We have been listening to the First Watt F7 for several months now. During this time we have put some serious thought into this blog entry. To begin with, we wanted to cast aside any bias about what an amplifier should sound like. Instead, we focused entirely on our emotional connection to the music while using this specific amplifier.
First things first, is a thank you to our friends and kind people at Pass Labs and First Watt for making this amplifier demonstration possible. We are totally impressed with their business culture and their generosity to make such a product review possible, Thanks especially to Desmond Harrington.
On to the review commentary. When you open the shipping box, you get the impression that this amplifier is built with purpose. What was not in the box, which was refreshing, was a bunch of hyped up reviews. Why is that refreshing you may ask? Well, speaking from our perspective, there are too few UNBIASED reviews of products out there. Money gets in the way too often and one is hard pressed to get a straight answer from anyone with a question such as “is this product the best I can purchase for X dollars?”
Our process with listening to gear is really simple. KISS. Remove the exisiting component, replace with new component for review, and listen for several months. No talk about “removed my personal reference, Brand XYZ.” Talk about showing your hand as biased before listening to new equipment!
Next is the part where we diverge from most reviewers. With this amplifier, we listened to all kinds of music. Good recordings, mediocre recordings, and bad ones. What we are listening for is the emotional connection to the recording and a general sense of completeness to the music. The whole experience is allowed to just be itself. This is the most important aspect because without the ability to cast aside our biases, an objective review is nearly impossible. At the end, we can try to convey what the listening experience felt like for us.
From the first minute of listening with the FirstWatt F7, it was obvious that the design was focused on sound quality. Of course the casework is attractive yet without frills, but with the F7 it’s the inside that really counts. A class A amplifier rated for 30 watts, the F7 was driving our own GRAVITAS monitors rated at 87db sensitivity and a pair of self powered GRAVITAS subwoofers. Did the F7 have the power to drive 87db 2-way monitors effectively? Yes, without using any preamplifier or linestage gain, just directly from digital streaming. Also, there was no alteration of the sound from preamplification of any kind. The takeaway from the setup was the F7 had a sense of fullness to the sound. Let me explain.
About 83db to as high as 87db is comfortable listening for many folks, same opinion here from us. The F7 playing music at 83db offers a complete soundstage and a well defined image. There was no urge to go higher in volume, as it was totally unnecessary. Louder was not fuller, it was just louder. This capability of the F7 is likely to mean it plays well with a wide range of loudspeakers as it has the ability to control the drivers well, even at LOWER listening levels. This affords the F7 to deliver the musical magic right from the get go.
Another observation of the listening sensation from the F7 was musical honesty. WIth good recordings the acoustic space was very present. The vocals and instruments were natural and clearly defined in the space. These moments of listening to a good system are the moments that keep us loving the time machine that is available with well recorded music. Hearing the emotional intent of the lyrics set to music by the artist is really addicting. For us, it is fuel for searching out more artists and having that same emotionally connected moment in time through the magic of our home stereo setup. The F7 was the heart of the system to provide the listening experience of a convincing portrayal of the past musical event.
So what are the F7’s weaknesses? Very few, and minor. Perhaps total saturation of color to the images was less than we have heard with a few more raw power amplifiers. This was only noticeable with familiar music, and even so the difference was so small it was difficult to detect. One other possible weakness could be a small degree of warmth, but that is up for debate. Is the small amount of warmth a result of the F7, or is it simply the generous amount of undertones and overtones that could now be heard by using the F7? We don’t know but it is food for thought.
Where does the F7 really shine? Difficult to pick just a few areas as it did many things so very right. Acoustic recordings were stunning. Electronic recordings were equally stunning, with the exception of poorly engineered mixing with overly processed sound. Many instruments could be heard radiating their natural beauty just as they exhibit in real life. Steinway pianos, acoustic guitars, trumpets and upright bass and many more. All sounding as though they are parked in the room with you.
The F7 can be summarized as a class A design that is an example of what class A is all about. Realism, texture, depth, and a huge soundstage. Delicate and detialed with ample power, The 30W output rating is likely part of why this amplifier sounds so good! If you have never tried a class A amplifier the F7 needs to be on your list of amplifiers. We loved it and would be happy to discuss the experience in greater detail with anyone. Send us an email if you want to chat! Take care audio friends!