My next stop was colleague Marek Dyba's place. As is often the case with professional audio journalists, despite several constant elements of domestic systems, many things change regularly, often drastically. Marek's listening room is always stacked with devices awaiting their turn. Many of them are expensive and one never knows what will be on tap. The usual suspects I knew well, namely LampizatOr's Big7 DAC with a pair of regular Psvane 101 direct-heated triodes plus some vintage rectifier; and the 100dB Bastanis Matterhorn 100kg monsters. Those in fact were the reason for my short road trip. The FirstWatt is a peculiar device which, judging by its specs, will be perfect for some speakers and not so others. As an example of the former, Marek's German coffins surely applied. But there was more. In my host's habitat I spied two posh Swiss devices: a Nagra Jazz tube preamp and their new solid-stage 100wpc Classic Amp, both serious money and many times more than the F7. The Nagra amp of course was there to test the F7's mettle. "Let's get down to business, shall we?" was Marek's challenge delivered with a crooked smile.

After the first switch, it was rather obvious to me how we compared two very different devices. In this new environment, the FirstWatt showed the same colours it had in my digs already. The midrange was rich and full, the bass rather calm, the treble smooth and delicate and all of it very involving. This was a very pleasant and effortless yet still detailed sound with unique charm. Not for one second did I think that the F7 had suddenly become a bottleneck for its far pricier mates. I felt reassured that this was simply a great amp, period. With the Nagra Classic Amp on the pedestal, this musical situation suddenly got stiffer and more precise but maintained high refinement. Nagra's power amplifier was tonally stingier yet more accurate and to the point, with its detailing more obvious. Its low end was uniformly punchier yet less present and full. Its midrange was harder and not romantically elevated whilst the top end was more illuminated and present. After giving AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" a go then comparing it to Luca Stricagnoli's acoustic version, I was clear that the F7's approach was subjectively more enjoyable. It simply was denser, fuller, warmer and more saturated.

Meanwhile my host defended the Nagra. He pointed out that the Classic Amp dispatched the data without sweetener to simply be about the truth. Marek also found it to be more resolving. To a degree I agreed with the last part. To make his point, Marek selected one of his trademark Jazz vocals—sadly I don't recall which—and after several A/B, I understood what he was on about. Yes, the Classic Amp delivered its highs in an even clearer more differentiated fashion. That's what had me agree with my host who also insisted that Nagra's take was more audiophile and truthful whereas the FirstWatt was mainly about pleasure. Those were fair remarks, especially coming from a professional audio journalist. Any component which uncomplicates our job to be precise and informative is right. It makes things easier for us. Yet both of us also agreed that the F7 was trained to propagate musical value above all else and was exceptional about that. Nelson's creation might not be the ultimate reviewer's tool yet why should it have to be? What counts is that it delivers far too much pure pleasure to simply pass over with a shrug-off.

Something curious remained. Marek's source, probably its volume control module, acted off. The result was easily audible noise over his very efficient speaker. When rocking out this was obscured but during calmer quieter passages, my host got aggravated. Just so, switching from Nagra's Classic Amp to the FirstWatt F7 nearly completely ameliorated this unpleasantness. I've perhaps failed to impress upon the reader just how quiet Nelson's amp operates but paying my visit to Marek's 100dB speakers and witnessing the competition really drove this point home. Suitably impressed, I left his crib and proceeded to my main reviewing room.

I view our PCLab listening cellar as my own little kingdom. Here a LampizatOr Golden Gate DAC with Psvane Western Electric replica 101D-L and 274B-TII rectifier handles both the digits and volume control. The F7's chief competitor would be a Sanders Audio Magtech amp. My cable loom here again is mostly Forza AudioWorks Noir and Concept power cords. A Lavardin K-Rak and Gigawatt PF-2 AC box fill out the hardware. Two pairs of 10-inch 2-way floorstanders on hand became loads with horn-loaded tweeters that would play to the F7's specs: the 92dB German Blumenhofer Genuin FS3 MK2 and the Polish 98dB concrete JWS Ifaisteio Tsimento.