my disposal, which included the latecomer YG Acoustics Ascent floorstanders (review forthcoming), but most people don’t have this luxury. So the prospective purchaser of the Lybra would have to either hope that his current speakers work well with the amp or go on a hunt for new speakers. That would likely mean lugging this chunky amplifier around to stores, which may or may not be fun, depending on your viewpoint.
Still, the payoff is one of the most entertaining systems I’ve had in my room in years. Admittedly, its lush, romantic sound isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. While I just love this sound, I don’t think I could live with the Lybra as my only amplifier. Most importantly, it’s not neutral enough for me to use as a reviewing tool. The Lybra accentuates texture and smooths out the rough edges, making pretty much everything sound great. I can’t work with that, and further, it would mean I can’t review speakers because my results would be reproducible only by people who also owned a Lybra.
Beyond that, I’ve been seduced over the long term by the crisp and realistic presentation of high-end solid-state amplification. Oh sure, I still use my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 tube preamp, but it’s fairly neutral. My Bryston 4B³ amplifier spoiled me and now the Hegel Music Systems H30A amp has sent me spiraling down past the event-horizon point of no return.
So yeah, impediments exist to me owning a Lybra over the long term, but know this: if I had a second home, I’d have no problem choosing a Lybra and these here Totem Acoustic speakers to fill it with golden, sparkly tuuuuube sound.
But time is a-wasting, and I’ve got work to do. First things first, I have to dig deep and find the resolve to box up and return the Lybra. Then the Sky Towers need to go back up to my bedroom, where I still need an amp to power them.
Next up is the Angela-Gilbert Yeung C310 preamplifier—look for a review on November 1. At the same time, I can slide in the YG Acoustic Ascents that I had to push out for a spell as the Fezz Audio Lybra didn’t have enough power to drive them.
We were talking about Poland, right? At the 2023 High End show in Munich, Doug and I split up coverage duties. While Doug sniffed out new and notable products with his bloodhound nose (he’s much better at this than I am), I scoped out exciting, extravagant rooms, in an attempt to share some of the craziest, most over-the-top systems. We’re going to take the same approach for Warsaw Audio Video Show, and Matt is going to mirror my approach, but focus on more affordable systems.
There’s more to tell, so come October 15, check out my “For the Record column” for a heads-up on the massive changes to my analog front end. This promises to be a seriously busy month.
. . . Jason Thorpe