A Stereo Amp That Packs a Punch
Updated April 15 at 11 a.m.
Vinnie Rossi is a very clever guy.
Vinnie handcrafts home audio equipment. The gear he produces is very special, because he's not afraid to experiment and tweak his designs until they sound great. He's also special because he's got a great ear -- and can parlay that into amazing-sounding stereo equipment.
For instance, Vinnie has done a lot of work on stereo amplifiers, first tweaking inexpensive Class D transistor amplifier designs, then making an amp of his own. He calls his company Red Wine Audio, and that amp was called his Signature 30. It was greeted by wild enthusiasm and a bunch of very complimentary reviews.But Vinnie wasn't completely satisfied that the 30 was perfect. Although the amp sounded good, something needed further tweaking. Vinnie doesn't like alternating current -- at least not straight from the wall. Vinnie, and a number of other audio aficionados, believe that unplugging equipment and using rechargeable batteries to supply the power makes the component sound better. There's less interference from all the other electrical items in your home. So the original Signature 30 had rechargeable batteries inside, and the new Signature 30.2, has a SLA (sealed lead acid) battery as well as the clever SMART unit (SLA battery monitoring and auto-recharge circuit). The new amp automatically begins to recharge the (user-replaceable) battery as soon as you turn off the amp. The Signature 30.2 measures 12 inches by 10.5 inches by 3.5 inches and weighs a hefty 14 pounds (mostly from the battery). There's an easy-touch on-off switch and a big volume control on the front. There's also a multifunction remote control -- but it's only used as a remote volume control. There is one set (each) of RCA line-level input and output jacks on the back -- as well as five-way speaker posts. The amp is capable of delivering 30 watts per channel into any speaker load from 4 to 16 ohms. If you have a question about using a particular type of speaker, ask Vinnie -- he'll know the answer. He said I could even use the 30.2 on my ancient Quad ESL-57 speakers -- which present an amazingly difficult load to any amplifier. Because the amp uses batteries, I was assured the Red Wine Audio amp wouldn't blow my speakers. After allowing the amp a burn-in period (of a few weeks in my case), I can happily report that Vinnie really knows his stuff. Not only is this amplifier a perfect match electrically for my system, but my Quads never sounded so good. Same for a number of other more conventional speakers I have in my test lab. Of all the amplifiers that I've tested in recent years, the Signature 30.2 is one of the best. Period. This amp is quick, accurate and amazingly reliable. Both the low bass as well as the high treble sounds coming from my Quads seem amazingly extended and real -- not an easy feat. The Quads are very revealing of bad equipment being used. The battery-charging system worked flawlessly. Turning the amp off after every listening session allowed the battery to be in tip-top shape the next time we wanted to use it. Even nine-hour marathon music sessions didn't exhaust a charge. The Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 amplifier sells for $3,000. If you want to use a separate pre-amplifier instead of the built-in volume control, Vinnie makes a power-amp-only version that retails for $2,600. Both are very highly recommended.
But don't just take my word for it. Srajan Ebaen, the head honcho at 6moons.com , a high-end equipment review Web site, has given Vinnie's new design its Lunar Eclipse award for being "a true ultra-fi integrated amplifier that rewrites expectations for drive and sonics in the affordable sector." I agree wholeheartedly. P.S. -- A matching battery-powered pre-amplifier with an optional oversampling DAC (digital-to-analog converter), named the Isabella, is on the way.
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