This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Reviewer: David Kan
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Micromega Microdrive and Variodac, Deltec Little Bit DAC, Marantz SA8260, Deltec PDM Two DAC, Restek Radiant, Assemblage D2D-1/DAC-3.1 Platinum, Philips DVP-9000S, Oppo BDP-83
Preamp: Symphonic Line RG3 MkIII, NuForce P9, Audio Zone PRE-T1, Dared MC-7P, Dared SL-2000A, KingRex PREference [in for review]
Power Amp/integrated Amp: Audio Zone AMP-ST, NuForce Ref 9 V2, NuForce Ref 9 V2 SE, Sim Audio Celeste W4070SE, Thorens-Restek MMA-5, Symphonic Line RG MKIII, Winsome Labs Mouse, Dared VP-20, Elekit TU-879S, JohnBlue TL-66 [in for review]
Speakers: Apogee Stage, Apogee Centaur Minor; Mark & Daniel Maximus-Monitor / Omni-Harmonizer, Ruby, Topaz, Sapphire; Klipsch Synergy F2, Loth-X BS-1, JohnBlue JB3, JohnBlue JB4 [in for review]
Subwoofers: Yamaha YST-SW200, Yamaha YST-SW80, Infinity BU-1, Mark & Daniel Maximus Subwoofer [in for review]
Cables: Clearaudio Silver Line interconnect, Deltec Black Slink interconnect, Luscombe LBR-35 interconnect, OCOS speaker cables by Dynaudio, Aural Symphonic Digital Standard digital cable, Audience Conductor 'e' speaker cables, interconnect and iPod cables [in for review]
Power Cords: Aural Symphonic Missing Link, Ensemble Powerflux, Symphonic Line Reference
Power Line Conditioning: Tice Power Block IIIC, Belkin PureAV PF60, Monster Power HTS-3500 Mk II (modified by NuForce), Monster Power HTS-1000 Mk II
Room Size: 15' x 13.5' x 7'/8' diagonal setup / 11' x 18' x 7'/8' opens to 18' x 19' x 7'/8', long wall setup, carpeted concrete slab floor, suspended ceiling and all walls finished with drywall (basement with small window on one side, which is concrete foundation wall with insulation) / 15' x 15' x 8' / 12' x 24' x 9' opens to 12' x 17' x 9' L-shape, short wall setup / 13' x 28' 8" x 9' with openings on one side to hallway and staircase, short wall setup, suspended hardwood floor, suspended ceiling and all walls finished with drywall, external wall finished with insulation inside and concrete on the outside.
Review component retail: $379 with standard PSU (30v/90w), $119 for PSU upgrade (30v/130w/PFC)

This image opens to full size in a new window

Reviewing another Tripath amp was so not on my dream but rather, nightmare list. I was scared that I might not hear any differences to have nothing to write about. Or just as horrible, what if the differences were so subtle that I'd have to do rounds and rounds of exhaustive comparisons and as a result, write another 12-page review? Alas, what you fear the most always happens. The nightmare arrived in the form of an email sent out from Pennsylvania dated Sep. 3, 2008:

I'd like to introduce myself and hope to stimulate your interest in checking out our new amplifier, the Audiophile One. Almost 3 years ago, I caught the Tripath bug and against the wishes of everyone who loves me, bought up as much of the new/old stock of the TC-2000 and TC-2001 controllers as I could afford. Virtue Audio was born and so began a very expensive odyssey to replicate the success of Bel Canto/Red Wine at a price point that mere mortals could afford.

We consulted with many people in the early days, including Michael Mardis. However, the real breakthrough came when we were sourcing Auricaps for an early prototype. Roger Sheker, who had hopped up a T-Amp in his ongoing quest as lead engineer at Audience, LLC, knew that something really special could be done. We formed an engineering partnership with Audience, who supplies the hookup wire and caps in all of our amplifiers. You surely have an appreciation for the promise of the platform. I'm hoping that you will be interested, and have sufficient time, to put your hands on one of these. Let me give you a brief preview.

Starting in late October, we're going to be selling the Audiophile One, our most important product, for $269, both direct and through distribution, The unit will do more than 80wpc RMS cleanly on the bench @ 30v, although we're shipping with a 65watt/24v supply standard that gets you out of the gates at around 30wpc into 4ohms. We'll sell the 30v supply @ 90w for around $50 extra and you can use them as monoblocks if you like, capturing full power in one channel. We are also going to sell a hopped-up version with Auricaps and all copper hardware, the Audiophile Two.

The One and Two are architecturally simple and efficient like most Tripath amps, although we've added tons of stuff in there to support a subwoofer out as well as a 5v jack for future expansion (wireless receiver, motorized pot, fan for hop-ups), Roger's secret sauce and a new cap called 'VirtuCap' which was designed by Audience for the One!

Here's a little flyer for the unit and Roger could send our first pre-production unit out to you as soon as tomorrow, if you are interested. Pick a color, there are five!
Very sincerely,
Seth Krinsky
Virtue Audio

I told myself to wake up and calm down. This nightmare was real. At the same time, it was too enticing to chicken out. Visiting the Virtue Audio website caused REM (rapid eye movement). No other Tripath amp outfit had such a comprehensive range of products right from the start. And the pricing had me blinking and blinking. Yet I was sober enough to stick to my guns.

Empathy is a virtue
I fired off an email explaining my fears and politely declining the offer. Thanks but no thanks. I thought I'd sleep well that night. Alas, things came back, not exactly haunting now but rather, pacifying:

I truly understand your concern. You are brave for getting into all of this and who knows, maybe you'll hang in there for a few more reviews ;-) But I do not believe that there is any conflict at all, nor should there be much comparison with the other units you are discussing. We'll start with the Audiophile One and I'll send more units as they become available... What's a good test for whether an amplifier is going to become a permanent part of your collection or whether it's going to become shelf or AudiogoN-ware? You're taking me back a few years to the original inspiration for Virtue and here's the short list to the best of my recollection.

Great looking, audiophile build quality i.e. no plastic knobs, drives 4 ohms, solid bass, subwoofer output, quality and sure connectors, does not clip during challenging segments, world-class engineering, sufficient power, substantial weight, no nagging upgrade worries (will component upgrades make an audible difference - the answer should be no).

Candor virtue
I began to succumb to the man's refreshing candor. Seth has a gentlemanly attitude and genuine respect for his fellow Tripath players. I was particularly warmed by the attitude that he was not expecting any comparison with other Tripath amps along the lines of "we'll beat 'em all". That'd make my life easier. But it was his short list that intrigued me most. If his little amps could really "drive 4 ohms", stop the "nagging upgrade worries", fulfill every task within the price constraints he'd imposed upon himself... well damn, I wanted to hear them.

I also felt bad that I'd tried to turn him down the first time. As always, I can admit making mistakes. In a matter of days, two Virtue amps arrived at my doorstep - the Audiophile One with the 24v and optional 30v/90w power supply; and an early prototype of the Sensation M451 with a much larger 38v/130w power supply. There's much to discuss about the Sensation but since Virtue cancelled the original production due to reliability issues, expect a full review from me of the final version sometime towards the end of this year.

The Audiophile One and Two give you five powder-coat colors to choose for the chassis: velvet black, brick red, snow white, mesa yellow and cloud blue. The heavy-duty solid chrome knob slightly smaller than the Sensation's matches each of the colors nicely. My review One was brick red. Its sharp look brightened up the room and despite the small size, one had to notice it right away. Its standard power supply is 24v/65w but Seth also packed in the optional 30v/90w upgrade to let me squeeze out more juice from his baby amp.

Fortitude virtue
Patience is a virtue, I know. But I couldn't afford that. I simply couldn't wait to verify the 4-ohm claim. I had a lot of 4 ohmers around baring their teeth staring down at the tiny Audiophile One and losing their patience by the minute. I unleashed the Dynaudio Facette and let it take the first bite. Well, not quite. The One armed with 30v power bit back fearlessly and ferociously. My reference amp with the 4ohm/84dB Facette is the NuForce Reference 9 V2 SE with Audio Zone's Pre-T1 passive preamp. The One seemed to be doing the job without complaints. Although I was sure that somehow my reference amps were far more refined in every aspect, first impressions with this baby amp almost had me clapping. You know those movies that psych up the audience to see the underdog whip the big guy and when that final blow hammers home, you jump up. Yes, you know that feeling.