My experience with the First Watt F7

I think that many of us have a mental list of components and speakers we would like to try if circumstances and finances allow, and I'm no different. My finances are more limited than many members, but within my means I have been able to try quite a few different things over the years.

About six weeks ago I saw an ad for an F7 in great condition and having efficient speakers, it had been on my wish list to try not only because it was made for speakers just like mine, but also because I had never read a negative review of it or any of the other First Watt amps.

I want to say here that I have a lot of respect for Nelson Pass as a innovative designer and a businessman, and I once had a very positive experience with Pass Labs on a service issue. The reason that I am writing this brief review is because one member who knew that I had bought it had requested my impressions, and I am also curious to know the impressions and experiences of others here who may have owned this amp.

When I first received it, I gave ir a couple of hours to warm up. I sat down to listen, and initial impressions were good, but not great. There was good clarity in the mids and treble region, and stage width was very good but not better than what I was accustomed to. I noticed two negatives on the second day. The first was that the perceived size of instrumental images, for instance Stan Getz's sax, were 15-20% smaller. That wasn't a deal breaker, just an observation. I also noted that the timbre/tone of the sax, as well as other wind instruments and strings was not as natural sounding as I am used to.

Three days in, I was listening from the next room while working, and by now I knew that there was something else about the presentation that was more serious that was bothering me. I stopped what I was doing and put on a couple of specific songs to test a hunch, and that is when I identified the problem. The amp had no "flow", and even though individual instruments were well separated and clear sounding, nothing hung together like a real group playing together. Each instrument sounded like a separate event that didn't relate to the others. I had never had this experience before, but once I identified it, I couldn't "unhear" it. I also noticed at that time that electric guitars sounded different and less authentic than they had on other tube and solid state amps I have owned.

Finally, and this was surprising, the bass was noticeably opaque and lacking detail. I sat there in front of it listening one day, and I thought that if I was young again, and new to audio, this would probably be an amp that would impress me. 

I sold it within two weeks, confident that it was not the amp for me, but grateful that I had the opportunity to try one for myself.

I would like to hear the experiences of others familiar with the F7. 




I owned a First Watt, cant remember the model, and could never get it to sound correct to my ears. Sold it and the person that bought it was very pleased. 

@roxy54, what speakers were you driving with the F7?  I've never owned a First Watt or a Pass Labs amp but I've been tempted to try one for my Cornwall IVs.

@roxy54 The amp had no "flow", and even though individual instruments were well separated and clear sounding, nothing hung together like a real group playing together. Each instrument sounded like a separate event that didn’t relate to the others

Now that’s an interesting and significant finding. This musical flow/pace/rhythm along with tone and timbre are make or break parameters for me. If an audio component can not get this right, no other positive attributes can make up for this deficiency. I can appreciate your disappointment.

Roxy in my experience I find that musical flow and cohesion a strength of good quality tube amplifiers (As well as terrific tone/timbre abilities).


@roxy54 I've auditioned a number of ss amps since going tube in early 2000's, always the same deficiencies you're hearing. Tube amps, specifically SET have provided the greatest sense of live performers in room. I hear it as immediacy or closeness to performers, this very much induced by sense of air, spaciousness around each performer/image which flows within a sound field with various numbers of performers/images with that same spaciousness.. This sounds far more like live concerts I've attended vs more sharply defined images I get from non tube, and to lesser extent push pull tube amps.


The other aspect of tubes, specifically SET, and high efficiency speakers that further reinforces sense of live performers in room, is the amazing micro dynamics that such a system can provide. I like how Brits say valves rather than tubes, very apt description, human lungs are valves, and I hear the breath of life when playing music on my system.


I had itch to try First Watt amp with my Klipschorns prior to purchase of my 300B monoblocks, kinda suspected I may not be entirely happy with pairing based on a few reviews comparing SET and FW with Klipschorns. Your review confirms what these reviewers heard.

I used F7 with Rowland Capri 2 preamp, Avalon Ascendant ll speakers in smallish room, all Cerious Matrix cables, and everything sounded great...CD was Aesthetix Romulus Eclipse, tuner a Don Scott upgrade McIntosh MR-74

I’ve heard the F7 at a friend house , it’s a good amp if match correctly, my friend is using it with omega HO Alnico, If you want more get the Pass x25 amp.

Charles and sns,

Yes, I agree with you both. I did own and regret selling a 300b based integrated amp that had all of those qualities, but my modified Mac 2105 has the same qualities in spades, and it was even so similar in direct comparison to the 300b when I owned that.

Both have the ability to simply pass through them the feeling of air, and a realistic and complete picture of the performance. "Breath of life" as you said is a good descriptor.

With the F7, I always felt that it was trying unsuccessfully to piece together a plasticky picture of the performance.

Someone asked which speakers I was using. I am using the Klipsch Epic CF-4 version 1. They are not ruthless in any way, but they are revealing of any change made to the system.

All of this was really surprising to me considering the small parts count and deliberately simple and direct signal path of the design. Further proof that you can never guess what something is going to sound like. Of course I have to say that this was my ears on my system.

@roxy54 thank you for sharing your experience. You may have saved me at least one more buy/try/resale situation. Coming from various mosfet ss amps over decades and moving over to all-tube many years ago, I wondered if I had missed out on the latest fw iterations following Nelson’s passion to continually try different output transistors and circuit designs. Each iteration sounding different from the last. A few colleagues I was paralleling my own tube amps with including SET, PP, and strapped triode stuff ended up trying the xa25 for a while. While they liked it, all of them ended up sticking with their tube monos. I keep my eye open for a good one in the 30-60w range to alternate in once in a while, but nothing really peaking interest any more after rotating a few myself. If you try others, please keep us in mind to post more, and keep up the good work. Thanks.

If your speakers have a higher impedance, I cant recommend OTLs strongly enough. In my experience nothing can compare to the clarity and correctness of an OTL. If you like a great deal of flavor from your tube amps you might find OTLs a bit cold sounding, but I think this is simply a lack of distracting coloration. I have owned all types of tube amps and nothing has compared with OTLs. Atma-sphere makes a 60W OTL that is excellent. Despite what anyone says, transformers are an impediment. 


Many years ago I had a demo of an Atmasphere amp in a salon in Princeton NJ with ProAc Response 2 speakers, and it was very memorable. Those amps have a see-through transparency that is unlike anything else that I have ever heard. If I could afford them I would own a set. If I had any criticism at all, it would be that they had a bit (not much) less solidity or substance to the holographic images than some other designs, but I could easily live with that. 

Roxy, I am not surprised with your experience given your familiarity with tube amplification. I have pretty much given up trying any solid-state alternative amplification since I am never satisfied with the tone, spatial qualities etc.

+1 thanks for sharing your experience! Too many of us fail to report the "didn’t work out" side of things; certainly not with as much detail as you have. It’s a missing aspect of our hobby - the overwhelming proportion of positive reviews & comments on gear doesn’t align with the sales churn witnessed on 2nd-hand marketplaces :)

I’ll admit the curiosity on First Watt F series amps just crossed my mind the other day. Still would like to try a Pass Labs or FW amp on my Tannoys sometime.

And "musical flow" is one of those impossible-to-quantify attributes that I consider absolutely essential - if a component doesn’t have that, it simply won’t work out here, no matter how much it might "wow" in other aspects.


And "musical flow" is one of those impossible-to-quantify attributes that I consider absolutely essential - if a component doesn’t have that, it simply won’t work out here, no matter how much it might "wow" in other aspects

So very true. There’s a natural fluidity when I listen to live acoustical music that’s simply the antithesis of mechanical and stiff.


"without sounding forced" was an added phrase to describe musical flow that a friend used when he was describing the sound of his new speakers paired with an amp we were reviewing in common.  Once I heard my amp with his speakers all the sudden "musical flow" made more sense. Effortless, musical, all there now...

IME with a First Watt M2, good but not very moving. SS sound for sure.

I was a die hard tube fan but now live with my destination AGD Audions.

First amp to continually bring deep emotion with no objectionable SS sound or tubey sound. But the best of both. Just tried my M2 in my system and breathed deeply when putting the AGDs back in.

Each First Watt model is different, often drastically so. The First Watt SIT series is very different than the other/later models so everyone please be careful with generalizations re: “First Watt sound quality”.


I believe it was me that asked for your opinion in another thread. Thanks for sharing your observations and sorry it didn’t work out.

@dlcockrum so everyone please be careful with generalizations re: “First Watt sound quality”.

It does not seem to me that folks are generalizing F.W. sonic presentation but rather expressing their experiences in specific instances, unless my inference is off. No question that F.W. amplifiers have many happy owners.

And who doesn’t respect Nelson Pass and his long audio design history? It always depends on what one is in search of. @roxy54 specifically referenced the F7. I see his point given the listening experience.


I was using Cary Audio 2a3 SET monoblocks to amplify the mids and highs of my fully horn loaded triamplified DIY speakers.  After reading the Six Moons review of the First Watt F3 I bought one to try with my horns.  I liked it so well I bought a second F3 and used them to amplify the mids and highs of my horns.  I sold the 2a3 SETs.  After owning many different tube components since 1973 I am now tube free, and my system sounds great

i realize that all of the First Watt amps have different topologies and semiconductors and from what I've read they all sound different. It was a little unsettling that th professional reviews that I read didn't seem to mention any negatives with the F7. I guess that different ears hear differently, but I owned another solid state class A integrated that didn't sound this way at all.

For sure, I'd never write off the FW amps in general, amp/speaker synergy so important.


I've been extremely interested in the AGD's as well, seen some nice reviews from folks I trust.

@roxy54 i completely get your disappointment with the F7 in your system and in no way wish to challenge your observations. Many reviews are suspect , especially those that involve a well known and well respected designer or brand. You heard what you heard…


my comment was not intended to be accusatory but, rather, preventative.

No problem whatsoever. Written text is harder to assess intent sometimes in comparison to the spoken word. 👍

There is no doubt that some have  moved from tube/SET to First Watt amplifiers just as the converse holds true.



You have considerable High End audio listening and DIY experience.

knowing the make up of your audio system and reading your insightful posts, I feel that I have a good read on where you’re coming from. I’d be quite interested in your take on an AGD amplifier as compared with your 845 and 300b amplifiers.
I have heard many fine transistor amplifiers, but tubes (Particularly SET) continue to hold the upper hand with regard to “naturalness “. That “breath of life” you refer to.



I'm with Charles. I would be very interested in your assessment of the AGD amps.

@charles1dad I've not heard the AGD, but based on reviews from trusted folks, the AGD's are somewhat closer to tube sound qualities vs most class a ss, cool looking as well,



@sns AGD’s are somewhat closer to tube sound qualities vs most class a ss, cool looking as well,

How many times has that been uttered about some solid state design? Perhaps this time true via AGD? Anyway I’d find your impressions very worthwhile.



Greetings........Sit-3 owner, powers Cornwall IV's, playing high-res files streamed through Qobuz. Suffice it to say that I am a very Happy Camper!

I have the FirstWatt F8. I am unable to find any of the issues you reported for the F7. Now this might be because I don't understand, in gut terms or rather in ear terms if you will, what they really refer to.

My preamp is a Van Alstine Transcendence RB 10 tube box. The speakers are Focal Aria 906's.

I've had other preamps in the system, and the sound had problems like being too detailed or bright (for photographers: like oversharpened images).

I had a Quicksilver Integrated. It produced very good sound. My F8 system just gives more detail while the sound stays whole and natural.



Having never owned a First Watt or Pass Lab amp, owning one or at least hearing one has been on my list as well.  Kind of sad that the F7 didn’t work for you. At 25 watts a side, it would have been my first choice as well.


Those who get "flow" will immediately recognised the lack of it, others won't. Such is the nature of this parameter. SETs do it the best because it is.provides the simplest path to the signal. Interestingly this is true for both tubes and SS based SET (Single ended topology). That's why Pass SIT amps don't have this issue. They are single ended. First watt J2 is worth a try. 

Sometimes flow is exaggerated, basically distortion. Notes bleeding into next note which makes the sound "slow". Many tube amps are guilty of this. Transient response getting muddied is also equally detrimental to musical justice. Not easy to find right amps🙂

It’s rare to see much if any criticism of First Watt fact mostly raves. I’ve never heard a First Watt amp but based on the balance of reviews of them I’d put this one in the outlier bin (my preference for Heresy IIIs over IVs goes into that bin so hey, I get it). I’ve been a tube abuser for a long time and earlier this year decided to try a Pass XA-25 after getting worn down by all the ridiculous positive opinions. Consequently, my Dennis Had SE tube amp has been on vacation since the 25 showed up. I actually hooked up the Had amp sounded great, and reminded my how much I like the vibe of tubes. Put the 25 back in the heap and it’s astonishing...kind of sucked me into the Nelson world although I really don’t know what his other designs sound like...the XA-25 isn’t designed like any other Pass Labs amp, doesn’t look like ’em really, and clearly is, to quote George Greenough*, allowing me to explore "the innermost limits of pure fun."

*George Greenough is a genius surfer which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but there ya go.

I listened at length to the AGDs at Axpona and was impressed with some of what I heard. I attribute much of this to the speakers and the synergy of the components. What I didnt like about the AGDs was a marked lack of depth and the sense that the music never left the speakers entirely. What was superb was the sense of correctness of the individual instruments, but they never seemed to entirely meld as a cohesive unit. Best  representation, to date, of this promising technology. 


Hey @wolf_garcia if you don’t mind me asking, which output tube set are you running in your Inspire to compare to the XA-25? The other reason I ask is I found my former DH Hot Rod Inspire with smallish transformers just not have the drive, sound stage, or presentation I was hoping for. Some of it speaker match related, yes. I still run one of Dennis’ former 98 preamps too, was part of my former Cary amp setups too, fwiw. Also a xa25 fan, and coda fan, and a few around me comparing FW and Pass lower watt amps on occasion. Being located right near both factories and have a bunch of pass friends around me, and with a dealer who’s carried both in the past - fun to compare. Wanted to keep trying tubes to see how close I could get to the sound you mention.

Went a different direction with my tube mono blocks and super glad I did. Running the same tubes I had in my former Inspire, now in QS Mono 120s, its very nice. Against the status quo, my QS are tweaked up some with really good caps and better small signal/driver tubes. While not truly SET or strapped triode like Dennis did with his former PSE amps, I find these better for my own setup, more true to the sound, cleaner, better separation, more expansive, and when the stout transformers warm up for 60+ minutes, it’s good. Used the exact same type/model caps I had in some of the former amps too, in order to keep it closer for comparisons.

Curious to know, have you ever had the chance to hear or try a pair of newer well-tubed Quicksilver tube monos with your aforementioned Hersey III, IVs?

Sorry you didn't bond with the F7.  I bought a SIT-3 several months back.  Its wonderful.  My Joule Electra VZN-80 and Pass X 150-8 are sitting idle since receiving the SIT-3.  It mates beautifully with my Joule LA-300ME and quintessence prototype speakers through Siltech cables.


Its all about synergy. 

I will preface this post by mentioning that I have unfortunately never heard a Pass amp, would love a XA25, but like what I have enough to keep my current mono amps for now.

But it sounds like you may have inadvertently purchased a F7 that has something wrong with it that needs repair.  A while ago I heard from another audiophile that his Pass amp, one of the most popular that has been released in recent years, sounded substandard from the time he purchased it used.  This was unlike any of the reviews of the amplifier out there.  One of several items of concern was its lack of bass.  Like yours, it was working, but just not up to snuff how anyone else had described which leads to the possibility it may need a checkup.

@audition__audio Whatever deficiencies you heard in the AGD room, I can assure people that they cannot be laid at the feet of the amp(s).  It was most likely the hotel room and the setup.  In my system, only very poorly recorded material (e.g. hard left/right pans) ever seems to come directly from either speaker, and there is (are?) oodles of depth.

@twoleftears @audition__audio  Exactly what I was thinking, shows not generally good place to hear best performance out of systems/components. Generally, only setups in ball/conference rooms at shows have been impressive for me. Again, reviews from folks I trust point to AGD being very nice. If I weren't so happy with my SET's, be first on list to try.

Reading this older 2016 Absolute Sound article on the F7 led me to believe proper speaker matching and cabling might be extra critical. Also its noted ensuring the correct speaker cables are used, or the damping factor of the amp can drop notably. Some other FW amps mentioned for reference of clarity vs. seductive warmth.  Worth a read on the F7, and it might be the right amp for someone with the correct setup. Not unique to the F7, careful matching may be required.   



I run KT 66s currently in my Dennis Had Inspire Firebottle HO, and have successfully used 77s (a fave), 88s, 120s, 7581s, and even 150s...all work well, although they don’t make much sound while the amp sadly sits on a shelf...*sniff*...also, I use Heresy IIIs only as the IVs were sent away due to midrange insubordination. The Had amp is allegedly "High Output" (depending on tubes, but 12 to 17 watts maybe?) and drives the supposed 99db Heresy IIIs without breaking a sweat. Less efficient speakers allow it to hit its limits...I use 2 REL subs so that helps everything (still running the Had full range). I’ve not had the chance to hear any Quicksilver amp but they seem to have a great reputation, but the XA25 is so amazingly clear, sweet, coherent, revealing, and powerful that it amazes me every day. Sounds great right away but the one hour warm up works magic.


Yes, it could well be that it was just the wrong thing for my system.

Interested experience. What I could agreed on for sure is the fact that to much instruments separation could be annoying and could lead to dismembered sound picture of musical peace. 

@roxy54 I tried and resold a special edition amp a year ago that many raved about in their system yet it was nothing special in my setup. Was glad to pass it along for someone else to give it a go hoping for them they could find some kind of synergy.  

@roxy54 synergy with the rest of your components, your speakers and your room, plus your preference for sound is what’s important. If the amp didn’t gel there for you with it all, then move on. Sometimes when you change a component you may expose certain qualities of your other components somewhere else in the chain and it will require other changes to make it work. 
Out of curiosity, what are your source components?

I’ve owned several amplifiers designed by Pass and always liked what they brought to the table. I’m currently using Pass Labs XP-12 preamp and XA30.8 amplifier and like the transparency, vividness and smooth and natural presentation. I never heard the First Watt amps but I’m assuming that to meet the price point sacrifices had to be made. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

I have 2 Nelson Pass amps, the XA-25 and the SIT-3. To simplify, the XA-25 is very transparent and to borrow from @wolf_garcia, clear, sweet, coherent, revealing, and powerful, the SIT-3 has warm tone and texture and gives music body and weight.  I've communicated with many tube owners that have indicated that if they had to use a Solid State amp instead of their tube amp, the First Watt SIT- 3 would be their choice. I was talked out of the F-7 by my dealer when I initially purchased the XA-25.

I have a pair of Klipsch Cornwall lV's and a Cary SLP-98 and by tube rolling try to warm the XA-25 a bit and ad some air with the SIT-3.

@audphile1 - Given the fact that Nelson shares his topology with DIYers after an amp has its run, I'm not sure the "built for a price point" really applies. Nelson believes that simple topologies usually sound best, class A at about 25 watts or less and range from 3 to 4k. My guess is that if Nelson came up with a dual mono design that he wanted to produce, the price would rise accordingly.

For the near future I'll hang on to different flavored ice cream. I couldn't be happier.

For the near future I'll hang on to different flavored ice cream. I couldn't be happier.

Pretty much it. There are those who love the XA 25 amplifier and others who’ve tried it and subsequently moved on. Nothing new with that. This scenario can be applied to any amplifier/audio product in existence. We happily decide on our favorite audio flavor and live with it.


I will disagree with the previous poster who thought that the F7 was built to a price point. Firstly, $3000.00 for a pretty simple amp isn't cheap, and it actually appeared to be beautifully made, so no complaints on that front.

I do realize that the SIT3 is a different animal, and it might have worked out better. As I said earlier, I have no regrets because I wanted to try it for myself, and with the funds from selling it, I bought a used Canary pre, and I have to say that it is the best that I have ever owned.   

I noticed that the F7 has a low input impedance of 10k ohms.  Perhaps your preamp prefers a higher value.