Review: First Watt M2
Just a bit of background first in order to put the M2 into perspective. I have been into this hobby since 14 (am now 40) and have lived long term with 2 speaker brands (Fried and Spendor) and 3 electronics brands (NAD, Acurus, and Quicksilver)...had a brief fling with Martin-Logan, Audible Illusions, and McCormack. From 1990 until 2000, I was happy with NAD/Acurus and my trusty Fried Q5s. Then I switched to Fried A3s/NAD, then to NAD/Spendor, and finally to Quicksilver/Spendor. When I went to tubes, I gained the allure and glowing filaments, but after awhile I realized I was missing whatever element made me want to tap my foot. I tried MiniMites (not powerful enough), M60s (sleepy), and Mid-Monos (quite good), and though the latter had nice PRAT, they were missing "something." Plus, I had had rotten luck with unreliable and expensive EL34s either arcing or just blowing up in the Minis and M60s (the tubes' fault, not Mike Sanders' amps). I just could not risk my beloved Spendor SP1/2s, and so I made the leap back to SS. The system context is my QS Linestage, Marantz CD5004, AQ cabling, APC S10 battery backup, and SP1/2Es (made in 1997). My collection of about 2000 CDs consists mainly of classical, rock, and jazz but includes everything under the sun except Yanni, Enya, John Tesh, and Contemporary Christian sung by white people (ironically my definition of musical hell).
In short, I really, really love this amp. As many know, Nelson Pass's "sound" has admittedly evolved over time so that it is a true blend of triode tube and SS. I thought that this might have been a bit of marketing until I unboxed my M2 and started listening. It is no hype. Being driven by tubes (my preference) or SS, I have made the following observations:
It's balanced: The amp is beautifully balanced, but not in the typical sense of equal parts bass, mids, and treble. This amp is precisely as Nelsom Pass describes it, slighty rounded on the bottom and top. Just as in a well-mic'd live performance, one's attention is focused on the heart of the sound. Male vocals and instruments that can be chesty (Solomon Burke, Willy Nelson, cello, lower piano, etc.) sound like they do live, balanced all the way through the range but not lightweight either.
It has clean, natural treble: I value natural treble over any other frequency band, and hyped cymbal crashes, violins, and vocal sibilants are the kiss of death for amps that exhibit them in my system. The M2's upper frequencies are fatigue-free and easy to listen to for hours.
The midrange is dead on great: I listen to a lot of small ensemble pieces and solo piano (Bach flute sonatas, Hayden and Beethoven piano sonatas, a lot of French wind music, and a lot of lute), and the M2 brings them all to life. Vocals are equally as realistic. Right now, I am listening to Renaissance brass pieces, and wow the M2 captures that "liquid" sound that trumpets have live.
Power, Bass, and Dynamics: OK, this is a 25W amp (actually 28), so one must use care in its application. With my 88dB Spendors, it has no problems with the majority of music. However, on heavy, densely recorded rock, it does lack a sense of weight that more powerful amps have (i.e. a McCormack DNA-125 I had recently). Yet, the M2 never leaves me feeling shortchanged, even on material with low bass. Bass is clean and realistic with my Spendors, though it is not quite as detailed or transparent as with my Mid-Monos.
PRAT and overall involvement: This is the magic ingredient for me, and the M2 has it in my system. The M2, like all great amps, propels the music forward regardless of genre or scale, and this comes across on everything from solo lute to Rush's YYZ. With the M2, I feel I can sit down and connect with my music without becoming bored no easy task.
Drawbacks: It gets hot, but it's Pure Class A, and so do tubes. No buggy for me.
The M2 is a wonderful amp, and if you are looking for something along its design, I highly recommend it.