With all the hubbub about digital converters that “do it all”, it sometimes makes me wonder how long it will be until the pre amp becomes completely obsolete. In a hobby where old technologies are not only clung to but celebrated, I don’t see that revolution coming to full fruition any time soon, if ever. However, the integration of the computer as THE source for audiophiles is becoming more and more apparent. Audio show rooms at events like Rocky Mountain Audiofest and Chicago’s AXPONA sometimes have a digital source only, usually have both digital and analog, but rarely ever have just analog capabilities to showcase their very best to our elusive and sometimes finicky audience. Popular DAC-maker Benchmark has even gone so far as to cut out the preamp entirely from their presentation at this year’s T.H.E. Show in Newport. Their new DAC2 D was on display connected directly into a pair of monoblocks, a natural progression of sorts if you ask me. I had heard a few audiophiles interpretation of this new “direct-to-amp” configuration but was intrigued enough to seek out something concrete to hear for myself with the hopes of replacing of a key component and freeing up significant funds that can be diverted back into the overall pool. After some internal deliberation, I settled on a mission to find something manageable in the monoblock arena to pair with all the stellar DACs that are constantly making their way through the Audio Head lab. I had spoken with Clint from Wyred4Sound on several occasions about his outstanding line of premium (but not premium priced) integrateds and DACs. The company has also recently introduced a pair of monoblocks called the mAMP ($900/amp) that fit in the same small footprint as many of their other “m” products. This translates to two monoblocks in the same relative space as a full size component, one that would fit on a regular shelf/rack space. Each of the 8” x 8” x 3.5” amps is rated at 250 watts into 8 ohms. The new model includes the latest iteration of ICEpower (also utilized in the W4S mINT integrated) and an overhauled input stage over previous generations.
In full transparency, I must admit that I am a fan of the black on black case design that most of the W4S product line shares. I find it simple, modern and elegant, especially for a power amplifier. A single power light accompanies the front panel of the mAMP, which glows inconspicuously green when off and blue when powered up (green does not mean go in this case). The anodized aluminum and steel finish makes the pair look very appealing sitting next to each other in a rack. The back side offers up a pair of single-ended as well as balanced inputs in addition to the 12V DC triggers. A single button toggle serves as the switching point between the two input types. The speaker connections were very sturdy and can accommodate both banana plugs and spades. I did hear a slightly lower noise floor with the balanced connections over the single ended in some cases, but this was hard to attribute exclusively to the amp, as many outside factors could be in play here. In any case, even with the SE inputs any surreptitious outside noise was only revealed with an ear pressed firmly against the tweeter at close proximity and not something you would ever notice at a normal listening volumes and range.
Utilizing the most excellent AURALiC Vega Dac as a source, I compared the sonic output to the equally proficient Rega Brio-R integrated. Initial evaluations were based upon the Vega at full volume into the Rega against the Vega acting as a preamp with the mAMPs plugged directly into its variable outputs. To my delight the monoblocks skated gracefully ahead of the Rega. Piano tones exuded more body. Vocals rang out with a denser relative tone, texture and timbre. Through the Vega, the mAMPs served up more energy and focused imagery across the listening field. High frequency percussion instruments like tambourines and shakers rang with a truer sense of air, space and placement which in turn helped deliver a more organized soundstage overall. Acoustic guitar tracks like the ones featured in Neil Young’s The Needle And The Damage Done had a more realistic bounce and dimensionality to them through the monoblocks. There were quite a few big pluses that came out of the tiny wonders, which accumulated to a very pleasing listening session. I was even able to identify a sense of better dynamics at lower relative listening volumes. So does the sum of all this equate to the death of the pre amp? To push the envelope even a little further I decided to connect the amps directly to the “budget” audiophile Oppo BDP-105 Blu-Ray player that also features a variable output via a balanced connection. The output here was a somewhat more tame. While some of the original improvement and characteristics of the monoblock via the Vega were retained, for the most part the sound quality now seemed much more on par with the Rega’s capabilities. As such, I was not able to identify a diminutive financial shortcut from a less costly source, at least in this case. The monoblocks sound amazing in their own right, but should be partnered with an equally impressive component acting as a preamp. Much like the relationship between a head amp and a top tier headphone, these monoblocks benefit a solid chain of components in order to reach their true destiny. That being said, those looking to close the loop a little tighter with fewer components can confidently drift towards the mAMPs in their search for proper amplification in the mono formation.
In addition to being an excellent partner for a direct-to-DAC setup, the mAMP makes a great next step for those looking to move up from a budget integrated into an even more “separates” realm. The satisfying esthetics and reasonable rack real estate of this product only provides additional support for its noble cause. Wyred 4 Sound continues to offer value to audiophiles at prices that are more wallet-friendly than most of its associates in the high-end market, and its new mAMP monoblocks are no exception. Recommended.