My first experience with a Red Wine Audio amplifier was a real eye opener: I’ll never forget how that 30-watt Tripath implementation took the Louis Chochos’ Omega Stick from saliva desiccating Lamington to moist chocolate sponge. The LFP-V Edition of Vinnie Rossi’s 30.2 integrated inflated the tires on music and advanced the humidity through which transients cut clean.
If the 30.2 was mocha in a glass, its Class A/B output-staged successor – the “DAR-KO” awarded Signature 15 – was Chai Latte. A spicier top-end made for a livelier listen but it was an integrated best partnered with efficient speakers. The 15 was heavy on tonal flourishes with Zu and I’m confident it’d play similarly with the likes of Omega, Hoyt Bedford, and other models with 90dB+ efficiency ratings.
For readers unfamiliar with Red Wine Audio: each unit ships with an external charging brick that monitors and feeds the internal battery. The battery then juices the circuitry in one of two listening modes: 1) ‘ON/AC’ mode sees the mains supply connection charge the battery whilst the battery hands off DC to the amplifier; 2) ‘Pure Battery’ mode sees a relay switch sever the connection to the mains supply so that the amplifier runs exclusively on ‘LiFePO4’ power – it’s the same as unplugging the charger from the back of the unit.
The Signature 57 is the only amplifier in the Red Wine Audio range currently without a tube input stage, although that’s set to change from January 2014. It packs a large capacity, ‘LiFePO4’ battery for double the amp-hours (Ah) of its younger siblings. The base unit (reviewed here) will run for almost 18 hours on a single charge. If you opt for Bellina Pro DAC (US$1500) and/or Analogica phonostage (US$1000) boards, this drops to around 12 hours – still a very user-friendly figure. If you dr-option US$1000 on the (forthcoming) dual-tube input-staging, playback time between charges will take an additional hit, but Rossi maintains that it will still notch between 8 and 10 hours on the back of a full charge.
Popping the lid on the big bro we see a 38.4V rating (versus the 25.6V in the Signature 15/16) on the battery, set here to a higher output voltage for sure-footed dynamic cadence. 57 = wpc into 8 ohms. 115 wpc into 4 Ohms and stable down to 2 Ohms. Rossi is rightly proud of this latter stat. The MOSFET output stage allows for high current push into the likes of 84db stand-mounts and (some) Magnepans; something that’s pretty much inconceivable with the lower-powered Signature 15 and 16.
Being a dual-mono design – essentially two Lilliana boards under one roof – imaging met my high expectations head on. Ditto macro dynamics. The Signature 57 turns up the lights on the spaces surrounding instruments. Most obvious in battery mode, music emanated from further behind the speaker plane than with ANY amplifier I’ve heard to date. If you like your system to play illusory with blowing out the back wall, this amplifier could be your guy. The presence-regioned caffeination is nowhere near as keen as the Signature 15, the 57 being more refined and mature in this regard.
The Signature 57 is emphatically not a poster child for more commonplace matter-of-fact solid-state mannerisms. Voiced ever-so-slightly to the humid side of neutral it doesn’t shout about the detail it exhumes nor the macro dynamics it swings back and forth. There’s a sense of graceful power to its personality. Strength with subtlety. For the listener this translates to impact without brutality, definition without etch and intoxication sans fogginess. Red wine it ain’t. I’d liken the Signature 57’s sound to a good single malt: plenty of kick with a hint of peat.
Drinking from a Wyred4Sound’s mAMP x 2 + mPRE cup, the Californian trio hit the palette as ICE-d vodka with peach infusion. In this juxtaposition, the RWA turns tale on its East coast heritage. You expect straight talk without window dressing or fluff. But, with battery juice running behind the scenes, the Red Wine comes at you with comparatively more lick than kick. The West Coast monos + pre play it conversely: punch before hug. EJ Sarmento gives you beyond-price-expectation drive and clarity in equal measure across three boxes. Vinnie does it in one box with a little more finesse and intra-player illumination but a comparative dip in the biggest of macro dynamic swings vs the higher power mAMPs.
Burning homefires. A tete-a-tete with REDGUM’s RGi60 (AU$1850) proved interesting. It wasn’t difficult to hear the benefits in making the $2k jump from Melbourne to Massachusetts; when it comes to tonal colour the Red Wine is an altogether superior beast. The Signature 57 resolves more detail than the REDGUM RGi60 and it does so with gentler hands that hold longer to decay; the REDGUM plays it comparatively more Staccato. The two integrateds were evenly matched in terms of sound stage width and height but the Signature 57 goes further toward the rear from a more stand-offish starting point. The REDGUM is the more forward of the two and loads more lower frequency heft into the picture. I’d always considered the REDGUM to be strong on bass but never once would I have referred to at is a bright sounding piece. Next to the Red Wine Audio it sounds more lit up in the lower treble and glassier with female vox.
A couple of sentences on speaker matching are due here. Ordinarily, I prefer to run the Zu Soul MKII with tubes. Solid state partners sound fine n’ all but bottled gas power makes for more satisfactory long-term partnering. The Signature 57 is the first solid state amplifier to buck this trend. Moreover, I prefer the Red Wine amplifier to the REDGUM with GoldenEar’s Aon 2 but this priority flips with the warmer sounding Triton 7 floorstander (review to come) benefitting from the RGi60’s marginally more aciculate delivery.
Wordy wrapping-hood. I’ve heard first hand the improvements brought by power cables at both low ($150) and high ($2500) price points. Add in a power filter and the cost of trying to immunise your existing components against mains supply noise can stack up pretty fast. PS Audio’s P5 PowerPlant regenerator will run you US$3500 – that’s 90% of the Signature sitcker alone.
Red Wine Audio runs at you with difference. And the single most obvious differentiator is battery power. Power supply noise makes not a jot of difference to Red Wine Audio’s amplifiers; with the battery handling all the heavy lifting, wall socket additives don’t ever make the jump to the modules. (Third-party cable, filter and regenerator band-aids are rendered superfluous). If the Signature 15 was Red Wine Audio’s tasting plate then the bigger, badder Signature 57 is a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Your loudspeakers won’t ever go hungry or want for nutrition.
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