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.

I guess you missed my paen to the M2 a couple of weeks ago. My observations are the same as yours. It left me bewildered, though, wondering since it's so good, how much better can Nelson's new $80K mono-blocs be?

I wrote to Nelson, since I just couldn't wrap my head around it. I congratulated him on how wonderful the M2 is, and asked him if sound quality goes up commensuately with price, re his new mono-blocs.

He thanked me, and relieved my tortured mind by saying, unfortunatly, performance does not go up along with the price tag. This left me feeling better, and I appreciate his honesty.

He commented that he was not at all surprised at how well the M2 works in my situation, as the amp was voiced, and designed, driving 15" Tannoy speakers, mine being a 12" version.

I suggest trying Tannoys. I listen to the same music you do, in a room 16.5' X 34' w/cathedral ceilings. There is no problem with either the M2, or my other amp, an SET 300B, achieving the kind of levels music needs to sound right.

Enjoy your M2.
Hi Bojack,
Thought your review on the M2 was very informative. I read it with great interest since I've been torn between the M2 and the F3. I have similar musical tastes and I've also owned and loved the Spendor SP 1/2. I've built a number of open baffle speakers using various drivers so efficiency is not a problem. I've heard a few of Nelson's First Watt amps with open baffle speakers he has built and brought to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

Had you heard any other First Watt amps before you chose the M2? I too am coming from a tube backround and would not like to end up with the 'solid state sound'. A non fatiguing top end, great midrange and some control on the bottom is what I am looking for. I can seem to find a balance of all three aspects with the various tube amps I've used. Oddly I was surprised and impressed with the sound of a vintage Yamaha receiver I used in between changing tube amps - although the top end was not that great.

I have a decent solid state preamp ready if I choose the F3 and a hybrid tube pre if I go with the M2. Not that familiar with your QS pre - assuming it does not impart too much bloom with the amp.
Very nice review Bojack. I like Nelson Pass and his gear. It may cost more than the rest, but totally worth it. His customer service is second to none as well. All in all, a very good investment. Not many companies can receive this high recommendation these days. Happy Listening!
How does an F6 compare with M2 ? I was thinking of trying an F6 for my Tannoy DC speakers.
I've been considering moving up the equipment food chain for a quite some time now and I just picked up, off the 'Gon here, a demo M2 from Reno Hifi. Full 3 year warranty from when I receive it. I'll be using a Rogue Audio 66 Tube preamp which i purchased only a few weeks back as the front end, and which has been a substantial improvement on my old solid state POS. No doubt I'll be looking for speakers again, as I have a pair of Thiel CS 3.5, another pair of Ohm Walsh 2, and another pair of Thiel CS 2. (The CS 2 and the Ohms are listed for sale here.) I don't listen at high levels so I'm really not that concerned with keeping the 3.5's. (And yes, the &%$#! midrange on one is kaput.) I might even toss my Dahlquist DQ-10 into the mix. In either of the many cases, I'm looking forward to this amp.
I have been fortunate enough to purchase, in very good condition, a pair of Meadowlark E speakers. They have an efficiency of 92db which the M2 should work really well with.
I liked the M2 so much I just traded it back to Reno HIFI for a refurbed Pass Labs X150.5 - who gave me a fine deal on the M2 towards the X150.5. By far and away the M2 was the best SS I've owned, but with the Thiels I realized I just need more power. Even with my Meadowlark American Eagles the M2 almost made me think I had new speakers. Great separation and dynamics. I just wish amp manufacturers would quit putting the on/off switches on the rear! Anyway, the M2 did run warm, never "hot" and the temp could never be an issue. It could very well have been the "last" amp I would ever buy...but alas, we all know that's a selfie lie! I should receive the Pass next week....
So far about a week of living with the Pass X150.5 and I have to relate that this may very well be the last amp I will ever buy. It's certainly one that I'll never let go. I'm running with a Rogue 66 Pre which is tubed and I'm happier than hell. I'm looking to buy a tubed pre with balanced connections now simply because I've never owned a pre nor an amp with balanced connections. Another curiosity killed my wallet proposition but what the hell!