This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; PrimaLuna Prologue 3 [on review]
Amp: First Watt F-1; First Watt F-2 [on review]; Prima Luna Prologue 5 [on review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Druid Mk4; Zu Cable Method [on review]; Zu Cable Definition [on review]
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Zu Cable Gede to subwoofer, Zu Cable Ibis, Zu Cable Birth on sub; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $1,200 in standard version pictured on this page; $1,800 ($3,000/pr) for SE

As a matter of personal life style, I don't get expensive watches. However, I do get that other folks don't get our audiophile perspective and collective willingness either, to invest deeply into a hobby that to outsiders seems unworthy of our strange fawning obsession. When my last Casio time piece finally gave up its ghost, I splurged on a $200 analog/digital Elgin watch. It had date and day at a glance nestled into an analog display, multiple alarms, countdown timer, stop watch and all the usual digital modes you can get in a $30 watch. It had an all-metal casing, metal strap, was built very well and looked good. There. That's how far I felt comfortable taking the watch thang but I knew I'd already spent more money than was really necessary.

There's something else I don't get. I don't get that our industry has done such a shoddy job of penetrating mass consciousness that we do not have a universally recognized luxury audio brand name on par with Rolex. I'd never buy a Rolex. But I bloody well know the brand name. So does most anyone you'd stop on the street even if 90% of them would never buy a Rolex. When asked why he named his puny statement chip amp the Patek, designer Peter Daniel replied: "47labs has already built the Rolex of chip amps with their famous GainCard. I wanted to build the Patek equivalent."

It's testament to globally perceived excellence and brand building that Daniel's answer makes perfect sense even if you've never laid eyes on a Patek Philippe watch from Geneva, much less could justify ever purchasing one. Now that we know what the Patek amp aims for, who is its designer? Like many others, Peter Daniel really got the whole concept of miniaturization and Zen elegance embodied in Kimura-San's GainCard when it first hit the market. In the burgeoning GainClone underground scene that followed, Daniel soon made a name for himself by tirelessly participating in the DIY forums and sharing his own gaincloning exploits which from the beginning were backed up by a solid understanding of -- and fascination with -- the mechanical engineering skills he had honed at Boeing.

Under the Audiosector brand, Daniel has long since sold chip amp kits to DIYers at prices that indicate he's a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast rather than greedy business man. Looking at the execution of the Patek (base copper chassis of my personal amp with aluminum dress plates, stained/damped maple boards and Bubinga cheeks above, outboard power supply not pictured), it immediately becomes apparent that Peter is a craftsman who doesn't overlook even the tiniest of details. That becomes important with the chip-amp concept. It relies on a National Semiconductor op-amp as the core of the amplification circuit and requires a minimum of auxiliary parts. This intrinsic minimalism means that parts choices, layout, execution and mechanical tuning assume ever graver responsibilities. The less constituents make up a design's 100%, the more important each one's contribution becomes

It's in this arena of nearly maniacal tweaking that Peter Daniel has perhaps taken the whole concept farther than anyone else. Limited to about forty 8-ohm watts and not unconditionally happy into punishing impedances and gnarly loads, the two chips Daniels prefers to work with are the LM3875 and LM4780. I had heard iterations under the 47Labs and Audio Zone banners and to this day think of the Shigaraki and AMP-1 as two of my all-time favorite transistor amps. Naturally, you've got to have appropriate speakers and not insane humdingers requiring arc-welding power stations to come on song but that's common sense and par for this particular course.

Parts directionality, denuding resistors and caps, thermal behavior, mechanical grounding - you name it, Daniel's hip to it all and already 10 steps ahead of you. So when the time came to think of a reference but affordable solid-state amplifier for my Zu Druids, Peter became my obvious go-to destination. The $1,200 Patek amp shown on his website as "coming soon" -- and being an obnoxious fella myself -- I managed to pester Peter into making the first production unit for me. What you see at left is the amp, specifically the main parts bolted to the central solid copper block that acts as a mechanical and thermal sink.

The winged capacitors have their ends encapsulated by bored-out wells in the inner side walls. Those are not yet visible in the above photo but down below. Can you say wicked? The Patek is a rare thing of beauty if you appreciate craftsmanship and the elegance of extreme simplicity. For a convicted tube maniac to go solid-state naturally means nothing if the sonics don't measure up. A pragmatist doesn't expect hollow-state cloning. It's a given that certain performance aspects will differ. The question is, can a non-valve amplifier achieve equal listening pleasure if you're triggered by warmth, dynamics and image density? If you're not adding bloom and the last word of dimensionality into your wish list and ask me? I'd give you a loud and resounding "Yes!". The chip-amp route is tailor-made for our kind of listening and also turns the table on tubes in the bass and drive department. You get more quality power for less money than with tubes and no noisefloor issues which can bedevil thermionic amps either as a function of circuitry, tube rush, tube aging or all of those factors combined.

Am I seriously suggesting that the tiny Patek stereo amp could be a statement-caliber contender for all of $1,200? Well, that's exactly why I ordered one sight unseen and fully prepared to pony up for it prior to shipping just as any customer would. Alas, reviewer status sometimes means we're accorded certain privileges without ever asking. "Try it out first and if you don't really like it, you can send it back," is how Mr. Daniel turned the tables on me. Not only that, he went the extra mile to make both front and back plate of solid copper, dressed on the outsides with a thin panel of aluminum to prevent visible oxidation. He e-mailed me the upper under-
construction chassis pix as part of his progress report (these lower ones are of the first-ever Patek featured on his website which started my process of hounding the man). He wanted to know whether I preferred the power supply encased in wood or metal. Plus, he gave me different choices of wood. "You're the master. I trust you to make the perfect decision for both beauty and sonics" was my reply. With someone of Daniel's caliber, it's best to let them run wild and follow their own keenly honed artistic intelligence. This is audio art after all - small, refined, potent and tweaked to the hilt.

While I really appreciate our designer's gracious try-before-you-commit offer, I don't for one hesitant moment think I'll do anything other than send him the money upon receipt. After all, if he could design the AMP-1 integrated which garnered our Blue Moon Award and ended up with Paul Candy -- and in moon man Stephæn Harrell's second system in different cosmetic guise -- I was convinced the Patek was going to be the hammer: Peter Daniel's statement on this concept taken to the extreme. I wouldn't spend $1,200 on a Patek Philippe if they even made one at that commoner's price. But a Patek Daniel that makes music? Are you kidding? My $200 Elgin keeps time every bit as good as a Patek and is already 10 times as expensive as it needs to be. However, a $1,200 amp that -- when used within its power and drive rating -- can help create a riveting music experience seems like a bargain to someone with my screwy priorities. Is it any wonder that
outsiders looking in on our scene think we're all nuts? But back on terra firma audiophilius, a grand+ for a reference-level amplifier is a bargain as all of us in the nut club house know only too well. Moving right along then - but not today since Peter's still putting the finishing touches on my baby. Once it arrives, I'll fill you in on all the sordid details both with further photographic close-ups of the first production sample and how it interfaces with my ModWright Audio SWL 9.0SE tube pre and Zu speakers. Simply put, I cannot conceive how this would be anything other than a match made in heaven - sonically, financially, build-wise and additionally scoring high on the hipness/cool scale. Hey, audio's supposed to be fun. Products like this -- and the Decware Zen Taboo on order as well -- are my idea of fun. I bet certain readers will concur. If you prefer big, heavy and expensive, we'll have you covered as well. But not with these particular reviews. They are dedicated to those secure enough to know that size and price don't automatically equate to superiority, especially when you go about assembling an entire system with very different priorities from the word go. The Patek's already a go and I haven't even heard it yet...