Gliderguider, I compliment you both on your writing style and very precise information regarding this post. I believe that Mr. Nelson Pass is one of our hobbies greatest designers when it comes to amp designs going back to his Threshold days in the 70's. My system would not be able to function with his First Watt designs, but I use his X-350.5/Threshold SA-1 monoblocks in my system with great pleasure. Thanks again, for you review.
Thanks for that excellent review - always a pleasure to read.
Well, my first impressions drastically underestimated this little jewel.
I left it running for a day, and thhen spent about four hours listening to it last night. The result is that I have to take back all the caveats in my original post. The sound had really developed from the previous day, in all the right directions. It's smoother, sweeter, contrastier, even more transparent, and it's putting out bags and bags of detail - to the point that it's getting that "trompe l'oreille" effect I thought was strictly the province of my PX25. But especially, it got boogie. It now seems to swagger and strut, showing off an amazing range of ability. It continually surprised me all night, as if it was saying "Ha, you think that was good? Well, watch THIS!" Every piece of music I threw at it just riveted my attention.
This little amp is quite a bit more special than I had previously given it credit for.
Gliderguider, I have always been quite a fan of your Audiogon moniker. Now, I am also quite a fan of your writing style and, in particular, this review. Nice job. Bravo!
I am especially appreciative to your honest assessment in the initial post. All too often, I read not reviews, but testimonials.
What's the retail cost of the Audion pre-amp?
How does the Aleph compare to your former Canary amps?
Nice to hear your impressions of the Aleph J. I just received a First Watt F1 to be run with my Cain Abbys. I am still waiting for a preamp (a 6922 based Fi Y), and will post my impressions then.
Funny, I got mine shipped across the border to Canada (Calgary) as well. Another, surprising no problem transaction with UPS (except that the lost some of the brokerage documentation).
Enjoy your Aleph!
Thanks everyone for the kind words.
F1a, I don't actually know the retail price of the Premier I have. I bought it used, and it seems to be different from the models shown on their web site. It's most similar to the Premier Line, which retails for $2195 according to the distributor's price list at OSSAudio.com, but I think that model is a single-box unit, while mine has a separate power supply. I paid more than that for my used unit, whose original price was about twice that.
Compared to my Canaries the Aleph is smoother and sweeter, with more transparency and better imaging. Surprisingly, it also has better pace and dynamics, at least on the very sensitive speakers I'm using now.
Restock, I have a pair of Abbys sitting in a closet. I'll be trying them with the Aleph at some point, and when you get your setup running we can compare notes.
Any update on how it sounds now?
My opinion now is remarkably similar to my first post. It's still the best small SS amp I've ever heard, and it still beats my Wavelength Tritons, but it still comes in second to my monster PX25. It's still sweet, seductive and intensely musical. In fact, those qualities improved a bit over the first week.
I've loaned it out to my dealer, who is a SET fanatic, to give a second opinion. He called me yesterday, and basically said "Holy Cow!" He seconds my enthusiasm, and says it could easily be his desert-island amp. He thinks Nelson might be overstating its power a bit, but that's based on his subjective assessment of when it started to run out of steam on a pair of Monitor Audio Studio 50's. I don't know what kind of music he used to form that opinion, but I suspect that the amp just may not have as much headroom as some other SS designs.
So my PX 25 remains my daily amp, with the Aleph J held in reserve for those headbanging moments :-) I still maintain that with sympathetic speakers it punches waaaay out of its price class.
Excellent, excellent review! Your's is the type of review that makes buying equipment unseen and unheard through Audiogon fun and rewarding. Thanks!
I read this review a long time and kept it in mind for future rference. I've been running my Merlin VSM MXe with the 100 Watt, Class A, Triode CAT JL2, and I can tell you that is a lot of power. I bought the CAT before the Merlins when I had speakers that required quite a bit of power. The Merlins are fairly sensitive at 89db, critically damped and have a very benign speaker load - which makes the ideal for tube amps. I was always thinking the CATs were some way too much amp for the Merlins - not that they did not sound outstanding. My first step was getting an Ars Sonum 30 watt integrated which are perfectly matched with the speakers and more important more than enough power. This gave me the confidence to try the Pass Aleph J (I use a Joule LA 150 MKII). I like the idea of simplicity, I like Class A, and I like the 282 Kohm input impedance which makes them very, very easy to drive with a tube preamp. Well, I've been listening for a few days and the J is everything Gliderguider says it is - a superb performer. Great detail and transparency, balance, and quite organic (body) compared to most SS (I suspect the XA series has this same quality). Unfortuantely for those that might want one, since this review was written the J is no longer made and is likely to remain fairly scarce on the used market -- unless Nelson comes out with a J.5. (Although I did notice there is currently one up for sale on Audiogon for $1,895 I think) I suspect there are not a great number of these units out there, and yet one has to think of these as a classic amp that had a brief shining moment. Now teajay has me thinking XA-30/60 hmmmm.
I'm now using the J on my Picquet-reburbished Quad 57s, driven by a Tom Evans Vibe/Pulse. It's a lovely match. Sweet, detailed, airy, pinpoint focus, lots of depth, lots of dynamics and a very natural sound. In fact it may even be a better match for those speakers than the Tom Evans Linear A. I sure am glad I have one.
Wow! That is some statement given the reports on how good the Tom Evans Linear A is. What is interesting to me is that I very much like the Ars Sonum and the Joule/Aleph J combo and they sound quite different - that suprises me a bit.
Pubul57, that just goes to show that you can't draw conclusions on any amp in isolation from the speakers it's intended to drive. The qualities the J displays though the Quads are quite a bit different from those I noticed when it was hooked up to the Fab Model 1's.
Part of this is that the Quads are just a better speaker and allow more of the amp's character to come though, but there's no getting around the fact that the two speakers are as different as chalk and cheese. The Quad's notorious impedance curve and low sensitivity contrast quite markedly with the Fab's 97db sensitivity and benign 6 ohm load (both in favour of the Fabs), while the Fab's cone/dome drivers are less intrinsically resolving than the Quad's panels (advantage Quad).
That said, yes, it was quite a surprise to me when I hooked up the J in place of the Linear A and had a long dispassionate listen to it.
Well, it has been a while since this thread has started. I owned the J (twice!) and sold them, since ultimately I still prefer my tube amps, but something keeps me interested in having an SS in the mix. I wonder if anyone has had a chance to compare the Aleph 3/30/Js with the new First Watt J2. I suspect at some point I'm going to own one of these again, or an XA30.5 (again) - just seems NP designs SS amps I like. Will be using one of these with the Merlin VSM-MXe (89db, smooth 6+ impedance).