Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista kWP preamplifier & Tri-Vista kW Monobloc power amplifier Page 2

Months later, I'm happy to report that my speakers have not vaporized, though I do behave more cautiously than usual before connecting or disconnecting anything—something reviewers do much more of than most audiophiles. With the kWs, I always mute the system before lowering the stylus to or lifting it from an LP (always a good idea, even with a 3W single-ended triode amp). I mute before changing sources.

When the kWs are powered up, their feet glow first yellow, then, after warmup, blue. The light system seems to go through a full yellow warmup cycle if you power down for even a few minutes, which suggests that the warmup system is governed by time, not temperature. The kWP's feet go through the same warmup light show. When you hit Mute, the feet glow red, which is the only indication that you're in that mode (which is selectable only from the remote).

Aside from the possibility of vaporized speaker internals, using the Tri-Vista kW system was straightforward and more than pleasant. All of the remote functions worked crisply and without glitch.

The sound of a small town's generating plant
In order to avoid sonic confusion and minimize variables, I first ran the kW power amps with the already-installed Halcro dm10 preamp, and later with the VTL TL-7.5, before inserting the kWP preamp. In place of the Pass Labs XA 160s (which failed to meet their specified output, due, apparently, to a manufacturing fault) the system was going from around 60Wpc into 4 ohms to 1800Wpc into 4 ohms—the Wilson WATT/Puppy 7's nominal impedance.

Some amplifier ideologues will tell you that big = bad; and that when you create a complex circuit with dozens of output devices, clarity, resolution, coherence, and delicacy must suffer. The kWs destroyed that notion with the first tune I played: "The Golden Age," from Beck's superbly recorded Sea Change (SACD, Interscope B00007KMP1). Three things became immediately apparent: 1) the size and scale of the picture had grown enormously; 2) the kWs' grip on the woofers was totalitarian, creating the tightest, most agile, most dynamically supple bass I've ever experienced in any audio system I've auditioned; and 3) the kWs' resolution of detail, and their ability to separate musical threads in time and space, were astonishing—akin to what the Boulder 2008 phono preamp did for an analog front end. I can only imagine what a Boulder-kW system would sound like.

Electronic effects on the Beck disc vary from being woven into the cloth of the mix to standing exposed and buck naked, while still being part of the musical whole. Instead of taking a sledgehammer to the music, the kWs unraveled solid silken strands and placed them delicately in hyper-three-dimensional space.

Soft and warm the kWs were not, but neither were they bright or edgy—I've reviewed tube amps that were more wiry and glassy. Nonetheless, people who prefer the Pass Labs "house sound" won't like the kWs, and vice versa.

Because the kWs' bottom end was so tight and well-defined, with no midbass overhang, one could initially confuse the amps' sound with leanness, or think their top end spotlit—but over time, an astute listener would reconsider such a conclusion. In fact, bass extension, solidity, and texture were the best I've heard from any amplifier, including the big Halcro dm68s, which are plenty good in that department.

Rather than sounding "crunchy," "stiff," or unable to negotiate hairpin musical turns, the kWs were agile and relaxed. More than any other amp I've auditioned, they seemed to become whatever the recording demanded. On AC/DC's Back in Black, from Epic's epic boxed set of 16 180gm LPs (Epic 090643), the kWs and the WATT/Puppy 7s sounded as hard and crunchy as you'd want, but plenty transparent, and not bright or overhyped in the upper octaves no matter how loud I cranked them—and the SPLs were peaking at well over 100dB in my room.

The kick drum had wallop, texture, and body, and the electric guitars poured out rich, overdriven harmonics. What's more, no matter how loud I went, the kWs sounded relaxed, with no hint of compression. The sense of images floating has never been so pronounced in my experience—especially in the space between the speakers. During the months leading up to writing this review, that mesmerizing sense of floating, of unrestrained ease, never diminished. With electronic fades, as the level drops, the sense of space usually seems to recede with it. Not through the kWs. Instead, the picture floated free of the speakers, full-sized, until the final fadeout.

The fun was to go from something like AC/DC to delicate female vocals and hear the system shift gears like a chameleon. S&P Records' reissue of Peggy Lee's greatest hits album, Bewitching-Lee (LP, S&P-502), originally issued on Capitol in 1962 and mastered by Steve Hoffman at RTI, presents totally different tonal and textural pictures from AC/DC (duh!), but because it's a hits compilation drawn from different decades, the sound changes radically throughout. I could hear no consistent coloration that might be attributable to the kWs.

Nina Simone's first album, Little Girl Blue: Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club (Bethlehem BC-6028), is a surprisingly transparent late-1950s recording. The piano is a bit boxy, though with good "wood"; the drum kit, particularly the cymbals, has a subtle spatial context; and Simone's voice is delicately and intimately drawn, her unique lower register perfectly captured. Again, the system's sound was totally transformed: The kWs reproduced this recording in proper scale, and without a trace of "electronica" surrounding her voice. They didn't sound like "big" amps, and floated the mono image as effectively as I think any low-power tube amp might.

Just for laughs, one night I went from Mobile Fidelity's pressing of Nirvana's Nevermind (LP) to a British Decca boxed set, Homage to Pavlova (SET 523-4): performances by Richard Bonynge and the London Symphony of ballet music associated with the legendary dancer. The presentation ranged from bright and crunchy to delicate and transparent, but was never too warm and sweet. The Musical Fidelity kWs were not warm, and if I had any criticism, it was that they were unforgiving, even ruthlessly revealing, especially in the upper octaves. The Wilson WATT/Puppy 7's top end is considered by many to be equally ruthless and revealing, yet the combo of kWs and WATTs gave a musical result that, in my experience, is unsurpassed.

You'd expect an amplifier with this much sheer power to produce convincing dynamics at the top end of the scale, and the kWs did. But what detractors of big amps might not expect were the degrees of ultra-low-level dynamic expression the kWs were capable of revealing. I've always believed that there's a point where no more event information is to be retrieved from familiar recordings, yet I was surprised—and a bit unnerved—to find that the kWs continually exposed previously buried subtle level and/or textural shifts within performances, increasing the intimacy and musical communication between me and the musicians.

Musical Fidelity
US Distributor: Signal Path Imports
215 Lawton Road
Charlotte, NC 28216
(704) 391-9337