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Taking receipt I was surprised neither by the petite size, humble weight nor somewhat amateurish packing. All those were expected. What did surprise was the near zero-resistance volume control. In hindsight that should have been obvious. Initially it didn't inspire confidence. But I was no longer switching resistive contacts or dragging a wiper. Habit simply looked for a bit of tactile counter force. As it turned out, this control was an odd three-turn affair. It takes 1080° of twirling before it ever hits its stop. No shortage of possible attenuation values here. The first 360° are essentially wasted, below the noise floor of normal rooms and as such inaudible. I was even more surprised by the balance control. It's a geared twin-ring arrangement. Each 360° turn of the central knob advances the outer ring by one of 10 possible clicks. This makes for a mindblowing number of minuscule offsets. Even so everything is clearly numbered and finely calibrated with hairline markers to be perfectly repeatable. 0 on the inner control and 5 on the outer ring are the default setting. I'll be between 4 and 5 as the transition to 5 doesn't commence until one moves beyond zero.

The final surprise was the taped-together pack of four nude batteries (spare set included). Allan could have just as easily tucked those neatly inside his box I thought. But of course then you'd have to crack it open when the batteries eventually need replacement. A paper sticker 'opening voids warranty' strategically glued so you'll tear it shows that he really doesn't want you to go inside. The obvious solution would be a small belly opening behind a removable latch just big enough to replace the batteries when the power LED no longer lights up. That's where battery-power pros like Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio go the extra mile to tie up all loose ends. But Allan had his reasons (not that I necessarily found those very compelling).

"It was one of those design decisions. That LED will keep on shining even with low battery voltage and probably the 'squid is already struggling to provide the juice for the optos. Others were, externally it's easier to visually check, test or replace. It's a bit of additional conversation when someone sees it hooked up to alkalines. Some audiophiles feel much better seeing it hooked up to a chunkier battery like an SLA or LiFePo. And finally I didn't want to get a slightly bigger chassis which to me didn't come with the right proportions. Generally I recommend a 12V SLA battery, acquired locally with charger. If initially without one, the 9V was to get someone started when they receive the unit."

Gloves off
. To not mollycoddle the 'squid from the get—I still would have to later to sort out whether my usual 6-meter interconnect posed any audible performance impediments—I parked it in the Artesania Esoteric rack on the sidewall where all other preamps must set up. My customary FirstWatt SIT-1 monos were at 100KΩ to eliminate any potential impedance mismatch. Let me state right here that none of my own preamps all the way up to the €10.000 Esoteric C-03 complement the wickedly fast Nelson Pass amps as well as Sasa Cokic's one-up 'proof of concept' single-stage 101D which had me put in an order for the eventual EML 20A-based production version. What a premium direct-heated triode without driver dilution adds to the static induction transistors is temporal elasticity, space and textural elegance. The combination marries the best of solid and vacuum state. I didn't expect the Warpspeed to do that and it didn't.

The real question was, how would it differ, improve over or lose out against Burson's €940 Soloist with stepped discrete resistor attenuator; Bent Audio's ca. €2.000 Tap X with relay-switched autoformers; ModWright's $3.495 6SN7-based LS-100; and the Esoteric which, in zero-gain mode, is fully passive but runs i/o buffers on ±38V rails to introduce very different raw drive to the concept. I would be particularly critical of the 'squid's ability to handle lower playback levels at high attenuation.

Quad-core 27" iMac, Audirvana in Direct Mode, APL Hifi NWO-M with Audiophilleo 2 as source
Trafomatic Audio 101D preamp, Warpspeed, then C-03 beneath iMac, Tap X, LS-100

Before we start, a brief statement on personal head space about the general preamp subject to contextualize what follows. I presently view the preamp as the make-it/break-it component. On see-throughness (transparency), subjective depth of detail (resolution), ambient recovery (stage depth) and such, going source direct or passive sets the less-is-more bar for what's possible. But when it comes to tone mass, dynamic shove, textures and all the attributes the word 'body' conjures up, it's been my experience that an active goes farther. The very real challenge is finding one that adds just that—to the degree desired—whilst not subtracting anything from the direct/passive qualities. It's thus quite the tightrope act in pursuit of what I call incarnation factor when one comes from the lucid polarity. That flesh'n'blood term is pretty self-explanatory. Ghosts are see-through, physical beings take up space and block the light.

But overdoing those aspects steals from the transparency sector. If you know what the latter can offer in your setup, there isn't much wiggle room to build out body before there's a price to pay on transparency. Playing inside that narrow niche can get surprisingly costly and elusive. Doing one or the other—transparency vs body—is comparatively easy. Doing both without having one infringe on the other... that's the tricky and advanced business. Nearly invariably it entails short signal paths, overbuilt power supplies and discrete attenuation schemes. My goldenest solution thus far is Sasa Cokic's one-up single-stage direct-heated triode unit. But it's not perfect. The 101D is a microphonic tube which causes little noises during volume changes. There's no remote. And the 101D is a bit lightweight down low. That said this very big active tube preamp with valve regulation, stabilization and rectification fills out my narrow niche very compellingly without taking anything else away. At this game of gourmets, it's all about finesse, not quantity. With my Nelson Pass SIT monos being single-stage single-ended devices, the 101D/SIT combo makes for a basic 2-stage valve/transistor hybrid distributed over three chassis. Though it looks complex and takes some cabling, it's actually very simple. And that simplicity would seem to be key.