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From Bauhaus to Brooklyn
Not the band, the school. Actually, the Bauhaus was an institute founded in principle and place with its manifesto penned by Walter Gropius in Weimar/Germany, 1919. The Bauhaus Manifesto called for the unity of art and craft: "Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist!" Some of the more notable Bauhaus participants include Paul Klee, Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky and Mies Van der Rohe. Mies was a Director of the Dessau Bauhaus from 1930 until it was closed in 1932. Mies is also responsible for the oft quoted "less is more".

When I look at the work of Don Garber and Fi, I'm reminded of the Bauhaus - the marriage of form and function, art and craft coming together in an object meant for daily use. Provide clarity and less clutter. John DeVore and JC see a more American sensibility, Raymond Loewry perhaps, the designer of the Studebaker Starliner Coupé, Lucky Strike logo and Greyhound bus (among many other American icons). Jeff Day has referred to the Arts & Crafts movement as a point of inspiration. And I can see all these influences yet we're in agreement that Don's designs are clearly his own. No matter what visual references you bring to Fi, one thing I will say is certain - we're dealing with unique and, from my way of seeing, wonderful hand-made sculptural designs from Don Garber's painting studio/Fi manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, NY.

"It seems to get lost that the idea behind the X was to build a good cheap amp. It seemed pointless to use a lesser circuit so it's the same [as in the 2A3 monos] but the construction and parts are much cheaper. It came a little closer to the monos than I expected. Circuit design is maybe 90% of it."

I bought my Fi X in January 2004. What took so long (the Fi X originally appeared in 1998)? The wait was due in part to acquiring the proper speakers -- which turned out to be the 95dB Cain & Cain Abbys -- and finding the requisite sense to just call Don Garber and order one. The Fi X replaced a very shiny, very heavy 300B SET at roughly 5 x the X's price. Downsizing? No. Realsizing? You bet. From every indication, I was going to like the Fi X. I'd done my fair share of research, spoken to the speaker designer, communicated with a few reviewers (including Ian White) and done a ton of online research. And I was right. The X made music whereas the 90lb 300B-endowed beast made a statement - unfortunately not about music.

Since this isn't a review of the Fi X per se [original sketch of geometry above - Ed.], I won't spend too much time on it. Suffice to say that the Fi X is a direct-coupled single-ended triode amplifier using Magnequest DS025s in the upgraded version (highly recommended). The main reason for its lower price is the use of less expensive parts and an easier build than Don's 2A3 monos. Of course the stereo version also reduces parts and build cost over the monos' twin chassis.

Fi 45 Prototype Stereo Amplifier
From Jeff Day's review (which I know you've read), I knew that the Fi 2A3 amps aren't optimally set up for a 45 tube. "They'll play them at no harm but to best show off a 45, I'd make a few changes." Don said he'd use the "same circuit topology but a few subtle changes as well as a 5K primary output transformer (Mike LaFevre makes a couple of nice ones)." Don hastened to add, "of course set up this way, it wouldn't play a 2A3 very well at all."

I believe it was one day after I read Jeff's review that I shot an email off to Don asking if he'd be interested in making such an amp optimized for the 45. The rationale for my request was based on the fact that I found myself solely using my X with a 45, preferring it to the stock Sovtek 2A3. If Don could make a minor change to his circuit to "best show off" the 45, I'd jump on it. "I can do that" was Don's reply. The only thing I needed to do was pick the chassis style. Don will make this amp as a mono, stereo or X version. I decided on the stereo version since I already owned the X and planned to keep it - and I always liked that Fi stereo amp. The only thing Don had to do was get some pricing from Mike LaFevre of MagneQuest on the 5K primary output transformers. Don got back within two days and since I would be supplying my own 45s, the price for the 45 would be the same as the stereo 2A3. Two words on Don's pricing in general: honest value. A rare breed indeed.

One month later nearly to the day, the Fi 45 Prototype arrived. Along with the amp came the usual Fi letter serving as manual. This time there was a brief intro: "Here it is. Marked prototype for that's what it is. I'm glad you asked for it - it was well worth doing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it." Sure enough, "Prototype" is screened on the top of my Fi 45 amp in the standard Fi font. And here's that love of nuance again. Everything about a Fi has a certain style about it, a seamless and subtle vibe that resonates in the smallest of details. As we'll see, I believe this carries over into our Fi's music-making abilities as well.

The Fi 45 uses the same circuit as the 2A3. The differences are the 5K primary output transformers (MagneQuest DS050s) and two resistor value changes to better match the lower plate dissipation of the 45 tube. The plate current runs at 38mA. These changes also drop the power output from 3 watts in the 2A3 version to about 2 watts in our 45. The other change from the standard 2A3 is the use of the 5Y3 rectifier as opposed to the 5V4G. 99.99% pure silver point-to-point wiring is used throughout and connects the 6SF5 drivers directly to the 45s. The remainder of the Fi 45's parts and build match Don's 2A3s and include Caddock and Mills resistors, Black Gate and AEON capacitors. The chassis is handcrafted from sandblasted and polished aluminum. It's also numbered and signed. Single-ended direct-coupled directly heated triode operating in class A with no negative feedback, it's a simple circuit refined over time and voiced by ear. The rounded corner chassis measures 15" w x 10" d x 2.5" h (to the chassis) and 7.5" to the top of the DS050 tranny.