The Truth According to Whammerdyne The top of the SET mountain!By Jeff Dorgay
The car is perfect from top to tires, with no attention to even the smallest detail overlooked. After about an hour of car talk, we make it up to his listening room to hear his creation; it’s equally well sorted. As with his SL, no stone is left unturned in the quest for perfection. Even the casework, as you can see, is influenced by Apple and his Truth amplifier has an uncanny resemblance to my old G5 tower.
Hickman stresses that the Truth makes homage to the past, yet brings the circuit design forward into this century. It succeeds brilliantly and he jokes “the only complaint we’ve had is that a few potential customers said it might not fit on a rack.” Neither will my Pass Xs300s, so I can’t see that as being a deal breaker.
The Truth is a single ended triode design, but this is no ordinary SET. It utilizes the 2A3 triode to produce 4.2 watts of power. You might laugh at the “.2,” but at this level, every bit counts. If we’re getting really picky, the Truth produces nearly 7 watts of peak power per channel. Most typical 2A3 designs struggle to produce 2 watts per channel, but thanks to every aspect of this amplifier being re-thought, re-worked and optimized for maximum bandwidth, low noise and maximum power transfer, Hickman and his engineering team is able to produce double the power that you would expect from this design.
Because he’s combined a classic design with a thoroughly modern approach, none of the classic problems associated with an SET materialize here. Gone is the flabby bass and rolled-off highs that plague these amplifiers, making you choose between luxurious midrange and lack of extension. You get both (and more) with the Truth. This emphasis on bandwidth that doesn’t sacrifice loveliness comes from the Truth being a true DC coupled design with no capacitors anywhere in the signal path to smear the sound or cause phase shift errors. The measured frequency response is only down 3dB at 6Hz and 140kHz. Pretty impressive specs for any amplifier.
Nearly every SET amplifier I’ve had the pleasure to audition, including the six-figure Wavac from Japan, hisses when you place your ear up to the speakers; this is usually accentuated by the use of the high sensitivity speakers required to make use of a low power amplifier. Yet in Hickman’s system, the speakers are dead quiet. Not a peep.
The setup is straightforward, consisting of one of MSB’s newest DACs and a pair of Zu Druid loudspeakers. Hickman was driving the top-of-the-line Zu Definitions at this year’s San Francisco show and blowing everyone out of the room, so this was no surprise. What surprised me was how amazingly good the Druids sounded in this context. Having owned a pair myself, they have never sounded this alive in any of my systems.
We start the session with some familiar female vocal tracks and of course, the presentation is outstanding. Even the most basic SET, because of the circuit simplicity, offers up dreamy midrange – and the Truth is outstanding in this regard. Should your musical taste be limited to this genre, this is as close to heaven as it gets.
Hickman spins some tracks more in the EDM groove and his Zu speakers fill the room with bass that is controlled and defined in a way that you’d might not expect from a tube amplifier, let alone an SET. Acoustic music is off-the-chart good; wood blocks, triangles and cymbals take on a stunning realism. The level of tonal purity, contrast, smoothness and decay is stunning. As our listening session comes to a close, I click through about 15 of my favorite classic and current rock tracks – all is in order and I’m still very impressed with this amplifier.
Even with the modest $5,000/pair Zu Druids, a speaker that I’m intimately familiar with, the Truth lives up to its namesake. I can only imagine the performance this amplifier would provide with a pair of Avantegarde horns. Hickman promises an extended loan if we can get our hands on a pair, so you may not have heard the end of this wonderful amplifier in our pages.
Because at this point, there were only three production samples available of Pat Hickman’s Whammerdyne Truth Amplifier, one could not be dispensed to the TONE studio for a full-blown review in completely familiar conditions. However, I have heard the sound in Hickman’s studio on more than one occasion and was familiar enough with the rest of this system to spend a day with the Truth amplifier and share it with our readers. I love SET amplifiers, and I must say that this is not only the finest sounding example I’ve heard, but by far the best executed.
While we don’t normally report on gear that is this boutique in nature, I have known Pat for years and have watched this project come to fruition as a true labor of love. I’m also well aware of Pat’s vintage tube audio restoration business and the tremendous job he has done for customers the world over.
While Whammerdyne will probably never become the next McIntosh or Conrad Johnson, Hickman’s commitment to his product and customers is as strong as that of anyone in the business, and I am confident that this product will have the necessary support going forward to be valid. The way this amplifier is so over-designed and overbuilt, I can’t imagine it failing in this lifetime, or even the next. The $25k price tag is indeed high, but considering the amount of R&D, combined with the labor involved and nothing but the best parts under the hood, it is worth the price asked. And in the light of some SET’s fetching 2–10 times more, it represents high value as well.
Should you be in possession of a high quality, high sensitivity pair of loudspeakers, I can think of no better mate than the Whammerdyne Truth. It is one of the most wonderful amplifiers I’ve ever heard. I just wish there was a way to scale this sound up to about 60 watts per channel. Meridian’s Bob Stuart once said, “Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.” This amplifier is a perfect example of that philosophy and it will keep me thinking about considering a pair of horns for system three…
That said, I am happy to award this amplifier one of our Publisher’s Choice awards for 2015