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First Watt B1 Buffer Preamp and J2 Power JFET Amplifier Review

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JFET love affair

First Watt J2 JFET stereo amplifier

I noticed that Nelson’s love affair with JFET transistors for the J2 trickled over into the B1, presuming the J2 preceded it, as it employs a variant of them. In the Owner’s Manual of the J2, Nelson spends time discussing the advances in semiconductor technology that have yielded the Silicon Carbide breed of transistors with much greater voltage, current and power capabilities. He states, “How much more? How about 1,200 volts, 30 amps, and 273 watts?” The intended use for such transistors is for fast high power switching in solar power and electric car applications!

I have had a few lovely conversations with Nelson over the years and I find him an eminently approachable man. He has developed so many different amps that he knows intimately how they operate and their effects. I can relate in a small way, as I have built hundreds of audio systems, and consequently often can “see” where systems are going, and often accurately anticipate the outcome of the collection of gear before I assemble them. As with spices in cooking, it has gotten to the point that if I am displeased with the nuances of the system I can know beforehand the cable or component I should select to change the “taste” of the sound to my preference.


The lovely J2

I thoroughly enjoyed my forays into discrete opamp-rolling the Eastern Electric Minimax DACs, so when Nelson discusses an alternative use for JFETs I have appreciation of it, partly because of his creativity and partly because of his experience. Instead of putting up barricades to implementing alternative devices, he explores them. That is how new and exciting discoveries are made.

The J2 is comparatively as simple as the B1, displaying a similar black box with brushed aluminum faceplate. The heat fins are nicely tucked behind the faceplate, as opposed to protruding, which makes it a somewhat safer amp to have in a home with non-audiophiles. I hate knife-like heat sinks that protrude from amps! The J2 weighs a mere – hey, wait! The Manual doesn’t even give the weight! It’s nice when a solid-state amp with a reasonably large chassis is so light that the weight is negligible for the audiophile building a rig. There are two blue power LEDs on the front. At the rear resides the balanced and single ended inputs (jumper pins are used in lieu of a selector switch), a set of single-ended outputs, the fuse, 15A IEC and power switch. These components are so simplified operationally that if you cannot put an audio system together successfully using the B1 and J2, perhaps you should let someone else assemble your audio systems


How do they sound?

What is the sound of the B1 Buffer and a single J2? Here is a rig comprising precisely that configuration:

Mac Mini using HQPlayer software, up converting PCM to 32 bit/6.1MHz
Verastarr Nemesis USB Cable
Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Supreme with Verastarr Grand Illusion 2 Power Cord
B1 Buffer amp
Clarity Cable Vortex Power Cord to B1’s DC power supply
TEO Liquid Reference Interconnect
First Watt J2 Amplifier (one only)
TEO Liquid Standard Speaker Cable; bi-wire
Pure Audio Project Trio 15TB (Tang Band) Speaker


I was less than overwhelmed by this combination, not because it was not “pretty,” but because it lacked the fortitude I have come to expect when using higher power. The point of overwhelming power is to, well, overwhelm. I had been doing a lot of “overwhelming” through the years and my first reaction to this rig was that it was underwhelming. If lower power were this anemic it would be a tough review. Thankfully, as I developed other systems, as seen below, the situation improved markedly.

I did not achieve a high state of synergy with this rig. Again, it is not uncommon for any audiophile when switching systems to require an adjustment period – emphasis on the word “adjustment.” Consider that I have used many multi-driver systems and large panels, then moved to this system with a speaker using an 8” wide band driver with supplemental bass drivers, and with radically reduced power. It would be foolish to expect a similar outcome.

What did the music sound like? Don Williams’ “I’m Just a Country Boy” was tonally pinched, lacking warmth in the mid-bass. It was too harsh, without the utter ease that a baritone voice can engender. Annie Lennox’s live recording of “Here Comes the Rain Again” had not much huskiness to her voice, but instead was raspy. Eva Cassidy was colorless on “Over the Rainbow,” washed out, with not enough warmth to brighten a rainy day.

Let’s return to the car analogy Nelson brought up in the B1 Owner’s Manual, only with my spin on things. A person gets used to whatever they drive. Initially, if you switch from a large six-cylinder sedan to a compact four cylinder you will note the performance differential immediately, and for a while you will lament the difference. However, over time you will get used to the new vehicle and even perhaps consider that it is “zippy.” It doesn’t have the same performance, but with familiarity and forgetfulness of the past experience it can somewhat override (pardon the pun) the former. The problem was that this setup had very little zip. It felt like I was stuck with a bumper car, not a sports car. My notes are pretty harsh initially:

-“This reminds me of sound I would have appreciated ten years ago.”

-“Too bright, too tipped up, overemphasizing upper Midrange to Treble

-“Light on Bass – anemic”

-“Misfire. Try new system.”


Let’s not blame this on the B1 Buffer Amp, as the results reminded me of when I had to work to get the most out of the Eastern Electric Minimax BBA (Booster Buffer Amp). I did not wait for a “break in period” with this system; it would have been wasted time. When performance is so far from expectations, one is best served to change the system, not sit on their hands. Remember my emphasis on adjustment in adjustment periods? Doing nothing yields no satisfactory change. Wait all you want; your rig will not magically transform itself into a far better system. You had best adjust something.

As with all audio systems there is a great deal which can be done to improve the results. In the case of the PureAudioProject speaker nearly the entire speaker can be changed by the owner, as the primary driver is interchangeable, and the new self-adjustable Leonidas Crossover for the Voxativ AC-1.6 8” full range driver is a most potent tool for configuring a system. I would be exploring all this for the PureAudioProject review, so that version of the speaker was an obvious alternative for the First Watt combo. We will return to that shortly.

One Response to First Watt B1 Buffer Preamp and J2 Power JFET Amplifier Review

  1. Abhijit says:

    Just one question, do you feel having a bi-amped J2 has a clear advantage over single J2 ?

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