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CAF 2014: Red Wine Audio, decanted, and ready to drink

CT6A7672 I can't get over that hot shirt Red Wine Audio's Alexis Chen managed to score. Wonder where she got that? Hmm. Kidding aside, I'm grateful she was willing to not only wear it, but let me photograph her with it on -- thanks, Alex! Vinnie Rossi has been working on his Red Wine Audio brand now for 10 years. I can't believe it's been that long! But his brand has grown, evolved, and matured along with him -- his current Renaissance Edition line of gear is easily his best and is one of those oft-sought inflection points in the price/performance curve. I've been very lucky to have spent time with them recently, and it was fantastic. I'm still plotting on what I'd need to do to get some in here .... Anyway, my machinations aside, the room here at CAF showed yet another iteration of Vinnie's basic value proposition -- take a battery-powered platform, add tubes, work for a transparency that defies logic, and then wrap that up in an attractive package and offer it at a direct-to-consumer price point. Ta da! Say hello to the RWA Signature 57 Integrated Amplifier!

Red Wine Audio

The Signature 57 may be the largest of the RWA products — it’s 19″ wide, 16″ deep and 6″ tall. It also weighs almost 30lbs — which is heavy for a unit that doesn’t need massive transformer (battery, remember — score!). Output is a healthy 115wpc into 4Ω, and the unit is stable down to 1.5Ω. The tube input stage is the standard for a Renaissance, and it supports tubes from the following families (there’s s switch to support the higher current tubes):

  • 6922 / E88CC, 6DJ8 / ECC88, 7308 / E188CC, 7DJ8 / PCC88, 6N23, 6H23, 6N11, and 6GM8
  • 12AX7 / ECC83, E83CC / ECC803, 5751, 12DT7 / 12DM7/12DF7, 6681, 7058, and 7025

Vinnie says he has the battery life optimized for up to 18 hours of off-the-grid playback, and from my experience, this is the by-far preferred way to go with this brand. Note that this also means that fancy power cords are most definitely not required.

There are three different wood panels available. My favorite is the walnut, but there’s also maple and cherry for those who don’t share my taste. Weirdos.

Prices start at $3,995 and venture upward with the addition of a headphone amplifier output, a phono input or an on-board DAC module. Kitted out with all the trimmings, you’re looking at an $7,995 single-box solution — just add a computer and turntable, and you’re set. Or, in Vinnie’s case, you could use something fancy.

The RWA-Z1ES-2.5 is a modification on the Sony HAP-Z1ES, and serves as a computer-replacement. From the recent Stereophile review by Kal Rubinson:

Basically, the Sony HAP-Z1ES is a music-file player like an iPod, but it improves on Apple’s paradigm in every way but portability. First, it can play—and enhance the sound of—almost any format, lossless, or lossy: DSD (DSF, DSDIFF at 2.8 or 5.6MHz), PCM (16-, 24-, or 32-bit at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192kHz), WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, ATRAC Advanced Lossless, ATRAC, MP3, AAC, and WMA. Second, it has a 1TB hard drive for storage, and supports the attachment of an additional drive via USB. Third, it offers wired and wireless network connectivity to/from your computer, so that you can upload, download, back up, and restore your files, and enjoy Internet radio streaming via vTuner. Fourth, the HAP-Z1ES, which Sony calls a DSD Remastering Engine, can upconvert any digital source to 128fs DSD. And fifth, Sony has included its Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE), which, it says, restores a natural sound to compressed files.

Vinnie takes this platform and promptly tweaks the daylights out of it. He replaces the output stage with a dual-mono tube system with a dedicated low-noise linear PSU, replaces the regulators feeding the converter chips and clocks with ultra-low-noise versions, and there’s an option to add battery power for all the analog circuitry. Price for the mods start at $1,495 and more details can be found here.

Oh — wait! Don’t forget speakers. They’re important.

Luckily, Walter Swanborn of Fidelis Home Audio was on hand with something new from Harbeth UK! My first love from this lineup just got a big refresh — the Super HL5 is now the Super HL5 plus. Harbeth is rather tight-lipped about upgrades, but they allowed that the crossover is entirely new, reworked after extensive SOTA testing and analysis. Externally, the cabinet is exactly the same, with one major exception — the mid/bass unit has been upgraded to the Radial2, the same as is used in the Monitor 40.1 and 30.1. Price for the new model is $6,890/pair.

Also in use were a full set of Harmonizers from Stein Music, strategically and discretely placed about the room.

Overall, I found this room to be completely unobjectionable in any way. Sounds like a bit of weak tea, no? But not so — what I mean is that I could live with this system, as is, not change a damn thing. I had zero complaints. The new Harbeth speakers were magic, and given that my sleeping room was just down the hall, this was not only the first thing I heard from CAF (Vinnie started a wee bit early — like Thursday), it was one of the best. Rich and creamy, but still wonderfully detailed, the presentation was full, impactful, and completely engaging. Like I said — I want it. All of it.

Last note: just a word of congratulations to Vinnie and Alexis on their impending nuptials — best wishes to the happy couple!

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

4 Comments on CAF 2014: Red Wine Audio, decanted, and ready to drink

  1. Easily the best room at the show!

  2. If Harbeth does not define classic understated beauty, nothing does in the high end. This new Harbeth looks like another in a long line of successes.

    Especially after this report, I will absolutely not miss Red Wine at the next show.

    Congratulations to the happy couple. May sweet music ring throughout their joyous wedding and long, happy, prosperous lives.

  3. Wife and i loved this room. Nice Work Vinny.

  4. Oh man! I missed this room too. So much for thinking 4 hours would be enough time to see everything… Great coverage guys!

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