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Compact Disc Player

Price: 5250 Euro

Manufacturer: Fonel Audio GmbH

Contact: Dr. S.Buchakchiysky
Bochumer Strasse 10 | 10555 Berlin | Niemcy
tel.: +49 (0) 30 30 20 88 81


WWW: Fonel Audio GmbH

Country of origin: Niemcy

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła | Fonel
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

PI saw the products of the company Fonel Audio for the first time during the High End in Munich in 2007, and I described them briefly during the reportage for “Audio” (reportage in “High Fidelity” HERE). I was surprised by the stylistic similarity of those products to Italian ones, which were ruling the show then. I only knew, that the company comes from Berlin and not Venice and is rather young.
To straighten things out, I asked its boss, Mr. S. Buchakchiysky for some facts. This is what he wrote:
“Briefly about our company:

  • Start of design activities – 1999
  • Founding of the company Fonel Audio GmbH – 2003
  • The amount of employees – 30
  • Two research and development centers – in Berlin and in Ukraine
  • Whole production, design, servicing, etc – is made within the company
  • The individual solutions are owned by Fonel and protected by patents
  • All works is done in Europe, if the company is not able to do something by itself, for example to varnish some of the elements, then this is done by using third parties placed locally, in Berlin”

And although Fonel has its roots in Ukraine, due to the nationality of its owner, it is a German company, located in Berlin. Let me remind you, that we have dealt with a similar business model before – do you remember the company Art Audio Lab and its amplifier m25.3 (test HERE)? This was also a cooperation of a German company – but this time – with Russian designers. But Fonel seems much more “German” than Art Audio Lab. But some construction elements are similar, like the usage of tubes and wooden elements in the external design of their products.

For testing we received the CD player Simplicité with an integrated volume control. In such a case I always have a problem in classifying such devices. To simplify things, I assumed some time ago, that when the output voltage of a player is at 2V (+/- 10%), so according to the Red Book, then I write, that this is a CD player with a volume control. However, when the output voltage is significantly higher, then I write that this is a CD player/preamplifier. So I assumed, that the output voltage is a characteristic of the “species” and not the amount of inputs or outputs.
In the tested amplifier, besides the volume control, one of the most important characteristics is the presence of three electron tubes in the analog section. We can read in the company materials, that usage of tubes allows to minimize the feedback loop, and we can also diminish the amount of elements in the sound path. It seems, that here the tubes have the role of the input buffer, amplification element but work also in the I/V conversion - I saw a similar solution in the player Loit Passeri. The circuit is fully balanced.
Among the design characteristics the company quotes:

  • Precise clock for the DAC chips, with a precision better than 50ppm
  • Cirrus Logic CS 4398 DACs
  • Input tubes E88CC/6922/6N23P
  • Output coupled with Sowter transformers
  • Power transformers from the company Noratel made especially for Fonel
  • Separate power supplies for the analog and digital sections
  • Precise resistors (below 1%)

The most visible element is actually the wood – this decorative element is used mostly by the Italians – look at Pathos and Lector-Docet, Japanese – e.g. Leben, Accuphase and Luxman, but also in the German-Russian Art Audio Lab. In the Fonel we can choose between three different kinds of wood: ash, redwood, walnut. Special versions, like black piano varnish, or other kinds of wood, are available at extra price. Nice is also the wooden remote controller. The only thing, that the player does not have, are the digital inputs. Currently this is a significant omission. Srajan Ebaen from “” refuses to test such players. I don’t, but this omission should not go unnoticed.
I will just add, that the unit comes with a nicely looking, solid power cable HB Cable Design, made especially for Fonel. On the Schuko plug the hot pin is marked – please make sure it is connected right. The test was made using this cable.


A selection of recordings used in the test:

  • Tron Legacy, OST, muz. Daft Punk, Special Edition, Walt Disney Records, 9472892, 2 x CD.
  • Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0020-2, XRCD.
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV;
  • Carol Sloane, Hush-A-Bye, Sinatra Society of Japan/Muzak, XQAM-1031, CD.
  • David Munion, Pretty Blue, Stockfisch Records, SFR 357.6072.2, CD.
  • Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP;
  • Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP;
  • Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Speakers Corner, CL 743, Quiex SV-P, 180 g LP.
  • George Michael, Faith, Epic/Sony Music, 7753020, 2 CD+DVD.
  • Grabek, 8, Polskie Radio, PRCD 1372, CD.
  • Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 4 x 45 rpm 180 g LP + CD-RIIα + 24/192 WAV;
  • Laurie Anderson, Big Science. 25th Anniversary, Nonesuch, 79988-5, CD.
  • Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch Records, 524055-2, CD+DVD;
  • Madita, Too, Couch Records, CR 20472, CD.
  • Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1;
  • Sonny Rollins, East Brodway Run Down, Impulse!, IMP 11612, CD.
  • Stan Kenton & June Christy, Duet, Capitol/Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ-9321, CD.
  • Stina, Memories of Color, EastWest/Warner Bros., 9 45405-2, CD.

Japanese versions of the recordings available on CD Japan.

In my life I have listened to many players with a tube output, sometimes with a complete tube stage (including power supply), I use one such a player for many years and I know, that talking about a certain common “path”, about a certain sound DNA of such a solution is wrong. Of course, hearing about a “CD with a tube” we have some stereotype in our head. But I do not think, that this is something new, but a carry-over from of the “tubey” sound of a tube amplifier to the CD world.
You have to take into account, that in players low power triodes are used, from the series ECC83, ECC85, ECC88, 6H30, less often 6SN7 and the amplifiers work with high power tubes, most common with EL34 pentodes and tetrodes KT88 and 6550. And this is not the same. I think, that closer to the modification of the sound introduced by the tube output stage in a CD player is the sound shaped in a preamplifier. And this is a completely different story than the amplifiers.
When we push aside this stereotype hanging over the tubes, it is worth to point to some elements, which usually, but not always, are there in the sound of such devices and which connect the sound of my Ancient Audio Air with the Ayon CD-1sc, Lector CDP-7 TL/MkIII and Loit Passeri.
Most important is the “rightness” of the sound, a characteristic coming from its continuous, dense harmonic structure. And this manifests by the lack of nervousness, an impression of permanence, often precision and coherence. And we have all that in the Simplicite.
On the other hand, listened to next to the Air and the analog system from Kuzma (Stabi S + PS + Stogi S 12 VTA) Fonel sounds in a less electrifying way, most of the events is less “present”, they are left at a certain distance to the listener. You have the urge to turn up the volume, although the output level of all units was exactly the same (measured and set to be equal to the phonostage). Those are things that are different. But it has that continuity and something, that the Americans from “Stereophile” call rightness, from the very beginning.

The sound of the Fonel seems a bit more “wet” from the two mentioned sound sources. This is because its sound is not as precise, it has not that high dynamics and this immediate attack as the reference devices. The German player plays everything “legato”. This is an incredibly relaxing sound. You can experiment with it, for example connecting it directly to the power amplifier, but even then this tendency to quiet down things remains.

And this is the foundation for the whole sound. It seems, that its upper part is softened. But because the midrange, especially its upper part, sounds in an open way, it is not softened, the sound is presented in an more open and carrying way.
I learned the lesson quickly, with which recordings this sound fares best. I do not say, that this is a player tuned to that sound, but that the combination of it and the rest of my system resulted in such impression.

Recordings with female voices sound beautiful, especially when accompanies with electronics, also electronics alone was good. As it seems, Fonel “tames” the less well made recordings, handling the compression introduced during the recording, mastering and pressing process well. With vinyl there are two kinds of compression, however the second one translates into a different kind of distortion than the CD. Anyway, when I heard, how well, how moving Homeland Laurie Anderson sounds, I listened to the re-edition of her album Big Science, and Memories of a Color from Stina and Too Madita’s in one go. This was a real blaze of soft sounds, strong timbre contrasts and well shown vocals. The sibilants in the latter, especially on Stina and Madita, often a bit annoying were in ideal proportion to the rest of the sound spectrum with the Fonel, especially compared to the midrange. It seemed as if the player would put the distortion in order, which my player reproduces in a bit mechanical way, I mean showing them as they are (I say it compared to many other expensive digital sources). The Fonel tries to get the upper hand on everything.
The basis for this sound is of course the midrange, but supported with a strong, full bass. The lower part of the latter is not as tight and dynamic as the rest of the spectrum. But in this case this is very well stitched together with the rest of the sound, so it should not be disturbing.

However the way the midrange is presented will – I think – allow us to verify if we like the sound of this player or not. Like any other devise it modifies the sound and shows it in its own way. The sound of the Fonel Simplicité is concentrated on the axis of the sound, at least when we talk about connecting it to the power amplifier via the preamplifier. With direct input to the power amp, using the built in volume control, the case is different, but about that later. I mean, that the events from the edges of the sound stage are softer, they have a much softer attack than the things directly in front of us. This can be heard especially well with discs, where the instruments are positioned like that on purpose, like on the disc Hush-A-Bye Carol Sloan. The guitar and other instruments playing on the edges of the stage seem much quieter than from my Ancient Audio Air, which shows them in an incomparably more palpable way. And everything seems to sound quieter from the Fonel. Until the vocals enter. Then everything jumps into place, as if the gears would click one to another, and yet another… No, I did not get carried away – the difference is really that big. The voice is full and big. It is not as three dimensional as from the vinyl or Air, but is has appropriate weight and saturation.

The situation changes to some extent when we resign from a preamplifier. My experience shows, that most CD players sound better, when there is a preamplifier in the system. There are some exceptions, not very numerous, usually in systems, which were prepared to work without a preamplifier on purpose.
Fonel is an interesting example of a player, which sounds better in my system without a preamplifier. Much better. Everything is heard as if some layer would be taken of the sound, some barrier. The edges of the sound stage are better saturated, everything is bigger and has better differentiation. The sound is still a bit “wet” in the sense, that the attack is softened and the decay is not so precise, but the timbre, dynamics and the impression of being together with the music are much better, as when the preamplifier is in the sound path.
The sound stage is not especially deep. The shapes shown are quite deep, but the acoustics, especially that, what is on the back, is shortened, it concentrates rather on the main sound, and not on what is going on around it.
Surprising is the way the player handles bass. It is strong, full and dynamic. It is not ideal – I already wrote that – but the sound of the player is so coherent, so fluent, that even knowing, that it could have been better, we do not complain – the Fonel just does it job.

And it sounds with a big, nice sound, plays in a relaxed, a little “meditative” way. It is surprising how well it sounded with electronics, I already mentioned that. The disc 8 by Grabek sounded spectacular, similar to the soundtrack from the film Tron: Legacy. I heard it already earlier, when I turned on Laurie Anderson, but only now it reached me, how everything is bound together, how coherently everything sounds. We can of course show some weaker points, and I did that. But when we connect the player directly to the power amplifier using XLR cables we get a spectacular sound. With jazz, especially a stronger one, more improvised, everything will be too relaxed. It will not pass the border of good taste, but it will not be a such an exciting sound, not such a direct transfer of energy as with my Ancient Audio Air or vinyl. But when we listen to another kind of music, it may be THE player. And this is only a pity that it does not have any digital inputs, because then it would be a splendid center of an audio system.


The German player is quite low, but for that very deep. It is also heavy – this is thanks to the enclosure made from thick plates. Inside we can see, that the panels are additionally enforced by thick flats. The front of the unit is a combination of the wooden and black metal elements. Wood is also on one of the panes of the player. Although too much of that material works depressing on me, because it often stands for the lack of idea for the external design, in this case its quality (of the finish and the material itself), and the sparse usage of it, is to my liking. Wooden is the frame around the CD tray, as well as the cover of the tray itself, wooden elements are also in the tray itself. Next to the wood there is a big dot-matrix display. It is really very big and has an amber color. We can read all information about the disc and the volume level on it – both alphanumeric and in the graphical form – this is circle with a smaller circle moving on its perimeter. Unfortunately the player does not read CD-Text messages, although the display would easily allow to read that information. And one more thing – it would be nice to reprogram the display to have a function that is called “zoom” in Luxman players – I mean the enlargement of a given function to the whole display area.
On the back we have an IEC power socket with a mechanical power switch and outputs – analog balanced XLRs and unbalanced RCA and digital RCA and optical. The RCA sockets are nice, but have nothing in common with the precision of WBT or Furutech. The XLRs are gold plated, together with the metal plates. And there are two JR-45 sockets for communication between Fonel gear.

Inside – a few surprises. The first one is regarding the used drive – it is a simple DVD-Rom, a computer drive placed completely inside the player. It is bolted to a thick plate and covered with another thick plate, under which there is also a foam damping vibration. I must say I know this solution – this is exactly the way how the Unico CD players are made by the Italian company Unison Research. And I said the Italian trail is visible here…
Next to the drive there are lots of DSP chips, including a powerful Atmel processor. The PCB is called New Concept Electronics, which is probably the company who makes it for Fonel. On the back there is a PCB with the audio part. From the drive the signal goes there via a computer tape connection, in the SPDIF format, to the Crystal CS8406 receiver. Next to it there are two DACs Cirrus Logic CS4398 hidden under a small shield. I do not see any volume control circuitry – either it is hidden in the DAC shield, or the volume is controlled digitally, in the converter chips. Behind them we can see a passive filter and three tubes – all of them are double triodes 6N23P Russian made (military grade E88CC/6922 equivalents). The signal goes from there to two nicely looking transformers from the British company Sowter, and from there to the outputs. The PCB is bolted not directly to the bottom plate, but there are rubber absorbers in between.

On the same PCB there are four complete power circuits: for the tube anodes (the left and the right channel apart), heating and DACs. Behind a long shield there is the rest of the power supply – a big toroidal transformer for the analog section, and a small one for the digital. On the PSU PCB there are three further rectifying bridges.
The remote controller is wooden, but nice and quite sensible in ergonomics.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Frequency response: 20-20000Hz
SNR: >94dB
Volume control: 0-80dB
Dimensions: 430 x 390 x 89mm
Weight: 20kg

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  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD