Dawid listens
. To kick off, I tested the FirstWatt F7 within my own four small walls. In that 7m² room, on a Rogoz 3QB3 rack, sit an Audiobyte Hydra-X+ USB:S/PDIF converter connected to an Asus Xonar Essence III DAC, which serves source and volume control duties into a pair of NuForce REF9 V3SE monos. Speakers in my nearfield setup are Boenicke Audio W5 mini monitors. All cables are from Forza AudioWorks and a Gigawatt PF-1 power strip completes my resident hardware list. The NuForce monos are class D and it's safe to say that they act it. Their bass is excellent - precise, kicking hard, well controlled, not exaggerated, a bit stiff yet something to behold. Whilst having many advantages, they primarily appeal to the listener's attention because of their speed and associated precision. Above the bass, things get less spectacular. By comparison to the F7, the NuForce amps were rather dry, overdamped and lifeless. They were quick, swift and powerful but lacked saturation. This made their bass, transparency and detailing the three strongest suits. Just so they failed to be musical or exhibit that vital draw to involve me deeply. Thus careful matching is required to achieve with them a synergistic setup. It's doable but neither easy nor obvious.

After switching to Nelson's latest, it was striking just how important smoothness and complex texturing really are to (my) musical enjoyment for it was exactly that which the F7 provided - and a lot more. It quickly came to my attention that with the NuForce amps, my midrange desire grew restless. Something of great importance was missing and the W5 speakers' signature character merely intensified that feeling. These all-wood monitors like slightly warmer softer companions. Therefore it was safe to say that in my nearfield setup, I had lack of synergy with the NuForce amps. The F7 changed that drastically. True, its bass was slower and less wiry by contrast yet I was rewarded by more body, roundness and colour which some will fancy whilst others won't. But this increase in texture was still accompanied by control to categorically avoid bloat. Roundness and fullness weren't pronounced enough to devolve into boom. In fact, there was more differentiation though full LF extension did trail the monos. Whether this should count as disadvantage is a rather individual matter. For my setup, the F7's bass was good enough to make my nearfield experience very comfortable and most coherent.

The F7 simply got the midrange. It showed itself to be marvelously pronounced, rich, dense and physiologically attractive, with again superb differentiation. Hence it wasn't a trick of drowning me in warmth with the so common side effect of veiling or gelatinizing. The F7 was tonally stupendous yet simultaneously exceptionally clear and clean. I believe those often mutually exclusive factors explain why I found this latest FirstWatt so particularly pleasurable. The treble didn't fall behind either. Instead of artifice or stiffness, I had great decay, smoothness and delicacy. I'll merely say that the NuForce treble was rather worse, with more damped fades and lacking the finesse and subtlety of the FirstWatt.

It quickly transpired that the F7 soundstaged very well. It was spacious and at least as expanded in width and depth as the high-power competitors. Because the critical midrange was perfectly weighted, my attention was soon drawn to what happened between the speakers. If I wanted to know what went on to the far left or right or behind the first line of performers, no heavy focus was needed. Things revealed themselves naturally and without effort. The NuForce monos pursued this by drawing attention mainly to their low end. What I found impressive about the FirstWatt was its ability to unravel complexity by portraying distances to individual performers with such obviousness. The NuForce went about the same job in a flatter bunter manner. Some listeners might find that attractive but with my W5 speakers, I found myself on a clearly bumpier road. Saturation or tone density aside, other terms to properly capture what the F7 delivered would be ease and clarity. These all struck me as a unique set of traits rarely seen together. But that still wasn't the whole story. Far from it in fact.

At this point you already appreciate that despite being highly resolving, the F7 didn't strike me as a merciless magnifying glass. Pleasure delivery came first. It's the secondary traits' complete avoidance of things that might eventually become tiresome that had me incapable of envisioning a scenario in which I'd grow dissatisfied with the F7/W5 combination. The NuForce monos had been decent. All the same information was there but rather more bluntly and in the end far less pleasurable. After my experiences inside my cozy small room, I concluded that I'd witnessed the clash of two different leagues of performance. The F7 simply sounded right. It generated musicality, smoothness and density, then combined it with a vast highly sorted three-dimensional soundstage. Superb effortlessness about it all prevented my nearfield experience from ever turning claustrophobic. I was always ready to prime the pump on certain convoluted tracks. I can say that of about a dozen amps I had until then tried on my Swiss happiness mini monitors, Nelson's amp was the best. It delivered the most involving and emotional experience. Now it was high time to change my environment and see how it'd fare against pricier competitors in larger spaces.