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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Raysonic CD168; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; Abbingdon Music Research AM-77 [on loan]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; ModWright LS-36.5; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual; Melody HiFi I2A3; Eastern Electric M520; Yamamoto HA-02; Trafomatic Audio Experience One [on review]; AMR AM-77 [on review], Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 [on review]

Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; 2 x FirstWatt F4; Yamamoto A-08S; Bel Canto e.One S300; Fi 2A3 monos; Coda CX and CSX [on review]
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Mark & Daniel Ruby and Maximus-Monitor with Omni-Harmonizer; WLM Grand Viola MkII Monitor with Duo 12 passive subwoofer, Duo amp and Sys V active crossover; DeVore Fidelity Nines; Rethm Saadhana

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom, Crystal Cable Reference power cords; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable; Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; Acoustic System Acoustic Resonators
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: $2,500 [$2,100 without remote and GoldPoint attenuator]
Class T. It's been a peculiar ride. Bel Canto champions it, then goes ICEpower. Thus the earliest proponent of class D for high-end -- there's an election bumper sticker -- abandons Tripath. Meanwhile the midfi sector gets flooded in D. Then the high-end market embraces ICEpower, Hypex/uCD and adds NuForce. Then Sonic Impact assaults the cheapskate fringe of sub fifty dollar boxes. Even Target picks up on that and sells it next to the Draino bottles. Suddenly low-power Tripath amps begin to mushroom like rabbits. Okay, strange turn of phrase but still descriptive.

Today, Tripath has closed its doors and Cirrus Logic has picked up the assets. Most T-amps as they've become known usually make 6 watts or thereabouts. Unlike the earlier Bel Cantos, they all avoid the high-power T chips like the plague. Modern Ts can be had from DIY Paradise, Firenze Audio, KingRex, Trends Audio, Winsome Labs and many others. Perhaps the most high-profile of all, at least in the New World, has been Vinnie Rossi's Red Wine Audio Signature 30, its figure indicating 8-ohm power. Starting as a modifier, his Sig 30 became such a runaway success that Vinnie soon consolidated, mostly abandoning the modifying biz to focus on building a RWA signature sound from a clean sheet.

His core recipe all along has been SLA battery power wedded to minimalist circuits done up with better and better parts. The emergence of Red Wine Audio's lineup mirrors a designer's evolution. Initially committed to high-quality passive attenuators over active preamps, RWA only offered a passive input switcher if you had more sources than his volume-fitted amps could accommodate. But the wheel turned, ears grew pointier and the Signature 30 found its way into consistently upscalier company. Reviewers went ape. Guilty your honor. Suddenly T squared itself to evolve into T-class plus tubes. Yessir! Vinnie's forthcoming Isabella is a battery-powered tube preamp with optional built-in DAC + USB input and perhaps even a headphone amp module. The glowing bits will be two 6922 (6DJ8/ECC88), optionally swappable with 7308, Russian 6H23 or Sino 6N11. The Signature 30 meanwhile spawned the permanently paralleled Signature 70 monos to give more low-impedance stability under duress. The latest refinements have birthed the two amplifier models' point two iterations. And while on birthing, there's Vinnie's baby daughter after which the Isabella preamp/DAC was christened.

While amplifier power specs remain as before -- the core Tripath chips are unchanged -- build quality, critical parts selections and features went through the sprucer. Upper. A brand-new feature goes by the clever acronym SMART. It stands for Sla (battery) Monitoring (and) Auto Recharge circuiT. Forget accidentally deep-discharging the onboard batteries to eventually drain them beyond revival. The monitoring module keeps continuous tabs on battery voltage to automate the recharge process. Just leave the now universal 100-240V battery charger plugged into a live AC outlet. Charging speeds have accelerated too, by four times. Average play time per charge is 12 to 24 hours depending on load and output. That's more than sufficient for even the lustiest of listeners. Simply turn the amp's red-lit power switch to 'off' after listening so the charging cycle commences instantly.

The third new feature is this very front-mounted and touch-sensitive 'power' membrane. It switches between play and charge to replace the fumble-'round-back toggle from before. The fourth new feature is the remote-controlled precision-stepped GoldPoint attenuator. It's standard now rather than optional. Four strikes and you're in? On the gussied-up front, there's a thicker fascia with engraved nomenclature and matching engraving on the back. More potent cosmetics, ultimate set 'n' forget user friendliness - them's plenty of good reasons to go mach two. But Vinnie wanted more. Superior sonics.So he added Vampire connectors; revised his custom circuit boards; redesigned the output filter which now direct-wires to the terminals; upgraded the paper-in-oil input capacitor; and overhauled the input stage with superior resistors, DC offset pots and such. These changes weren't just to exotify the parts menu and drive up pricing to appeal to the silver/gold crowd. Vinnie was after specifics. He wanted more warmth, greater dimensionality, massier bass, sweeter treble and richer tone without sacrificing PRaT.

Considering how -- at least in this writer's opinion -- the original Signature 30 was already one of the best low-power solid-state amps on the planet, these specific improvements are ambitious. With the advent of the Isabella, Red Wine Audio's desert island dream of grid-free tunes (MacBook into battery-powered USB DAC into battery-powered tube pre into battery-powered T amp) will soon be real. You certainly needn't use a laptop or similar mobile magnetic data server if your hi-end ambitions view good old-fashioned AC-powered laser pickups as superior. Still, with one EU directive for 2009 addressing the energy consumption of entertainment devices (watch the military and big corporate telecom being exempted), Red Wine Audio's battery slogan is certainly timely. Because Isabella is just around the corner, the Signature 30.2 can also be had as a stand-alone amp without the GoldPoint attenuator. That shaves off $400 from the sticker. And, this amp is made in the US with home-grown elbow grease and carries a generous 5-year warranty.

In either guise, 'integrated' or 'amp', the Signature 30.2 sports a pair of outputs to facilitate biamping or subwoofing. With the integrated version, the outputs are post attenuator and variable, with the amp version, thru-put inputs. If you don't use these outputs, don't go use shorting plugs. While on what not to do, the negative posts don't share a common ground. You cannot, must not, will not drive a subwoofer high-level from these outputs. Ever. This would sum to mono and toast the amp. Use the RCA outs with a long interconnect. That's why the outputs are there. Because the Sig 30.2 eschews a suppressor relay, you should expect a small turn-on transient while the caps charge up - and a modicum of short-term hum on power-down while the power supply capacitor discharges and the charger's AC hum gets amplified.

That about covers the point-two alterations. Wallet-weary 'philes will
want to know how the Sig 30.2 stacks up to the Mice, T-Rexes, Trends and equivalent micro T amps. You'll have to keep wandering in wonder. I have none of 'em. (That would be David Kan on the moons.) If you believe that power supply is 80% of the amp game, you can do some predictive math. Except for the Winsome and Firenze amps, none approach the 30.2's output power. If you're curious about how the 30.2 stacks up against the 30, I can't tell you either. I've only got the new unit. If you want to know how the 30.2 weds its Isabella sister - well, there I can eventually help out. One of those sistahs is inbound just as soon as she's born. Vinnie even plans to send along a set of 70.2 monos for a big battery bash; and because he insists that as smoking as his new 30.2 is, the 70.2s are even smokier.

Meanwhile Mike Smith will compare his 70s to the new 70.2s to chronicle the sonic gap that separates generations one and two so we'll have that part of the story as well. The 30.2 has grown in price over the Signature 30 which got our Realsization award but, according to its maker, has grown everywhere else as well. Good things? Vinnie sez jawohl. Which is German for, "well, yeah...":

''The remote control board and stepper motor for the Goldpoint stepped attenuator are designed and manufactured by John Chapman of Bent Audio. Besides being able to precisely turn through the Goldpoint's 24 volume positions, another special feature is that the controller board immediately enters sleep mode when not used. It is not in the signal path nor does it cause any sonic degradation in any way. Bent Audio also provides the remote control. The only buttons used for the Signature 30.2 are the up and down arrows for volume up and volume down. In the future, we will be working on a simplified RWA remote design with better aesthetics (which will be offered to all our customers interested in it)."The Signature 30.2 is built in-house here at Red Wine Audio. The enclosures, jacks, volume control, printed circuit board and many other components are all sourced from US companies and built right here in the USA (something becoming very rare these days). RWA has no plans to ever outsource production. All soldering and assembly are performed in-house and our products are carefully inspected and tested before shipping.

The unique touch-sensing switch mounted flush with the front panel and the red LED uses a Piezo ceramic that controls an internal FET, closing the switch when force is applied. This circuit is built into a sealed, black-anodized aluminum casing and has an extremely high life expectancy compared to a standard mechanical switch. This switch is only used to turn on our SMART module. The actual flow of current from the SLA battery to the amplifier board does not pass through this switch. The SMART module uses an integrated circuit that monitors the battery voltage and controls a low-resistance power FET to either connect the SLA batteries to the amplifier board when the unit is 'on', or connect the SLA batteries to the charger when the unit is turned to 'off'.

The new 24V SLA battery charger features an XLR plug. The popular application for this charger and plug is for battery-powered wheelchairs, hence this plug is sometimes referred to as a wheelchair type plug. One thing is certain, it makes a very secure connection and is very well built. This new charger also features an IEC power input jack and accepts a universal input voltage (100 to 240Vac, 50/60Hz), so no matter what country outside of the USA you live in, you simply need to supply a standard power cord with IEC plug. As you will see when you open the cover, the output stage is very different from that of the Signature 30. We are using different components of different values and a different filter design. These parts are all point-to-point wired together as well as to the speaker output jacks, which are higher-quality Vampire jacks to go along with the Vampire RCA jacks. The new output stage and wiring configuration (notice the weave of the speaker output wires to the speaker posts) plays a significant role in the new and improved Signature 30.2 sound. You won't find this output stage design in any Tripath datasheets nor will you find this kind of output stage wiring in any other Tripath-based designs. I spent the summer of 2007 developing this new sound, trying many different parts, values and listening, measuring and more listening, listening and listening.

Throughout 2007, Red Wine Audio has acquired dealers throughout the world and continues to expand its overseas market. We are also considering taking on a few select dealers in certain US locations. Regarding the use of SLA battery power, besides the most well-known advantage of isolation from the noise/grunge of the AC power line, there is another large advantage. Running on SLA battery power eliminates the use of an AC/DC power supply inside the unit. There are no step-down transformer, rectification stage, voltage regulators etc. that choke current and require large reservoir caps to compensate. With SLA battery power, the absence of the rectification stage means no noise is added by the switching of diodes (even the best diodes add noise in the rectification process). Even if your 50/60Hz AC power was as clean as a whistle, it still needs to be converted to DC for use by the audio amplifier. The choking of current and addition of noise in the rectification process cannot be avoided - unless you go DC direct, which is why we use low ESR, high-current SLA power fed directly to the power rails of our amplifier board (via the SMART module).

I recently had the opportunity to listen to the Signature 30.2 on a pair of rebuilt Quad 57s. We all were very amazed by how well this pairing worked together and how the 30.2 was no slouch when compared to the higher powered and far more expensive battery-powered ASR Emitter II. Another proud Quad 57 owner, Gary Krakow of MSNBC, is now using a Signature 30.2 with his pair as well. Another speaker that I hold in very high regard (and personally own) is the new DeVore Nines over the Signature 30.2. The DeVore Super 8s work equally well. In other words, while high-efficiency speakers work great with the Signature 30.2, one does not need to be confined to this niche. Multi-way speakers above 86dB can perform very well with this amplifier circuit.

"Regarding headphones, the AKG K1000s sound sublime with the Sig 30.2! Not only that, but with a portable audio source (e.g., RWA iMod playing WAV or Lossless files) connected to the Sig 30.2, this rig can be taken outside of the home for listening outside on the porch, at the lake or wherever you go to be a peace and enjoy the nice scenery. Other than the AGK K1000s and most of the STAX headphones, the Signature 30.2 really is not meant to be a headphone amplifier. We are developing a dedicated headphone amp for 2008!"