My experience with the First Watt F7

I think that many of us have a mental list of components and speakers we would like to try if circumstances and finances allow, and I'm no different. My finances are more limited than many members, but within my means I have been able to try quite a few different things over the years.

About six weeks ago I saw an ad for an F7 in great condition and having efficient speakers, it had been on my wish list to try not only because it was made for speakers just like mine, but also because I had never read a negative review of it or any of the other First Watt amps.

I want to say here that I have a lot of respect for Nelson Pass as a innovative designer and a businessman, and I once had a very positive experience with Pass Labs on a service issue. The reason that I am writing this brief review is because one member who knew that I had bought it had requested my impressions, and I am also curious to know the impressions and experiences of others here who may have owned this amp.

When I first received it, I gave ir a couple of hours to warm up. I sat down to listen, and initial impressions were good, but not great. There was good clarity in the mids and treble region, and stage width was very good but not better than what I was accustomed to. I noticed two negatives on the second day. The first was that the perceived size of instrumental images, for instance Stan Getz's sax, were 15-20% smaller. That wasn't a deal breaker, just an observation. I also noted that the timbre/tone of the sax, as well as other wind instruments and strings was not as natural sounding as I am used to.

Three days in, I was listening from the next room while working, and by now I knew that there was something else about the presentation that was more serious that was bothering me. I stopped what I was doing and put on a couple of specific songs to test a hunch, and that is when I identified the problem. The amp had no "flow", and even though individual instruments were well separated and clear sounding, nothing hung together like a real group playing together. Each instrument sounded like a separate event that didn't relate to the others. I had never had this experience before, but once I identified it, I couldn't "unhear" it. I also noticed at that time that electric guitars sounded different and less authentic than they had on other tube and solid state amps I have owned.

Finally, and this was surprising, the bass was noticeably opaque and lacking detail. I sat there in front of it listening one day, and I thought that if I was young again, and new to audio, this would probably be an amp that would impress me. 

I sold it within two weeks, confident that it was not the amp for me, but grateful that I had the opportunity to try one for myself.

I would like to hear the experiences of others familiar with the F7. 




Another Vote for OTL Amplifiers especially the Atma-Sphere amplifiers. Iv compared them to a number of Tube Amps, Kept going back to the OTL.

The major aspect of paring OTL amps are the speaker should present a easy load and anything from 8ohms to 16ohms will work like a charm.

4 Ohm speakers just dont sound right with OTL

First Watt seems to be mostly a vehicle for Mr. Pass’s experimentations, which is allegedly why there are so many variations despite similar power outputs. It’s my understanding that none of them were intended to be great all-rounders, rather, they each have unique characteristics that Nelson finds alluring in the right context.

I’ve only heard the First Watt J2. To my ears it didn’t have any blatant weaknesses driving single-driver speakers. Maybe there’s good reason it’s one of the favorites among First-Watt fans. 

I own the Pass XA25, and other than it being slightly darker in sound than my departed Benchmark AHB2, it’s possibly the best amplifier I’ve owned. 

I was running a couple of no-name 300B SET amps for quite a while, and when the Ukraine invasion drove the tube market into a frenzy, I put my First Watt F-8 back on line and haven't changed it since.  I'm running it with an AR LS27 preamp and Zu Soul Supreme speakers.  I do have one of the impedance lowering/matching resistors across the output terminals of the speakers - as it's been well documented that the FW amps sometimes don't like the high impedance of the Zu speakers.  I still want to find a SIT-3 to have, but the F-8 is audio bliss for me.  With good recordings the speakers disappear and the combo I'm running just sounds perfect to my ears.  I've never heard the F-7, but agree that some of the reviews weren't crazy positive in every respect so I didn't bite on that one.  I owned a J-2 a while back and it was nice, but the F-8 is sort of the Mk. II of the J-2.  Similar topography but improved in some aspects, according to NP.   I don't find the F-8 to be solid state sounding at all, similar to the 300B amps I was running but a firmer grasp on the lower end.  

It seems to me that if one has issues with a First Watt or Pass products performance it might be worth a shot to send Nelson an email (or Pass Labs) and discuss SQ expectations to determine whether or not the amplifier is sounding out of character.