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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Yamamoto YDA-01, iPod Classic 160GB, Raysonic CD228 [on loan], Wadia 170i [on loan], AMR CD-777 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03
Power amplifier: FirstWatt F5 and J2
Speakers: Zu Essence
Headphone amplifiers: KingRex Headquarters [on loan], Trafomatic Audio Experience Head One [on loan], Burson Audio HA-160 [on review]]
Headphones: AKG K-702+ALO harness, audio-technica W-5000, Grado PS-1000, Sennheiser HD-800+ALO harness
Equipment Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stands
Headphone stand: Sieveking Audio Omega
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail : $2,500

Batty for bats

Red Wine Audio's Vinnie Rossi is the real batman. His small audio empire is built upon the core concept of battery power. This of course battens down on high-power class A or even A/B amps. There batteries would need to be really large to supply the required voltages. For standard line level purposes and mid-power highly efficient class D power amplifiers however, batteries remain not only viable, to Mr. Rossi they're the preferred solution. While he promulgates liberation from dirty wall power, I don't buy into the propaganda which would have you believe that the best of S/N ratios rely on batteries.

No, plenty of traditionally powered equipment is just as spookily quiet. The Nelson Pass FirstWatt amplifiers are just one example I'm very familiar with. However, batteries—particularly SLA cells—can supply high current with low output impedance. It's this less publicized benefit in conjunction with specific coupling caps which I suspect are most responsible for the beefy signature sonics of most Red Wine Audio gear. And yes, it also is very quiet.

The batman's obviously named HPA for headphone amplifier with the Isabellina NOS—non-upsampling—D/A converter naturally runs off a 12V/5Ah sealed lead-acid cell. It also gets the remote-driven continuous Alps pot Vinnie first introduced with his tubed Isabella preamplifier. The Isabellina HPA can be had with variable line-level outputs where it doubles as preamp with three digital inputs (BNC, Toslink and USB, all inconveniently switched by rear toggle); or fixed 2V outputs to serve as dedicated big-rig D/A converter instead (the volume knob still controls the headphone socket).

Cosmetics are typical RWA issue, i.e. drably utilitarian. The action of the touch-membrane power switch with the little red LED is much improved however. Vinnie's self-regulating battery charging circuit is as non-intrusive as ever. With the charger input connected to wall power, charging automatically commences when the amp is turned off. Operation is thus perfectly intuitive. Power up to listen, power down to charge.

As nice optional feature, the HPA offers auxiliary battery power for the 170i or ND-S1 Wadia and Onkyo iPod docks. For the latter, the ALO Audio umbilical then terminates in a 2.1mm barrel plug instead of Wadia's mini DIN. While the HPA charges itself when powered off, it must sadly be powered on to charge an iPod cradled in a connected 170i dock. Incidentally, the HPA's 12VDC output trimmed with a voltage regulator can also power other devices like T amps, the Empirical Audio Pace Car reclocker and Off-Ramp USB/S-PDIF converter and such. In the case of the HPA with 170i, the combo becomes a completely off-the-grid remote-controlled music server with added USB and Toslink functionality. That's ultra convenient. What's not is how Wadia's mini remote defeats core functionality of the now disabled Apple remote. Only play/pause and previous/next remain. Vital access to the iPod's main menu is eliminated. For that you need the manual scroll wheel. Hence this server must remain within arm's length. Why bother with a remote then? Convenience is the name of this game but Wadia's limited remote stole from it. Cough.


* Going to bat has since given rise to a complete line of add-on Red Wine Audio battery power supplies called Black Lightning. These replace wall warts for popular T amps and USB DACs. Custom-made for the specific supply voltage requirements of their customers, even parallel outputs with dissimilar ratings are possible. Enquire for available values.