The First Watt series amps have been on my radar for a few years. So when a First Watt J2 appeared locally, I decided to hop in the car and take a drive across the border into North Carolina to pick it up. I justified the purchase loosely on the basis of it being a Summer amp, something a little cooler running than the big Allnic A6000 Monoblocks. Of course, I realized that the First Watt J2, being a class A design, would probably run quite warm and that it would be left mostly switched on (unlike the Allnics), so looking for further justification I arrived at the notion that since vacuum tubes were becoming harder and harder to source, and since my Allnics require a whopping $4000+ to re-tube, the little J2 would eventually pay for itself. (lower tube replacement costs and lower air-con bills – another example of the mental gymnastics my tiny brain will perform when the eyes see something that the heart must have.)
The First Watt J2 (Link to manufacturer’s website – First Watt J2) is a stereo power amp with a modest 25 watts per channel rating and is designed around a two-stage circuit that operates in pure single-ended Class A mode. Signal JFET devices form the input stage and power JFET devices the output stage. And yes, running class A it does actually get hot, surprisingly so.
Quoting a line from the Nelson Pass website: “Single-Ended Class A tube amplifiers are not very powerful, and their measurement numbers are not exceptional, but there is no arguing that they have strong musical appeal to much of the audiophile population.”
No doubt, no doubt at all.
I’d read somewhere that Mr. Pass recommends that people turn their First Watt amps off after use, as they come to life quickly and there’s no reason to spin the electric meter whilst no one is at home. I disagree. I found the J2 to sound quite a bit better after being left powered, at least for 24 hours, beyond which I didn’t notice any change (I’m talking warm-up time here and not break-in. My J2 was fully broken in).
Following the designer’s recommendation, I found the J2 to sound a little lacking in air, bloom, and 3-dimensionality for the first couple hours or so, running from a cold start. So for now, I leave the amp on, unless I know I’m going to be away from my desk for a few days or more.
This isn’t going to be one of those reviews where I analyze the inner workings of the cat’s backside, I’m getting old and lazy, I’d sooner be listening to music than writing long, boring reviews, that no one reads. Also, I recently purchased an Ultrasonic Record Cleaner, so every moment of my spare time is spent bathing with old records and exciting my nervous system with ultrasonic washing machine tones.
In a nutshell, the First Watt J2 is a bloody good little power amp and a perfect partner for a vintage classic like the Altec Valencia 846B. It’s so close in so many ways to my $30K modified Allnic Audio A6000’s, that it almost makes me ill. The J2 illuminates the madness of this hobby like few other products I’ve heard. It doesn’t just get to 95% of the $30K monoblocks, it gets to maybe 97.125% It’s scary good. Of course, it doesn’t quite have the same balls as the 100LB per side Allnics. But it’s remarkably close. It’s less ‘palpable’ and dimensional than the 300b amps, but it makes up for its losses there with a little more air and focus. It hasn’t quite the same degree of sweetness, but it’s close enough for most people, including myself to be perfectly honest.
I’ll hit 60 this year and that might account for some of the reasons why I find the sound of the First Watt J2 so close to the Allnic 300b monoblocks reviewed here. I’m sure my hearing has degraded over the years and this must be a factor in being able to play ‘spot the difference’ when comparing two components that are operating from a similar performance baseline. I’m also an ornery and impatient old sod. Swapping out cables and cones and tweaks to try to get my system to divvy up another half a percent is just such a toil nowadays.
Now I should also point out that observations here are provided with the context of the Altec Valencia being the only speaker I’ve used with the J2. The Valencia’s are certainly not the most revealing speaker, so it’s fair to assume that a comparison using better speakers might yield entirely different results – wider margins if you like. And I will get to do some speaker rolling, eventually. But for now, the First Watt J2 can stay in the system, and the A6000s are relegated to the closet. And I love the Valencias, so they’re staying put too.