Recently, I decided it was time to upgrade my audio system. The first order of business was to replace the amplifier and preamplifier. My old amp was an Adcom 5500, 200 watts per channel into 8 Ohms. Since I was not planning to change speakers, I wanted to keep the same power level but explore options to upgrade the sound quality. The Adcom had served me very well; so solid and steadfast over the years. I would be sorry to see it go, but the time had come to move on. I did not want to spend a fortune, however.
A friend’s advice led me to the Wyred 4 Sound W4S Monoblock ‘mAmp’ that was just about to be released. Wyred 4 Sound has already had great success and acclaim with their SX-500 mono block Class D amp (Audiophilia review); this new W4S model is a lighter, more compact, refined Class D model: 8″W x 3.5″H x 8″D, 8 lbs versus 8.5″W x 4.125H” x 13.5″D, 13 lbs. This a remarkable reduction in size and weight, while retaining the same power (255 watts into 8 ohms).
Technically, the SX-500 model has more power output into the 4 ohm load region and is also considered to be a bit more stable in lower impedances. The new mAMP, in addition to its smaller size and weight, uses a newer generation amp module and a new custom input circuit. The price of the new mAmp is the same (for now) as the SX-500; $899 each. So, I acquired two black mAmps, one for each speaker (they also come in silver).
When they arrived for installation, I was dubious at what I saw and a bit anxious. The tiny but elegant looking black 8lb blocks were going to replace my current 50 pound amp (the one that I threw my back out that morning trying to move). I became intrigued when it was further revealed that they give off almost no heat and use about one tenth as much energy as the Adcom. I was also alarmed when my speaker cables caused each block (because they are so small and light) to raise off the shelf an inch or so in the back!
But, then the testing began, and it was immediately apparent that these were very serious and impressive amps.
There is an absence of any noise (buzz, hiss, hum) when you turn them on. Impressive. Even with the volume on high with no music playing, the quietness made me think perhaps the amps were off. They were on. The only way you know they are on is a small, circular blue light on the front (on a power button that you push). No other buttons or controls to distract you.
Installing the interconnects (from amp to preamp) is easy, and you have both XLR and RCA as possibilities — you must toggle a switch on the back to choose. The power cords that come with the amps can be detached to allow higher-end options if one desires.
From the start, the amps displayed detailed, clean and natural sound at lower and middle frequencies, but a disappointing shrillness in the high frequencies. Take, for example, the Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’: at times, it sounded like glass was shattering and Ringo was throwing his cymbals out the window! Violins, too, could become sharp and irritating, as in the opening movement of Spring from Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’. I assumed the problem was the interconnects. But, the cause was right there in the manual. A 300 hour break in is recommended to get rid of the initial brightness and any harsh transitions, with the first 100 hours showing significant improvement. This was exactly so. After about 200 hours, the harshness/brightness had vanished, leaving a rich, smooth and fluid sound with extraordinary, previously unheard details coming from my speakers. Powerful, tight bass, excellent midrange, and (very impressive to me as a drummer/percussionist) extreme clarity at the high frequencies, offering outstanding detail/realism for such things as cymbals, bells, snare drums, tom toms and bongo drums. Wonderful. Once the burn-in period was complete and I settled on interconnects, I just sat back and enjoyed listening to a wide variety of music.
To begin evaluation, I used the ‘Tears in Heaven’ track from the Eric Clapton ‘Unplugged’ CD and was very impressed. The ringing bell sound after the riff of bongos shone through, while Clapton’s earthy voice was right on. And, Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ now sounded exquisite, while ‘Yellow Submarine’ sounded larger than life. Spring had sprung.
I continued with lots of percussion. Drummers as varied as Bill Bruford, Ginger Baker, Carl Palmer, Billy Cobham and Joe Morello, to classical timpani and gongs in Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man, sounded remarkably natural.
Vocals and bass in turn sounded no less outstanding. A stellar example for voice is Jacintha (on the CD, ‘Autumn Leaves: the songs of Johnny Mercer’); you can feel her presence in the room and hear the textures of her seductive voice. As for bass (both upright bass and even bass clarinet) Bill Bruford’s Earthworks CD (live) ‘Random Acts of Happiness’ contains many choice examples. Very impressive.
Finally, an example where all frequencies are covered with elegance and finesse: The Oscar Peterson Trio’s ‘We Get Requests’ CD sounds extraordinary and real via the W4S mAMP Monoblocks; from high-ringing bells to brushes on a snare and all the way down to a bass being played by a bow (I thought a large jet had flown by my apartment!).
The sound stage/imaging I was hearing was another pleasant surprise. Again, my speakers had never sounded this good. Instrumental separation is clearly defined and nuances are now revealed, such as rim shots, the clicking of drum sticks, the delicacy of gentle brush strokes and, for better or for worse, Glenn Gould’s constant humming while playing Bach on piano.
Some great examples of my now wider, deeper sound stage and spot on imaging came from the Bob Sneider and Joe Lock ‘Nocturne for Ava’ CD, ‘Speaking With Wooden Tongues’ from the Bill Bruford’s Earthworks CD mentioned earlier, and Dave Brubeck Quartet’s seminal ‘Time Out’ recording. What a pleasure to listen to these great CDs in such fantastic sound. As a very modern example that displays the versatility of these amps, the ‘Love This Giant’ CD by David Byrne, with its rich, exotic mix of brass and bass (the track ‘I am an Ape’, for example, with Byrne on vocals) is fascinating to hear.
Musicians who I never appreciated in the past I now enjoy listening to if the recording is good (James Taylor or Dire Straits, as examples). As I write, I am still widening my listening choices. Even my 2 year old daughter’s CDs from her music class are a delight to listen to now. (But, I still can’t stomach Barry Manilow.)
The Wyred 4 Sound W4S mAMP Monoblock Amplifiers are truly remarkable for their price/performance ratio. And, it is mind boggling to see such performance come from such tiny and light devices. Be mindful of your ancillary equipment. They are very revealing of source and down the line components. Experiment and have fun. As such, these ‘Little Guys’ get my highest recommendation.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the Wyred 4 Sound W4S mAMP Monoblock Amplifiers. Congratulations! - Ed]
The Wyred 4 Sound W4S mAMP Monoblock Amplifiers
Manufactured by WYRED 4 SOUND LLC
4235 Traffic Way, Atascadero, CA 93422
Price: $899.00 each (Five year warranty)
Utilizes latest generation ICEpower® audio technology
255w in 8Ω
430w in 4Ω
External selectable mains voltage 115/230VAC
Idle power consumption 9.5w
Over current protection
Sound optimized soft clip
Standard 12V DC Trigger
Machined and anodized aluminum front panel
Gold Plated unbalanced (RCA) input
Neutrix Balanced (XLR) input
3rd Generation fully balanced input stage with impedance of 100k
Preamplifier: Marantz SC-7S2
CD source: Marantz CD6004
DAC source: PS Audio New Wave (with a Mac Mini server using ‘Pure Music via a Wireworld Platinum USB cable)
Speakers: B&W 804 (Matrix (old) and Diamond (new))
Speaker cables: Acoustic Zen Hologram II, spade with bi-wire (for the speaker end)
Amps to preamp interconnects: Antipodes Reference XLR
Preamp to CD player/DAC interconnects: Acoustic Zen Absolute (Zero Crystal Silver) (RCA and XLR)
Power cords for amps: Shunyata Research Venom3
Power cord for DAC: PS Audio AC-10
The Beatles 1 CD, Capital Records (2000)
Vivaldi the Four Seasons, Seiji Ozawa~Boston Symphony Orchestra, Telarc Digital CD-80070 (1982)
Eric Clapton, Unplugged CD, Reprise Records (1992)
Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man, Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra, Reference Recordings CD (2000)
Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Random Acts of Happiness CD, Summerfold Records (2003)
The Ginger Baker Trio, Falling Off The Roof CD, Atlantic (1996)
Emerson, Lake and Palmer CD, Rhino (1970)
Billy Cobham, Spectrum, HDtracks.com FLAC file, Audiophile 96kHz/24bit
Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time out, HDtracks.com FLAC file, Audiophile 176kHz/24bit
Jacintha, Autumn Leaves, the songs of Johnny Mercer CD, Groove Note Records (1999)
Bob Sneider and Joe Lock, Nocturne for Ava CD, Origin Records (2009)
David Byrne and St. Vincent, Love This Giant CD, Todo Mundo (2012)
James Taylor, Hourglass CD, Sony (1997)
Best Of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations CD, Warner Bros (2005)
Glenn Gould, The Goldberg Variations CD, CBS (1990)