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SW1X Audio Design AMP V “Titan” Special directly-heated triode integrated amplifier Review

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Audiophiles dig specifications. Most audiophiles are not technically savvy and rely on the brilliance of the design engineers of companies and their marketing departments to make purchase decisions, and what fun that is. Finding out how different designs make music in one’s own home makes for one of the noblest hobbies. Anyone can be a music lover without the audiophile element and that makes for a duller life; and who can resist the joy and excitement of unboxing a new cartridge or DAC or amplifier? Spending money on something that stays in your home and makes beautiful music is about the most rational hobby there is.

One of the most amazing discoveries at CAS’ past is SW1X Audio Design from Britain, founded by Dr. Slawa Roschkow (See Interview), in the joint exhibit of north bay dealership Lotus Group and Wolf von Lange importer Gestalt Audio in Nashville, Tennessee. Comprising a staff of eight including himself, Slawa’s company offers complete system solutions from the Valve Digital Transport to DACs, preamplifiers, integrated amplifiers, power amplifiers and even speakers. Each product type is offered in progressing levels of parts quality. In the integrated amplifier category, the company offers five products, each available in a further five versions namely Standard, Special, Classic and Signature, beginning with AMP I “Genie”, a 2 watts per channel design using two EL84 output tubes with only two gain stages. The PSE second version is a 4 watts per channel push-pull utilizing four EL84 tubes.

AMP II and above becomes pure class A, single-ended designs. The first model employs two 6V6 output tubes, producing 6 watts per channel. AMP III turns directly-heated in triode mode and uses two 45 tubes for 2 watts per channel. AMP IV advances with the 2A3 tube, one for each channel to produce 4 watts. AMP V, the “Titan” in the Special version is the subject of this review, outputting 8 watts per channel. The $30,000 Classic version adds costlier, silver wound OPTs and more exotic parts.

Equipped with two Linlai 300B tubes, two OTK 6H8C input tubes and one Philips ECG Jan 5U4GB rectifier, the Titan Special is endowed with copper wound super HiB DC Core output transformers. Note that the company may equip other 300B makes in its shipment. SW1X Chicagoland dealer Chris Moore of Mimic Audio sent two additional vintage GE 5692 input tubes subsequently to me; these are the ones affectionately known to many as the “black plate”.

I must say the 2A3 in AMP IV and 45 tubes in AMP III hold more allure to me than 300B, and the speakers to be reviewed with the AMP V, namely the recently reviewed PureAudioProject Quintet15 Voxativ AC-X with four woofers per side, will probably sound better with eight 300B-watts than two 45-watts or four 2A3-watts. This is serious fun to be had.

The AMP V’s volume control has 24 steps and features the DIRECT-IN RCA inputs that bypass the VOLUME and SELECTOR, turning the integrated into a de facto power amplifier. Using the DIRECT-IN, the first step in the attenuator opens up the signal path completely into full output mode whereas zero volume equates mute.

The $16,000 Bricasti Design M21 DSD DAC took the lead in digital playback, sourcing from the $6,300 Aurender N200 Network Transport. A $7,999 PS Audio DirectStream DAC Mk II also assumed duty alternately. The closely spaced RCA jack on the SW1X necessitated use of thin interconnects. The $5,000 pair of Audience frontROW RCA interconnects secured its place in the auditioning process against those from a few other makes, and the $21,300 A.R.T. Sensor Haute Couture Mains powered the integrated amplifier.

Primary analog playback was via a Technics SP-10 Mk2A direct-drive turntable, one that I acquired brand new with its electronics in top condition. Cartridge was the $33,000 system of the Audio Note UK IO Ltd field-coil with the custom AN-1S six-wire tonearm. Technic’s original obsidian plinth as augmented by the Millennium M-LP Mat carbon LP mat housed the SP-10 Mk2A. Additional support took place in the form of a $27,000 Audio Note UK AN-9L stepped-up transformer in conjunction with a $25,000 M6 Phono preamplifier, feeding the DIRECT-IN RCA jacks on the AMP V’s rear panel.

Both the $55,000 Sound Lab Majestic 945PX electrostatic panels and the $21,000 PureAudioProject Quintet15 Voxativ AC-X field-coil open-baffle speaker system were paced through the review process, with the $70,000 Audio Reference Technology Sensor Haute Couture spade speaker cables as the reference. The $10,000 Technics SU-R1000 GaN-FET reference integrated amplifier partook in the audition process.

When driving the 89 dB, nine feet tall, three and a half feet wide Sound Lab Majestic 945PX in reproducing solo classical piano LPs, such as The Last Recording by Vladimir Horowitz and various digital recordings of his playing by the Deutsche Grammophon label, the AMP V invariably flaunted its alluring and sophisticated midrange with a tonal and textural directness in creating the piano sounds that was lush and full of life. The vast panels’ technologies accorded utterly pure tonal renditioning, thus positioning the AMP V in an eminent sweet spot.

Special edition with copper wound super HiB DC Core output transformers

The signature Horowitz dynamics and Steinway tonal lushness were on full display with the AMP V, and the meager eight watts seemingly attained inexplicable heights, particularly where the bloom of lower registers of the piano was concerned. Still, not all was rosy for an amplifier driving one of the largest electrostatic panels. For one, the 1984 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Richard Strauss tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra compressed dynamically and distorted throughout its tympani rolls. Eight watts were obviously not enough for the 89 dB Sound Lab to reproduce a full orchestra in my room; a smaller room or sixteen or even twenty-four watts might be the minimum needed.

Changing speakers to the 96 dB, $21,000 PureAudioProject Quintet15 Voxativ AC-X completely transformed the dynamic delivery of the AMP V. For it induced the open-baffle speakers to reproduce the aforementioned tone poem at insane volume with aplomb. The meager eight watts brought out such radical dynamics it resembled the hundreds of watts generated by the Bricasti Design M28 pair of monoblocks when it was driving the huge Sound Lab. The massive brass section of the Berlin Philharmonic rose in tremendous body and definition as monopolized only by the best in directly-heated triode amplifications. Even the tympani rolls attained such body and dynamics as to be gratifyingly bewildering.

The Titan imparted class-leading differentiation of dynamics and tonalities between instruments from the four woofers and the field-coil main driver, and the consistency with which the integrated amplifier did so with different recordings highlighted an engineering feat so thorough in forging a signal path of the purest as to be fanatical.

The level of tonal sophistication of the individual differentiation of strings, woodwind and brass instrument within the respective sections was on a level even higher than that of the Technics SU-R1000, the most truthful and delicate sounding solid-state integrated amplifier to my ears, when it was driving the open-baffle speakers. It was unmistakably satisfying to hear the Technics in action with the speakers, but the SW1X brought a whole new level of sophistication to the art of music reproduction.

The characteristic of the central Voxativ field-coil driver in its exquisite response to the integrated amplifier alone spoke volumes. Even when playing famously “dry” sounding digital recordings, the delicacy of the driver as driven by the SW1X unveiled textures of the strings and woodwinds to such degrees as to be unprecedented. One could almost surmise from experiencing the AMP V Titan Special that those dry recordings are purer sounding. Here, perhaps even a mere four 300B or 2A3 watts would’ve sufficed, and the quality of every watt coming out of the SW1X AMP V Titan Special cannot be overstated.

The Titan’s low output certainly made it more limited than other solid-state amplifiers in speaker suitability, but with speakers such as the 96dB sensitive PureAudioProject Quintet15 w/Voxativ AC-X, the Titan exerted complete control of the speakers and delivered one of the most sweeping music-listening experiences I’ve ever known.

Few companies poured their financial and engineering might into products with the fervor of companies like Audio Note UK and SW1X Audio Design, placing predominantly heavy emphasis on the engineering and parts and not the chassis, banking on and appealing to the intellect of their customers’. There is a strong case to be made about the passion for the audio hobby for these companies and their customers.

The Titan sits at the top among handcrafted ultra high-end, directly-heated triode amplification from the United Kingdom, especially in its integrated functionalities. Per chance you have $30,000 to spend, the even higher-grade Classic version beckons. For $21,500, the SW1X AMP V “Titan” Special directly-heated triode integrated amplifier with its definitive performance, beauty of sound and functionality options stands apart in the field of the most exalted DHT amplifications. It is now my reference DHT amplification in auditioning high-efficiency speaker systems.


Review system:

Acoustic Sciences Corporation TubeTraps
Audience AV frontROW RCA cables
Audio Reference Technology Sensor Haute Couture spade speaker cables
Audio Reference Technology Analysts EVO RCA
Audio Reference Technology Analysts SE interconnects, power cables
Audio Reference Technology Super SE interconnects, power cables
Stage III Concepts Ckahron XLR interconnects

Audio Note IO Ltd field-coil cartridge system
Audio Note UK AN-1S six-wire tonearm for IO Ltd
Audio Note UK AN-9L stepped-up transformer
Audio Note M6 Phono preamplifier
Technics SP-10 MK2A turntable
Audio Desk Systeme Ultrasonic Vinyl Cleaner

Aurender N200 high-performance digital output network transport
Bricasti Design M21 DSD dual-mono DAC
PS Audio DirectStream DAC MkII

Bricasti Design M20 Preamplifier
PureAudioProect Quintet15 Voxativ AC-X open-baffle field-coil speaker system
First Watt SIT-1 monoblocks
First Watt SIT-2 stereo amplifier

Pass Laboratories Xs Phono
Pass Laboratories XA200.8 pure class A monoblocks
Bricasti Design M28 class A/AB monoblocks
Sound Lab Majestic 645 electrostatic panels


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