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12 March 2012 20:29. "Sorry to have neglected you for so long. Don’t feel alone in this. I have neglected all my correspondence to devote all my time to the new product launches of Xs [right] and SIT amps. In the next two weeks I am finally getting some breathing space so I’ll shortly get back to you with some more poop." I wasn't surprised. I'd already read his updated news post on the website: "My son and nephew have gone off to pursue their own careers. It's just me now. I'm old and slow so you'll have to be patient." More than 10 years ago FirstWatt had started off as one man's labor of love affair. It must have grown into something a tad bigger since for family members to have found themselves shanghaied for production. Then mutiny and back to the beginning.

But now market awareness was greater. So presumably was demand. With the J2 and M2 the founding direct-only embargo had been lifted. Those amps began to accommodate a few select dealers with output beyond the original 100 units per model which had been built up at a more leisurely pace over a few years each. With a name like Nelson it was simply never too late to join the marines. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Whoever couldn't handle the truth would have to bugger off. Great to be boss. Or papa as his friends on DIY Audio call him.

In the meantime I'd gotten wind that the tube fanciers at Bulgarian electronics firm Thrax [their Spartacus monos at left] were working on their own static induction transistor concept using Russian parts. "Very different from FirstWatt" they promised. Based on the KP926a perhaps? A tube hybrid? Clearly the SITuation was thickening.

From admiralities to generalities. Having been allowed to hang on to the SIT-2 review loaner until my personal pair of SIT-1s shipped, I'd gotten major time on it and become quite addicted. By comparison other amps in the crib inserted variously dense curtains between performers and microphones. I called what removed these curtains speed. It was most likely an incorrect technical explanation or at best a partial one. Still, it was my subjective sense. It's the extreme nearfield sensation where directness is king, where playback venue reflections haven't yet added themselves to blur, fatten and thus somewhat indistinctify the direct sounds. On that count think headphones. Yet this does not foreshorten observer perspective. The musicians aren't suddenly at arm's length. If your speakers stage well behind themselves as mine do, they'll now do it more. Such expansive and well-sculpted layering is usually the domain of premium SETs. The SIT does it equally well. It's a low-level extricator of ambiance par excellence. It's thus the perfect architect for rebuilding the recorded venue in your space.

Naturally everyone has different hifi triggers. What's more, those we might share often get prioritized differently. Before I even notice soundstaging—and with the SIT you can't help it—I need an emotional response. I get that from quicksilvery microdynamics and transient accuracy. I think of both as functions of impulse fidelity. That's a fancy term for a really very mundane matter. Drop a glass or fork on a tile floor. Rattle a key chain. Tear a piece of paper. Presto. That instantaneous clanging, shattering, clattering or tearing with its minor gun-shot directness is it. In music anything percussive and steep—rim shots, spiccato on a string, staccato on a reed or brass, hand claps, foot stomps, cymbal crashes—contains it. Sensing that raw speed is vital then if you want to feel up close to the action as most microphones place it nowadays.

The XLR of the final production unit isn't a wicked balanced input for a single-ended amp. It's how the input impedance gets adjusted. Move the jumper into the opposite direction. Leaning left makes 10KΩ, leaning right [default setting as shipped] makes 100KΩ.
Such suddenness and quickness are one particular forté for the SIT. Yet it's neither relentless nor artificially edgy but smooth. That's not a very common combination. Obvious speed is often accompanied by two tricks. One is dynamic manipulation. Most single-driver widebanders suffer it. They're far more dynamically expressive in the midrange than bass. Such caffeinated buzz gets wearing particularly when the music doesn't demand it. The other is a transient emphasis which reduces decays to make things 'front heavy'. This creates great incision but also an edgy angular lean feel. That's where the SIT differs*1. It doesn't add adrenaline or edge. It removes barriers instead. It's easy. Its speed doesn't get pushy. Its dynamics are coherent top to bottom. Few valve amps of my acquaintance match that level of pure quickness and reflexes. An out-of-production David Berning OTL with RF modulation I heard did. So nearly did the Trafomatic Vilobha.

*1 This admittedly involved a period of acclimation. At first I thought the SIT was perhaps too fast. A few months later and other amps plainly sounded too slow. Like walking through water. That's when the addiction had taken hold for good. A fringe benefit of such elimination of intermediary 'filters' or drag is more satisfying low-volume listening. Take a first-rate whistler. It's a very rarely heard and thus unexpected timbre. Place him in perfect unison with an accordionist. It gives two similar timbres deliberately blended to become a new tone color like the paralleled oboe/clarinet melody of Schubert's Grand Symphony. With the SIT they remain instantly recognizable as two and exactly as what they are (the whistler/accordion trick I came across in a Quadro Nuevo release of sophisticated café music). And this works even at very low volumes.

Where the SIT diverges from single-ended valves done properly is their peculiar sense of elasticity. Initially this is easiest heard on vocals or perhaps violin and cello. I have no clue what causes it. I simply hear it when present. And that the SIT doesn't quite do. It manages some but not all of it. It also doesn't do tubular textural bloom*2. Such bloom is attractive in minor amounts yet comes at a price. It introduces a subtle blurring or feathering out of the edges like water colors. The more complex and intricate the music becomes, the more my perception of bloom calls it blurring rather than attractive. Then I prefer something cleaner and crisper if less 'enhanced'.

*2 That's an interesting observation in the face of knowing that the SIT produces harmonic distortion very much like triodes. The different audible effect is likely a function of the SIT's far greater linearity or 'distribution consistency' of this THD. The graph at right shows essentially ruler-flat behavior between 100Hz to 20kHz and a very gradual even downward slope below 100Hz for nothing erratic. The human ear is far more sensitive to variation than steady-state conditions. It's why one may soon not notice the low-level noise of a refrigerator but immediately hears when it cycles off.