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No doubt about it - within its power limitations, the Patek SE is a true statement amplifier. Perhaps by virtue of extremely short circuit paths, this is a very fast beastie. Percussive transients, sharp accents like bow scrapes, popped bass strings, Cuban-style left-handed piano salvos, foot stomps with metal plates on the heels and toes go off like fire crackers. As you raise the volume, this becomes more and more powerful and spooky. It sounds so bloody real. Is this a hardwired flashback to the hunters & gatherers' days when a snapped twig might have signaled mortal danger?

A twin aspect of such charged amplifier reflexes are dynamics. Things are jumpy and spiky as individual tones stick out of the surrounding fabric. It's become popular to speak of exhaustive detail retrieval as anti-musical. What about dynamic detail though? That's not exhausting but invigorating and compelling. Actually, it is challenging in how it demands of your attention. If you're listening to this amp at anywhere realistic levels, you're dealing with a wiggling and writhing musical creature full of energy and adrenaline. Many amplifiers don't scale dynamics in anywhere linear fashion. At lower volumes, things sound muted, slow and half asleep. As you twist the throttle, SPLs and jump factor being to align or meet. As you go louder still, they diverge again. Peaks diminish in relative prominence and withdraw. Everything becomes loud in a clumped together, dynamically homogenized fashion. That's when you chase SPLs to lift the curtain and it never ever quite does (and using high-efficiency speakers that wake up early is an important part of that equation).

I can't listen to the Patek too loudly since this compression doesn't occur at any levels I could stomach. That means loud feels like it's getting louder a lot sooner (if that squirrely phrasing makes sense to you). Dynamic peaks track properly. They don't get squished. It's exactly like stepping closer and closer to a live band. If you're too close, things get too intense. Unless you have one of those extended lucid moments. Then your entire being is somehow prepared to get drenched by that full frontal sensory assault without triggering internal defense mechanisms. Otherwise you gotta back off. The Patek on my Zu Cable Definitions gets that intense - oppressive in a good sense if you're into being fully drawn in and played by the music in a way that defies resistance and demands you pay complete attention.

So the Patek's got jump factor. But that's not its only trick. Equally addictive is its image density. When you think about it, those two qualities could nearly be mutually exclusive. Density conjures up solidity. If a stone's arguably as solid as they come, it's got precious little jump factor, too. It just sits there waiting for you to hit your toe. Getting you both explosive energy and mass is somewhat of a mean trick. Needless to say, the farther you pursue one, the more you steal from the other. Some SETs become so dense, you could cut their sound and serve it up in slices. By the same token, they'll also be slow and fat. Speed freaks like Lowthers pursue the opposite extreme. They become too zingy. A wide bandwidth single-ended triode or pentode amp of considerable expense can do both, real mass and unfettered speed. Still, chances are it'll also put a far deeper hole into your wallet and won't have 50 watts on tap (100 watts bridged via the below gizmo) as the Patek offers.

What I find truly exciting about Daniel's creation here is how it satisfies my valve-conditioned Jones for image density -- that famed palpability factor -- and the ants-in-the-pants verve and resolution of Nelson Pass' FirstWatt F1 which is both tonally and texturally slimmer. It's a brilliant meeting of the solid-state mind and thermionic heart. However, when preceded by my supremely neutral transistor Bel Canto PRe2 and run balanced, the dynamic/speed portion of the equation gathers momentum. It can then nearly get too incisive for my tastes and ultra high-sensitivity speakers. It's as though the warmth/density half of the recipe got overwhelmed or receded into the background. Transient speed and rhythmic impact move forward. That's like sitting too close to the stage. Leading edges become prominent. It's all about balance. Too much excitement can be debilitating just as a lack of propulsive energy.

However, run off the 5687-powered ModWright SWL 9.0SE -- which itself majors on drive, dynamics and linearity but then adds that tubular spatial/textural magic -- the balance is right on. This combination of glass/sand really pushes a lot of my buttons. An important contributor that requires mention? The Patek avoids the misbehavior of many sand amps in the treble. It's wide open but smooth and not at all chalky. Things bite when they're supposed to yet never get unpleasant. When Turkish violin wizard Nedim Nalbantoglu lets the horse hairs fly, there's proper sharpness. Yet there's no pain nor the instinctual recoil whereby our nervous system reminds us that something's off. When Dulce Ponte pushes her voice, there's energy but zero electronic edge or glare.

Some valve amps and certain lesser octal preamps err in the opposite direction. They round off treble transients as though someone turned down the light. Then -- to borrow Erroll Flynn swashbuckling imagery -- there's less reflections from fencing sabers, less clang when they meet and excite all those metal molecules.

The Patek's solidity and strong projection of images in space means it comes across as slightly warm though it does lack the octave-doubled timbral girth of zero feedback triodes. That's an important qualifier. You notice I have -- deliberately I might add -- refrained from calling the Patek SE tube-sounding. It's not. A quick detour into DeHavilland 845 or Canary Audio 300B land would show you quickly if you doubted. They're softer, less articulate.

Still, there are distinct traits that bear an uncanny resemblance - treble elegance, performer mass and, related to the latter, a fetching degree of warmth. What's more solid-statish is the exceptional speed (unless we turned to something choice as Roger Hebert's Wyetech Labs paralleled 300B Sapphires for one example I have personal experience with).

Having spent considerable time recently with the two
FirstWatt current-source low-power amps, this presents a good opportunity to comment on differences and similarities. Especially when run balanced -- to optimize its deliberate 3rd-order TDH distribution with complete cancellation of 2nd -- the F1 is the most piquant and sharp. If that's cayenne or Chili pepper, the Patek's paprika - a close second, followed by the slightly thicker F2 (whose 2nd-order spectrum mimics SETs). The Patek has more image density than either. That's a personally very endearing trait. It enfolds the spice in a denser sauce. The transient bite doesn't get dulled but is properly integrated and surrounded by full substance. That cottons to my thermionic proclivities and gives the AudioSector an important edge. Even the F2 trails the Patek in that regard. The F1 is somewhat in the opposite camp, being leaner. Where all of these amps completely agree is in the resolution arena. Ultra-low noise floors, fast rise times and low distortion remove the barriers. These are all hi-rez machines. Nothing to do with sonics at all has the fact that the Patek's conventional voltage drive means it's copasetic with any speaker as long as it gets into proper gear on 50 watts. The 5- and 10-watt FirstWatt units are deliberately engineered for a niche audience - enthusiasts who own essentially crossover-less speakers of about 95dB efficiencies.

When I recently switched from the Pateks to some very well-made 300B monos with a choice of superior output bottles, the very first and thereafter persistent impression of the valve amp was that of a rain of translucent ash. The crisp fresh air of the AudioSector view suddenly had millions of microscopic particles floating in it. The sonic scenery got softer and less direct and even priming the pump didn't remove that effect. Believe it or not - I couldn't wait to get back to the sand amps. They had more immediacy, directness, spunk, articulation and energy -- at any level -- than the most infamous direct-heated bottle of them all (though a superior implementation could certainly remove that thin veil - for a pretty penny). And something I haven't even mentioned yet? The Pateks do bass that's awesome even for solid state. Size and power rating might suggest otherwise but don't be fooled. These bad boys with the Napoleon complex mean business.

As it stands -- and when partnered with a suitable valve pre of modest tone but sufficient speed to not hamstring the AudioSector mate -- the Patek SE is a sand amp that tube lovers could embrace without any reservations. That's especially the case if your ideas on valves were more modern, wide-band, linear and transparent than those notions reared on bad vintage examples. Left on 24/7, the outboard power supplies remain cool, period. The miniature amp boxes never go beyond a skoch warmer than body temperature. No valve sweat in sight. Though it's a high 30dB voltage gain design, the Patek is dead quiet in operation. 

Naturally, this level of gain will hold a magnifying glass on your preamp especially if, like recommended, it's of the glowing glass variety. Thankfully in my case, the ModWright is fully up to the task at any levels I actually listen to (i.e. if I stop the CD in midstream and walk up to the speakers, there's just the faintest of background hums which extinguish to nothing at all when I mute the preamp). Yes, when the SWL's volume is fully opened, I can magnify its negligible noisefloor enough to become plainly audible on 101dB speaker but in terms of playback SPLs, that'd equate to instant eviction from the landlord living three stone throws away (and I throw a pretty good distance at that).

To wrap up this love fest, if Kimura-San's groundbreaking GainCard wasn't proof enough (though its volume control inclusion perhaps means not too many 'philes have ever tried listening to one with a quality tube preamp), Peter Daniel's statement effort on chip amps states it once and for all - again. Op-amps are a supremely viable avenue to achieve stellar sonics in a physically diminutive and cool-running package that's cost-effective and doesn't generate any high-frequency noise like so-called digital amps (which require effective filtering at the outputs).

While inherent in this op-amp approach are practical limitations in terms of ultimate voltage-swing potential, the 4-ohm Analysis Audio Epsilon planar-magnetic/ribbon speakers don't cause any conniptions fits for the Pateks whatsoever and bass performance suggests zero handicaps. While this amp even bridged might run out of drive on Maggies, Soundlabs and other known power mongers (or at least not be entirely in its element), this leaves a lot of speakers these Canadian minis will drive with aplomb. They're also built exceptionally well. That merely adds to what I think of as their innate appeal and desirability. There's just one (rather off-putting) downside. Peter Daniel sells direct to keep the pricing sane. Pateks are currently built to order only. You can't presample unless you happen to have a friend who already owns one. Hopefully this review will encourage a few brave souls to take a chance. In my personal -- tube -- pantheon, the Patek SE is my favorite solid-state amp yet (closely
followed by the FirstWatt F2 which, naturally, doesn't work on my Gallo Reference 3s). To be blunt, the Patek puts the screws on lesser (but still more expensive) valve amps that sound slow, thick and indistinct by comparison and offer far less power. Sure, I expect an Art Audio, Audiopax, Lamm or Wyetech Labs SET to redress that statement. But that's a different financial league. Moral of my story? The search for the "perfect" sand amp that fits my current system and sensibilities like a designer glove -- and which I can afford to wear -- is over. Halleluja!

PS: To those readers who will ask why no Blue Moon award - it'd feel like so much empty self-congratulatory back slapping. Remember, this wasn't a formal review assignment at all. It was an a priori personal acquisition. I know how much I like these amps. I know why I didn't take their designer up on his unusual return privilege for a custom order. What more needs to be said? If you're in the market for a $1,200 to $1,800 50wpc stereo amplifier, you still gotta find out whether you like the Patek. I couldn't see how not but in audio, there's no accounting for personal taste and system synergy. All this review intends to accomplish is to report on the existence of AudioSector; give credit to Peter Daniel who, after Kimura-San of 47Labs, deserves the spotlight for pushing this amplifier concept to the limit; and share my exciting discovery especially with those readers who sympathize with my tube leanings but, for whatever reason, must themselves own a solid-state amp (or can't afford the kind of tube amp that would compete with the Patek on sound if not power). This is one you should then put on your books in bright bold letters...

PPS: For unknown reasons, one of my interconnects shorted out internally after an amplifier swapping session, meaning when I reconnected the Pateks, one of the partially self-powered speakers growled at me with a hissy fit. After eliminating the speaker cable as the culprit and being cussed out again, I replaced the interconnect. Trouble solved. Beaucoup mercis to the muses for protection circuitry. The Patek just sat there unruffled by the abuse. Phew. Do I feel lucky this didn't happen with another amp, especially one on review loan! Commented the designer: "The amp has also protection for one rail missing (it will not damage speakers even when diodes fail and only single voltage is supplied to the amp) and is protected against a short at the output - you may connect speaker wires together without damaging anything." Reviewer-proof in other words...
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