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"You should hear what Vinnie's 30.2 sounds like on my 35-year old Quads!" That was Gary Krakow, MSNBC.com's Emmy award-winning technology guy, cell phone addict, audiophile, ham radio operator and all-around gadget guru. "It's scary how good this little bugger is, ain't it?" I acknowledged in return. Gary didn't hesitate: "At first I thought holy shit! Then I thought, there's no noise. Then I thought - I must be hearing things. So, I pulled out every other amp in the house. Yup. It's really that good."


To anyone wondering how that's possible, Vinnie would reiterate what he told me: "Simple... the SLA batteries used in the Signature 30.2 have exceptionally low internal resistance and can
supply very high current when needed. How high? Let's just say that were you to accidentally short the +24V line to battery ground, you would see a big white flash and hear a loud pop and then realize that the wire in the path melted right off... poof! This is not something you want to try at home but it is very real and very powerful! When you have batteries with an internal resistance in the low milli-ohms, you can see how simple it is for 24V to push a few hundred amps through a wire during such an accidental short.


"Also, one must be aware that all home audio amplifiers run on DC voltage rails. Just about all of them input AC main power and require a mains transformer to step down the AC voltage (or step it up for the higher B+ of tubes). Next, this needs to be rectified (converted to DC) and diodes even or tube rectification are needed for that, followed by voltage regulation. This all chokes current delivery. Then it makes sense to see a lot of power supplies inside such amplifiers boasting large soda-can sized capacitors to store charge in order to compensate. Not to mention that even if you have pristine, noise-free 50 or 60Hz AC power (and it never is the case, even with the best line filters), there is still noise created inside the unit with the AC to DC conversion process by way of switching diodes. With the Signature 30.2 (as well as the 70.2 and upcoming Isabella), we use a direct connection to the battery (which is DC to begin with so there's no conversion process, no noise and no choking of current). "

For some corroboration from actual owners on what speakers this amp drives out in the real world, here are a few who e-mailed in. Geoff Armstrong is an audio dealer in Monaco who's "been a customer of Vinnie for some time, having tried his Clari-T, Modified Teac amp, iMod and the Signature 30. I have used the Signature 30.2 with the Podium Sound Model 1.0. This was in conjunction with my personal old DNM Series 3C preamp with the Six power supply. The gain on this preamp is pretty high and I seldom go beyond the 2:00 setting. At between 1:00 and 2:00 on the preamp and with the 30.2 at maximum, the Podiums are easily driven to satisfactory levels. This is in a 95 meter square space, which is roughly equally divided into two rooms, although each room opens out onto the other with only partial partitioning walls on either side. The ceiling is around 3.5 meters high. I have also tried the older Signature 30 with the Podiums with just Vinnie's iMod connected. In this case the volume needed to be at 12:00 but the iMod's output is known to be on the low side. With a more conventional source, the volume probably wouldn't need to go much beyond 8:45. I didn't have my SPL meter at hand in either case though I would guess I was averaging between 75 and 80dB since this is the level I'm normally comfortable with. I am familiar with the Signature 30 on the Podiums and to my ears the 30.2 is a significant improvement for the better with these speakers. The added warmth seems to be just what they need to
present instrumental timbres naturally and the combination results in a wonderful three-dimensional presentation. As a dealer, I have a wide selection of amplifiers which I am in the process of trying with the Podiums. However, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the 30.2 to my customers as being a great match with the Podiums - as well as being highly cost-effective."


Tom H. reports: "I have used this amplifier for about 35 days on 2 different speakers - Silverline 17.5 speakers, which are a 2-way 8-ohm loudspeaker of moderately high efficiency and Usher BE-718 Tiny Dancers which are also a 2-way 8-ohm impedance loudspeaker but only about 84dB efficient. With all the music I listen to -- primarily acoustic jazz but also classic rock such as Fleetwood Mac, the Moody Blues and Steely Dan to name just a few -- the 30.2 used in full integrated mode (without a preamplifier) has plenty of power to give me realistic playback volumes (which are loud but not ear-shattering). On the inefficient Ushers, I sometimes have the volume knob near 2:00 but it's rarely past 1:00 or so on the 17.5s. In neither case is volume capability an issue. It's just a matter of how high I need to place the volume knob (via remote). I should mention that my room is fairly small at 13" x 17" x 9" (with the speakers set about 4ft from the narrower wall and 2ft from the side walls) but it is a dedicated listening room without a television or furniture (other than my PolyCrystal equipment rack and a leather listening sofa) to interfere with the sound.


"Several weeks after purchasing the 30.2, I sent Vinnie an email telling him that I believed his amplifier was the finest amplifier I had heard on my speakers. To put this in some context, I purchased the 30.2 for a second, smaller system but initially used it in my main system where it temporarily displaced my Pass Labs X250.5 amplifier mated to an ARC LS26 preamplifier (I use a Cary PH302 phono preamp for vinyl). I could not get over the quality of sound reproduced by the RWA! I expected it to be "quiet" because of the use of a battery supply but I did not contemplate how much more relaxed, smooth and non-grainy the sound would be. And I certainly did not expect the bass reproduction to be that great at only 30 watts/channel but the 30.2 offers some of the most potent and well-defined bass of any amplifier I have heard. I am sure it would not drive 4-ohm behemoths as well as my Pass (or maybe it would?) but it sure sounded more potent on both the Silverlines and Ushers. Perhaps the best feature of the RWA amp is the warm, natural tone it reproduces. Voices sound human, not artificial, and brass has proper bite but also proper warmth. This amp just made me want to listen to music far more than other amplifiers I have owned and I am fairly jaded having owned amps from Cary, Audio Research (and still owning the Pass Labs amp).


"I told Vinnie that I believe the 30.2 to be special because it does three main things all very well at the same time:

1. Provides dead quiet operation, relaying a natural non-hifi sound without glare or harshness.
2. Really locks into the bass groove, providing an exciting underpinning to almost all music.
3. Conveys the natural warm tone I hear in live music.

Many amps I've owned do one or two of the above well. None I've had do all three as well as the 30.2. The fact that I need not mess with an extra interconnect to a preamp or with a power cords makes the RWA even more of a gem!"


Arriz H. has a room 14' x 20' x 9' and uses Compact Hemp speakers by Omega - 8-ohm, 96dB, with a wideband 8" driver. He runs a fully upgraded 30.2 without volume control with Rogue's Magnum 99, the latter set to 10:00. He previously owned a Rotel RB 1-80 and considered a Rogue Model 90 before deciding on the Red Wine Audio piece. Rich S.'s room is 14' x 16' x 7' and hosts Gallo's Ref 3.1s with SA amp on the second voice coil. He listens to 70 - 75dB, with peaks at 90 - 95dB, with the Sig 30 volume set between 12:00 and 2:30. "I have a very simple system and the sound is just wonderful. This combo has gotten me off the upgrade wheel (though I am tempted by the 30.2 but alas, I'm saving for two college educations). I have a laptop-based system, feeding a battery powered NOS DAC via USB. I have pondered getting a preamp to add a bit of gain but given my small room and low listening levels, I'm not sure it would improve things. I wonder about your reaction to this since I know you've listened to the Sig 30 and Gallos together."


Robin W.'s room is 16' x 16' with a sloping ceiling and his speakers are Robyatt Audio The Ridge (a 5" Jordan widebander at 94dB). Previous amps were 47Labs GainCard, Tektron 211s and Tektron ECL800. "Fantastic with the 30.2 with lots of tuneful deep bass, wide soundstage and incredible coherent detail. No compression of the music envelope. Enough gain to kill the cat." Marshall T. is a "professional woodwind player playing classical music and teaching wind musicians on the university level. Tone and clarity are probably my primary sonic priorities. I spend my professional life listening to live music and much of my free time listening to recorded music, mostly small-group jazz and classical. I find the combination of my (upgraded) Sig 30.2 and the Compact Hemps extremely satisfying and very difficult to stop listening to at night. The sound is clear and revealing, never ascetic or analytic, warm w/out cloudiness or fuzziness. All in all, a beautifully balanced and synergistic combination. The only future change I might consider making (other than minor tweaks) would be the addition of Vinnie's upcoming Isabella tube preamp w/DAC." Marshall's room is 15' x 18' x 8' and his speakers are the Omega Compact Hemps at 8-ohm 96dB, ported single-driver stand mounts augmented by an ACI Force XL subwoofer. He listens at moderately loud to loud levels and the 30.2's control sits at 12:00 without a preamp. Amps he previously owned include the Sonic Impact Super T and various vintage integrateds.


The mention of Usher's 84dB Tiny Dancers was the most intiguing to me. It suggested that my jaw-dropping experience of the Signature 30.2 driving the proverbial piss out of my 82.5dB 4-ohm Mark & Daniel Maximus Ruby (with the help of ModWright's LS-36.5 preamp) wasn't an isolated fluke. The bass I'd gotten was better damped and controlled than the 180-watt Abbingdon Music Research AM-77 hybrid managed. These compact SLA batteries clearly do current just as claimed. In a 16' x 20' room, most all high-performance 2-way monitors should probably be well within their grasp.


About the improved sonics of what already was a very good amp -- as in, where was the design headroom left to squeeze out so much more from the same basic circuit -- Vinnie naturally has an opinion: "The input capacitor certainly has a strong influence on the sound but the strongest on the 30.2's sonics is the redesigned output filter stage. It is radically different than that of the Sig 30 or any other Tripath-based amp you will come across. It is a new design with different parts, different filtering characteristics, point-to-point wiring etc. However, the music reproduced by the 30.2 is really the carefully selected synergy of all components, including the SLA battery power and power supply decoupling cap and bypass caps, the entire input stage and output stage and their components, even the internal wiring and routing of the wiring (especially the hard-wiring and routing of the speaker wires from the output stage components directly to the speaker posts). I can't even begin to tell you how many hours of playing with so many different parts it took until I found the Signature 30.2 sound that I was hunting for."


With all of that said, it's still rudely upsetting how this small and circuit-wise basically empty and cool-running box mixes it up with the hot-running, heavy boxes loaded with parts and, on the right kind of speakers, stomps 'em except for ultimate power output. I had six different tube amps, six solid-staters on hand. The Red Wine amp wasn't embarrassed by any of 'em, beat most of them and hung tight with my two faves -- Yamamoto A-08S, First Watt F4s -- by offering a distinctive, equally attractive but warmer take on the tunes, simultaneously dishing out more current and bass linearity than the 45 SET and real gain compared to the zero-watt champs to make it the most universal of these three.


To summarily detail out 30.2 sonics now that raw drive had been assessed, I assembled a fine test system: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime direct into FirstWatt F4 into 98dB Rethm Saadhanas. Without any voltage gain in that amplifier whatsoever, the speakers' sensitivity creates all desired amplitudes from below source unity gain. For the rare disc recorded low, the Lektor Prime's 7V max output would provide all the necessary headroom. The combination of low-mass cones, extreme magnet strength and short throw on the -- heavily modified -- Lowther DX55s with the brilliant S/N ratio and transparency of the class A zero NFB Nelson Pass amp guarantees track-the-microbes resolution. From all possible candidates on my hands, this component combination shows up the mostest and deepest to let me assess how the Red Wine's already reported warmth would affect ultimate micro detail particularly with ambient recovery. Or not. (By the way, did I mention how the new recharge circuit is a lot speedier than the old one? Red Wine does say 4 times faster but to really appreciate what that means, I had to see it in action. Very good. Equally good was to find that ModWright's remote for its LS-36.5 also works on the 30.2, its +/- volume commands fulfilling the same functions.)


Both 30.2 and F4 throw phenomenal depth but the F4 illuminates the farthest recesses. This includes broader lateral bursts when overtone spray briefly illuminates space around whatever instrument caused it. Where by comparison the 30.2 is a bit more elevated in the mid bass, the F4's fundamentals below the first bass harmonic are somewhat heavier. The F4's treble is more lit up to stretch out perceivable decay trails. The 30.2's vocal band is meatier and denser. The upshot of these differences -- minor enough to be brothers from the same mother -- is that in the final analysis, the F4 is the more preternaturally resolved ("extreme resolution coupled to deep relaxation" is how its review put it) while the 30.2 is fleshier. If that warmth disguises infinitesimally small signal flickers, they're .. well, very small. In general parlance, the 30.2 belongs into the very resolved category, the F4 into the ultra resolved. Depending on recording quality, this distinction evaporates. On very good recordings like M.A. which major on audible space, the F4 tracks tonal fades and harmonic auras with even greater vigor for venue recreation that overlays even stronger on your own. On flatter brighter recordings, the F4 will turn leaner sooner while the 30.2's warmth factor hangs around a bit longer before it too can't hide mastering defects.


Most relevant about this comparison was understanding that Vinnie's deliberate voicing for warmth won't gloss over the fine lines in favor of the big gesture. His machine reads all the small print. Where listening focus with the F4 could be on dimensionality for extreme "inter-note distances" that create space between things to listen deep into the cracks, the 30.2 invites our focus on tone and density. It's a fine distinction to be sure, nothing major.


Yamamoto's A-08S develops a bit more from-within tone pressures. This is most easily spotted on voices, far harder to explain properly. Otherwise, the 45 SET joins the F4 in being leaner than the 30.2 (or the latter warmer depending on where one assigns neutral, zero or the central divide). Yet the direct-heated triodes treat transients more similar to the 30.2, meaning just a touch softer. Curiously enough but obvious when I consider how they're my three favorites, these amps are all close variations on one sonic theme. As an aside and with the EML solid-plate bottles, the Yamamoto is the spiciest in the lower treble, speaking volumes of the work that has gone into both of these transistor amps. As always, context is important. In this case, the speakers were highly sensitive, with active bass systems. Change speaker recipe and the Yamamoto's micro power has it bail in a hurry. Change it once more to drop much below 90dB and the FirstWatt will soon refuse to play loud enough unless your preamp sports oodles of voltage swing and gain. Of the three, the Signature 30.2 clearly has the most widespread appeal.


How much more magic can be squeezed from the 30.2 with a tube preamp? Because Vinnie's Isabella is on the books for review, that question will best be answered in a comparative context that includes Red Wine Audio's own take on the valve pre art. Reserving this for a separate date also avoids unnecessary double dealing. Just as pertinent is the fact that all of the above stands without preamp additions. Entering the preamp equation now should only confuse the issue that as is -- with motor-driven DACT passive attenuator -- the Signature 30.2 is the bomb. It's the rare solid-state amp that'll satisfy most tube lovers while giving tube detractors one more reason not to bother with the whole genre.


With many amps in 10-fold excess of its own power sporting 26dB of gain, i.e. slightly less than the 30.2's own 30dB, this 30-watter acts far bigger than it looks on paper. Surely its current delivery contributes heftily to this picture. This machine will likely have to live down certain assumptions given its class D heart. Many equate the whole genre with hyper-realistic but cool and aloof presentations. The 30.2 has nothing whatever in common with those. If your speakers aren't power hogs, the 30.2 will nearly guarantee better sound than far more expensive behemoth amps. In keeping with Bryston's rule which says that for a given power rating, muscle sand amps tend to perform best at and above 1/3rd their rated output; and keeping in mind that a 90dB speaker in a 14' x 20' room needs no amplifier voltage gain if the preamp can swing 20 volts; Red Wine Audio's modest power rating really means "plenty sufficient" for more people than will want to believe it.

Sonics in a nutshell
The Signature 30.2 has a very strong mid to upper bass which conveys music's sense of power. The soundstage tends to be far behind the speaker and layered just like tube amps do it. The amp majors on physicality by combining warmth and mass. The uppermost and naturally most subdued harmonics aren't completely resolved which contributes to those qualities. Resolution is high but natural - high because of ultra-low noise floor, natural because there is no treble prominence or transient etch. Focus and localization are very good without relying on oversharpened image
outlines. Drive is bloody stupendous. What the 30.2 might do with really big woofers, low impedances and raw phase angles remains for others to report who own such beastly speakers.


Dynamics are excellent as is speed but the latter quality is less overt because of image density and tonal warmth. Dimensionality lacks extreme holography because of the somewhat soft uppermost treble but the good layering renders a very big stage. It's simply not lit by spots to jack up the contrast ratio. Some urban myths -- rumblings, rumors -- have it that the Tripath chip degrades in sonic quality with play as its operational temperature goes up. "Watch closely. After two or three hours, the amp won't sound as good anymore." I did. Listen closely. I heard nothing of the sort. Hence urban myth. Next. Class D amps screw up the treble. Count me among those who'd agree. While, as reported, the 30.2 doesn't light up the heavens as the F4 does, compared to the textures and gestalt of Emission Labs 45 triodes, you'd have nothing to complain about. Another slain myth. Next. Batteries are fine for phono stages and perhaps preamps but not power amps. That one is so ridiculous where Red Wine Audio amps are concerned that detractors really have to try harder to - um, blacken their face plates. There is a reverse myth which claims that only off-the-grid battery power can create 30.2-type S/N ratios. That's not true. As stated earlier, the F4 exceeds the 30.2 by a small margin in magnification power - which happens to be directly proportionate to noise floor. While off-the-gridders may claim all manner of smarts, mobile convenience and ability to enjoy tunes during power-utility blackouts, pretending that outrageously low S/N ratios can only be achieved their way just ain't so.


30 + 2 = 60
Enthusiasm is infectious - and you can't fake either enthusiasm or infections. It should be plenty obvious how smitten I am with Vinnie's latest. With FirstWatt's F4 dethroning its F3 sibling in my digs; and the 30.2 dispatching the 30 in my esteem; and the Yamamoto keeping the faith for micro-power SETs; Red Wine Audio's Signature 30.2 is one of my three favorite amps regardless of class or output devices. As Gary Krakow said earlier: "Yup, it's really that good." Priced at $1,399 at the time, the Signature 30 predecessor won our Realsization award. At $2,500, the Signature 30.2 gains features and build quality. More importantly, it sonically goes well beyond its own first incarnation to have turned into a bona fide ultrafi amp that'll upset equilibrium in the upper ranks of overpriced eye candy for those who pay attention and evaluate with their ears. A Lunar Eclipse Award is in order, the only fourth one in our 5+ years of operation.



If this award carried hidden small print, it'd say cheekily (or cockily) under your jeweler's loup: "Don't bother designing more expensive amplifiers unless you can make them demonstrably better". There's always better of course. Sometimes it's just around the corner in fact. The question, today, is simply how much more it'll have to cost. Some will feel compelled to follow that question to its illogical conclusion. Others should feel relieved that they won't have to. With Red Wine Audio's Signature 30.2, it's game over for them: Sit Down and Listen as my wife's painting admonishes me (that's really what it says - her light painted text simply didn't photograph properly to have me repaint it in Photoshop). If you must fret about the greener grass over yonder, stay tuned for the follow-up report on the companion battery-powered Isabella tube preamp...

Quality of packing: Oversized box with serious internal padding.
Reusability of packing: More or less indefinitely.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Universal battery charger, owner's manual.
Quality of owner's manual: Excellent.
Ease of assembly: None required. Eventual battery replacement only requires removal of top cover and battery brackets.
Website comments: Very informative and easy to navigate. Includes link to owner's forum.
Warranty: 5 years.
Human interactions: Prompt and professional.
Global distribution: Factory direct from the US, with a growing distributor network overseas.
Pricing: For the performance on tap, surprisingly low. You really could spend four times as much and get less.
Final comments & suggestions: On my loaner, mute (the lowest attenuator position) bleeds very attenuated signal through the right channel. Advancing from mute to the first click creates a small transient both by remote or hand. All other steps merely telegraph a small mechanical click from the stepper motor. Because I'm personally fond of silver enclosures, an optional brushed aluminum finish could be appealing. No further suggestions, this is a mature and well thought-out product.
Manufacturer's website