The Birth of the Fi 2A3 Monaural Amplifiers
Finally Don built the 2A3 circuit into a monoblock pair, which he thought was a better-sounding design (and relegated the Fi 2A3 Stereo to become available only as a special-order item). Don fondly remembers a Sound Practices advertisement for the Fi 2A3 mono amplifiers that used a photograph of an old pair of billboards during Christmas time. In the advertisement above the billboards Don had inserted a photo of the Fi 2A3 mono amplifiers with the message [left] :

"Means of transcendence. The two below are very effective. Then there's the Fi 2A3. Try it, you'll like it."

The billboard directly below it said in both English and Japanese:

"To assume a mental set voluntarily. To shift voluntarily from one aspect of the situation to another. To keep in mind simultaneously various aspects. To grasp the essential of a given whole, to break up a given whole into parts and to isolate them voluntarily. To generalize, to abstract common properties, to plan ahead ideationally, to assume an attitude toward the mere possible, and to think or perform symbolically. To detach our ego from the outer world."

The second billboard below was advertising for a bottle of J&B Scotch whiskey and said: "Jingle Bells - J&B pours more pleasure." Don also ran advertisements of the Fi 2A3 monoblocks in the now defunct Fi Magazine while it lasted (no relation to Don's Fi) . In that ad, Don literally threw down the gauntlet:

"It's simple.

The Fi 2A3 amplifier is the simplest and most direct amplifier available today. It consists of a single triode voltage amplifier direct coupled to the 2A3 output stage, one of the best output transformers around, all connected with a few inches of pure silver wire. Anything more is unnecessary and detrimental to sound quality. Any and all attempts at higher output power are for some reason other than sound quality and are misguided. The 2A3 is the most natural and direct of the filamentary triodes (300B, 211, 845) commercially available and will get you closest to the essence of the music. Forget pentodes. 6550s are sonic dishwashers. All this purity means low output power, but with efficient speakers the music is lifelike: full, detailed, and above all palpable. These speakers are available and there will be more of them.

The gauntlet is flung. For a while now we've been running ads with a photograph and a few words or a line or two of description. That's all you need to know, we thought. But many of the responses have been a bit perplexed. Hence, the above. We've been at this a number of years and tend to forget how radical it appears. It's really very simple, not to mention solid and reliable. We'll be around for a while."

Don later advertised two new products in Fi magazine: The then new Fi 300B monoblocks [above] and Fi Preamp (left]. Don finally achieved the kind of sound he wanted from a 300B and so brought the amps to market. The original preamp advertised in Fi magazine (and made famous by Art Dudley in Listener magazine) was discontinued. When I asked Don why he discontinued a preamp that was widely held to be one of the very best preamplifiers available at any price, he told me that "It was just too expensive to make. I was charging $4500 for it and when I sat down with my accountant, he told me I needed to charge $10,000 for it to make money. That's too expensive I thought, so I discontinued it."

Fi Today
Don's been busy designing and refining gear to tickle your fancy. Don's sales are said to be fairly even across the different models in his lineup which presently includes:

2A3 Monaural Amplifiers: These are Don's state-of-art 2A3 amplifiers and the amplifiers under review [image at bottom of page]. Direct-coupled signal path, 6SF5 triode driver stage, a 2A3 directly heated triode output stage, a MagneQuest DS025 output transformer, 99.99% pure silver point-to-point wiring. Pi filter power supply uses 5V4G rectifier. Resistors are Caddock and Mills, bypass capacitors are Black Gate and filter capacitors are AEON. Chassis are handcrafted from sandblasted and polished aluminum and each amplifier is signed and numbered. 3 watts. $2975.

300B Monaural Amplifiers: These are Don's state-of-art 300B amplifiers and use a high-current three-stage direct- coupled design built on an open frame chassis which completely separates amplifier and power supply functions. MagneQuest FS030 output transformer. Uses the best parts as the 2A3 monaural amplifiers. 9.5 Watts. $4200.

Western Electric 421A Stereo Amplifier: Also built on an open frame chassis which completely separates amplifier and power supply functions like the 300B monaural amplifiers. A very quiet and cool running amplifier that uses the WE 421A, 6SL7 driver and 5Y3WGTA rectifier. Single-ended zero feedback design with high clarity and wide bandwidth. MagneQuest DS025 output transformers. 99.99% pure silver point-to-point wiring. $2895.

X 2A3 Stereo Amplifier: Based on the same circuit as the 2A3 mono amps. Uses a chassis design that separates power supply, filter and amplification. Uses two 2A3s, two 6SF5s and a 5Y3 rectifier. Also available in an integrated version on the larger X3 chassis that includes a passive preamp with three sets of inputs, a three-way selector switch and a volume control. $895 with Hammond 125E output transformers, $1175 with MagneQuest DS025s.

Super X 2A3 Stereo Amplifier: The Super is an all-out version of the regular X on a bigger X3 chassis with MagneQuest iron, Caddock and Mills resistors, AEON power supply and Black Gate bypass caps, EP binding posts, Kimber inputs, Sovtek single-plate 2A3s and a polished chassis with all the trimmings. $1750.

X3 300B Stereo Amplifier: The 300B version of the X. Built on an X-frame chassis that separates power supply and amplifier sections. One 5AR4 rectifier, pi filter power supply, direct-coupled, two 6SN7GTBs,and two Sovtek 300Bs. Can use any type of 300B due to 3 amps of filament current. Zero negative feedback, point to point wired. MagneQuest DS025 output transformers. $1750. The X3 is now available in a Super version like the X and with similar upgrades to the Super X. $2300.

Y Line Preamplifier: The Y uses a simple circuit designed around the 6922 (6DJ8) double triode with 99.99% pure silver point-to-point wiring, high quality resistors and film and foil capacitors. Five inputs and two outputs. Two inputs have reduced gain for use with high output sources. Maximum gain is 23dBV. $895.

Yph: The Yph is a phono stage housed in the same style of chassis as the Y line stage and is designed to work with all line stages and integrated amps. $945.

Don gets a steady stream of orders for his Fi products and told me he is "perpetually behind" which limits his ability to design new products. Don has been working on a new statement preamplifier for some time to replace the now discontinued Fi preamplifier that Art Dudley wrote up. "The design work for the new preamp is done but I'm still working on refining it. It will be more money than the original Fi preamp but I don't have final pricing worked out yet."

There's potentially good news for Quad lovers too: "I've also had a number of requests about designing an amplifier that will drive Quad electrostatics" said Don. "I really like the Quads and that's a project I'd like to pursue when I have time. It would probably be a direct-coupled push-pull amplifier".

I asked Don what he's listening to at home. "It's made up of whatever happens to be around. Right now I'm using a bread-board 300B prototype of the X3 that I am experimenting with. I've been trying different things on it so it's handy to have open access. I am also using a Y preamplifier and a Yph phono stage. I'm using Cain & Cain Abbys which are an absolutely terrific loudspeaker. For digital I am using an AMC CD player that Vu Hoang sent to me from Déjà Vu Audio. For LPs I use a classic Garrard 301 turntable. The Garrard used to belong to Futterman and he used it in his studio. After he died, it was just sitting around and they were going to throw it away so I bought it from one of his former employees." Don also told me he's very impressed with the 47Labs digital rigs and in particular would like to have a PiTracer transport gracing his system.

Description of the review model Fi 2A3 Monaural Amplifiers
The model under review is the top of the line Fi 2A3 monaural amplifiers that I purchased at full list price just as any Fi customer would. Don doesn't keep a

stock of pre-built Fi amplifiers on hand so when you place an amplifier order, Don handcrafts the amplifier just for you. After talking with Don on the phone, I mailed him a check for $2975. Almost four weeks later to the day, a nicely handmade pair of Fi 2A3 monoblock amplifiers arrived via UPS bearing serial numbers 403M1 and 403M2 and were hand- signed by Don Garber just like a piece of art.

Each Fi 2A3 monoblock measures 11" x 10" x 7" WxDxH and weighs 17 pounds. The chassis are handcrafted from sandblasted and polished aluminum and composed of an aluminum top plate to which all of the components are affixed. There are four wooden dowels at each corner to serve as feet. An aluminum skirt between the dowels shields the inner electronics on each side. The bottom of the chassis is left open so don't do anything stupid when the amps are powered up and best keep kids and free-roaming pets at a distance. All connectors are located on the aluminum top plate behind the transformers. I like their vertical orientation. It gives easy access for cable swaps. Handles attached to the top of each chassis allow you to easily pick up the amps and carry them around in perfectly balanced fashion without the off-kilter scares that accompany lifting other amplifiers with hefty transformers. Materials and workmanship are first rate. My Fi monos shipped with Sovtek 2A3 tubes, Tung Sol 6SF5 inputs and Phillips ECG 5V4GA rectifiers.

The Fi amplifiers are designed for 2A3 tubes but a Fi owner can use both 2A3 and 45 tubes by swapping the stock 5V4GA for 5Y3WGTA rectifiers to drop the voltage by 50 - 55 volts should the desire to experiment arise. When I talked with Don about doing just that, he made the point that even with the 5Y3WGTA rectifier, the Fi 2A3 amps aren't optimally set up for a 45 tube. "They'll play them at no harm but to best show off a 45, I'd make a few changes." Don said he'd use the "same circuit topology but a few subtle changes as well as a 5K primary output transformer (Mike LaFevre makes a couple of nice ones)." Don hastened to add "of course set up this way, it wouldn't play a 2A3 very well at all."

At Don's recommendation, I use the Phillips ECG JAN 5Y3WGTA when running 45s. I'll explore the effects of the tube swaps a little later in the article but for now, let me tell you about the Fi monoblocks as they are intended to be used: As a pair of 2A3 statement amplifiers.