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Reviewer: Mike Smith
Digital source: Rega Planet slaved to LessLoss 2004 DAC
Preamp: Lamm LL2 Deluxe
Power amp: Red Wine Audio Signature 70.2 monos, Yamamoto A-08S, Crown K2 for bass array
Speakers: Zu Audio Definition Pro
Speaker cables, interconnects & digital cables: Various Zu Audio cables
Power cords: Zu Audio
Powerline conditioning: n/a
Sundry accessories: n/a
Room size: Finished and carpeted basement, 26' x 17', 9-foot ceilings. Several doorways and acoustic 'ventilation' features. Moderate room treatments.
Review component retail: $1,000/pr to $2,000/pr depending on upgrade trim package chosen
|Would I like to review the newly upgraded Signature 70 amplifiers? Sure! I own the originals after all. Let's see how the new ones differ. Red Wine Audio's press release, pilfered from their website, explains it:
In October 2007, we discontinued our award-winning and highly successful Signature 70 monoblock amplifiers and replaced them with the new, improved and refined Signature 70.2 monoblock amplifiers.
Upgrade options for Signature 70 owners converting to the Signature 70.2
To all our loyal Signature 70 customers who are interested in the new Signature 70.2, we are pleased to offer to you a couple of upgrade options:
1) "The Partial Upgrade" - This consists of performing all of the modifications to the Signature 70 amplifier board to convert it to the new Signature 70.2 amplifier board, as well as the new hard-wiring of the speaker outputs directly to the new point-to-point wired output filter components. This upgrade also includes the installation of the new input signal capacitor. After this upgrade, your Signature 70 monoblock amplifiers will sound identical to the new Signature 70.2 monoblock amplifiers.
After the Full-Package Upgrade, your Signature 70 monoblocks will be fully converted to the Signature 70.2 monoblocks.
Please note the following:
Signature 70 upgrade pricing information
|A brief history of time, Tripath, Red Wine and me:
2000 - Bel Canto begins to incorporate Tripath commercially with a number of well-reviewed pieces.
September 2004 - 6moons reviews of the Sonic Impact T-Amp.
November 2004 - First Red Wine Audio Clari-T amplifier born.
January 2005 - TNT article/review appears on the Sonic Impact T-amp, 6 watts of Tripath power using the TA-2024 amplifier chip. Housed in plastic, it is touted as a "true giant killer and "stunning".
February 2005 - I receive my first Clari-T.
May 2005 - I receive a hopped-up (modded?) dual-mono Clari-T.
June 2006 - First Red Wine Audio Signature 30 amps start shipping, followed by 70s in Nov/Dec.
December 2006 - I receive an early production set of 70s.
September/October 2007 - Signature 30.2 and 70.2 upgrades become available, including mine.
This is conspicuously rapid advancement. Srajan has penned another Signature point two introduction here.
It's a funny sensation opening a package which has been sent away for upgrading and returns looking exactly as it left (that's because I opted for the partial upgrade). I'm not one to salivate over glitz but even so, I am a visual creature. Upgrading should include some kind of gold knob or faceplate or new jacks or something to indicate that Great Things Have Taken Place Here. Oh wait, there are new, beefier rubber feet that stack more easily. The old ones were small, stick-on affairs that allowed the front plates of the stacked monos to clunk together. This was one of my few if minor complaints about the originals.
Okay, so we do have bling after all. The Signature 70 amplifiers and their smaller 30 brethren separated themselves with uncommonly positive praise from reviewers formal and informal alike. A few quotes from our commander in chief on the Signature 30: "...Plainly put, I predict that Mr. Rossi will be a busy man filling orders on the Signature 30. Outside of ultimate power, his latest is quite an 'ultimate' achievement. This modestly priced, single-input integrated amplifier (an external input switcher will be available) runs with the big dogs and puts many of them to shame..."
"The Signature 30 does detail amazingly well. This you can confirm when you go looking for it. You'll spot tiny little shadows behind a singer's voice for example or ultra-low "tape hiss" you may not have noticed before. However, the amp never prompts any "Eureka, what an overabundance of information" reaction. Due to its phenomenally low noise floor, it's got all the details in its back pocket. But that's where they stay, not thrust at you to dazzle and blind. It's a very mature balancing act which Vinnie has somehow stumbled on. It dances happily between warmth and energy, resolution and musicality..."
"Who would have thought that the Sonic Impact T-amp concept hid this kind of potential in its little digital power processing heart? The Signature 30 is a true breakthrough... This is one of the three best transistor amps I've heard yet ...". Full review here.
These words are concise. The original Signature amplifiers are/were phenomenally understated. Eminently smooth yet explosive, they were an instant underground thunderbolt as the Sonic Impact and Clari-T had been before. In my system, the Signature 70s and Yamamoto A-08S have alternated assignments. Because my preamplifier donates much tube sound, I probably spend more time with the Signatures. In my year of ownership, I have never found the Signature 70 amplifiers guilty of any mechanical additions nor unnatural twisting.
These amps populated my "bury 'em with me" list along with the Zu Definition Pros. The speakers are gone and due for imminent replacement by the Definition 2s. It seems life and audio march on. Who am I to be proud? Audiophiles revise their systems. Part of that pursuit is defined by the successes and failures our dollars have reaped. Why can't we leave well enough alone when something works? As my 5-year-old would say, "it's how we're made, dad". I'd wager every serious audiophile in his or her past has at least one colossal example each of a thunderbolt and a stinker. Over time, we become conditioned to be at once eminently hopeful and cynical. It's like the flight of the bumblebee. It makes no sense to us yet fly the bee does. And obsess we do for all our own good reasons. I just heard of a fellow who bought five late-model Vandersteens at a garage sale for $500. This has to be the steal of the decade. Something like that can fuel the fire for a long time.
There's a guilty but deliberate path winding along here - if synergy has been achieved, it can be fleeting. Sending a keystone away for reconstruction is a dangerous thought. What did I expect sending something away that was already excellent? Honestly, I didn't know. There are some guys I'll go "holy roller" with and Vinnie's one of 'em. If he says hallelujah, I look where he's pointing to.
|Primary Audio Dogma - Thou shalt not hear your sound lest it be possessed by demons
To some degree I subscribe to this tenet. The initial prickles grate sores in time. Burning passion flames out but smoldering love endures. Said another way, splashy cymbals become spinning drill bits aimed at the temples. "All that bass" drowns out other, potentially important sounds that could be present on favorite CDs.
I have built a system aligned with Jeff Day's sensibilities expressed in his musicality piece. Each piece in this system has been selected for its ability to toe the edge of detail and resolution without tipping into mush or Danny Kaey's new favorite term - pixel peeping.
|My two primary amplifiers, the Yamamoto A-08s and Red Wine Audio Signature 70s, while different, both fit wholly into this idea. They do not contribute an obvious fingerprint - perfect, that.|
|I loved my Signature 70 amplifiers and honestly have never wanted anything more than they could give. But their successors have given more and by no small measure.
I immediately noticed things with the 70.2s. I know this is wrong but I went with it. The first conspicuous focus was at the tailing ends of notes. I found myself zooming in continually further, trying to find that electronic departure from the physical note.
Or . . .
Imagine the cleanest mountain stream water ever to pass lips. As it departs the mouth, it is nearly impossible to identify the moment at which it is truly gone. Afterward, there is a definite hole but retracing steps cannot identify precisely when presence became absence. There is no aftertaste.
Maybe . . .
Numerically, it would be a fraction continually dividing. The absolute value continually decreases logarithmically but never becomes zero. Of course, at some point the number is so small as to emulate zero but where? Focus can extend the moment a bit further but soon thereafter it is gone again.
Imagine . . .
Wondrous flavor saturating completely on the tongue - complete dissolution, cleanly into bliss - the true moment of departure slips away.
Reverse . . .
Collisions between drum sticks and heads do not crack as lightning. Slowing down, the stick flexes the drumhead in dynamic but rapid action. The resulting concussion develops not as a hammer hitting an anvil but something meaningfully softer.
Manifest . . .
Describing 'best' or 'great' or any lofty descriptor will prove wrong in time. It's guaranteed by the hardworking engineers who provide us with all this cool stuff. In most disciplines, a hack who waffles every six months is castigated as a fool. It's more accepted by observers in audio as a byproduct of technology's continual advance.
What does this all mean? The Red Wine Audio Signature 70 amplifiers were fantastic. I happily split time with them and a phenomenal 45 SET amp. The words 'mechanical', 'digital' and 'unnatural' never crossed my mind. They produced no fatigue in the longest listening sessions and my Big Three -- coherence, tone and dynamics -- were served properly. It was a mature product.
However, the concepts above never occurred to me in tangible ways. The 70.2 amplifiers literally spotlight these areas now to really be everywhere. Music is transitory, there are no stable tones. Burst and decline intertwine. Without tonal endowments common to tubes, the 70.2 amplifiers glide like ice on ice. Their tonal excellence is well documented and remains yet accelerated relaxation has increased. The obvious new skills increase relaxation and resolution in parallel - a neat trick.
With reproduced music, the brain works to fill elements of reproduced performance with varying results. Sometimes real improvement is marked by release of mental tension not previously recognized or acknowledged. The upgraded amplifiers are more relaxed and saturated.
The new voice isn't more tube but it is a magnification of the old sound which was liquid and tube-like everywhere except in the third dimension which still seems to be the valves' sole province. The 70.2s' macro-dynamic capability has not diminished but lesser shadings are further developed for expanded realism on top of an already exemplary platform.
The Signature 70.2 partial upgrade at $1,000 seems like a guaranteed winner. I cannot imagine anyone smitten with the originals who wouldn't realize a predictable increase in sound quality without downsides. As opposed to spending that money elsewhere in hopes of achieving superior sound, this one's a given. In that light, it seems like a tremendous value. At half the price, the 30.2 upgrade would seem even more of a no-brainer.
The full upgrade at twice the price loses volume attenuation but a slick recharging scheme is added, along with better on/off controls, better connectors and arguably better aesthetics. In this guise, the updated versions become identical to current production. Already owning the original amplifiers, this may prove to be the best expenditure of funds.
The new 70.2 amplifiers will set the world on fire. Again. The upgradeable platform is commendable and that great Tripath sound keeps improving. Its recent trajectory is astonishing and the .2 upgrade is as big a step forward as any so far.
Congratulations, Vinnie. You have another winner.
|Quality of packing: Very good - heavy duty cardboard with custom, stiff foam inserts.
Reusability of packing: A few trips probably.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Cake.
Condition of component received: Identical to when sent.
Completeness of delivery: Amps go, amps return... complete.
Quality of owner's manual: Same as originals, i.e. adequate (there now is a new and improved one).
Website comments: Reasonably complete.
Warranty: 5 years, just like on the original unit.
Global distribution: Direct from Red Wine Audio in Connecticut but expanding, with dealers being added.
Human interactions: With the owner exclusively - thus customer service is excellent.
Pricing: $500/amp for Signature 30 upgrade or 70 partial upgrade, $1,000/amp for complete upgrade, all exclusive return shipping.
Application conditions: 40wpc into 8 ohms mandates appropriate speaker matching.
Final comments & suggestions: A wholly worthy upgrade of an already award-winning product.