Power Amplifier Test
Living Sounds Audio Warp 1 Review
Just another one hit wonder? It is somewhat appropriate to be skeptical of new manufacturers, as many products have disappeared from the market just as quickly as they appeared. Behind the project "Living Sounds Audio" Warp 1, however, experienced hi-fi figures are at work, who seem to have a well-rounded concept for lasting success.
Judging by the exterior, the Warp 1 is characterized by a very solid, yet discreet and harmonic appearance. The compact black housing with its rounded, silver corners may be regarded as well-made. The front panel with on/off switch and warning lights for errors in the power supply, amplifier section and over temperature is as simple as it is informative. The rear panel carries high-quality, very solid connection jacks made of copper, which accept banana plugs just as well as spades or naked cable.
Contact to a preamplifier is made either via solid gold-plated RCA inputs or per XLR connection. An illuminated power switch is also found back there. The panel is completed by a reset switch, to be used if the device refuses to work for a short time due to incorrect operation or other external influences. Which, by the way, didn't even happen once in our test phase lasting several months.
The manufacturer states a hefty 150 watts of continuous power per channel into 8 ohms and even 250 watts into 4 ohms, while also claiming very low distortion and virtually non-existent noise. You have probably already guessed that these specifications combined with the rather compact dimensions stem from a Class D amplifier. From a measurement point of view, however, this might only be recognized by the limits of the frequency range at best. By the way, the Class D module is sourced from Texas Instruments and is designed – together with the 600-watt switching power supply – to ensure that safe operation is guaranteed even with 2-ohm speakers. Which brings us back to the point of operational safety: apart from brute force, we can't really think of any way to destroy this amplifier. It is protected against damage in every imaginable way, from short circuit to over temperature or whatever else you could think of to make an amplifier’s life difficult.
Reading the name Texas Instruments in connection with Class D might make you think: couldn't there be more? But we should always keep in mind that it is never just a detail that decides between good or bad. Rather, every device should be carefully designed in every detail, and the decisions made in each case must then be put together to form a harmonic whole. This is no different than what you have in team sports, where a star player can raise the overall level, but would still be at a loss without the teammates.
Thus, the two-layer, heavily copper-plated circuit boards are connected throughout, with more than decent components and, above all, joined to each other on the shortest possible signal paths. As a result, this – in conjunction with the star-shaped grounding – also leads to a very low-noise and low-distortion circuitry.
A pleasant surprise awaited us when we dared to take a look inside. There, the option of adjusting the gain between 22 dB and a maximum of 36 dB in 6 dB steps via dip switches is to be found. That allows for the combination of the Warp 1 with pretty much any active or passive preamplifier on the market for coherent teamwork.
If you have the opportunity to spend several months with a device in the most varied configurations, you actually get to know it really well. And we were able to do just that over the last six months. Your own daily fluctuations in hearing perception balance themselves out; if the mains power happens to sometimes be better and sometimes worse is another aspect that is thus evened out over a long period of time.
In the beginning, my expectations towards this amplifier – priced at US$ 1500 – were, I gladly admit, not too high. A small, relatively affordable Class-D thing, or so I thought. It’ll surely be quite nice, but will this small box actually grip me? Will it present music to me in such a way that I am moved? That I feel that there’s something happening with me?
In addition, there is no international distributor – and with that apologies to all those who are looking for the device within the EU –, and the legal requirements for distribution, purchase and use are not present, at least as of today. An issue that affects pretty much every electronic device directly imported from the Far East. Thus, it was obvious that this product is of rather limited importance for our audience in Germany and the readers of the German print edition of STEREO.
However, at least in the case of the Warp1, this does not change the fact that we are dealing with an amplifier that captivates listeners with surprising musicality. And it does that in any genre of music, making the audience raise their eyebrows skeptically at first, before then producing increasingly delighted faces.
In the first round of listening, we were particularly interested in how exactly the Warp 1 deals with a key virtue of natural sound: the uncolored reproduction of male and female voices as well as acoustic instruments ranging between brass and woodwind instruments, piano and strings.
Let's take Brahm's 3rd Symphony under Riccardo Muti as a starting point. In the Allegro, we enjoy the passionately and powerfully performing orchestra, the richness of timbre, the dynamic shadings, the rumbling of the drums on the large stage presented by Warp 1 for a few minutes. All the while waiting full of anticipation for the big moment, the performance of the magnificent Jessye Norman in Opus 53, the Rhapsody for Alto, Chorus and Orchestra. It is quite astonishing how emotionally this powerful dwarf – which is not too expensive and could even be described as very affordable compared to various competitors –, handles Norman's voice. At the same time, it does not treat the accompanying string instruments of various character carelessly even for a second, but always establishes the inner connection between the singer and the orchestra. We were finally fully enchanted when, after about 7 minutes, a choir subtly but effectively intervened in the action. There, too, nothing was blurred, the tonal balance was not thrown off balance, and the lightness of the performance was preserved.
Impulses and their reproduction were next on our wish list. For this, we gathered two absolute experts on the electric bass on our playlist, Marcus Miller and his eternal adversary Stanley Clarke. Garnished with some feats of the exceptional guitarist Jeff Beck, who died in January and loved to experiment.
The first two have known each other for ages, and with the 2008 album "Thunder" – composed, produced and mastered by Miller –, they have impressively proven how well they harmonize and complement each other musically. The recording quality, although recorded in multiple studios, can be described as spectacularly successful, at least if you direct your ears primarily to the spectacle in the regions where the basses play.
Jeff Beck in turn demanded "Space for the Papa", transgressing the boundaries of rock. With almost hypnotic impressiveness, he enchanted us when playing the same sequence of notes over and over again between the explosive and impulsive tunes.
Here, too, it must be admitted that it would be quite difficult to find a competitor to match or even overtake the small Warp on the shelf filled with equally expensive device. Even at constant high levels on a loudspeaker like the Gauder DARC 100 BE – which is not easy to drive with its moderate efficiency and complex crossover technology – the power amplifier didn't surrender. The German world class loudspeaker, which is home in a completely different price region, was put into motion by it quite well, without the amp ever losing control.
Let's see how the separation of voices, speech intelligibility and placement of individual sound elements in all dimensions of a room are doing.
To check just that, we chose the King's Singers with their piece "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree". You’d have to be quite the nitpicker to discover something to complain here without a direct comparison to the top tier. Excellent clarity of the lyrics goes hand in hand with a very precise presentation of the echoes. And her, again, we are presented with clean pressure in the lower pitches and a delay-free reaction to impulses. All this comes mixed with a joy of playing that is not common regardless of the price tag.
A final example: Jacintha with her characteristically audiophile version of the Irish traditional "Danny Boy" – a pure a cappella piece at the start, with plenty of reverb added. Not really emotional, but undoubtedly touching the heart of an audiophile sound fetishist.
No hiss can be detected, the sound of the piano is full, warm, and the voice also shows no trace of coldness. Still, the resolution leaves nothing to be desired, even when the soprano saxophone joins in in the last third of the song. A better performance was delivered by Johnny Cash, with deep organ sounds and a voice that merges suffering and passion. Here, the difference between kitsch and art is presented on a silver platter.
A not overly spectacular sound impression that is absolutely suitable for the long term is paired here with the matching, restrained exterior design. Anyone who is interested in optical effects and theatrically, brightly dressed-up music reproduction in favor of a rendition of musical events that is seriously oriented towards tonal reality and thus neutrality should definitely listen intensively and carefully to this charming little entertainer, – which is available exclusively through the manufacturer directly –, regardless of what they are able or willing to spend. It could be that the budget available for a hi-fi or high-end system will be allocated differently than initially planned after this experience.
Further Info & Data
LSA Discovery Warp 1 stereo power amplifier
Dimensions: 14"/35cm x 10"/25cm x 3"/7.6cm (WxDxH)
Contact: Underwood Hifi, Walter Liederman
Please Note: The following specifications are those given by the manufacturer, and as an exception not the data from our own test laboratory.
150 watts per channel into 8 ohms @ under .005% distortion
250 watts per channel into 4 ohms @ under .006% distortion
Low-Gain = 2.7 Vrms, Gain = 22 dB
Mid-Gain = 1.4 Vms, Gain = 28 dB
High-Gain = 0.55 Vrms, Gain = 36 dB
Input Impedance: 25 kOhms
Signal-To-Noise Ratio: Rated output relative to output noise, inputs shorted: 115 dB
Yamaha PX-2 / Shure Ultra 500,
Oracle Delphi IV / SAEC 407/23 / DS Audio W-3
Prima Luna Evo 100 Phono,
Audionet PAM G2,
Musical Fidelity M5si
Audio Research Reference 2,
T+A P 3100 HV
NAD M 23,
T+A M 200,
Gauder DARC 100 BE,
MoFi Sourcepoint 10,
Canton GLE 100,
AudioQuest, Cardas, Stockfisch, Supra, Vibex, XLO