The house of Da Vinci is a vanguard. This is rare. Peter Brem of Da Vinci is over 60 years old now. He lives a simple life together with his beloved Jolanda in the city of Bern, Switzerland. He fought a hard battle against throat cancer from 09-10. He won but his tasting ability is lost almost completely. The burning passion for music and the art of audio reproduction, however, remains.
If you have only a few more days in your remaining life, what will you do? This is a tremendous difficult question for me. For Peter, he wanted to do a break-thru in amplification circuitry merging the modern merits of solid state with antique transformer technologies. I believe it's the God's will that lead him to the ultimate success of executing his ideas after he was cured. It was the very spirit of the "Virtu" project that kept him overcoming those chemotherapy days in hospital.
Although he dosen't speak English, our passion in audio unifies us. He showed me the measurement of the transformers used in the Virtu series of electronics. The frequency response of these hallowed transformers is flat from 5hz to over 20,000hz with only -1db at 5hz. He showed me both in phase and out-of-phase measurement. He said to me he cannot make it better. And if I know someone who can do better, he'd like to learn from whoever. I ask him why not simply sourced from Tango and Tamua from Japan to save all the labor. He said they are very good but still "not good enough for him". That is why he winds the coil of all transformers with a special winding machine. It takes about 12 hours to make one but it does not guarantee the measurements are perfect. If not, it has to be done all over again until everything is right. The core of the transformers is ultra fine nickel. I don't read German but there are numerical reports verifying the purity of the core materials. But Peter said to me the very importance of the transformer is just one of the many parameters that will take him to the utopia. The circuitry plays a key role. This is the part that my knowledge is inadequate to understand. I only know it is a circuitry resembling single ended tubed amplification design without the use of tubes. The overwhelming presence of transformers dominates the scenes inside the Virtu preamp, phono-stage and power amp. The circuit board is very small akin to the size of a boy's palm. A complete Virtu system (without chassis) driving a pair of Strauss Reference Horn Monitor, after three days of listening, gave me ear-gasms after ear-gasms.
Musicality is a difficult subject. If our mind is preoccupied with "Hi Fidelity" criteria, the analytical process prevents us to communicate with music. But if they are precluded from musicality, what's the whole point of venturing into a Hi End system? Ipod and radio may well as do a better job given their low costs and widespread availability. I believe there must be a balance between these attributes. In the past 5 years, Peter believes tubes are the answer. And fans of Da Vinci worldwide would agree with me that the reproduction of classical music is unique and one of a kind. The tone color of strings and vocal are truly vivid with frightening realism. But then, wait a minute! Musicality should not be restricted to classical music. What if my music preferences are hard rock and electronic music? The problem of speed emerges because tubes are inherently slower than transistors. After Peter listened to the Sunray speakers by Tidal, he understands the ideal balance between musicality and hi fidelity must exist. If a masterpiece like the Sunray can be done in the speaker domain, he believes the same can be done in the electronics domain too.
Coincidentally, Robert Koda in Japan was also exploring the techniques to fuse transformer technology with solid state. The K-10 preamplifier that is widely heralded in our community (A total of 7 K-10 Takumi preamp is sold ever since Feb 2011.) Robert is a genius in circuitry design. I do know his circuit is very special type. There is a big black box containing the transformer. But I don't know whether it is one big transformer or multiple transformers placed inside the black box. To compare, Peter's circuit layout resembles the old Western Electric School. There are always input transformers, the inter-stage transformers and output transformers (For the phono, please add the RIAA and the LCR.) The solid state portion is minimal. Also, the power supply of the Virtu series is much smaller than the old series with Majestic power supplies built similar to the size of a Tron Telstar 211 amplifier. In a remote position, you can't tell it is a solid state design. I speculate the enormous tonal resolution of the Virtu comes from those crazily built transformers and the speedy transient response is articulated by the solid state portion. The result is a magnificent fusion between the strength of the two schools. To my ears, the distinction between solid state and tube is not important anymore. Whether it is a CD played from the NeoDio NR22 combo or the famous Gabriel AAS system via the Strauss Reference monitor, my soul is connected to the music immediately. Again, the vivid tone color is always there to die for. The transmission of the smallest energy to the loudest energy is articulated with tremendous flow. The micro-details are organic in delivery without hypes. The speed of the electronic bass guitar is ultra fast without overshadowing the body of the instrument. The presence of piano is immense but not imposing. It is only after I finished listening to 10 LPs or so had I begun to question attributes such as imaging and soundstage. They are there but the whole experience is holistic in nature.
I spent three full days with JLam in the house of Da Vinci. It was relaxing and refreshing. When Peter played a tape which he recorded 10 years ago through the antique Studer master tape machine, I am ashamed by the advances of modern technology that bring us convenience in all fronts except the quality of music playback. We can't change the trend of the world but it's great to know there are still vanguards like him holding the quality line. Peter, let me tell you something that touched me. When I asked about Jolanda where is your Voice of the Theatre speaker, she told me you sold it because her home at that time was no big enough to house it. And you just sold it without regret. This is not to imply the diminished quality of the old day classics but the fact that you are someone who care the feelings of the other half. You are a passionate man. And when you told me your tasting sense suddenly came back momentarily during dinner time by the lakeside, I understand thoroughly the power of friendship. And what unifies this friendship is passion for music.