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Sandy Greene Reviews the Red Wine Signature 30

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by on December 15 '06

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For a couple of months now I have had the pleasure of listening to silence. Eh? Yep, silence from the noise we’ll hear through the typical power path. Typical being your typically grounded outlet through probably your nicer-than-stock power cord to your typically toroidal transformered source and active transformer amp. None of that typical stuff here.

Keep reading for more on the Red Wine Signature 30 integrated amplifier...

I’ve been listening to silence through the Red Wine Audio battery-powered Signature 30 amplifier fed by the Red Wine Audio battery-powered and modified Olive Symphony digital recorder/player. Flip the switches on the backs of both units and hear nothing… no hum, no hiss. Stick your ear to the tweeter and hear absolutely nada. So when you turn on the RWA gear you hear nothing? Yep, but when you start up some music, you hear everything. I’ve never heard anything like either before.

Actually I have, but nothing this good. About 6 months ago I wrote about the Red Wine Audio Clari-T (for Dagogo.com). It had a similar effect through the ultra-sensitive Bastanis Prometheus speakers. Those speakers revealed a ton of the most subtle information. But with the Original CD-A8T (typically transformered) tube CD player, I heard background noise. With the RWA modded battery-powered player and the battery-powered Signature 30 amplifier, (and different speakers… read below) I hear squat for background noise.

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All that silence would be worthless if the music these pieces reproduced when producing more than silence was not of glorious high quality. Both pieces are over-achievers in sound reproduction. I used the 30 wpc Signature 30 with a few different speakers: The Audio Note AN-E/Lx, Omega Super 3 XRS and Duevel Planets. The Signature 30 sounded fantastic with each, and each are really different. And even though each of these speakers have a character all their own, the character of the Signature 30 flowed through each of them. It’s not a perfectly neutral amp. I am yet to audition an amp that didn’t have it’s own character that you could clearly identify and the Sig 30 is no different.

Through each of the speakers listed above, the Red Wine Audio Signature 30 emanated varying degrees of ease and organic flow. The sonic picture was always full and dimensional. The amp has very strong and robust bass that is always tuneful. Compared to my baseline Rogue Audio Magnum Ninety-Nine preamp and Stereo 90 amp, the bass through the Sig 30 was more full and not as taut, slower and not as rhythmic. The Rogue stuff is tubed and has that tube air we all love, but it is also quite tight and fast. It’s not the fairest of comparisons. The Rogue pair sells for just under $4,600 when the RWA Sig 30 is $1,399 in its standard configuration.

Fair schmair… the Sig 30 really was very similar to the Rogue pair in creating the ambience a great tubed system is capable of. Like a great tubed system, the Sig 30 is physical sounding in that it reproduces music in a way that seems real and not forced. It’s natural. It’s never etched and never grainy. The Sig 30 produces all the musical information without exaggerating any one part. The soundstage is full and wide. The timber and tonality of instruments and voices are accurate reproductions. Dynamically the scale did not have as broad a range as the Rogue gear and I think that is part of what creates the feeling of pace and rhythm, which was a little better with the Rogue gear.

As a personal reference in the source area, I ran the Sig 30 with my tried and true analog setup: Rega P25 with Dynavector 10x5 cart through a Gram Amp IIse phono pre. Guess which album I’ll reference… Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way”. Man, get the visual ambience right (dim the lights) and the aural ambience just takes over with the Sig 30 being fed a decent source. This is a great quiet album being played through the quietest of amps that happens to sound fantastic at moderate (almost quiet) listening levels. The Sig 30 sounds as good at low and moderate levels as it does at louder, more equal to real life sound levels. It’s a great late night amp, it’s a great early morning, brunch, mid afternoon snack, dinner party and audiophile gathering amp… full, musical, ambient and detailed at all times.

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If you want to take your “In A Silent Way” vinyl record with you to listen to on your walk on the first snowy morning of the season how would you do it? Easy… you’d record it with the Red Wine Audio modded Olive Symphony. You could then either burn it to a CD or copy it to your iPod (or like). The Olive Symphony makes it so easy and fun (thanks to the web interface… more on that later). If you are yet to hear/see/play with an Olive music server, you seriously don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a CD player; it’s got a hard drive to store your music collection (and you can add additional external hard drives for more storage). It’s an analog to digital recorder. You can write CD’s from it. It plays Internet radio and other music it finds on your wireless network. It has a great sounding headphone output. It’s a total blast.

The Red Wine Audio mod takes the AC line out of the equation and uses a battery for power. For great sonic improvements, RWA mods and simplifies the analog output and input stage. Modifications are also made to the digital output stage as well and vibration control materials are added to the sensitive interior parts and case. You can read the details on their site.

I don’t and didn’t have an unmodded Olive Symphony to compare it to, but my old colleague, Laurence Borden at Dagogo.com did, saying the mods took the unit to a new level sonically. I trust Larry’s ear in that comparison. Instead, what I can do is compare the RWA version of this player to my now departed (sold) Eastern Electric MiniMax tubed CD player. I really really liked the MiniMax. It stayed with me for a few years as many other players came and went. To me, in comparison to at least six other players ranging in price from $800 to $6,000 the MiniMax had so many of the best qualities of those players and none of the bad. I thought I’d never replace it and keep it as my reference. The RWA modded Olive Symphony will replace the MiniMax. Why? It sounds actually more natural and pleasant and is way more practical and useful. I never thought of buying an all in one music server like this. I have my Apple PowerBook and have used it for any digital music archiving, mixing, recording, etc.

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It’s just so damn convenient to have all the functions of the Olive Symphony available in my audio rack. I especially love the ease at which I can record from my turntable rig. Set it up for auto level adjustment. When the recording is done, tell it to divide the tracks. Use your computer and the Olive’s web interface to see what’s on the Olive and name your tracks easily. Finalize the recording by importing through whatever compressed or non-compressed format suits your fancy… all within the Olive. The analog album is now part of your digital collection. You can burn it to a CD if you like or move it to your favorite portable digital player. My next SonicFlare iMix will be a selection of vintage late 50’s/early 60’s small group jazz. I’m even considering making the actual-from-vinyl recording made with the Olive available to the nice readers of SonicFlare… twist my arm.

One instruction I feel compelled to relay is that, with the RWA battery gear, you should never let the battery completely discharge… it ruins the battery. Just remember to turn the unit off after each use. With the Sig 30, you get over 12 hrs of use on one charge. With the modded Olive, you get about 6hrs. It’s not difficult to get used to… just a slightly different way of doing things from the audiophile norm of never turning off solid-state components.

What to pair the pair up with? Here’s two very different speaker systems to try... For an accurate, focused, rhythmic, musical and most traditional two-channel experience, try the RWA combo with the Omega Super 3 XRS’s ($849). The RWA gear really compliments these speakers by injecting a bit of body to the overall sonic picture. For an out of this world three-dimensional, highly ambient and like-live experience, try the RWA combo with the new Duevel Planets ($1,195… detailed review to come soon). The omni-directional experience is made that much more convincing and realistic with the quiet and accurate RWA combo.

Individually each piece is really strong… together these two, the Red Wine Audio Signature 30 Amplifier and modded Olive Symphony make a great pair. With the Olive as source, set the Sig 30’s volume at around half-way (depending on speaker sensitivity) and use the Olive’s variable output and remote as your control. It makes for a super silent, super high-quality, super musical and super affordable (in the land of high-end audio) super flexible and super fun system.

The RWA Signature 30 and modded Olive Symphony are gathering tons of very positive press and for very good reason. They embarrass just about everything else I’ve heard near their price range and are way more fun and musical than just about anything else I’ve toyed with. Both are highly recommended. Red Wine Audio offers a 30-day trial with the Sig 30. You really should experience battery power and the sonic stylings of the Sig 30 and hear nothing and everything all for yourself.

Comments

I would like to thank SonicFlare and Sandy personally for such a well-written and complimentary review. Sandy's last paragraph really captures the essence of what I have been working very hard at with the design/implementation of Red Wine Audio products, and hopefully at a price-point that most audiophiles can afford. I have been following SonicFlare since day 1, and it is a real treat to now read a review of RWA gear on these pages. Thanks again, guys! Sincerely, Vinnie Rossi Red Wine Audio
Great review of a great product. I, myself, have the Signature 30 and have no intention of ever replacing it. Now I just listen, instead of worrying about what to replace next. All the best attributes of SET w/out the drawbacks (wear & tear, expense, bloat, glare, etc.) and it betters all (mostly) SS gear thanks to being 'off the grid'. Truely a breakthrough product. One must be mindful of pairing it with speakers and source that is built with the same goal in mind: music as pure and thruthful as possible. I'd reccommend going with a single driver speaker and as for source, something along the lines of 16 bit NOS to better appreciate the rewarding listening pleasure that awaits you. Again, great review Sandy, Tim
Nice review, just wondering what differences you notiiced between the Olive and Minimax (as in more resolution, detail, etc)? Thanks
Hello PMN, and thanks for the comment. I actually found/find the RWA-modded Olive to be more cohesive and as-one musically… meaning it seems to deliver the music as a more holistic and emotional performance. In comparison to the MiniMax, the RWA-modded Olive with its battery output is much more quiet. I think this contributes to being able to hear much more of the overall performance including ambience and thus location… bringing me closer overall and connecting me to the performer/performance. The MiniMax is tweakable in that you can change tubes. I think the MiniMax had a touch more resolution and detail, but it is obscured by the background noise in comparison to the battery Olive. I only compared it with stock tubes. Thanks again.
Thanks to Tim as well for his nice feedback.