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Let's not beat around the bush. In the listening chair, the STP performs exactly as all the fancy specs would promise. This machine is highly dynamic, exceptionally transparent and -- even if ancillary components aren't fully endowed -- chock full of color. It's thus the antithesis of bleached, polite, mellow or lean. By way of listener response, it's decidely not passive. Regardless, most owners will never transition into its gain zone to operate it like a conventional active preamp. Whereas Esoteric's C-03 three-stage switchable master gain provides distinctive analog signal processing (and where input level trim can compensate to make even the most additive +24dB option work for efficient systems), the STP's gain transition has been automated. You can't use voltage gain as a tuning feature to be switched in and out of the circuit at will. Wyred's solution thus becomes a one-sound-fits-all approach. That's exactly like most every other analog preamplifier in the good book.

Alas, the STP is far from just another preamplifier. Like the Esoteric and SMc Audio units, it belongs to that still quite rare but supremely promising category one might rightfully call activated passives. Such designs very deliberately combine two apparently opposing religions: the ultra resolution of traditional 'look ma, no power cord' passives; and the tone color depth, drive and dynamics of the best 'plugged in' active circuits. In fact, plugged in very much describes the intensity of energy transmission at work here. It's a function of speed and color. Usually 'fast' and 'saturated' are core qualities with a number of associated attributes which conflict. They tend to refuse to go hand in hand. The audiophile becomes perennially involved with strategically voicing between components for just the right overall balance. Tone versus speed. Transparency versus density. Here the ideal balance seems built in. It's really quite the wicked combination. It might have you question valves in low-level circuits - not valves per se but the need for them. As the accompanying measurements to Art Dudley's Stereophile review of the Wavelength Cosecant v3 USB DAC showed, the thermionic presence contributed to clear nonlinearities in the output of that device.

Perhaps that's why Shigeki Yamamoto, famous for his SETs, decided for his first YDA-01 digital-to-analog converter on a solid-state single-ended zero feedback circuit. In other words, he completely banished all glowing bits. Another tube amp designer working on a USB DAC confided that while his distributors expect at least one tube in it, he is convinced it doesn't belong there. To satisfy his clients and farspread perception (the one which insists that a tube designer must always use tubes since they are superior to transistors), his DAC will have transistor and tube outputs. I simply know which signal path he considers superior in that instance.

If a core trait of the Esoteric C-03 is a silken elegance, the quality the Amercian counters with is projection density. This makes our demure crinkle-paint machine into a very corporeal operator with a sunny disposition and a high level of vitality or muscular fitness. Amplifiers you know to be more restrained or polite become more communicative. Speakers which at low levels tend to wash out faster than others benefit from the delayed death the STP's color saturation builds into their fade. They manage to sound fuller longer while the volume goes down.

Tube aficionados could be quite shocked to discover that the STP aces the dynamic and timbre expander action one traditionally expects predominantly from superior valve units. Compared to most of those I've had through, the STP is quieter and hence, more resolved. It's also fully extended in either direction and additionally ultra robust. This is perhaps most noticeable in the midrange where transistors may not be anticipated to fully shine. Whoever claims that transistors only color with half the crayons in the box has never met the Wyred. Its general gestalt very much lays the music at your feet or in your lap. The performers do not require being sought after way back there behind the speakers. And this is not a function of forward perspective. It's the the power of projection instead, exactly what a prized orator does who, even when burdened with having to deliver a technically challenging and otherwise terribly odious lecture, has your attention by the shorthairs. A lesser presenter's personal aura does not extend remotely that far. Such a speaker has anyone outside of his reach fall asleep or at the very least adrift in the mind. Then lectures turn abstract. In the audiophile equivalent, music turns to remote viewing. But not here!

This preamp is thus a very compelling and exciting performer. It is clearly more intense than the C-03 and comes on song far quicker. The Esoteric takes a few days and should ideally not be powered down (as a rule, I leave all my non-tube low-level components powered up all the time). The Wyred seemed far less afflicted by power-downs. Perhaps it's EJ's avoidance of integrated circuits?

Back to the core theme of robustness and intensification. It really smacks of high circuit gain. Usually, that would also entail higher noise to shadow the desired real benefits with a liability especially in a high-resolution context. Here all these effects are fully evident with zero gain. It's quite the conceptual train wreck.. To catch up with the STP, Esoteric's $10,000 C-03 needs to be set to at least +12dB before it activates a similar signal conditioning. That's not what I believe most experienced audiophiles would correlate with this particular circuit's general description and price. One does expect transparency, low-level resolution, great ambient retrieval and heightened spaciousness. Check that box. Delivered in full.

What one should not expect is this CineVision type color intensity. It is neither warmth nor girth. It's simply a brighter and deeper color palette from which one's system now draws. Well - cough. If it really were 'simply', it shouldn't have taken me seven years of high-volume reviewing before I finally came across it.

That's not calling it completely and utterly unique. Any such statements rely on omniscience your writer doesn't possess. But I certainly can say that to this particular extent, I've not heard it before when valves were absent.

It's honestly more than a mild case of brain tease (but we'll keep it PG13). EJ Sarmento's solution is the perfect hybrid of an attenuation transformer passive and high-bandwidth low-noise valve preamp. Such beasts of course already roam the wild prairie. What's unprecedented is that a/, it's all been accomplished without tubes or TVC; and b/ through at last d/, it's been brought in at $1,799 with the most desirable remote-control conveniences. No matter how you turn this around in your hands and head, that's a seriously high-value proposition with extreme performance. Call it a Blue Moon Award winner with a big helping of Realsization sensibilities thrown in. Or in short, one helluva sweet deal!

Quality of packing:
Very stout.
Reusability of packing: Multiple times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Power cord, owner's manual.
Quality of owner's manual: Very good.
Ease of assembly: None required.
Website comments: Perfectly informative and easy to navigate.
Human interactions: Prompt and forthcoming on all info requested.
Pricing: Aggressively competitive.
Final comments & suggestions: Brilliant hybrid between the often mutually exclusive goals of passive transparency, active drive and dynamics and the intensity of tube tone.

Manufacturer's reply: One thing I noticed is that the unit you were shipped was the STP-SE model.  It's an upgraded version with Kimber Tcss wire for the input/output wiring and better caps in the 2nd filtering stage (the 4 x 22,000uf caps).  In the stock version, we use ribbon cables instead of the Kimber and all the same 22,000uf caps (as the 3 on the side of the board you had).  We normally leave this as a customer option, call it the SE version and charge an additional $200. I think the easiest way to solve this is to change what I have on the site to STP-SE. If you could change what you have in the same manner and raise the price to $1999 so we're comparing apples to apples, that would be great.  I'm sorry for the extra work as I know what it's like much more than others but I don't want to mislead anyone in their purchase.  Do you think that this would be the correct way around it; or do you feel that it would be worth having two different versions just $200 apart? I just don't see that anyone would purchase the cheaper version if they could get a better one for just $200 more?  The improvements were subtle but nonetheless real. - EJ Sarmento

[I notified EJ that I felt a manufacturer's reply was the most appropriate solution. In these times of economic hardship for many, $200 could well make a difference and some might like to know about this option. Needless to say, my opinion and stated findings are not affected in the least by this 'surcharge' - Ed]

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