I’m always open to listening to value proposition gear since it can be so much fun. When Underwood Hi-Fi (website) offered up their $1,499 LSA Discovery Warp One amplifier for review, I jumped at the chance because I’ve seen the enthusiastic LSA Group reviews on PTA from writers such as Marc Phillips, John Richardson, and more. Now, as you probably know by now, Living Sound Audio has found a niche for itself in the high-end audio industry, creating and marketing high-performance products, and selling them directly to consumers. That is hardly a novel business model at this point — we’ve seen dozens of companies make the same moves in the last dozen years or more — but what it is is a great big neon sign that reads: Here Be Value. And the LSA Discovery Warp One is certainly one of those.
Now, I must confess that I didn’t realize at the time was that the LSA Discovery Warp One was a class D amplifier. Like many audiophiles, I may still have reservations about class D based upon some unfavorable experiences many years ago. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when class D was in its infancy, many of us found these amplifiers to be harsh, almost etched, like fingers on the chalkboard — everything I hated about early digital. So, with that established to my personal satisfaction, I happily ignored class D components for the better part of three decades. Until now, that is. Cue the dramatic music.
Around the time I received the LSA Discovery Warp One, PTA colleague Dave McNair got in the TIDAL Audio Intra power amplifier. The German-made Intra, which retails for $28,000, is also a class D amplifier, and to my surprise, it received a strong recommendation from Dave. Adding insult to my preconceptions, it was not long ago that Marc Phillips has reviewed class D amplification from the Jeff Rowland Design Group, the Model 125, and then from AVM, their Ovation all-in-one. And both earned a Reviewer’s Choice award.
It was obvious that I needed to revisit my feelings about class D.
And here we are.
LSA Discovery Warp One Specs
The LSA Discovery Warp One is light and small, especially compared to the “average” power amplifier. I opened up the box, noticed the distinct lack of heft, and thought huh, this is it? I will admit that the smallish box had a fit and finish that was appropriate and tasteful for this price point and cosmetically aligned with Core Power Technology products, also a part of the LSA Group.
The LSA Discovery Warp One has functional and easy-to-use speaker binding posts, balanced and unbalanced inputs, a standard power cord with a switch on the back, and a standby power button on the front. The standby button glows a nice blue. Overall, I liked the minimalist approach and the two-tone aluminum chassis.
The LSA Discovery Warp One uses the Texas Instruments TPA3255 Class D amp-on-a-chip paired with a 600W SMPS power supply. Capable of 150W per channel in 8Ω and 250W into 4Ω, the amp is a compact powerhouse. Input sensitivity is pre-set at a modestly high 1.4Vrms. Gain is adjustable; from the factory, the gain is set at 28dB, but can be adjusted to 22dB or 36dB, though the latter is not recommended for most audio applications. Other gain settings are available if the unit is custom ordered–I received the amp with the 28dB gain setting.
The rear speaker binding posts accept spades, bananas, and even bare wire, if desired. The LSA Discovery Warp One was super-easy to install and use in my system.
LSA Discovery Warp One Design
I spoke with designer Viet Nguyen, who also happens to be a NASA engineer, about the basic design and technology employed in the LSA Discovery Warp One. His comments:
“Good layout is key and we use very short thick traces for high current paths to minimize impedance. The board also uses thousands of vias that connect traces in the top and bottom sides to essentially double the trace thickness from the already thick two ounce layer. A star grounding scheme is important…the power entry connector is in the middle of the board. Minimizing loop areas is also key to reducing noise pickup.
“The output inductors are an important part that needs to be low impedance yet able to filter the Class D carrier frequency well. I specify high current flat copper wire CoilCraft shielded inductors rated for 27A to ensure the lowest distortion. We also use high quality Wima film caps on the output filter and Elna Silmic II silk fiber input coupling caps for a smooth sound. [The] TPA3255 amp chip [is] mounted on the underside of the PCB so that the thermal pad can be thermally bonded to the chassis wall with a heat spreader block vs an internal finned heatsink. This keeps the chip cool and ensures longevity.”
He then went further into the specifics of the LSA Discovery Warp One design, especially in terms of noise suppression:
“A good amp needs a powerful low noise power supply and we have a custom made 600w switch mode supply that is extremely low noise and has a special topology that can handle capacitive loads without shutting off. The power supply gives a lot of headroom for dynamic peaks and bass grip. The amp and PSU are so low noise that if you press your ear to the speaker cone with the amp on and source off, you can’t tell it is powered on.”
“Then there is the custom designed input buffer/preamp that provides a balanced signal to the amp. It uses state of the art Texas Instruments OPA1642/1656 op-amps and OPA1637 balanced drivers. It uses a unique bootstrapped input buffer to allow rail to rail swings with lower distortion.
“Put all of this into a custom-made aluminum chassis and Viborg 8mm diameter pure copper binding posts wired with dual strands of high current RC race car motor wiring as this gives the lowest impedance path from the amp to the speaker for the superb bass. Few companies are willing to go through the trouble to apply all of these tricks on an amplifier at this price point.”
Initial Impressions and Setup
Underwood recommended about 200 hours of break-in on the LSA Discovery Warp One to get the best sound. Before that, the sound of the Warp One was still quite competent.
At this point in the game, I listened exclusively to digital sources with the LSA Discovery Warp One, with a system that also included a Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2 integrated, Atoll A400 preamplifier, and First Watt SIT-1 monoblocks, using the XLR and RCA pre-outs where it suited.
Digital was handled by my reference Schiit Audio Yggradsil and a LampizatOr Golden Atlantic TRD. Cables and accessories were a mixture of AudioQuest and Cardas cabling and AudioQuest and Core Power Technologies power conditioners. Speakers were a steady rotation between the Atohm GT-3 and my reference Vandersteen Model 3.
Once the break-in was complete, I dug deep into the character of the LSA Discovery Warp One using a playlist of speaker torture test tracks from my PTA colleague, Grover Neville. Imaging was superb in all respects.
When hooked up to my Vandersteens, I noticed a smooth top-to-bottom balance between the frequency extremes. The body of a piano, for example, was extraordinarily realistic and well-rendered. Cymbals had a nice, crisp crash. The other amps I have on hand tend to have a slightly softer presentation of treble on the Vandersteens, but the LSA Discovery Warp One brought a bit more treble linearity, and that turned out to offer a more balanced view of the higher frequencies. Good times.
The bass of the Warp One was also unique, at least among the amplifiers that I’ve had in my system lately. It was deep and tight and fast, all the called-for bits, but the best description that kept coming up in my notes was honest. The LSA Discovery Warp One has honest bass. When called for, it could be deep and have authority, or it could be fast and taut, or it could be loose and sloppy — whatever the music played needed.
So, naturally, I started reaching for music that might need it.
LSA Discovery Warp One: The SPL Wars
After extended listening, I wanted to see what the LSA Discovery Warp One was really capable of handling when it came to pure power. Cranking the volume level well above casual listening to “WE ARE HERE TO PARTY!” levels, I had to re-evaluate my initial impressions somewhat.
As you’d expect, the chassis of the LSA Discovery Warp One never got warmer than room-temperature during the party phase of the review. Like most Class-D amps, this can be run for extended listening periods without concern, which is exactly what I did. Here, I found that the amplifier really enjoyed being pushed and was constantly asking for MORE. That was fun.
Getting into the sound, I found that, when compared with my (much more expensive and also Class A amplifiers), I also noticed that the decay seemed to end more quickly, which also meant that the pacing and timing seem to fall on the energetic side of the presentation spectrum. On the other hand, the LSA Discovery Warp One handles transients brilliantly. Complex musical passages, textured and layered bass, and multiple instruments, all were well-handled without mushing everything into a wall of sound–this kind of performance is actually quite impressive considering the modest price of the unit. Many more expensive amps can’t manage it with the speakers I’ve had in-house. Here, each instrument sounded distinct whenever multiple instruments played collectively. Clarity bordered on hyper-clear. This is certainly not a laid-back and warm amplifier. This is a tool to reveal sonic information. What goes in comes out.
To me, the LSA Discovery Warp One power amplifier had a definitive solid-state “sound,” but it avoided the ruthless “accuracy” of some (especially, some solid-state amps) that I’ve heard recently. I found the overall effect was clearest (and, it’s worth noting, most effective) on “heavier” music, like metal and hard rock. Rage Against the Machine, for example, was super-fun and completely immersive. Through the LSA Discovery Warp One, the band’s energy, impact, and emotion were breathtaking, a feat that I’ve found many amplifiers can’t quite attain.
Things changed up a bit when I switched to vinyl. I plugged in the Shinola Runwell turntable (sporting an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge) and placed Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here on the platter. After dropping the needle and returning to my chair, any lingering fantasy I might have harbored about Class D and “digital artifacts”, or the sense of the amp being in a hurry, questions of high energy, brightness, were wiped away. Here, the Discovery Warp One showed off a natural and relaxed pace, one that was totally appropriate to the music being played, and the sound coming from the speakers was incredibly engaging, showing off a huge soundstage and lending real body to the instruments.
I put on Herbie Hancock’s Secrets and had the same experience. I was so wrapped up in what I was experiencing, I did what any self-respecting audiophile would do — and went to the record store to buy more vinyl! I picked up Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s So Far just to listen to “Helplessly Hoping.” This is one of my digital speaker torture tracks, as getting the right balance of this delicate tune and the placement of the central voice is very difficult for many otherwise excellent systems. With the Warp One in the system, I heard the correct placement of vocals and guitar in greater detail than ever before. The music had a front-to-back depth that just never came through on the digital versions.
Next up was psychedelic music from Jimi Hendrix, as I know he did some cool things on vinyl that many digital conversions never quite captured. As sound ping-ponged across the room, I continued to marvel at how amazing the system sounded. With appropriately matched sources, the Warp One did many things that I usually expect from far more expensive amplifiers. For example, I often use my Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2 as a budget integrated. It has balanced and single-ended preamp-outs and is very versatile. And when compared with the LSA Discovery Warp One, the Ragnarok 2 just couldn’t provide the same emotional connection I was loving out of the LSA. The Warp One demands you pay attention in a way few amplifiers can. It’s addicting.
LSA Discovery Warp One: Packing It Up
The LSA Discovery Warp One challenged my paradigms of what could be done with Class D. I am thrilled, and still surprised, to hear how much the technology has improved over the years.
I found that the LSA Discovery Warp One to be a brilliant on-ramp to high-end audio. $1,499 price tag is relatively modest, given the state of the market, and will immediately impress as a powerful and competent player. Taken out on the town and paired with perhaps something like a JBL L100 speaker, the Warp One would party All. Night. Long. It’s intense. It’ll play loud. It’ll create FUN.
What was not expected was how refined it could be. Paired with an appropriate source, you can tick all the boxes — great pace, lovely texture, great transient response, a deep and lovely soundstage. Matched with a competent preamp and fed by a relatively modest Shinola turntable, I was gobsmacked. Seriously! Unfortunately, that turntable is now out of production, but given that the table was made by VPI, I have some suggestions on where to replicate that experience. Hint hint.
At this price point, and with its superb capabilities, the LSA Discovery Warp One gets my Reviewer’s Choice Award.
Graig’s Abbreviated Digital Speaker Torture Test Playlist (props to Grover)
- Trio Gobo Steering by the Stars “Steering by the Stars”
- Chris Isaac Forever Blue “Baby Did a Bad Thing”
- Carolina Chocolate Drops Genuine Negro Jig “Hit ‘Em Up Style”
- Crosby Stills Nash &Young So Far “Helplessly Hoping”
- Prince Art Official Age “Funknroll”
- Rebeca Pidgeon Chesky Records-The Ultimate Demonstration Disk “Spanish Harlem”
- Melody Gardot The Absence “Mira”
- Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
- Pink Floyd Animals
- Herbie Hancock Secrets
- Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Lady Land
- Crosby Stills Nash and Young So Far