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Cooperative virtue:
The two key players on Seth's team are Roger Sheker and Michael Mardis. Roger is one of the industry's top analog engineers with an intuitive sense for what part will work where and which factors really matter. Before joining Audience, Roger worked with GM Rochester Products Division designing and developing test systems. One was a test system for simulating 50.000 miles of wear on emission-related products. Another was a 10Kw audio amp driving a shaker table to test parts endurance. Roger elaborated: "The shaker table was quite a piece. It was like the voice coil and magnet out of a multi kilowatt woofer with a 8" diameter and about a 5" stroke with system response down to a couple of hertz. The whole assembly was about 3.5' in diameter and weighed about a ton. The voice coil itself was done with 1/4" square copper tubing and water cooled as were the final tubes. It used a pair of KT88s to drive these final tubes. The actual table was a 3/4" thick aluminum plate which the test parts were mounted to. The whole assembly was bolted on a concrete slab that was an isolated cube 10' per side. Even so the big boss' pencils would walk off his desk at a certain frequency yet his office was at least 50 yards away. Extreme care was required because certain infrasonic frequencies would make one sick. Low levels of these frequencies were a good way to get unwanted visitors out of our hair real quick."

Later Roger was in charge of a project for Renkus-Heinz to design and develop a 2.000wpc pro-sound amplifier intended for very high intelligibility applications like large churches. As we know, high efficiency amps were not known for their sonic worthiness but Roger did his with sonic qualities like an audiophile amp. After joining Audience, Roger developed all their electronic products including the critically acclaimed line of power conditioners, notably the Adept Response series. He is currently working on a new line of amplifier and preamp products that hold great promise.

He became involved with Virtue Audio as a side project more than two years ago. "With Audience I design the best piece that can be built and we determine the price afterwards. With Virtue we dig really deep into the design and put our money into parts that make a real difference. Nothing about the Virtue products is cheap but there's no waste either. Bringing affordable high-end sound into new homes and introducing a whole new generation to wonderful music - for me that's what it's all about."

As we know, Tripath amplification hinges largely on the voltage supply. That's why Virtue offers several power supply upgrades. In one of our email correspondences, Roger shared with me the secret of dialing up the voltage in the optional 30v power supply. That's an interesting experiment but since it voids the warranty, I'll leave it at that.

MODesty virtue: If Roger Sheker is the conductor of the orchestra responsible for the interpretive performance, Michael Mardis is the concertmaster responsible for the ensemble tuning. At least that's the closest analogy I can think of. I first briefly communicated with Michael when I reviewed the Trends TA-10 a few years ago. Now is the time for a proper introduction of this iconic Tripath man from Maui, Hawaii's surfing paradise.

Michael made his mark in the Tripath hall of fame riding the big wave of the utterly modest Sonic Impact amp by making it better. His website became the worldwide portal for T-Amp mods with over a million hits and counting. I suppose one could say that Vinnie Rossi's T-amp took to the highway while Michael pursued his own way. But what did he do prior?

"Though I grew up around hifi and professional audio, the real ear opener came for me in the mid '80s when I stumbled into the now famous Maison de l'Audiophile only a few blocks from where I worked in Paris. Most of the systems described in the Audiophile Revue and built at the Audiophile shop were beyond my means but I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time listening to them and even working on some projects with the Audiophile team. Thus my DIY spirit was born.

"But once you've seen the world from the top of hifi's Everest, the lowlands seem terrible dull afterwards. From 1991 when I left Paris to 2004 on the island of Maui, I owned no CD player, no amp, no turntable, just a clock radio. As I was working in live music at the time, the last thing I wanted was come home and listen to a pale imitation. Midfi just held no interest for me. It was too far from real music.

"Then came the Internet and the audio forums. The funny little Sonic Impact amp was making a big splash in the small pond of audio nuts. That was something I could sink my teeth into. I'd been interested in class D amps since about 1989. Here was one in a cheap plastic wrapper. Why not give it a spin?" The rest was history.

Impartial virtue:
It's interesting to note that neither Roger nor Michael work solely on Virtue amps. They have many other projects in their portfolios. So I tried to put them in the hot seat and ask for an honest opinion about their little sideliner amps.