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Red Wine Audio: A Brief History and Factory Visit

Red Wine Audio: A Brief History and Factory Visit

While I’ve worked in the high-end audio business for more than 30 years, I haven’t visited many factories. I’m always fascinated by audio designers, and have interviewed hundreds of engineers, but most of my chats were done over the phone. Which made my visit to Red Wine’s 2,400-sqare-foot factory in Durham, Connecticut that much sweeter.

I met Red Wine Audio founder Vinnie Rossi at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and was immediately impressed by the sound of his designs. He’s definitely an audiophile, and that’s not always the case with audio engineers. He’s also young, just 31 years old—interesting given that nowadays, under-40 audiophile entrepreneurs are pretty rare.

Rossi started Red Wine in 2005 in the basement of his home, initially building battery power supplies for Tripath Class T power amplifiers, and modding Squeezeboxes and Toshiba DVD players. He also designed high-speed laser transmitters and receivers for fiber optics systems before going off on his own. He holds an Electrical Engineering degree from the State University of New York, and designed software for Lucent Technology and Bell Labs.

Functional Sophistication

Red Wine components’ elegant functionality belies their technical sophistication. Rossi’s creations are all battery-powered, and he favors high-current, low-output impedance Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries that use organic materials. He feels that his latest 25.6 volt LFP battery pack provides the ideal combination of performance, safety, reliability, and environmental friendliness—more than any other rechargeable battery technology.

Rossi doesn’t just love batteries because they’re quieter than conventional AC powered gear; he claims properly implemented battery power supplies can deliver substantially higher instantaneous current than AC power supplies. And Rossi’s battery pack packs a wallop.

Even when plugged into an AC power outlet, Red Wine components are completely decoupled from the AC power grid and the noise associated with computers, air conditioners, and motors. So there’s no need to use power conditioners with Red Wine products; they already have the purest available source for DC power. Moreover, Rossi’s customers definitely don’t need to buy pricey power cords, especially those that sell for more than Red Wine components.

Rossi is a big proponent of 16-bit, non-oversampling digital-to-analog converters. Sure, the newest 192-kHz/24-bit DACs specifications look more impressive on paper, but Rossi thinks most sound “quite sterile and artificial.” Red Wine’s 16-bit DAC works with sample rates up to 192 kHz, but it will only playback with 16-bit resolution. Rossi will soon offer a 192-kHz/24-bit DAC as an option, but all Red Wine components with DACs will still have the 16-bit, non-oversampling converter on board. That way, users can toggle between the two DACs. Despite being a trained engineer, Rossi’s strong feelings transcend technical precision. “Accuracy isn’t my first priority, I just want my components to sound good,” he says.

Born In the USA

Always looking to improve his designs, Rossi offers performance-enhancing modifications for older Red Wine products for modest fees. Red Wine isn’t the only high-end company to offer such services, but when the upgrade costs are significant, the firm offers existing owners a 100% trade-in value when they move up to a more expensive Red Wine component. Traded-in products are fully reconditioned, tested, given new batteries, outfitted a new tube, and backed by a full five-year warranty before being sold at a discount on the company’s Web site.

Unfortunately, many American high-end companies have moved production “off-shore”—exactly where Rossi could have built Red Wine products for a fraction of what it costs in Durham. But that’s not why he got into the business. He needs to oversee every detail of his products. Red Wine circuit boards are fabricated by hand, a process that allows Rossi to build custom versions of components. He also enjoys talking with his customers and doesn’t want Red Wine to ever grow to the point he can’t maintain that connection. Rossi personally answers questions or troubleshoots any problem.

Due to increasing demand, Rossi moved Red Wine into its current space in early 2010. It’s bright and clean, and thanks in large part to the presence of Alexis Chen, has a great vibe. She assists Rossi with the building of all Red Wine products. The chassis is the only part not built in the Red Wine factory. A New Jersey company supplies the metalwork. Rossi selected the contractor because the manufacturer handles everything—folding the sheet metal, painting, anodizing, CNC machining the faceplate, and laser etching—under one roof.

Reason to Visit

During my factory visit, Rossi demonstrated a prototype of his new CD player. It’s battery powered, uses the 16-bit, non-oversampling DAC, and tube output stage. While rare, the player’s DAC will have a USB digital input for easy hookup to a computer. When used in such a manner, you can actually turn off the CD transport part of the player. Rossi calls it “an off-the-grid CD player,” and he’s hoping it will be in full production later this year. A bigger power amp is also in the works.

I’ve been disappointed by the sound of many a manufacturer’s listening room, but Rossi’s is amazing. I put on a great-sounding CD, Preservation Hall Hot 4 With Duke Dejan, and quickly nailed Red Wine’s sound: no edge, grain, or glare, but the detail is just there, as it is in real life. The entire system, including Rossi’s prototype CD player, is battery powered, so it’s super-quiet, and the dynamics effortless. Dejan’s vocals were perfect, and the Red Wine’s midrange was spot-on. But when you’re listening to a system this good, you can’t break down the sound into bass, midrange, and treble. Rather, it has a more organic, complete quality, and the imaging, with great recordings, possesses a solidity that goes beyond hi-fi.

Rossi’s digital playback has a very analog sound, but his Scheu Analog Premier mkII turntable with a Scheu Classic mkII tonearm and Dynavector 20XL cartridge sound was even better. We jumped from Louis Armstrong to the Fleet Foxes to Thom Yorke. The Red Wine sound was even more present and full of life. A keen listener, Rossi opts for musicality over hi-fi “detail” and “resolution.” Judging by the results, I’d say he’s definitely on the right track.

Best of all, Rossi’s sound room is open everyone. He just asks that interested parties to call in advance to set up an appointment. You can listen to any component, and Rossi encourages prospective customers to bring in any piece of gear and compare it to Red Wine components. And you’ll have to supply your own wine, of course.

-Steve Guttenberg