Right of passage. With overseas shipments, I'm routinely curious. What zigzagged path will their journey go? With the LessLoss amps being right of Ireland on the map, UPS sent them from Karmelava in Lithuania to Wolka Kosowska then Dobra Strykow in Poland, Berlin then Langenhagen in Germany, Barking then Tamworth in the UK. This hit two hubs per country. Even the destination country managed two, Dublin to Shannon. Germans call that doppelt gemoppelt. And receiving two externally identical amps—though flipping the boutique version would reveal far more belly screws—was exactly that: double trouble. Of course my ears expected not even a quarter trouble telling them apart. Why else would Louis bother? My question would be about gap size and flavor difference. How much better was the LessLoss version; and what made it so? The rest of the hardware would be the usual iMac/PureMusic, a Denafrips Terminator DAC, our Wyred4Sound STP-SE II preamp and Audio Physic Codex speakers for a front-to-back balanced signal path. Both amps would remain powered up for the duration. Cable swaps would first disconnect the speakers, then swap the interconnects, then reconnect the speakers. This would avoid potential switching transients where class D can generate massive peak currents.

Ocellia OCC Silver speaker cables and power cords. Artesania Audio and Verictum Audio RF/EMI traps on amps just because we have them.

Left-behind passage. As anticipated, this whodunnit was easily sorted. What I'll call the X amp for its eXtra stuff—internally in parts, sonically in 'more'—distinguished itself on two levels. The first had to do with raw quantity. Here the bass was better articulated, front-to-back layering more developed, the treble more suave and vocals were more present. The second had to do with quality even though that intersected the first. Describing why the feel was more organic and fluid leads to lazier lengthier decays and background sounds more connected to the foreground. The plain Jane's drier take coincided with sharper separation but lacked the more holistic elasticity of the X. One was pricklier and more staccato, the other rounder, smoother and of a more legato persuasion.

Saying it different, certain aspects were processed by just my analytical mind. Its virtual notes of more/less comparison inspected the better visibility at the frequency extremes and of the imaging precision in general. The depth layers of X during chorus interludes had superior development. With it the low beats of the Bombay Dub Orchestra had more impact and weight. Other aspects involved feeling. Feeling into the two presentations arrived at two different gestalts. One was cooler, sharper, more bare boned and lean. The other was richer, mellower, smoother and fuller. Quick A/B tend to focus on differential analysis. Sometimes its offsets can seem quite marginal. Lengthier A/B set analysis aside. They don't just taste the water but actually swim in it. Getting fully immersed in a playlist leaves an imprint in the feeling dimension. That afterglow one inspects not during the session but when it's over. Doing enough such floating sessions, it soon becomes clear that in their wake, our body/mind occupies different spaces. Measurement freaks must ridicule this psychic aspect since it won't show up on any scope. But pleasure listeners really only care about what gives them greater pleasure. That's a feeling response. As such it's rather more inclusive than being concerned with just our isolated ear/brain data.

Exceeding X's smaller mental/quantitative betterments then was this afterglow quality. Here lingered on a stronger flavour of space, ambiance and calm. When hifi sound gets bonier, we become more aware of its structural/architectural aspects. It's a quasi forensic inspection. How are things put together? When hifi sounds gets fleshier, pseudo bodily aspects of skin and muscle tone, vitality and colour dominate. Now it's more about presence and expression, less about mechanics. To my ears, those were the two playgrounds in which these class D amps frolicked. To mental-first listeners, some or most of these differences will seem far too minor to justify the massive price jump. To feeling-first listeners, they could become the make-or-break deal. Wherein hides no judgment. Au contraire. If you can find happiness with a lot less money, you're one lucky devil indeed. Some of us are simply more complicated. For an alternate take on LessLoss Firewall effects, read Vance Hiner's review of the Echo's End DAC. Between us—and we've not had any exchanges—there's no doubt. These Firewall cards really do the trick. That it could take quite the stacked deck to become a big enough win would simply seem par for this course and the effect of increasing conductor mass from multi-paralleled circuit traces.

This conclusion falls into the general power-cords-make-a-diff category. For a change, today's effects simply happened inside a component chassis. By not touching the actual amplifying hardware or even its power supply, the cause for these sonic changes lived in the noise reduction and power conditioning realm. It confirmed that to obtain total performance, everything matters. Of course to care about this totalitarian pursuit is a very specialized interest. One must be able to afford and indulge it. What today's experiment showed is that it takes no luxury gear at all to hear differences or create improvements. Already a generic class D module benefits and LessLoss' own D/A converter applies the same Firewall tech to an OEM Soekris discrete R2R module. So clearly not all card trick wins are about cheating...

LessLoss respond: Thanks for comparing these otherwise identical amps. Any electrical engineer would spot three arguments for why the stock amp was supposed to sound better, contrary to findings. These things speak against 'proper' design because the LessLoss'd version had: 
• many more soldering points,
• much more internal wiring length,
• and much longer signal paths.

Yet it follows from these observations that the results from the amp with Firewalls onboard were clearly better. This shows the power and effectiveness of the Firewall solution. It vastly overcomes the disadvantages associated with the above. What's more, both amps had less than 20 minutes play time at the time of dispatch. Any argument that the increased wire length, addition of multitudinous soldering points and vastly increased signal paths need burn-in time to 'catch up' in sonic maturity to the naked stock amp simply falls apart. This again speaks clearly about the effectiveness of the Firewall solution. We have plenty of customers who attest that full sonic maturity from the Firewall comes only after a good two to three weeks of use, some say longer! But here we read that the solution with inclusion of the Firewall modules outperformed the stock solution far sooner. [Manufacturers are always advised to ship us gear that's already pre-conditioned as we cannot set aside systems/room to burn in things when some makers claim 500-1'000hrs are required - Ed.] LessLoss are happy to custom build power distribution solutions based on Firewall stacks. Not all stock gear has room inside for such re-organization. Although the LessLoss Firewall 1X and 5X products are great for using the technology in a non-invasive manner, the true power of the solution lies in the possibilities of custom-designed modular stacking. Here only the sky is the limit. To this day, LessLoss are not aware of any 'overkill' threshold. This solution truly does not color sonic timbre nor negatively impact dynamic performance. And there is magic to that! [Above bench images by LessLoss.] - Louis Motek

LessLoss website