Fosgate Audionics FAP V1 surround processor-preamplifier Page 2

In searching for new discs that I can both enjoy and use to distinguish among components, I stumbled on Rory Block's Last Fair Deal (SACD, Telarc SACD-63593). The more I listen to it, the more I feel a genuine blues spirit at work. In this solo disc, Block and her guitar are front and center; she communicates with a swingy country edge and an unvarnished directness that came right through the Fosgate. Bigger music, such as De Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat, with Josep Pons and the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMC 801606), was powerful and dynamic, with wonderful percussive effects.

Not everything worked so well, however. Andy Narell's The Passage (SACD, Heads Up HUSA 9086) has a very immersive mix, with a supplemented steel-drum orchestra all around the listener. The mix was a bit less immediate with the Fosgate than I'd experienced with the other preamps.

Let it flow
The main reason one might want an FAP V1 is for its analog processing modes, but here there were almost too many variables to deal with. I can only tell you of my experiences; you'll have to glean from them whether or not this preamp is for you. In attempting to assess the success of these synthesized functions, I compared them to their original stereo sources and/or to the discrete multichannel mixes that accompanied them on some SACD and DVD-Audio discs. The modes I used most were Pro Logic II and Panorama.

First up was an exhilarating 24-bit/96kHz stereo DVD-A, New Year's Concert in Vienna, with Peter Guth and the Strauss Festival Orchestra Vienna—a live recording of waltzes, polkas, and marches by Stolz, Ziehrer, and various Strausses (Arts 47605-6). It was clear and detailed in two-channel stereo, but I kept pumping up the volume to enhance the impact and presence. Switching over to PLII, there was a definite sense of an increase in space, but the ensemble remained small until I adjusted the Center Width control from its default and the Dimension knob to "+1" in the direction of the rear channels. Immediately, the perspective shifted me to a seat closer to the virtual stage of that virtual hall, and the clapping, cheering crowd was spread to the sides and around back. The popping corks in The Champagne Polka were delightfully startling.

Being able to invoke Dolby Pro Logic II complicated my comparisons of two new recordings of Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle: with Péter Eötvös and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (CD, Hänssler 93.070), and with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (SACD, Philips 470 633-2). Although I prefer the incisiveness and pace of Eötvös' performance on that two-channel recording, I felt it lacked the grandeur and power of Fischer's more symphonic multichannel version. Well, switching on the Fosgate's PLII mode while playing the CD was like opening yet another door! No longer confined by the wall of the speaker plane, the sound gained presence and weight. Choose between them? Right now, I'd pick the Eötvös—but I'll probably reconsider when the FAP V1 goes home.

Simply switching in PLII was not always the best solution. Consider the Trio Italiano's two DVD-As of Schubert Piano Trios (Arts 47553-6 and 47554-6). Warmly and vigorously performed in an intimate acoustic, these are delightful performances, but the vintage 1919 piano seems somewhat disembodied and vague in image compared with the violin and cello. Switching the FAP V1 to Panorama mode and tweaking the Center Width control two or three notches opened up the sound and widened the stage. It was almost as if I'd moved the violin and cello farther apart to get a less obstructed sonic "view" of the piano. Swinging the Dimension control into action did create more of a sense of an enclosed space wrapping around me, but I found it unnecessary in this case.

But was PLII a replacement for true multichannel? Not quite. I really got a belt out of the new recording of Wagner's Die Walküre culled from live performances conducted by Zubin Mehta in Munich in July 2002. From the opening notes of this multichannel DVD-A (Farao D 108 041), it's apparent that this is a real opera-house, not a studio, performance—the orchestra clearly sounds as if it's in the pit between listener and singers. The singers, most of whom are quite good, can be heard to move about the stage, and there's no lack of clarity, detail, or power, or any doubt about the spatial relationships among the performers.

The Panorama processing of the two-channel track was not quite as good at this. To begin with, the two-channel track is significantly more constricted dynamically. Although with a tweak of width and dimension Panorama opened up the orchestra, spread the singers farther apart, and gave a sense of the hall, it did not re-create the sense of depth between orchestra and singers. As a result, it worked advantageously when there were only one or two singers with the orchestra, but lacked the transparency and detail of the multichannel tracks when a larger ensemble was in full cry. But hey—why would you expect any sort of synthesis to beat the real thing?

Let it be
Lest we forget, Dolby Pro Logic was intended for sources in which the surround information has been matrixed into two channels. The FAP V1 untangled these superbly. Sifting through my CD collection, I found several such discs, from labels such as Telarc, Delos, DMP, and—would you believe it—RCA Victor. By far the most impressive were the DMP discs, especially the DMP Surround Series sampler (CD, DMP CD-1759). While I've played and enjoyed this CD many times, I was bowled over when I switched from Stereo Bypass to Pro Logic II. The soundstage was now wide and deep, while the surround ambience enhanced the sense of presence. A little tweak of the Center Width and Dimension pots, and this was as good as any discrete multichannel I've heard. The voices on "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" were distinct and immediate, the instruments realistically arrayed, with powerful dynamics. The same was true of the rest of the sampler.

Similarly, Surround Spectacular (CD, Delos DE 3179) offers symphonic, choral, and chamber selections that nearly rival their SACD equivalents, the difference, in my opinion, being more a function of mixing and mastering than of the capabilities of the media. For example, the opening of De Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat improved in PLII in just the way the Harmonia Mundi SACD of the same work, mentioned above, did in going from stereo CD to multichannel SACD. PLII was simply more detailed and dynamic in both cases.

On the other hand, Pro Logic II was not a panacea. The beginning of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, with Gerard Schwarz leading the Seattle Symphony, again from the Delos sampler, was richer and more powerful than on a Dolby Surround CD with Lorin Maazel conducting the Bavarian RSO (RCA 68225-2). If I had to judge PLII from the latter, I would not be happy with it. On the other hand, the generally excellent performance of the FAP V1 suggested that it should be wonderful with older films on DVD.

The Fosgate Audionics FAP V1 may be a "statement" product, but is that statement one you want to hear? It is if you prize graceful, unprocessed sound and the ability to enhance the spaciousness and subjective resolution of most two-channel sources.

Note that I said subjective resolution. Although there is no way to coax more measurable information from such sources, the Dolby Pro Logic II and Panorama modes—with careful use of the Center Width and Dimension controls—can give the listener greater insight into the sound. And via its multichannel input, the FAP V1 can convey all that any SACD or DVD-Audio player can deliver.

The only thing I can criticize the Fosgate for is a lack of features that, as far as I can tell, Fosgate has intentionally omitted. First, they left out a remote control. While I understand the desire to keep all the digital nasties as far away as possible, it's hard to accept such an ergonomic compromise these days. Second, they left out bass management for the multichannel input. This is even harder to accept; after all, bass management is available for the Stereo Bypass input.

But, as my wife is happy to point out, not everyone is like me. If you're a traditional tube and stereo guy who wants to combine a high-end two-channel system with a multichannel and/or home-theater setup, the Fosgate Audionics FAP V1 should be ideal: a no-compromise stereo preamp that just happens to have a multichannel input and analog surround processing. You can add a universal SACD/DVD-Audio player with Dolby Digital and DTS processing while enjoying the FAP V1 as your reference stereo preamp. I'll bet that even dyed-in-the-wool two-channel traditionalists will find it irresistible.

Fosgate Audionics
46 South Rockford Drive
Tempe, AZ 85281
(866) 777-7282