It's people who make the products we and you love to write and read about. Casting one's glance backward over a year nearly concluded, it's fitting to highlight a giant of the field whose products one admires and who continues to also contribute most generously to the DIY field with circuit designs and hands-on advice. That would be Nelson Pass, Grande Kahuna at Pass Labs, FirstWatt and known to the Pass forum on DIYAudio simply as papa.

Whether it's Ray Kimber hauling out six giant SoundLabs to power them with Pass Labs amps at RMAF 2007; Edwin van der Kley relying on Pass Labs amps for the launch of his €75,000/pr Siltech Pantheon 25; a solder jock stuck on a circuit junction of a home-brew Aleph or F3; or yours truly contemplating a sex change from tube to solid-state - one man is responsible. Nelson Pass is a legend in his own time. The reason his presence featured prominently on my mind in 2007 was the release of his First Watt F4 - and his casual but sly suggestion to strap the outputs of my favored micro-power direct-heated triode SE amp to its inputs and "see what happens".

Bluntly put, the results were a severe insult to my exclusionist valve-based dependency tendencies. How often have we heard "the best of both worlds" whenever a new amplifier wants to claim followers from both the tube and transistor camps? Not until Nelson Pass issued the zero voltage-gain F4 was it possible to combine a SET with the low output impedance, linearity and current gain of transistors in a turn-key commercial product. This goes beyond hybrid amps with small signal valves in the voltage gain stage. It also goes beyond tubes in the preamp, transistors in the power amp. It's truly a best of both worlds scenario. I dream of the day some other anti-commercial-viability reactionary picks up the glove and authors a SET -- with 45s if my vote counted -- loaded by a small resistor for stability, then feeding a no-feedback class A transistor power buffer with current but no voltage gain, all in one box.

Once you hear what it can do, you'd agree that it really could rewrite vacuum tube amplification. Will anyone be nuts enough to do it? Probably not. Hence, kudos to Nelson Pass for being the first to let us enjoy this very scenario; for serving the high-power amplifier market, the low-power amplifier market, the special application high-efficiency widebander amplifier market and the DIYers who need interesting but proven circuits and a guiding hand. Nelson's commercial success has neither extinguished his creativity, his boyish enthusiasm nor his willingness to freely share from the bounty of ideas that issue forth from that balding noggin. Regardless of whether you prefer somebody else's amp over any of Nelson's, it won't diminish how this man works and operates - as something worthy of applause and emulation. He is a patron saint to the solid-state sector of the industry who explores open-baffle Lowthers and huge back-hornloaded single-driver speakers one day; 500-watt load-invariant amps the next; active crossovers the following; a unique low-power Power JFET amp the next; and a wicked current drive amp on Sunday. Here's to many more years of young-at-heart fun and unusual amplifiers, Mister Pass!
Having limited myself and fellow moons conspirators to maximally five entries for this year-end feature, my first nomination for favorite personal discovery in the component category has to be the FirstWatt F4. Preceded by a killer tube preamp of Dan Wright's ModWright LS-36.5 caliber, the F4 is the kind of transistor amp that could give SET fanatics the necessary wake-up call to stop futzing with tube rolling, noise and the unpredictable but always inconvenient "da tube died" incidents. If you've already got a micro-power SET, leash an F4 to it, speakers to the F4. Egg on your face never tasted this good.

But good ole glow-in-the-dark bottles are far from vanquished. Tops on my new acquaintance list in this sector this year was Almarro's overachieving 18-watt A318B 6C33C integrated. The only thing prevailing on my weaker side of abstinence was the 2008 release of Almarro's statement 40-watt monos based on the A318B platform. Make no mistake though - this integrated operates so far outside its ballpark of price, size, paper power and casual cosmetics that it really must be considered. Or as reader Steffen put it: " I'm having trouble believing what I'm hearing the last few days. My Almarro A318B now seems to approach fully broken-in status. The music is just flowing along in a way I have never heard at home before. I just hear the music and can't get enough of it. It presents the music in a way so seamless and engaging that no sonic characteristics seem to matter. Sure, it sounds great too, but it's so hard to draw my attention away from the message of whatever I'm listening to. There simply is no contest with anything (tubed or transistorized) I had or heard in my system so far. The Almarro is a whole world better, and that is no exaggeration." Well put.

On the speaker side, WLM's Diva monitor looks like a well-manicured box with a missing tweeter, quite ordinary. Nothing gives away how much sock-'em punch, feistiness, image density and sheer musicality hide behind that dual-concentric widebander. By the time you insert the analog bass EQ Diva Control between preamp and amp, you're looking at powerful 32Hz coverage from a 96dB-efficient stand mount that gets on with the above Almarro like cookies and milk or lust and satisfaction.

The only reason I sent my personal pair back to Austria was to trade it in for the Grand Viola monitor which removes the hidden tweeter and replaces it with WLM's best SuperPAC twin-tweeter module atop - plus offers active and passive drive via a switch and the external System VI electronic brain for the ultimate reviewer test tool.

That trade-up leans deeply into the piggy bank. For regular mortals, WLM's entry-level speaker is the one, combining tone, timing and dynamics in a friendly package that can rock down the house in ways its size would never give away. Blame the pro-field drivers designed for serious non-stop abuse - and a truly great speaker design that adores valves.

Ancient Audio's Lektor Prime from Poland is an elegantly minimalist all-in-one CD player with an analog input and variable output fed from a fully balanced, twin 6H30 output stage with 7V max output.

It's also one of the few digital front ends that sound truly great amplifier-direct, making for nicely reduced box count and a great reviewing tool by eliminating preamp interactions during amplifier tests. That's because, for all intents and purposes, the preamplifier is already built into this low-rider machine with its solid black granite slabs. It's a looker with brains and a big musical heart, combining silvery resolution with valve-sourced dynamics and tone. Spin The Cracow Klezmer Band's De Profundis album on it for a taste of top-class Polish hifi and music.

"Why's me nekkid and all me colleaguers dressed to impress?" Sniff. I deliberately picked the topless view of Red Wine Audio's Signature 30.2 integrated to give yet one more reason not to believe me when I say
that this 30-watt battery-powered Tripath amp embarrasses amps readily four times its $2,500 sticker. Once you take out the two batteries and subtract the motor-driven DacT attenuator module, what's left to constitute a proppa amp? You gotta be kidding, homes!

I'm with you. It seems like a sick joke. It's not.
Minimalist to the core, with top-notch parts and a deeply tweaked circuit, this amplifier has already sidelined $45,000/pr battery-powered monos, given $10,000/pr muscle amps the fly-bye finger and butted heads with first-rate tube amps. I'll tip my hand and reveal prior to the full review conclusion that the 30.2 will walk away with a Lunar Eclipse Award in the new year, only the fourth one to be given out in our 5 years of operation. No need to postpone the reveal. Lest you believe that its 30-watt rating makes it into a limited specialty item, think again. Preceded by a 12dB max-gain preamp whose attenuator sits at 2:00 o'clock -- the ModWright LS-36.5 whose recently announced dual-mono outboard power supply promises to make it, gasp, better still -- the Signature 30.2 drives the proverbial piss out of my 82.5dB 4-ohm Mark & Daniel Maximus Ruby. Plainly, the ultra-low impedance batteries have current, grip and drive to spare. Add the circuit's 30dB of noiseless gain and what looks like hopeless math on sub 88dB speakers adds up to wicked grins. This little amp is the mother of disbelief. Wait for any number of reviewer colleagues to say the same. It's really just a matter of time. Forget what you know about 'digital' amps. It doesn't apply. I'll save the rest for the ongoing review. Did I mention that the matching Isabella battery-powered preamp with optional DAC board and 6922/7308 valves is about to launch to accompany this amp? Scary times for the competition...

It's the music, folks! To that effect, here's some music that rattled my cage and lit my fire in 2007. Which doesn't mean it's 2007 issue, just that I discovered it this year. If you notice a seemingly undue Middle-Eastern focus, remember my current stay in Cyprus. While I live in this part of the world, I'm committed to delving as deeply into its musical heritage as possible. Though I haven't learnt the languages, Greek and Turkish music is very much on my ears these days. One of the most-played albums this year has been Mercan Dede's Nefes [DoubleMoon 033]. As the Cheb i Sabbah of Turkey, Dede is uniquely gifted in how he assembles first-rate singers and instrumentalists and frames them with ambient and club tracks for hauntingly atmospheric ethno music with huge if artificial
soundscapes and profoundly deep bass. His music channels a lot of spirit power. Listening to Nefes, the third installment in a quartet of works dedicated to the four elements (Nefes is breath or air while the preceding Su was water), you'll brush up against deep emotions under the seal of Sufi motifs.

Suren Asatryan is a top-rank clarinet and duduk player and Veda|Farewell [Akustik Muzik] is very powerful snake-charming music over dark drum 'n' bass grooves with electric sitar and didjderoo. It's at once ancient and club-modern, a good sign that something universally valid is at hand.

Abed Azrié is an Arabian singer/poet living in Paris whose
master work is Suerte, first recorded with Pedro Aledo in the Spanish role [Impreinte Digital]. Suerte features Arabian, Spanish and French ensembles playing together fronted by two singers who vocalize sacred Arabian texts in two different languages. The emotional power locked into this music and released each time you spin it remains at the very top of my growing record collection. The second installment of Suerte was
called Suerte Live [also on Impreinte Digital] and sported Serge Guirao in the Spanish chant role. While in Paris this year, I discovered Suerte Live in Berlin at Virgin Records [Doumtak]. Here Sameh Catalan becomes Azrié's vocal counterpart and while the instrumentation remains mostly unchanged, the Greek bouzouki player is new and steals the show whenever he plays. The album's a twofer with a full concert DVD and though I own the two prior installments of Suerte, this third one is just as treasured since, being live and with different musicians, it sounds all new again.

One of my favorite violin virtuosos is Nedim Nalbantoglu who is equally smoking on Bach, Charles Mingus and Ottoman Court music. As a member of Balkan Messengers, he gets to exorcise his speed-freak demons for very challenging music in the Turkish sea resort of Marmaris. Think Pat Metheny's experimental albums. On Yeni Dünyo [Park Muzik], Nedim's back slightly less unhinged, with the jazzier, more lyrical side we loved and missed from his prior albums with Roberto de Brasov. Nobody can as fluently bridge Jazz riffs with Makedonian dances, Turkish taqsim improv or Russian primas fire as Nalbantoglu - nor make one violin sound like so many instruments jamming at once.

Pictures of an Exhibition in a way you've not heard it before comes at the hands of legendary conductor, composer and arranger Leopold Stokowski. For all of € 7.50 on Naxos, you can hear José Serebrier conduct the Bournemouth Symphony for Night on Bare Mountain, Tchaikovsky's Humoresque and Solitude, Mussorgsky's Entre'acte to Act IV of Khovanshchina, Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godunov -- all in Stokowksi's own transcriptions -- as well as his own Slavic Christmas Music. It's melancholic, filled with pathos, longing and deeply earthy. It's also quite the test for your hifi. And plain stirring.

Taksim Trio [Double Moon] is Hüsnü Şenlendirici's new formation
of Aytac Doğan on kanun, Ismal Tunçbilek on acoustic and electric baglama and Hüsnü on clarinet and duduk, playing in the improvisational Arabesque style. While the album overall isn't as solid yet as his larger-scale Hüsn-Ü Klarnet, Şenlendirici's commitment to this more traditional art format is promising and laudatory and one hopes for many more Trio installments - with less electric and more acoustic baglama. The strong tracks here are so good that it's clearly just a matter of the trio finding its deep groove. Welcome to the scene.

Ilqar Muradov's Qurban Adina album is my favorite of a recent
foray into Azerbaijani music ordered mostly blind from a specialized online site. His takes on recognizable folk tunes over solo piano or against haunting backup chorus are lyrical, mysterious and moving and his employ of Azerbaijani throat warbles and trills avoids all sensationalist antics. No power belter histrionics Zoroofchi-style but something mellower and darker.

Though not from Peru, Marta Topferova's Spanish songs on Flor Nocturna [Harmonia Mundi] self-accompanied on cuatro, with
double bass, clarinet, violin and accordion backing her, transport us to an Andean locale in very convincing and plainly gorgeous fashion. For lovers of female vocals with substance set into exotic frames, this album refuses to get old, probably because it's been crafted so carefully and unpretentiously.

For most exciting new companies encountered in 2007, I met two: Abbingdon Music Research whose CD-77 combines Esoteric resolution and Zanden charm and whose AM-77
180-watt hybrid integrated is presently under review; and Trafomatic Audio from Serbia whose The Experience One is a very good, very affordable 2A3 SET. A headphone amp and three differently rated isolation transformer power strips have followed already, with a transformer-coupled tube preamp and tube monos in the chute. The unique angle? Trafomatic is a transformer specialist and winds all its own power, output and choke transformers. The cherry with cream is the pricing. Trafomatic's iron manufacture can subsidize its emergence into hifi and its Eastern European location adds to the fiscal advantage. The consumer wins - my kind of math.

Biggest myth busted in Casa Coral Bay this year? You may not drive Lowthers with transistors. Bah humbug! The F4 and Signature 30.2 mentioned above rewrite that rule on my Rethm Saadhanas, much to the consternation of their designer who expected Yamamoto, Melody or Fi tube amps used. I did. With a tube preamp on the F4 or 'pure' off the 30.2, I like the transistors better. Go figure!

Most important reminder to oneself and the readers? Wrote in Vade Forrester, reviewer colleague at SoundStage!: "I read with interest your review of the Esoteric MG-20 speakers. It was quite a contrast to Dick Olsher's rave review in TAS, which proclaimed them the best box speakers in existence. For what it's worth, I heard the MG-20s at RMAF 2007 and thought they sounded exactly as you described them. I don't think it has anything to do with liking the sound of paper cones. It's weird when two experienced reviewers have such dramatically different reactions to a component. Go figure." Reviews at best are starting points for personal exploration, not gospel writ in stone.

Another important reminder: It's not the street cred of the part, it's what it does in the circuit, homes! Case in point, I sent my Supratek Dual Cabernet to Oz for upgrade to current 6H30 status. Among many changes, Mick replaced the Auricaps with the vaunted VCaps customers for other Supratek models had clamored for. Unless something drastically changes past the 400-hour + point, the VCaps kill the prior shampoo effect my review detailed. I'm of a mind to go back to the Auricaps, never mind that the VCaps are the current darlings of the after-market mod scene. [Photo of Mick Maloney courtesy of who did a wonderful interview with Supratek's designer.]

Top secret ambition for 2008: My chronicled visit to Samuel Furon of Ocellia left me with a persistent impression of his system which both my wife and I keep talking about. Until I get his PHY widebander speakers for review, I won't know whether part of the magic were his own electronics, the 'anti MDI' cables, the size of his space - and how much I'll be able to recreate with my own components, my own cables and my own room. Regardless, if I was to call it quits to write the Great Cypriot Novel, become a scuba instructor in the Seychelles or do whatever to put food on the table, I'd want to settle down with Samuel's Sound. Somehow, it combined all that's important to me in audio, like bits and pieces from the various systems I've owned over the years, distilled down to their essence and then combined into one big puzzle where every piece fits where it should, no holes left.

New Year's resolution for 2008: Must acquire German-system French-bore bass clarinet to get back into blowing wind. A visit to my folks in Germany earlier this year while my wife Ivette convalesced from open heart surgery had me finger their various clarinets. Much to my surprise, a few weeks of noodling reawakened the digit demons, toned the tongue and lubricated the lips. With sufficient years gone by to perhaps finally transcend my deep-grained conservatory conditioning, the time seems ripe to see whether I can combine my current fascination with Turkish, Greek, Romani and even Indian ways of blowing the blackwood with my classically trained roots. Since I never played the bass clarinet during my younger years, it seems like a good switch to plow new ground. Plus, the rich timbres of its shift one octave lower appeal to me over my earlier B-flat with its brighter, leaner tone. In a year, I'll report on what happened to that resolution. Thanks for reading us. Without an audience, we'd all be extreme narcissists and navel gazers. Having intelligent and appreciative readers sure beats the hell out driving to work to Big Corporate every morning. You make that possible. When I say thank you then, I really really mean it...