Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, Questyle QP1R
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVC module), COS Engineering D1
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan], Wyred4Sound SX-1000R [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Sounddeco Sigma 2; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence, Rethm Bhaava [on loan]
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan], Black Cat Cable red level Lupo
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s + sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Rectangular 5.5 x 15 metres with double-high gabled ceiling and stone-over-concrete flooring
Review component retail: $2'750 as reviewed

Renderings: three fascia colours, three chassis stains and gloss or matte finishing make up the cosmetic buyer options.

The product looked very tasty indeed. Alas, being attached to a KickStarter crowd funding campaign meant that the dastardly rule of our Germanic boss meant we couldn't announce it on our news page. Designer Martin Bell responded from Auckland/New Zealand. "Thanks for your note. Great to hear from you. I'm a long-time admirer of 6moons and your writing. I completely understand your editorial policy around coverage of putative Kickstarter campaigns. It has the potential to be a Pandora's box best left unopened." Exactly.

"In regards to your question about channel matching and achieving a linear response across the audio band, there's no doubt that accurate channel matching has long been a bugbear of LDR-based designs. Our Java approach differs to other LDR-based designs currently available, such as those from Tortuga and Lightspeed. To start with, we use high-quality NSL32SR3 from Advanced Photonix/Canada. Extensive testing and trial and error have shown these to be the best-quality LDR available for audio applications. Their electrical characteristics and reliability are very consistent compared to alternatives. The Java circuit then uses current trimming to further balance each channel, resulting in outstanding channel matching of typically <1% variation.

"This 'current trimming' implementation is unique to our design. The anode and cathode of the LED of the LDR is employed in a closed high-impedance circuit separate from earth. By comparison, most other LDR products have a resistor and capacitor in parallel to earth, resulting in those components always competing with each other. Another approach is that employed by Tortuga Audio who use sampling to adjust L/R channel balance on the fly. It's a valid but quite complex approach. By comparison, the Java's all-analog closed circuit approach is inherently simpler. A nervous time awaits to see whether we hit our NZ$40'000 (US$27'000) funding goal!" The reader familiar with hifi abbreviations has already made the connection. LDR means light-dependent resistor which means volume control. That means preamp, likely passive given the named competitors. Just so. Available in three flavours, our Kiwi Java comes with 3:1 RCA i/o; or with 5:2 RCA i/o + ¼" headfi socket; and finally, with 3:1 RCA i/o + 2:1 XLR i/o + ¼". In true barista fashion, those variants go by single, double and triple shot. The two hi-caffeine units add remote control whilst the single is the no-frills sort to save coin on creature conveniences. But the option menu doesn't stop there. The high-gloss acrylic front can be black, red or white. A limited edition of 10 even goes with solid copper, engraved and numbered for proper collector's status. Finally the horizontally stacked Birch ply chassis is available au nature under high gloss; or in a waxed dark stain to suggest Walnut. In all cases the logo is a copper inlay along the top's front edge. As I said, very tasty indeed.

The only confusion might arise from the company byline less wire, more gain. As a pure passive, gain really doesn't factor. "Our byline is an attempted audio-geek play on words. As you're no doubt aware, many years ago Peter J Walker of Quad fame was quoted as saying that the perfect preamplifier would be "a straight wire with gain". Because the Java uses LDR technology, it does away with much of the wire and complicated circuitry found in a conventional preamp. However, as you rightly point out, as a passive device, it offers no gain in the conventional sense. Rather, the Java achieves a quantum leap forward in sound quality. Hence less wire, more gain..."

Early worm pricing on KickStarter ran from $1'210-$1'850 American, with the middle unit $1'650. Post fundraiser, this would increase significantly. Specs would be bandwidth of 20Hz-50kHz, unity gain Z-out of 100Ω/1kHz, THD as 0.03%/1.8V and average SN/R as a proudly high 120dB.

The thinking reader already made another connection. This review would have never materialized had Martin Bell not secured his KickStarter ask. Up to a day prior to campaign end, it looked touchy indeed, being still $10'000 short of the mark. Yet when I checked back with just 11 hours on the clock, the early sponsors—or a strategic last-minute self-funding injection by team Java—had green-lighted the project, moving the commitment tally past the $40'000 break-or-make point.

The right half of the composite Kickstarter page above shows the roll-out of models as anticipated during the campaign, with a 75-day lead time expected for the single/twin output units, 105 days for the XLR version. Having turned quasi participant by publishing a preview in the early stage of the Kickstarter campaign, I was curious on actual roll-out for how close Java would come to their commitment once funds were secured. I put my name down on a Double Shot review loaner.

By December 8th, my inbox had this update: "As noted in your preview, in July we hit our Kickstarter goal, raising just shy of $50'000. The final 48 hours of the campaign were a white-knuckle ride as I tried my darndest to convince interested parties to take the plunge. Thankfully it worked, with a final surge of orders taking us to 120% of our funding goal. Since then we have geared up for production, making final tweaks to the design, ordering parts from our global network of suppliers and, more recently, ripping into manufacture of the initial production run. It's been a frantic six months. On Monday, December 19th, we begin dispatch of first production units to our Kickstarter backers." About the remote control, "its housing is 3D printed in alumide to match the front panel knobs and feet (an aluminium/nylon composite - Ed)." About the headphone circuit and XLR i/o, I suspected a current buffer and quad LDR array respectively and Martin confirmed that as "pretty much bang on" but would supply more specifics in the New Year.
Renderings: cosmetics by Martin Bell and Shane Inder, head of industrial design at AUT University/Auckland. Circuit design by Chris Daly.
Actual production unit below.

... stay tuned for the continuation in March...

Java Hifi website