It also was the first Nelson Pass product I was lucky enough to audition. Since then the list expanded to the Pass Labs HPA-1, XP-12 and INT-25. They all featured the same unmistakable sonic backbone: a fully mature voice tailored meticulously and tastefully to avoid excess. This sound doesn't shock with extreme chunkiness or zinginess. It prioritizes complex tonality. It's vivid, expressive, sensual and sophisticated and completely free from shoutiness, grain or any harshness. These qualities imply deep class A bias but there's still an execution that's organic, moist, breathing and open to eschew any hint of stuffiness. Images occur naturally from within a black canvas instead of being irradiated by extra shine from above. Such a fine blend is a rare treat but its relaxed quite casual feel is the special feature that never ceases to impress me most about the Pass Labs sound. There's no need to focus on anything specific, things just happen all at once. Unsurprisingly the F8 fit that profile to perfection.

Uniform sonic results regardless of product type or price implied next-level engineering know-how especially with performance as described but they also raised my expectations. Prior to the F8's arrival, I'd suspected more of that unmistakable Pass aroma to effectively go beyond usual class A charms. I wasn't wrong. The newcomer too was admirably smooth, tonally loaded, spacious, soothing, euphonic and coherent. Just as the companion models I'd heard before, it scored high on tonal complexity, pleasant heft, articulation, insight and a pristine backdrop from which everything blossomed without effort. Images outlined and separated with inviting moisture but also served music as a whole instead of dissecting individual sounds suspended in air. So the F8's grand clarity poured into my ears without stealing the thunder of other aspects.

Although both FirstWatt amps felt voiced similarly elegant and more alike than not, I was also certain that the F8 had to set itself apart in one way or another. It didn't take long to notice that it did though its most interesting feature took me a while to grasp. It sounded more athletic, muscular, potent and contoured than the chunkier, lazier, denser and more relaxed F7. The difference wasn't night and day but substantial enough to map the F8 as more mainstream so more universal than its stablemate's mellower thicker sonic footprint. To simplify, the F8 showed some extra bite, snap and articulation at a small cost of roundness and gravity. Let's just say that I know a very good class A amp when I hear one which is why at this point I intended to wrap it. Then a previously unnoticed quality revealed itself to change my overall take on the F8.

Just as an obese person cannot possibly outrun an athlete, it's only natural to expect warmer denser amps to be slower than specimens groomed for more fitness and articulation. That's why the F7's bloomier softer bass should have been looser/slower than the sensibly tighter more powerful F8. Although I'm far from labeling them fat and ripped respectively—they're far more complex than that—it was reasonable to assume that given my descriptions so far, the F8 would have been the quicker of the two. It wasn't. The F8's unusual behavior on this count caught me off guard.