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Reader David Deboys' email under the header audioprojekte CA10 conundrum expressed a common misunderstanding: "...I was sufficiently intrigued especially by reactions on a German forum to acquire a CA10 which happened to come up second hand. I'm puzzled. On paper it is far less powerful than my FirstWatt F3 but in fact it is much much louder. Herein lies the conundrum. To be sure, the two contributors to the German forum who described the sound as "Durchhörbarkeit"—transparency, Ed—were absolutely correct. But whereas with the F3 I can sensibly use the volume control on the Music First passive preamp, effectively I cannot with the CA10. I have to have the volume turned down to the first quarter on my 94dB Living Voice 94dB speakers and there is almost no flexibility.

"One of the great joys of the FirstWatt is the ability to incrementally reduce the volume without losing the music. This is absolutely not the case with the CA10. On the other hand if one can put up with this lack of control and the 'in your face' projection—forward is too mild a word—then undoubtedly music will be reproduced in a memorable way. If the F3 induces foot tapping, the CA10 does more so. There is a satisfying richness to the timbre which is in a different class to the F3. And I've never heard high piano notes sound so liquid. But it was actually a relief to go back to the FirstWatt tonight after 48 hours of the CA10. Any comments?"

Output watts and amplification factor often confuse people. The CA10 has 24dB of gain, the F3 12.75dB - one "heckuva difference" as David realized when pointed in the right direction. To compensate given his already passive preamp, he'd need a lower-gain source. Without built-in gain trim facility at the source—some DACs like my Weiss have analog trim pots for example—he'd have to install a voltage divider on the amp's input to lower its gain. David then remembered some in-line Rothwell attenuators.

He dug them up from his hifi rummage box and "that same beautiful liquidity of piano sound is there and the rich rich tonal colors but now with proper volume control range. Are the Rothwells  diminishing the extraordinary dynamics of the CA10 ever so slightly? That would be hard to assess but the quality of music being made is very special. Maybe Ralph succeeded in creating a really musical amplifier that transcends the usual hifi categories?"

As the insides show—the top cover with its two strengthening lips on either long edge comes off with just four bolts—the amp is very simple. One compact potted toroid, two soda-can capacitors linked by copper bridge and the output boards mounted laterally to the heat sinks are it.

Construction is stout, workmanship clean, sex appeal on par with FirstWatt. Eyecandy shoppers will go to d'Agostino & Co.