Axxess Forte 1 Integrated Amp Review. Steal this HiFi Amp NOW!

Axxess Forte 1 Integrated Amp Review. Steal this amp NOW!

By Steve Huff

My Video Review!

Ever since I have owned, reviewed and then sold the lovely Aavik U-150 integrated amp in 2023, the memory of it has haunted me from time to time. It was that integrated amp that made me a huge fan of Audio Group Denmark’s sound and style, but the prices of the brands electronics and speakers have left me cold. That Aavik U-150’s original retail was $20,000, for an integrated amp with DAC and phono stage. The rather special U-300 retailed for $30,000. Not exactly chump change and in reality, those pieces were reserved for those who had plenty of disposable cash in the bank.

I sold the U-150 after some time with it (I bought it for more than half off used, dealer demo) as I am not a guy who has tons of disposable income. I heard it. Loved it. Curiosity was fulfilled. Then it had to move on so I could recoup some funds.

Yes indeed, I have missed that amp. Even though I have an amazing system today, that U-150 showed me what a higher end integrated amp could really do. For me it easily bested any separates I have tried and showed me that you do not need $50k worth of amps, preamp and cables to enjoy true high end sound.

Yes indeed, The Aavik line Audio Group Denmark was doing amazing things within the audio industry and I hoped that one day they would offer this tech and sound in a more affordable package, reaching more of us who just love music. Those of us who want a simple system that sounds high end without the complications or exhaustive cost.

After selling the Aavik U-150 I ended up with an amp that I adore just as much as that Aavik for sound quality, if not more. The Daniel Hertz Maria 350. Truth be told I feel the sound of the Maria bested the Aavik for my tastes but at the same time, the build, feel and overall quality feel of the Aavik was better/more solid.

The Axxess Forte 1 is $8k less in price than the Daniel Hertz Maria and also uses Class D amplification. It comes in for almost $15,000 less than the older Aavik U-150 yet is made using similar tech (actually newer tech) and by the same people, in Denmark. The Forte 1 also has a custom made 1 bit DAC and this amp also uses the brands streamer technology as well. It even has Tidal and Spotify connect built in, which I do not always see in higher end pieces.

The price for the Axxess Forte 1 is $5500 and what a steal this is. This is one of those pieces that gets me hyped up because what it offers for the money is insanely incredible in 2024, and I mean it!

AXXESS – As in, many more can now access the AGD sound and quality

Not so long ago, maybe it was back in October of 2023, I was asked if I would like to review a product from Audio Group of Denmark. They are the maker of the Aavik amps I spoke of above as well as other brands such as Borrenson speakers and Ansuz power products and cables. All of this is really high end incredible audio gear. Gear that for me, is about as good as it gets but at the same time the cost to get into these brands have always been tough for most normal folks to do (like me and you).

Even though the brand always had high pricing, the quality and technology used here is above ANY others I have ever reviewed. I love what Audio Group Denmark are doing within HiFi and now my wish has been granted with a more affordable line here in this Axxess series of products.

Yes indeed, Audio Group Denmark is one of my favorite audio companies in 2024 because of two reasons.

  1. I feel they make some of the best quality audio gear in build, design and sound, period. Here they are second to none.
  2. They think outside of the box and create products that are different from the rest.
  3. They use technology no one else is using like Tesla coils. This is fantastic as not many try to create something that is actually NEW. Most amps made today are using the same old tech that has been in use for decades.

When I looked into their current line of products to find one to review, I came across their newest line. The new line that is meant to be the gateway, the entryway, the more affordable way to get into this kind of high end audio. It appeared to be just what I had wished for last year, a more affordable entry into the world of AGD products.

As I browsed their products for 2024 I saw an all in one piece called the Forte and it came in three versions starting at $5500. These lower cost integrated amps (compared to the Aavik line), to my eyes at least, look better in design than the current crop of Avvik integrated amps (which cost much much more). This new line is called Axxess because it brings larger access for many more of us passionate audio folks to some amazing products, with lower prices than ever before.

When I was reading up on the Forte all in ones I saw that they used the same kind of amp and DAC tech used in the Aavik line and even a STREAMER built in based on their standalone Aavik streamers. The Forte series has a stunning design, beautiful display, a real remote control. Heck, there is even a class A headphone amp to round out the features, and it also sounds rich, fluid and beautiful, easily besting the headphone amp in my Daniel Hertz Maria 350 which sounded much thinner and flat in comparison (though the Daniel Hertz amp can be tuned to your specific headphones for better sound).

This piece is made in house, in Denmark, rather than an amp being assembled with off the shelf parts from China.

The Streamer unit inside uses trickle down tech from their pricey Aavik streamers. The streamer is different from the rest as it uses high quality capacitors without using any micro computers.

The DAC is a 1bit DAC, created by AGD promising an analog sound signature. 

The Forte series also use Tesla Coils in these amps to do all kinds of nice things performance wise. Lower noise and resonance, which will make everything more open, more 3D and get you drawn  into the music in a way that will have you sitting for hours enjoying your favorite tracks.

The three versions of Forte are all basically the same except for the amount of Tesla coils installed. Everything else is the same from the amp, dac, streamer, design, etc.

I sent an email to Audio Group Denmark and asked if I could review the starter piece which is the most affordable, The Forte 1. I was excited to see what their entry level for $5500 brings to the table vs the old U-150 I had in 2023. I also wanted to compare it to my $13k Daniel Hertz Maria as they both have a similar feel and vibe. Both are high end Class D amps, with a custom created DAC (no off the shelf parts here) and the Maria is one refined sounding and even muscular sounding amp though it is quite different in design than most others.

I never heard back from AGD so I emailed a dealer that is about 6 hours from me, Next Level HiFi in Wayne, IL. They had the Forte 1 in stock and well, I bought one. I ordered in the evening and I had it in hand the next day. I waited two months for AGD to get back to me after they asked if I wanted to review one of their products. They never did so I bought it for myself as my curiosity was intense.

When the Forte 1 arrived I was excited to see if it would have a similar quality to the now much older U-150 I love so much. I was hoping for it but also kept my expectations low due to the fact that this retails for about $15k less than the U-150 did and is also $8k less than the Daniel Hertz Maria 350. I mean, there would be no way to match the U-150 for 1/4 the price, right?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

When the package arrived I noticed the custom designed box. Everything was packed in its box perfectly. White gloves, remote, batteries, manual with color print, and the amp, wrapped in a cloth black bag.

When I took the Forte 1 out of the box I was delighted to see the quality and attention to detail here. This looks like a Bespoke product and not like one you would get from most mass producing manufactures. It’s a bit industrial but also supremely beautiful and the fit, finish and design fly well above the price point. The large volume knob is metal and so smooth to operate and I love big beefy volume knobs. It seems to be an Aavik thing as well so it was nice to see the Axxess line brings the same level of build quality.

The Display is large and very very cool, looking a lot like the current crop of Aavik integrated amps. Very easy to see from across the room as well. Awesome as my Daniel Hertz doesn’t even have any display at all (or a remote).

For the first listen I wanted to hear it just as I had my Daniel Hertz Maria hooked up. Using my HiFi Rose RS130 streamer I went to the COAX and USB inputs of the Forte 1 to see which sounded better and USB won, seemed a little more punchy.

Using my mad scientist black magic USB cable I set it all up and started listening to some very familiar tracks via Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify.

I was using the built in DAC of the Forte 1 to start.

THE SOUND

Right out of the box, very cold, it sounded incredible and authoritative using Daniel Hertz Amber speakers as well as the Closer Acoustics BOB Units (with the Ambers or the OGY). 

I let it run for a few days, running 24/7 with volume all the way down and one night decided to give it a serous critical listen. I have found that most audio pieces do need to “break in” but in my experience it takes hours or just a day or two to really lock in. I usually do not see sound changing over days and months with HiFi Gear anymore since my Puritan Audio PSM 156 has been in place. In any case, when I sat down for a listening session I was very surprised.

I wasn’t prepared for this as right off the bat I noticed a somewhat similar “house sound” to the Aavik U-150.

The Forte 1 had impressive clarity but with authority and speed along with a glorious soundstage.The imaging sits among the finest I have heard matching other much more expensive pieces in this area. In imaging it bests the Daniel Hertz Maria but the Axxess Forte also has less bass impact vs the Maria. So it is a tradeoff.

Then I noticed it’s stunning transparency, which I normally do not enjoy so much. Sometimes when an amp or piece is overly transparent the sound can be thinner sounding or just off. Some manufactures are so worried about getting to every last detail in the music (much like high megapixel cameras try to reveal every detail in an image) that they lose the soul of the music in the process. So I am not a fan of bright clean or strident transparency.

The good thing is the Axxess Forte 1 does not sound threadbare or lose the soul of the music even with its incredible transparent performance. Rather, there is solidity and slight body here as well, which rides that line ever so carefully between truth and all out musical. It has a very similar sound to the older U-150 but it’s more clean and crisp with a little bit less bass presence.

The Forte 1 is bringing the drive, punch and amazingly huge 3 dimensional soundstage. It never sounds lost or disjointed, everything is solid as can be and the instruments are in the right places. It is a very truthful amp but with a little bit of soul stirring magic. It seems very much in control of the music and never gets congested, shouty or aggressive.

VOICES  – HAUNTING

The Axxess Forte 1 is absolutely beautiful with vocals. The tone and spooky realistic way the voices come into the room is fantastic. I have heard some amazing speakers and amps that brought in the human voice in a magical way. With the Forte 1, the voices are so clear and crisp with a bit of body to them as well. It’s really a nice sound.

The voices here sound more realistic/clear than when I have the Maria S350 in and it’s goosebump inducing with the right tracks. One of the best vocal performances I have heard is right here in the Forte 1. I believe most of this magic comes from the DAC as I feel the DAC in the Forte 1 bests the one in the U-150 for these ears. Also, when I say the vocals are more real than the Maria amp this is because the Maria has more mid bass punch and more of that lower bass energy coming from its very powerful 350 WPC amp. The Maria makes the voices thicker, bigger and hyper real. The Forte thins them out a little and because of this, they sound very real. Sometimes it’s spooky. I love both presentations but they are so different.

With the Daniel Hertz Amber speakers hooked up to the Forte 1 the sound was big, punchy and wide open. With the Closer Acoustics OGY and BOB’s there was more air, transparency and detail BUT there was a lack of bass here compared to the Maria 350. In fact, there was quite a bit less bass presence here, and this is where I feel the savings come into play vs the more powerful Aavik amps. The Bass presence is fantastic, really. It is just not as powerful and full as the Daniel Hertz ($13k) or the older Aavik U-150 ($20k).

When I added a subwoofer (Rel T9X RED) to the Ambers or even the BOB bass units from Closer Acoustics the sound performance was astonishing. These BOB units are awesome even for the Amber speakers. They add more punch, drive, energy and bass energy to the already excellent Ambers. 

Built in Streamer vs the HiFi Rose RS130

I then decided to try the built in streamer on the Forte 1, so I opened up Tidal. Lo and Behold, the Forte 1 is conpatible with Tidal and Spotify connect which is awesome. I didn’t even download the app yet as the app from Axxess requires an iPad. I only use an iPhone, so couldn’t use the app.

I was told the MC0nnect app works with the streamer as well but that app is awful IMO. I remember using it before and really not enjoying it. So this is the first negative I have found so far, the control of the streamer. I was told by AGD that the Forte amps should be certified by ROON very soon. When they are, this can be used with ROON which would be the preferred method for most. Roon provides amazing control along with all of the other benefits. As of this writing the Forte 1 is not yet ROON Certified.

I first tested the internal streamer with Tidal connect, something even the $5200 HiFi Rose RS130 can not do.

Using Tidal connect the sound was absolutely bonkers good when using the built in streamer of the Axxess Forte 1. 

It was very different in sound from my HiFi Rose RS130 and yes, streamers do make a difference in the sound quality! With the Rose 130 going into the digital input of the Axxess Forte 1 the sound was beefier and voices were pushed out a bit further to the room. Using the built in streamer of the Axxess, the sound seemed cleaner. Was still impactful BUT at the same time it was also a little sharper and clearer as well. The Rose brought a more analog feel where the Forte streamer brought more of an all out TRUTH. Tidal Connect sounds amazing with the Forte 1.

I prefer using the Rose RS130 but I wouldn’t complain if all I had was the built in of the Forte 1.

The HiFi Rose presentation was just a bit more fluid and rounder vs having more pop and clarity. It’s awesome that the Forte 1 even has a built in streamer and please note that I am being uber picky here. I bet most would not hear the big change here between these streamers.

No matter what I used to stream to the Forte 1, the sound was exceptional. I also tested with an old Bluesound Node and beautiful music was still being made.

Only one fault I found with the streamer built into the Forte 1.

While Tidal connect seemed solid, Spotify connect kept losing the stream and dropped out often. I then would have to reconnect again and again, so Spotify connect here is spotty. My guess it that it may be fixed via an update which can be done automatically when they are released.

OGY and B.O.B. Speakers 

For my first week of extended listening sessions I settled on the OGY and BOB speakers. These are my fave speakers right now and offer it all from top to bottom. If you missed my review you can see it here.

The combo of the Forte 1 and Polish made speakers was almost other worldly at times. Extremely airy highs, transparent yet full mids and a bottom end that was as controlled and tight as they come. With that said, the bass seemed lighter, even with using all four of the BOB bass units. This was due to the fact that the BOB’s love power. The 350 WPC of the Maria powers them with more oomph where the Forte has a lighter more focused laser beam on imaging.

When the Maria amp is making the music with this setup the sound is warmer, fatter and punchier (more analog like) than the Forte 1 but at the same time it’s not as extended on the top end vs the Forte 1, nor as three dimensional. Pick your poison.

The Maria amp puts out 350 WPC into 8 ohms. The Forte puts out 100 WPC into 8 Ohms.

REFINEMENT

While my Daniel Hertz amp is pretty much silent as a mouse, the Forte 1 is somehow, even quieter. I mean, both are silent amps but if I put my ear physically on top of  the Maria case I do hear something. If I do this with the Forte, it sounds like it is not even on. Both amps are as good as it gets in this regard and noise will never be an issue with either of them.

Here is the kicker.

The Forte 1 is $5500 and it does sound and look quite a bit like the much more pricey Aavik amps from the same company. That is huge but tech has moved along since the U-150 and a lot of that tech is right here in the ENTRY LEVEL piece from Audio Group Denmark.

I just cannot believe the beauty of design, build, solidity, feel and features here for the $5500 price point. Not that this is cheap or even affordable for all, but in regards to high end audio, it truly is a deal. I am talking about the world of $10-$100k amps, $50k-$200k speakers, etc.

I mean the Forte 1 is in the same price area as the wonderful Naim Supernait 3 but the Axxess is a much better buy in 2024 IMO. It includes a streamer, a custom DAC and is more forward thinking. It’s more modern and is 100% noise free. I am starting to think we will be seeing the end of the all analog integrated amps soon.

The Forte 1 is lower in cost than the HiFi Rose funky steampunk looking integrated amp, yet I feel it is superior in sound and features. I feel it bests the massive Michi X3 and X5 in size, weight, design and even sound. The DAC in the Forte slays off the shelf chips from Saber, etc.

The Forte 1 is $2500 less than an all analog Yamaha A-S3200 yet for me, it easily bests the Yamaha (that doesn’t have a DAC or Streamer). I recently reviewed a Yamaha R-N 2000 that had similar specs but was a class A/B amp rather than Class D. It also had a streamer, DAC and amp and came in at $4000. I LOVE the Yamaha R-N 2000 but the Forte 1 has a more high end and refined sound for a little more cash.

This amp sounds HIGH END, detailed, 3D, clean, crisp and punchy.

What you get for the money here is insane for 2024.

OTHER OPTIONS at this Price Point?

Forget it, there are none as good as this for the price of $5500. None that I have ever experienced. This feels more like a $10k piece. 

Pair the Forte 1 with some decent, nice or even world class speakers and you will be rewarded with a solid, reliable and amazing all in one that delivers sound that sits above most amps of this nature. The only thing I will mention is that if you have thin sounding speakers, the Forte 1 may not deliver the bass you crave as some speakers need more than that to come alive down below. I would pair the Axxess with speakers that are not hard to drive and have a nice bass quality, or add a sub or two (which you can with the Forte 1 pre outs).

A perfect match to this amp are speakers made for it by Borrenson. The X1, X2 and X3 are all speakers that will mate perfectly with the amp, and I will have a review of the brand new X1’s down the road as I should be getting a pair soon to review. I can not wait as my guess is the X1’s will sound incredible with the Forte 1. They are made to be a perfect match.

The much more pricey Maria, which is an amp I adore and have bonded to, sounds equally as beautiful but these two amps have different presentations. Maria is analog like and provides big bass, mellow details, flow and soul. The Forte 1 brings more “perfection’ with imaging and details yet also retains that soul of the music. 

The Maria is more about the musical flow and emotion and it never fails to suck me in for hours. The Axxess Forte 1 is more of a muscular and extremely clear sounding amp that brings out all details in a very 3D way with top ‘o the heap imaging. Of course, if your speakers are up to this kind of performance of course.

The built in DAC and streamer are in no way weak points here but I do prefer the HiFi Rose RS130 for streaming vs the internal as that Rose just has an analog vibe.

The 1 Bit DAC in the Forte 1 is a winner.

This amp has no weakness of con for the price point. None at all actually.

THE CONNECTIONS

The connections on the rear of the Forte series consist of USB, COAX and Optical for the digital side. There is only ONE analog input for say a turntable or other analog piece so this may be a weakness for a few of you. This is really meant to be a digital powerhouse but feel free to hook up a turntable to this amp as well. There is also a preamp out, which is always nice to have. Not only for hooking it up to a power amp (if you decide you want to use a different amp) but also for hooking up a pair of subwoofers. You can use the pre-out to hook up one, or two powered subs.

I hooked up my under $800 U Turn Gen 3 Orbit Special with a starter Ortofon Red cartridge and the sound was nice, full and rich. Not sterile in any way. It sounded great just using the built in preamp of the U Turn. I have had some mighty fine turntables here but the U Turn is such a low cost option, yet sounds and looks beautiful. I have had it here for months and it truly does sound superb for being such a basic table. The look, and feel of it is amazing for the money. You can find this table HERE. 

HEADPHONE AMP? Yes Indeed! 

On the front of the unit there is also a headphone input because the Forte also includes a Class A Headphone amp as well. I tested it with a couple of headphones I have here including the Verum 1 Planar Magnetic headphones, the Meze 109 Pro and also some exotic Audeze LCD 5 cans.

All were powered just fine and the sound signature was rich, slightly warm and full bodied. Detail was all there as well. I compared the headphone out to the one in the Daniel Hertz Maria and they had completely different sound signatures.

The Daniel Hertz was crisp, clean and impactful if not a touch on the brighter more analytical side (lacked bass in head amp). The Forte 1 was warmer, darker and fuller sounding when it came to the Headphone section. Interesting as the head amp in each of these integrated amps sound quite different from the speaker taps on the same amps.

Honestly, this Forte 1 is excellent with headphones. So much so that I can see some buying this just for the headphone amp section. An all in one with streamer, dac, amp and remote. It can sit at my bedside and be used as just a head amp. In fact I did just this for one week to test the headphone amp. It was awesome and had no issues driving the headphones I have on hand. I dozed off into dreamland on more than one occasion while wearing some headphones powered by the Forte 1.

One thing to note, when using the headphone input you will need to MUTE the amp. This will mute the speaker taps but not the headphone out.

REMOTE

The Axxess Forte series also ships with a remote and I am happy to see that AGD no longer uses those small and cheap apple style remotes. For me, that was one small weakness of the U-150 and even $30k U-300. They shipped with a cheap small crappy remote. It did the trick but felt so flimsy for such a high end piece.

The Forte 1 ships with a real remote and while it is not the most durable or the nicest I have seen, it is leagues better than the older style remote used in the older Aavik amps.

You can change the input with ease, turn off and dim the display,  go into the system menu and of course adjust the volume or mute the sound, all from the remote.

NO NEED for an external DAC! No, really. 

The Forte 1 has a fine custom made 1 bit DAC inside that for me bests the one in the Aavik U-150 (that was considered world class at the time). I mean, it sounds better to me from top to bottom and in the way the music just effortlessly flows and floats in the air. The sound is so clean yet at the same time it has life, balls and energy as well. I was really moving quite a bit when listening to the DAC in the Forte 1.

I did add a DAC I have in for review now, and it’s an all out bargain of a DAC with high end sound and a $1000 USD price tag. I am speaking of the Denafrips Ares 12th-1 DAC and boy is this a surreal and very fine DAC for such a great price. I would say it is a masterpiece for the cost and it really does sound just like the brands flagship $10k+ DAC, just with a little bit less of all of the good stuff.

The Ares 12th-1 excels in spatial reproduction. The Denafrips sound is very analog like, very spacious, very deep and is also a smooth operator. It’s a gorgeous sound and as you go up the chain in the Denafrips line you get more and more of what is so good about the sound of these DACs. With that said, I did prefer the Forte 1’s built in DAC moreso than the $1000 Denafrips as it was more authoritative, dynamic and impactful.

If you must add an external DAC be prepped to spend BIG MONEY to better the internal DAC of the Forte series. Even then, not sure you can as all you will get is “different”. If I can sum it up, to me the internal DAC of the Forte series is like a mix between the Chord Dave, Weiss 501 and with an extra splash of musical soul thrown in. It’s fantastic for an included interior DAC.

The Forte series does not use any off the shelf DAC chips and it sounds nothing at all like those DACs we normally see inside of integrated amps. This is custom made and uses trickle down tech from the much more pricey Aavik line. In comparison to say a Yamaha’s built in DAC it is night and day different, and much much better IMO.

Everything here from the power supply on in makes this amp dead silent in use and in turn, this allows the music to blossom and bloom into the room.

So just to note and be clear, the DAC here is world class and that never happens in a $5500 piece. 

What about the CONS?

There has to be cons, right? Well….

Besides the streamers control app only being able to be used on an iPad, none. 

The price of $5500 is without question a pro as this feels, looks and sounds more like a $10-12k piece.

The streamer, DAC and amp are all world class and designed in house in Denmark and bring a value that far exceeds the $5500 price tag. I wouldn’t be surprised if AGD is losing little money on a piece like the Forte 1, just to get themselves out there into more systems. A loss leader that can bring in new ears to the brand.

The design is super cool as it gets for my eyes and tastes, very well done and very solid without weighing 100 lbs. The Forte 1 comes in at around 26 lbs and it’s nice to have a piece I can move easily, without busting my back.

Back to the one negative…The Control App. It can’t be used on an iPhone, only an iPad. That’s a con IMO. Using the third party mconnect app is also a con, to me. The Forte will also be Roon Ready soon, just awaiting for the certification from Roon (which is taking long these days for many manufactures due to some internal changes there at Roon). When it does get ROON certified it will be easily used with Roon and in this way it will be beautiful. I have used it with Tidal and Spotify connect and the sound, especially with Tidal here, was an experience indeed. I had some drop out issues with Spotify connect.

I do not need the app for me, but I know many will because if you want to stream using let’s say…Qobuz, you will need the app. The app experience is lacking but this seems par for the course with many streamers these days. Again, ROON will be awesome on the Forte 1. If you use an external streamer, none of this matters anyway. The amp stands on its own even without the streamer.

Using the dedicated HiFi Rose RS130 streamer brought a little more bass heft in the lower end and midrange, as well as a more organic type of musicality with a dash of warmth. It really shows the difference between streamers, this system.

PROS?

The pros are a plenty.

The Price, design, build quality, remote, sound, world class DAC, very good streamer, same amp tech as the Aavik series tells me this is a bargain in the HIGH END realm of HiFi. This amp is honestly an outright STEAL and I wouldn’t be surprised if the prices go up down the road (as I have seen other manufactures do recently, unfortunately). If your budget is up to $12k you would be doing yourself a disservice to NOT listen to one of the amps in the Forte Series.

Forte 1, 2 or 3?

There are three versions of this same piece. They are all exactly the same except for the amount of Tesla coils used, dither circuits and the Forte 3 also adds a bottom plate made of copper. 

The Forte 1 is $5500 and uses 36 active Tesla Coils and 72 Square Tesla Coils. Also, there are 3 dither circuits in the Forte 1.

The Forte 2 is $8000 and uses 72 Active Tesla Coils and 144 Square Coils. It also adds 4 Active Zirconium Tesla Coils as well as 6 Dither Circuits.

The Forte 3 is $11,000 and uses 1098 Active Tesla Coils and 216 Square Coils. It also has a copper bottom plate and also adds Active Zirconium Tesla coils as well as 9 dither circuits.

All use the same 100 WPC amp, the same DAC, the same Streamer and the same housing and remote. 

Keep in mind that I have not heard the Forte 2 or 3 so I cannot say exactly what those extra coils do for the sound but I can see room for improvement in the refinement/smoothness area of the Forte 1, so yes, it will get better as you move up the chain. The Forte 1 is much more refined than most in its price class  but it is not as all out refined and smooth as some other higher end pieces. I’d love to hear the 3 just to see what those differences are in the real world. It will set you back double of what the 1 costs, so I would hope it offers up “better” or something different.

Conclusion

What can I say? Last year the best amp I heard, no question, was the Daniel Hertz Maria 350. I was so impressed I bought a Daniel Hertz Amber system as my main personal reference system. I have heard the big $50k separates and for me these big heavy amps are not any better than the Maria 350 when it comes to sound. I also love the Maria for its light weight, classy design and all out refinement of sound though its construction is somewhat on the lighter side. It doesn’t feel as substantial or solid as the Axxess Forte line.

Now it is early 2024 and I have heard yet another grand slam integrated but this one costs 60% less than the Maria and even has its own streamer built in. It has more impact and clarity than the Maria but loses out to the Maria in bass output and all out refinement of sound. It’s not so much that the Maria is better as I think the design internally and externally is better with the Forte 1, 2 and 3. With that said, these offer up completely different presentations.

The Forte has world class imaging, among the finest I have heard in this area. The Forte is also very transparent and open, with an immense 3d soundstage. The Maria is a touch warmer, a bit thicker and has even more punch than the punchy Forte but I have to remember that my Maria is tuned to the Amber speakers, which is a thing that can be done with the Maria amp.

If you like clean. If you like truth. If you like 3D wide open and CLEAR sound with a little bit of magic dust sprinkled in, the Forte series is one to really take a look at. The DAC is world class and custom to the Forte series. The streamer uses tech from the Aavik line and the amp does as well. The build is great and it even has a nice remote that is included. The amp has protections built in as well as a start up sequence to make sure all is well before it boots up and this is great. It runs cool and doesn’t even get warm, at all.

Bottom line, this is a true HIGH END piece for mid tier HiFi money. These kind of things do not happen often in HiFi but Audio Group Denmark achieved what they set out to do here. That is to make entering into their brand of audio products much easier for many more music lovers. The Axxess series offers a huge heaping taste of Aavik for 1/4 the cost so I have to ask….what is not to like?

While I own a wonderful integrated in the Maria, there are nights I prefer the vibe of the Forte 1 and honestly, it has been in and making music since it arrived. I love this piece and it will be here for a little while as a second reference piece for comparisons. I am looking forward to hearing the brand new speakers from AGD (with the Forte) that they should be sending along soon.

I bought mine from Next Level HiFi in Wayne IL. They are amazing over in that shop and are responsive, knowledgeable and ship your order FAST. It’s awesome that they also have online ordering now for these products. Oh, and to be clear, I make ZERO commissions or money from them or Audio Group Denmark for this review.

The Forte 1 far surpassed even my somewhat high expectations.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 

Also, these headphones rock with the Forte 1!

10 Comments

  1. I just heard the Forte 1 with X-1s and Forte 2 with X-2s at the Florida show and didn’t notice any bass shyness, in fact the X-2s crushed the small room easily pressurizing the room when low bass appeared in the song. I agree with you about the level of transparency, clarity, incredible vocal verisimilitude, soundstage, and especially value, for less than $17K the Forte2/X-2 combo is unbeatable IMHO.

    • With the Borrenson speakers, sure. They are meant to go together, With any other speaker I have tried with it, the bass lacks in the mids and lower end vs most other amps I have here. Even with that it sounds fantastic but unless you are going with the X1 or X2, etc the bass will be shy with most speakers. I have tested it with five sets of speakers now. Teh X1s should arrive in the next week or so. I expect this combo to kill it. ; )

      PS – It’s kind of like the Daniel Hertz systems. They sound best when mated together as they are made for each other but the Maria is not always the best sounding with other speakers.

  2. Thank you for the time and thought you put into all of your product assessments!

    As always, your reviews are thoughtfully insightful, well rounded and free of the arrogance the industry is so full of. You live music, and it shows!

    How would you compare the sound quality, soundstage and punch to a Naim Unity Nova (higher price, similar power)? I understand the Forte 2 is a more “logical” apples to apples comparison.

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

  3. You have the weight at 26lbs.
    Next Level HiFi
    Forté 1 – 7.9 kg / 17.4 lbs
    Forté 2 – 8.1 kg / 17.9 lbs
    Forté 3 – 9.0 kg / 19.8 lbs

    • Forte is the better buy/value, better build/feel and remote and comes with streamer. The Maria has better sound and can be tuned to any speaker. So depends on what one wants. The DAC in each is superb but as I stated, different sounds. Maria has bigger more prevalent bass (still very controlled) and the Forte is lighter footed here in comparison. Imaging is better on the Forte. Neither is “better” than the other, just different as most audio in this class is. Thank you for reading!

  4. I have been watching and enjoying your YouTube channel for a while now. I have been following your reviews and have been very intrigued by the Maria amplifier, though it would be out of our price range. The Axxess Forte 1, while still very expensive would be doable for us. The thing I am concerned with is, will it be too thin sounding in the bass to mid-bass and midrange areas. You touched on that several times. But you did not seem to specify whether this thinness was at higher output levels only, or if it is just a basic character of the sound overall. I am a little confused about that. Thank you.

    • Let me try to clarify as I have been listening daily to the Forte 1 ever since the review was posted. The sound is not thin, just not as prevalent in the bass as the Daniel Hertz Maria. Then again, I have never heard any amp in life with better bass than the Maria, even seperates. The Axxess Forte give the bass performance of say a Pass Labs X250.8. It’s there, it’s tight and controlled just not as big as the Maria. If I compare it to other amps within its price range or up to $10k, it’s comparable or better. The Forte 1 has a big wide open sound with plenty of details and it is clean and pure sounding. It doesn’t exaggerate the bass in any way, so it’s even from top to bottom. Nothing exaggerated.The Forte 1 is a fantastic amp and buy for what you get for the money.

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