Thursday, March 8, 2012

CCI Visit to Fidelis AV

Colleen and I visited Fidelis AV, one of the premier hi-fi stores in New England and one of our Unison dealers. Walter Swanbon, the proprietor, is also the US distributor for a couple of my favorite high-end audio brands--Harbeth and LFD--so it was a true pleasure to visit the shop and see how it's done. Fidelis in one of those old-fashioned hi-fi stores with plenty of sound rooms full of great equipment, and quite a bit of floor space is still dedicated to the selling of LPs. In other words, it's my kind of place.

In addition, Walter maintains a full sales staff of very knowledgeable people--Jansen, Bill and Dwight--who really enjoy the Unison products and really know how to match them in superb systems. George, one of their regular customers--was also on hand to provide feedback on the various products and to express enthusiasm over such amplifiers as the Unico Seconda and the 14wpc all-tube Preludio. It was the first time Colleen and I were able to truly evaluate these Unison Research products--even though we are the US distributors, the Unison line is extensive and we haven't had a chance to audition every single model they sell...yet!

This is the Preludio, which despite being low-powered is still able to create a huge, detailed soundstage with the right pair of loudspeakers. The staff at Fidelis really loves the Preludio with the new, much-admired and futuristic speakers from Vivid Audio.

This is the Unico Seconda, a hybrid integrated that offers 100wpc. Compared to the Preludio, it was more dynamic and powerful and had much deeper bass with the Vivids, but the Preludio provided a much warmer and earthy sound that I found very attractive. I'm excited to hear the Preludio since I'm expecting its big brother, the 27wpc Sinfonia, at my house next week.

Here's the first system we listened to, complete with a Primare disgital source and the interesting new Stenheim aluminum speakers from Switzerland. (That's Jansen, setting everything up for us.) The Stenheims are sort of a WTF product--they're modest-looking two-way stand-mounted speakers that retail for more than $12K. They may be a tough sell to the uninitiated, but once you hear what they can do, the cost is absolutely justified.

Here's another shot of the Stenheims. Don't judge a book by its cover--these are fascinating speakers.

Now here's the system with the Vivid Audio speakers. Everyone had the same response to the Vivids, that they are truly strange-looking in an alienesque, '60s retro sort of way, but the sound coming from these speakers was quite incredible. The Vivids weren't exactly cheap at $8K, but I was very impressed with their ability to sound deep, expansive and very musical.

Finally, we did a little tube rolling with the Seconda and replaced the Tung-Sol ECC82s in the preamp section with a pair of NOS RCA "clear top" 12AU7s. Giovanni Saccheti, the designer of the amp, told us that he preferred the Tung-Sols to every other tube on the market, including NOS tubes from Mullard and Telefunken, but these RCAs added a little more depth and warmth to the sound of the Seconda. I'm going to try to find a pair on eBay so I can play around with them at home.

Here's a better shot of the RCAs.

Here's a shot of one of my favorite speakers of all time, the Harbeth Monitor 40.1s, in the "big" room with conrad-johnson amplification and a Well-Tempered Amadeus turntable. This system also sounded fantastic and reminded me of just how special the Harbeths really are.

We wrapped up the afternoon with some wonderful Italian food at the restaurant next door, and we continued our conversation about audio with Jansen, Walter and Dwight while Bill watched the shop. Fidelis is truly a special place, and if you're in southern New Hampshire I strongly recommend that you visit them. Fidelis is located in charming Derry, New Hampshire, and you can visit their website at

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