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First a bit more on cloning. There's for personal use quietly behind the scenes. There's going commercial for profit. And there's writing up the latter. Usually I'd be completely opposed to formally endorsing rip-offs with any review. What makes this different? A number of things I'll list here in no particular order. The circuit itself is ultra basic and fully public domain in the application notes of the op-amp maker. The original Gaincard launched many moons ago. A commercial clone today can't be accused of stealing any thunder. In its day I properly reviewed the original to give credit and support where due. Relative to copy catting, you might claim that the original's very stiff pricing self-started the entire gainclone reaction. For many that pricing was the real rip-off, everything that followed inevitable.

Given Burson-style vault construction of this copy and its sell price, Funjoe won't roll in profit. Whilst nothing about the machine reeks of DIY—it's really built like the proverbial brick outhouse—from name to pricing it suggests a project which at best straddles the line between hobbyist generosity and pay-the-rent business bones. It probably has a bit more than just one foot on the former side. At least that's my take on it. And it's squarely why I accepted the assignment.

One thing the 25i lacks which I wish it had is a pre-out for subwoofin'. I'd gladly sacrifice one of its three inputs for that and think many prospective owners would too. After all, the amp's footprint and height plus cool running make it a perfect computer monitor stand to likely end up on more than just my desktop. In this type of setup allowable speaker size tends to be small to scream sub if you're serious. As is I strapped the Burson DAC's second fixed output to my Gallo TR-3D sub beneath the table and put up with having to adjust bass output each time I changed the very solid master knob on the black amp.

With iPod, Cambridge Audio digital dock, Burson DA-160, Gallo Acoustics Strada and TR-3D

Unlike the Mosfet-based Aura Vivid it replaced, the 25i can't be described as warm. Possibly from high inherent feedback inside its power chip, the lit-up quicksilvery top end could exhibit a bit of bite at elevated levels - nothing untoward but incisive and fiery rather than subdued and sweet. Anthony Gallo's trademark CTD3 tweeter with its 180° dispersion, large surface area and concomitantly greased HF dynamics arguably honed (in on) this more than your standard 1-inch silk dome would. Judged without sub, the opposite end of the scale showed less mass than my usual Korean integrated does which of course was easily rectified once the active sub re-entered the picture.

Except for the pin-prick tiny green LED, the 25i in operation is the proverbial black monolith.

Combining incisive attack readiness with meaty tone density made for a certain feisty attitude. To fully assert itself just required slightly higher than laid-back levels as though with these speakers and this setup optimal torque kicked in just past 9:00 on the dial. Rather than elasticity and buoyancy, this take on the tunes exhibited drive, freshness, gumption and bright-eyed kick. Think somewhat of a pocket rocker. By extension image outlines were in high relief. This created great focus and with it very specific soundstaging. Briskly plucked long strings exhibited that fully developed growling snotty wiriness which draws me to certain oud players. On a Yavuz Bingöl track a quartet of warbling duduks—a primitive precursor of the modern oboe—epitomized the 25i's ability to lay bare reedy twangy micro noises like a swarm of angry hornets. That same zoom function also applied itself to the deliberately dirty/scratchy violin of a Bratsch number from Ecoute-ça Chérie. It had me imagine horse hairs smoking on the bow and that wrinkly old fiddler from the Taraf de Haidouks to which the more polished French doïna pays obvious homage.

Transient spice and highly teased-out staging make for a visual I-can-see-ya presentation. The simultaneous image heft might initially suggest warmth because it often accompanies this type of developed body. But just as often it also involves minor fuzziness and softened transitions. Here there's no fuzz, no rounding over, no concomitant silkiness. What's here is tautness, snap, zest, even zing. With close-captured far right-handed piano tinkles this will include glassy attributes from active upper harmonics arising on their transient's edge. It's fair to invoke airiness too, just not its potential side effect of etherealness. There's nothing ethereal, see-through, wispy or breathy about this black chunk. It's a very physical energetic youthful sound, not a mellower lazier more aged slower version.