If you’re looking for a well-equipped premium integrated amplifier, the Audio Analogue Fortissimo AirTech is worth investigating.
It packs a lot into its large chassis, including digital-to-analogue conversion, a headphones output and moving coil/moving magnet phono stage.
Features, build and design
Don’t let the ‘AirTech’ name fool you; there isn’t the wireless functionality here that the tag might suggest. It simply indicates that this is the revised version of the Fortissimo amplifier we tested back in late 2013.
The changes include a new thicker chassis and front panel, upgraded internal cabling and improved capacitors in the power supply and audio circuits. Audio Analogue has revoiced the Fortissimo too, aiming for improved smoothness, transparency and spaciousness in its presentation.
First impressions are positive. As is Audio Analogue’s way, the unit feels solid and is nicely finished. It’s available in two colours: black and silver.
A single large rotary control dominates the front panel, handling volume and source-selection duties. There are a lot of connections to work through as the amplifier has five line-level inputs (including one balanced and a 3.5mm input on the front panel), three digital options (USB, coax and optical) as well as a phono stage.
The remote control makes things easier, though you’ll have to learn the specific number associated with each input to get direct access.
The remote handset may not have the clearest layout we’ve seen, but it is nicer to use than most rival offerings.
We’re a little thrown by the DAC. It can accept data streams of up to 24-bit/176.4kHz sampling rate through its optical and coax inputs, but just 16-bit/48Khz via USB. We’d expect the USB and coax inputs to cope with 24-bit/192Khz signals at least.
Through the analogue inputs this amplifier puts in a strong performance. It sounds big and powerful, as its 100 watt per channel power output suggests, but combines these traits with an impressive degree of subtlety when required.
We start with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and the Fortissimo AirTech delivers the piece’s large-scale dynamic swings with composure, keeping the complex arrangements organised. There’s a good degree of insight and fine handling of the interplay between instruments.
Tonally it’s mostly even, with just a touch of extra sweetness at the top end. We like this balance; the amplifier retains a good degree of transparency without turning nasty if fed with poor quality source material or partnered with aggressive-sounding kit.
Moving to an old favourite in PJ Harvey’s White Chalk, the Audio Analogue sounds right at home. It has a lovely midrange – articulate, agile and subtle. Harvey’s voice is delivered with all the passion intact, and the sparse instrumental backing is rendered with care.
There’s power when needed, but the amplifier’s finesse impresses us most. By the highest standards at this price there are small, but noticeable, shortfalls in terms of dynamic punch and rhythmic precision, but it’s not enough to spoil things.
The on-board DAC is decent, but it doesn’t have the all-round talent of Arcam’s irDAC. Listening to Kanye West’s Yeezus shows off the Fortissimo’s refinement and composure, but also reveals a slight lack of dynamic expression.
The amplifier remains a pleasing listen, but falls a little short in the excitement stakes. The headphone output is disappointing though, and it loses a notable amount of insight and finesse this way.
Overall, the Audio Analogue Fortissimo AirTech is a capable amplifier, packed full of useful features and with a pleasant and subtle presentation.
Worth a listen? We’d say so.