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Of course once DIYers realized just how little of anything made up the insides of a Gaincard and how cheap the necessary parts were, cloning the circuit for pennies on the yen became open-season sport. How many of them had an original as sonic benchmark is a fair question. As owner of the first pair of Peter Daniel's AudioSector Patek gainclone monos, I've enjoyed my own clones for years. Getting cloned once more at this particular juncture seemed no coincidence. Hearing that Funjoe's very first prototype had used Peter's DIY boards only confirmed it. Back to the future.

"Everything here is an open secret. My amps are simply another gainclone which follows the original down to the brand of capacitor and cable selection. Of course my casing is different. Here I learnt that scale and structure are very important because this type of chip amp uses so few parts. Everything becomes important and obvious." So said our graphic designer by day, audio gene splicer by night.

Clones Audio makes their gainclones in 25-watt and 50-watt versions and three flavors - stereo, mono and integrated. The subject of this review is the €629 25i. The name says it all. Think triple inputs, single output terminals, input selector and Alps volume control. Input impedance is 22K, gain a very high 30dB, S/N better than 95dB. The footprint is a compact 17cm square, height an even shorter 10cm. Cigar boxes are bigger. Weight is a quite substantial 4.2kg considering. Warranty is a confident 5 years.

Want twice the power and got €20 to spare? The 50i with otherwise identical specs is your daddy. Funjoe however talked me into the 25i. He prefers its sonic. Affordability and honesty? What the bloody hell was the world coming to just as it was supposed to end?

"Most the tech intel is on the TI LM3875 data sheet. The difference between my 25w and 50w versions is the operating voltage. Higher voltage changes the power rating and sound. I'll simply say that the  50w versions have more punch and control over the lower frequencies whilst the 25ers sound a bit more natural. Most opamps are tuned by their operating voltage. When I was small I built a simple one-stage opamp preamp to test the sonics of different opamps. Then I built a shunt regulator reference for the MF Digilog DAC. This regulator really sounded great. Now I started to test opamps at different voltages. Most of the upscale high-grade opamps get their best sonic balance around ±12V yet some will have quite surprising performance at 14.8V. The same was true for the 47labs DAC. It runs its TDA1543 at 8 volts rather than 5. So one must experiment and of course provide effective heatsinking to run these parts reliably."

Gotten this far without an idea yet what makes a gainclone? Think amp on a chip. Like the parallel craze of Tripath amps which used class D power-processing chips, gainclones too eschew discrete output devices. They go for high-feedback class AB opamps (integrated operational amplifiers). If you've followed Burson-style 'discrete rules' propaganda to feel negatively predisposed toward ICs for serious hifi purposes—incidentally Burson is far from alone to disprove of them—you might be surprised about how a long-lived underground phenom has evolved around speaker-drive amps which cheerily use op-amps as output devices. Those are predominantly National Semiconductor Overture Series LM1875, 3875, 3886 and 4780 to be precise. Have you the itch to clone your own, google for gainclones and get busy. Our assignment here will be the lazy man's way: hands off but ears on.