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No matter all prior texting, sexting and skyping, meeting your Russian mail-order bride in the flesh for the first time should still surprise. Despite the stock shots and the L1 being a soulless machine by comparison (no endearing accent, no unexpected personality), laying eyes on it in the metal for the first time still is a minor shock. But even photos can tickle hard. Take Hong Kong's Funjoe of Clones Audio. He expressed surprise when his parcel to me arrived within two days. I seconded it. WAL's package had left three days earlier also by Hong Kong speed post. It still languished in Geneva "awaiting customs inspection". I told Funjoe. He didn't know of Wow Audio Lab. I sent a link.

The micro grooves are angled differently for each facet. They even show on the oval display opening's beveled edge.

"Wow. Beautiful stuff. I can't believe it. Another Hong Kong brand. Of course they pursue a different price bracket than I do. But wow!" Unsolicited and from a competitor, this reiterated it. The seemingly cliché name really is spot on. Unpacking the machine reinforced it once more. Granted, the iridescent stripes are near trademark of Jeff Rowland's favorite machine shop Vertec Tool in Colorado Springs. In high-end audio it's been copied only once by EAD. But if you must, borrow from the very best; justify with execution just as impeccable; and tie with a bow of something extra, here far lower pricing.

Despite their diamond-cut eye candy with micro grooves on the Avalon facets—the above shows most sections removed from solid stock which leave behind the final L1 chassis—WAL don't appeal to shallowness. "With our filter capacitors for example there's an optimum range for a given circuit. Beyond a certain capacitance value the sound degrades. The number of output devices too has to be carefully determined to get the best result. We do not artificially inflate filter capacitance or number of output devices as a marketing strategy to attract attention. The monocoque chassis design really traces back to its dramatic sonic influence. The machined-from-solid aluminium alloy and internal chambers combat vibrations and RF/EM interference. They keep out moisture and dust, retard oxidation and elongate life expectancy for the machine. All heat-generating parts are coupled directly to the chassis. This converts into a high-mass heat sink to ensure low-heat working conditions for the parts. Whilst our goal of compact size is friendly even for a bedroom, from an engineering perspective it caused many serious challenges. We had to utilize all of the available real estate with utmost efficiency yet avoid interference between different parts." During my Timekeeper review team Burson had relayed the same message. Going compact without a hit on sound quality creates self-inflicted engineering pain. That's why with mechanical movement watches the smallest one could be the most expensive.

Here we see the headfi compartment with the display and 6.3mm headphone jack at the very front and the discrete headfi regulator and power modules behind them. Plugging a headphone in won't mute the main outputs since they're on different circuits altogether. This mandates a bit of user discipline when alternating between preamp and headphone modes. The stepped volume control remembers settings for each of the two inputs and balance controls both preamp and headfi outputs.

Four modules of two paralleled Toshiba C5171 and A1913 each for voltage regulation of the headfi section (L+, L-, R+, R-), two power modules of K2013+J313 Mosfet pairs for the 6.3mm headfi socket. The pre-out power & voltage regulation sections are located in the back compartment shown below.

Aother view on the preamp section from above to highlight the chunky gold-plated circuit traces.

Note the elegant avoidance of flying leads for the i/o sockets.

Clearly it's all a very serious case of real beauty being far more than skin deep.

Shipped in sturdy cling-wrapped carton for moisture protection and cradled in dense white foam shells plus black cloth bag, delivery matched. Only the credit-card remote—with buttons for display off/on (during 'off' the display alights with remote or manual changes, then dims again), input select (not manually switchable and marked CD/CAS), left/right balance, volume up/down and mute—could strike hardcore metal fetishists as lightweight. Something just like it also accompanies my €200 Pro-Ject digital iPod dock. An alu clunker would probably have missed the intended price since to properly match the component the wand too would have wanted either the micro grooving, refractive stripes or both.

After 6 hours of constant play, the L1 got barely warm to the touch.

First sonic impressions above when the L1 replaced Questyle's CMA800R which had replaced Clones' matching AP1? Superior preamps remain perplexingly influential on sonics even when they're utterly redundant on gain or, with variable sources, even on volume. Hitting the basics of high S/N ratio and low output impedance to net resolution and drive isn't that hard especially with transistors. Creating that special thing which wouldn't have you dream of going source-direct - that's much harder. That the WAL applied was clear right off. That describing the 'thing' would be harder was too.