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The Red Wine Audio 30.2 Integrated Amplifier
Off The Grid. Way Off

 

July 2008

 

 



Gasoline is expensive and electricity, dirty. Everyone’s griping about the former, but it’s pretty much just we audiophiles who care about the latter. Okay- so maybe there’s some electron microscopist and/or high-energy physicist somewhere who cares right along with us, but for the most part - it’s just us.

As for rope-thick power cords and expensive power conditioners, well, if you’ve played around with as many as I have over the years, you learn that like all things audio, they’re very system dependent indeed. That big-boy Krell for example, might not cotton to your little magic box but your CD player may love it. Similarly, a garden-hose power cord that lets your Krell breathe easy may leave your seestem sounding a bit deflated when connected to your preamp. Yep - when it comes to power cords ’n conditioners your mileage will certainly vary.

So do what I do; listen to your stereo only between 2 and 4 AM on alternate Thursdays in cooler months when power demand is at its nadir. Or…. Get off the Grid!


Batteries Included

Big ones. Vinnie Rossi’s dense, black, minimalist aluminum brick arrives with two big ‘uns already installed, thank you very much - no assembly required. The Red Wine Audio 30.2 lives off them. Sure it’s got a power cord, but said cord serves only to keep the charger for these two internal batteries connected at all times to your wall outlet so that when you make the music stop and turn in for the night, the 30.2 can tank up on charge.

Once its had its considerable fill of electrons, the 30.2 can run for 12 to 24 hours (depending) without crying uncle. Even if you leave the unit on accidentally for say, two days, no need to fret - Vinnie has provided for us ADHD-ers via a built-in SMART module which keeps abreast of the dwindling voltage, and rather than let your batteries be damaged by a ‘deep-discharge’, turns the unit off and activates the charger. Trust me; the man is thinking of you. Nice guy, eh?

Wait a sec - this amp is small (12“x10.5“x3.5“) and most of its guts are two huge batteries. So where’s all the internals; the transformers, the tubes…the… whatever else amplifiers have inside them taking up space and costing money? Oh I get it now - hey Vinnie, is this one of those friggin’ chip amps or new-fangled digital jobs?! And for that matter, what IS a chip amp?! What gives?!!

According to Vinnie, here‘s what gives (you didn’t think I knew, did ya?); “The Signature 30.2 uses a 30wpc Tripath chipset (input stage chip and output driver stage chip), but this is a totally different technology from a Gain Clone. I believe the Gain Clones are called ‘chip amps’ but I'm not so sure the Class-T amps (Tripath) are called ‘chip amps’ even though they also use a chip or two ;)” [smiley face, his]. Vinnie continues, “You can think of a Gain Clone chip as a large op amp that can power speakers (and is class AB). Class T is a different animal…”


Vive La Difference

Through the repeated ‘on/offing’ of months and months of day-to-day use, I never heard a word of protest from the 30.2. I slid my finger gently over the neat little electrically sensitive membrane that activates the amp, the power light would illuminate and I would hear a little ‘click.’ No drama. A tiny bit of hiss was evident if I put my ear right up to the speaker drivers. That’s it - no reliability/operational issues whatsoever. If the manual didn’t talk charging and discharging and battery power etc., you’d likely have no notion you were dealing with anything but your standard quiet and operationally reliable Mark Levinson or Classe or whatever. Ah - that’s exotic technology at its best - ergonomically indistinguishable from conventional technology but affording certain distinct functional advantages- such as decreased size, weight, heat production and/or fuel consumption. With the RWA 30.2 you can put a check mark in all those boxes. The remote worked great too - a welcome touch after the ala carte Lavardin amp I had been fooling with!

On first connecting the RWA amp, I used my usual JPS Labs SC 3 IC’s along with the JPS speaker cables I’ve used for years. My friend Charles, visiting from out of state, was in a corner chair ‘my-spacing‘, or whatever he does on that Steve Jobs wonder-box, watching me go through the spiritual though thoroughly unholy dance-of-connectivity. Satisfied nothing would blow up, I fed some eminently forgettable pop CD or other of his into the Lector and pushed ‘play.’

While the music, to my taste anyway, was forgettable, the sound certainly was not. Via the Living Voice speakers I had on loan, the bass and drive from said forgettable electronic band or other was astounding! I had never heard the LV’s, normally bow-tied and buttoned-down British gentleman, get down with their bad selves like that! ‘You go girls!’, I felt like shouting. From the corner, Charles concurred.

I know, I know - my fave reviewer Art Dudley says we’re not supposed to give a damn about sound, just music; but when bass is that friggin’ ballsy and tight, well, that’s what I care about! That the Red Wine amp followed the recently departed, elegant, equally minimalist and identically spec’d Lavardin IS Reference into my system, probably helped matters. For, while the French gentleman was suave, debonair and solidly assembled, it certainly didn’t kick ass and name takes like this little black brick [insert political joke here].

In every way, the Lavardin was a delight to hear - full of light and shimmer and music and hope. I came to feel though that the Red Wine, while shaving perhaps a glint of silver off say, the shimmer of a cymbal or a soprano high C, was the more dynamic and engaging of the two. As compared with the elegant Lavardin, the 30.2 seemed to imbue slow passages in string quartets with a touch more urgency and arpeggios sung by the likes of Juan Diego Florez and Kathy Battle seemed simultaneously to be more ’speedy’ and to evidence more contrast between piano and forte. “The Lavardin is not at all bland - it’s just that the 30.2 is so full of energy,” I remember thinking.


Cable Wars

As I burned through more and more unforgettable and indispensable CDs in the course of the initial review process, I came to be bothered by what I took to be a slight case of the ‘warm and fuzzies.’ All my fave CDs sounded like themselves - except perhaps more dynamic and engaging than usual- but I couldn’t shake the notion there might be too much single-ended 300B in this Class T.

Since the JPS Superconductor 3 cables have served me so well over the year or so I have had them, I had no reason to believe they’d be anything but great when strapped to the Red Wine. And they weren’t. But they were a touch warm. A synergy issue? Perhaps. I emailed Vinnie early in my sonic evals and apprised him of the ‘humidity’ I was hearing. He assured me that some owners had actually complained that the amp might be too detailed and revealing - even a touch on the bright side! He thought cables might be the issue. I promptly swapped the JPS cables for my trusty Stereovox Firebirds (review now long overdue and pending) and voila! Tonal balance now nigh on perfect in my system; your results WILL vary! I got similarly musically engaging results with a meter pair of DH Labs Air Matrix interconnects as well, albeit with both cheaper cables giving me a touch less of the wonderful dimensionality the pricier SC-3’s do so well.

Continuing, Pavarotti’s voice on the hard-to-find King of the High Cs CD I so treasure [Decca], now sounded forth with all its sheen and metal intact and the RWA sounded to me just about like a great push-pull tube amp. I even preferred it in many regards to the superb Manley Stingray I had in house for a time and not just with Pavarotti. The Manley seemed to be a bit higher strung in general than Red Wine. It was certainly capable of both its fair share of nuance and drive, though I could never quite relax into the sound like I could with the 30.2. The Stingray could be mildly edgy, emphasizing transients at the expense of sustain. Comparatively, it was a touch forward with slightly less subtlety on high and a bit less bass wallop (if you can believe it!) to boot.

I’m tempted to assign blame for some of these minor shortcomings to the Manley’s internal passive pre which, while purportedly simplifying the circuits of those integrateds employing them, have seemed always to leave me wanting a touch more depth and gravitas tonally. I know, I know, the Red Wine uses a passive too - but this baby is a Goldpoint; a very pricey little bugger several times over as much as the pot employed in the Manley. Hey, if you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly! Vinnie can likely afford to employ so high-fallutin’ a part because there simply are not that many parts of any kind in the thing in the first place! Minimalism (in moderation) has its advantages.

Continuing, via my recently acquired Quad ESL-63’s, Madeleine Peyroux’s voice on her Careless Love CD [Rounder 11661 3192-2] was intoxicating. My friend borrowed my Lector CD player for a week or two and by happy accident, left this CD in the drawer. Possessed of a Nora Jones-like smokiness, though to my ears more interesting and varied interpretatively, Ms. Peyroux all but entered my room via the Lector/Red Wine/Quad combo and made me wonder almost aloud between songs at the necessity, at least in a small to medium sized room, of 30 or 40 grand spent on a stereo.

Yeah, yeah; the ‘power and the majesty’ of a big pair of Pass amps driving a huge pair of Wilsons - I know, I know. Well, I’ll see your ‘power and majesty’ and raise you my downstairs neighbors Bill and Debbie, both of whom keep working-stiff hours and are high-ranking members of the condo board. See my point?


More Cause Celebre And A Non Level-Matched Comparison…Or Two

Okay, so I preferred the elegantly simple and eco-friendly Red Wine Audio 30.2’s way with ballads, arias and argentine tangos to several very respectable integrateds that have passed these ears recently, and even to many (most?) separates I’ve had in-house. How then might it fare though against say, a pre/power pair of relatively universally agreed upon goodness such as VTLs or Conrad Johnsons or Audio Research(es?). Glad I asked, because I have loaded this question by just happening to have on hand the widely hailed (and rightly so), Audio Research LS-5 Mk. 3 preamp of yore and the nearly-but-not-quite-equally widely hailed Classic 60 amplifier, also of yore.

As usual, for your sanity and mine, I will spare you the soul-sucking CD by CD, Hong Kong telephone directory style comparison and cut to the chase. In any case, such a marathon really wasn’t necessary (it rarely is) as a few familiar CDs told me all I needed to know.

In essence, the LS-5/Classic 60 combo served both to highlight in yellow two minor sonic quibbles I noted with the 30.2 while at the same time affirming I was not blinded and thus tricked into praising the unit more highly than it deserved by the admittedly glowing light of its user-friendliness.

Yep, no mistaking it; against the LS-5/Classic 60 combo via my reasonably efficient speakers, at sane though not a bit quiet levels, the 30.2 was capable of just about as much ’power and majesty’ with major symphonic works and potent operatic endings such as Mehta’s incredible Turandot with Pavarotti and Sutherland [Decca 414 274-2], and this at half the rated power! It delivered all the kettle drum pounding and potent instrumental outbursts that underpin the high vocal drama of Prince Calaf solving the fair but reluctant Turandot’s three riddles and refused to congeal when presented with Turandot’s massed (and massive!) choral fortissimos.

Tonally, the AR combo presented operatic baritones and basses with perhaps a shade more chest than the Red Wine amp and resolved a touch more of the hall echo resulting from their declamations. Also, string textures seemed a mite more meaty and rosiny. There was also a bit more soundstage depth, though not necessarily breadth, evident via the AR combo.

Finally, while the Red Wine amp made music in a less tension-inducing manner than various and sundry amps preceding it, the AR combo may have been a bit more easeful still, while retaining the music’s propulsive qualities. The Red Wine though, may have had the edge when it came down to sheer PRaT. In fact, the 30.2 was noteworthy in this regard.
Buuut…. the AR combo is much bigger and brawnier, requires replacement tubes periodically, is far noisier during quiet passages, sucks current and cuts down on my heating bills in the winter. Now during the summer….

I did prefer too, the typical continuously variable volume pot on the AR pre to the stepped attenuator on the Red Wine amp. The Red Wine’s attenuation steps are sensible enough, but there were some occasions where I wished for a step in between what the 30.2 offered me.

In any case; a bit more resolution/soundstage depth, mildly richer tonal colors and maybe a bit more ease in the general conveyance of music. The inimitable magic of tubes? Maybe. In fact, Red Wine Audio is betting on it, because as good as the RWA 30.2 integrated is, in that it may be deployed either in fully integrated form or purely as a power amplifier, the additional jigger of impedance-matched tube magic ye seek is now available. For a price, of course.
Isabella, the matching battery-powered tubed pre-amp, (pretty namesake of the designer’s equally adorable though batteries-not-included new baby girl), is now available and if preliminary written accounts along with the candid assessments of Mr. Rossi himself are to be believed, it neatly does for the 30.2 precisely what you might like it to - sprinkle a bit of tube-essence on the silicon. Preliminary musings point to an increase in soundstage depth and air, somewhat more colorful instrumental textures and even more of that already heady bass and dynamism.

My brief experience pairing the 30.2 with tubed pre-amps such as the Shindo Aurieges L and the AR LS-5 certainly sounded promising. Each brought their own pleasures to the mix, though reassuringly, for various reasons neither pairing convinced me utterly of its superiority to the solo 30.2. Designed expressly for pairing with the Red Wine Amps, though likely to be at home in many systems, Vinnie assures me Isabella will argue more persuasively. In the meanwhile I’m enjoying my 30.2. Yep - my 30.2. Elegantly simple, functionally flawless and sonically whole, I couldn’t pass this one by. At the price, it strikes me as an utter sonic triumph and serves to remind me daily that different isn’t always better, though sometimes it very definitely is!

                     

Specifications:

Power output 30 Watts RMS per channel into 8-ohms at 0.04% THD+N
Recommended nominal speaker impedance 4 to 16 ohm
(if you have questions regarding your particular set of speakers, please feel free to contact us)
Input Impedance 20k (with volume control option), or 100k (power amp)
Input sensitivity Approx. 0.5 Vrms
DC Offset Voltage Hand-tuned to no greater than +/- 5mV
Batteries 2 x 12V, 5Ah Sealed Lead-Acid (SLA) batteries connected in series (24V system)
Battery charger 24V, 2,000mA SLA "Auto-Charger," custom-modified for use with Red Wine Audio SMART module
Typical play time between full charges Varies between 12 to 24 hours -- depending on speaker impedance, volume level, and musical demands
Dimensions (Power Amp version) 12” width x 9.5” depth (including rear panel jacks) x 3.5” height (including feet)
Dimensions (Integrated Amp version) 12” width x 10.5” depth (including volume knob and rear panel jacks) x 3.5” height (including feet)
Weight (w/o charger) Approx. 14 lbs.
Package weight Approx. 18 lbs.


Price: $3,000.00

Address: Red Wine Audio
50 High St., Unit 2B
Meriden, CT 06450

Website: www.redwineaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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