Todd mentions the enclosure of the Warner has been revised and now looks gorgeous. That's great - this version wouldn't have raised an eyebrow in the mid '70's. The TIFF speaker posts are really sharp looking and make tightening down spade lugs a breeze. With the positioning of all the connectors between the heat sinks, however, there's no way I could have accessed them if the amp wasn't situated on top of my equipment rack. I had a hard time locking down the Cardas RCA's on my interconnect cable. The rubber feet of the Warner were a little too long to allow use of my Roomtunes AudioPoints, until I was able to dig up the AudioPoint's matching support discs. (I knew I'd have use for them someday.)
When I powered up the Warner, it made a sound like a muted 'gong' of a big breaker switch (internally, not over the speakers) and the amp shuddered for a second. I guess this guy came to play. I played one song to confirm I got everything connected right, and followed that up with a few repeats of the XLO Test Disc's demag track. Letting everything stabilize overnight, I started my listening.
The Warner amp arrived during some linestage evaluations I had just started. During the Warner's stay, I had in my Golden Tube SEP-1, the Audible Illusions L-1, the Audio Synthesis Passion, and the new Sonic Frontiers Line-1. The Audible Illusions L-1 was occupying the preamp shelf during my first listen. Mated with the Golden Tube SE-40 and Music Metre interconnect cables, the sound came across as extremely bright and glary. Replacing the SE-40 with the Warner, things changed dramatically, with the sound now very dark in the high frequencies while still maintaining some glare in the upper mids. Obviously, the cables in use were having a big impact on how the Audible Illusions was interfacing with the rest of my system. Since I didn't have any other cable available at the time, there didn't seem to be any use in evaluating the Audible Illusions with the Warner.
I was afraid the Sonic Frontiers Line-1, which was just being shipped to dealers and was forwarded to me for a home trial, would have the same problems with my cables and the rest of my system. On the contrary, the Line-1 fit in the system just fine and was a great match with the Warner. The Line-1 actually sounded very close to the Audio Synthesis Passion, and both really brought out the musical nature of the Warner. I could see why Todd was so impressed with the amp. The emotion of female vocalists came through better than it ever has in my system. This, more than any other attribute, really showed me the folks at Warner had tapped into the magic of a top flight tube amp. The emotion of music just flowed in a natural and relaxed way.
Although the sonics of the Warner were very good, they weren't quite up to the standards of its musicality. Macro dynamics were excellent, as they should be for a high-current solid state amp. Compared to the SE-40, the Warner's soundstage went deeper but was a bit narrower. Although the images within the stage were adequately fleshed-out, the Warner's presentation had a sense of congestion and was less three dimensional than the SE-40.
The Warner was a much quieter amp which helped to better reveal micro-dynamics and detail. However, it had a slight softness in the midrange that masked the detail. This resulted in a lack of distinction between front to back images and a sensation of slower transient speed on acoustic guitars. Finally, there was an annoying blur in a narrow band of the upper bass that was especially evident during complex passages.
Yes, the Warner is very tube sounding, with essentially none of the negative characteristics normally associated with tubes. It's also the among the most musical solid state products I've ever heard. If I weren't so inclined to sit in front of my speakers so often and 'study' (as my wife calls it) what's going on, I'd probably be satisfied to have my own Warner amp and look for another hobby. But this version of the Warner doesn't quite get me there yet. I do look forward to hearing the SE (man, how I wish that meant 'single-ended') version of their latest amplifiers, and hopefully a preamp too.
Click Here for Todd Warnke's Full Warner Imaging VTE-201S Review