Boutique Auckland audio company JAVA HiFi is making waves internationally and in Northland too, writes GARY STEEL.
A few weekends ago my man cave was invaded by four visiting audiophiles. The occasion? Martin Bell from JAVA HiFi had decided to make a day trip from his Auckland headquarters up to my remote Northland hideaway in order to show off a very beautiful thing: one of his latest creations, the JAVA Single Shot integrated amplifier.
Along for the ride was Martin’s friend Peter Hardie of Leigh-based high-end audio retailer Reference Audio. My Northland-based hi-fi friends Mark Loveridge of the HiFi Downunder Facebook page and Edwin Wynands from Whangarei’s Searle Electronics also turned up to check out the Single Shot.
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It’s mostly just me in my office-cum listening room because I live far from the thronging crowd (it’s the way I like it) with no traffic noise floor to annoy me and just the roar of the waves (when there’s a westerly) to make up for the absence of tyres on asphalt. It was a bit of a challenge suddenly accommodating five bodies in my 5×6 metre room, especially given the very specific and rather narrow sweet spot on my Martin Logan Summit loudspeakers. This meant that we had to play musical chairs – a common and slightly ridiculous-looking process during audiophile listening sessions – during our brief two hours or so of listening time.
Happily, the assembled experts made short work of getting everything connected and working properly, which meant that I could pretty much sit back, drink red wine and soak up the sounds. Unfortunately, my hi-fi rack just wasn’t big enough to accommodate the JAVA Single Shot. Although I had drooled over online photos of the new JAVA amps I hadn’t thought about size. It seemed a shame to have to place such a beautiful amp on the floor, but there was no other obvious solution.
And as you can see, the Single Shot really is gorgeous. So many hi-fi components have a generic feeling about them and in the industry, there’s a sense that you have to do it the way everyone else does it, especially when it comes to the rather boxy aesthetics of most amps. On the other hand, there’s a certain amount of suspicion from hardcore hi-fi nuts towards brands that do put considerable effort into the looks of their gear. This is understandable, given that historically, the prettiest brands have often been demonstrably inferior sound-wise.
But over the past few years high-end audio shows have been packed with esoteric and beautiful (and sometimes really ugly) gear, and it feels like there’s a real sea-change. Yes, it turns out, it is possible for an amp to sound as good as it looks!
Speaking of which, Martin fairly recently came back from exhibiting his newest JAVA HiFi amps at the famous High-End Munich audio show, and they went down a storm there, meaning that he’s been frantic with new international distribution deals and a lot of interest from around the globe. This is great news for his Kiwi company, with its six new products consisting of preamp, power amp and integrated amp as either a Single Shot or Double Shot. The Single Shot integrated Martin brought with him to our listening session is a 200-watt model that boasts a very exciting technology in its utilization of GaN FET (Gallium Nitride) transistors, which Martin says deliver much faster switching speeds than traditional silicon-based transistors. In other words, it’s a new iteration of a Class D amp, a technology that audiophiles continue to argue about but which is gaining more and more acceptance amongst the audio cognoscenti.
Over the couple of hours we listened to the Single Shot we all had turns selecting tracks from Qobuz utilizing Roon and fed through an Eversolo DMP-A6 streamer that I’m reviewing. There was quite a range of music played, including old blues numbers (Muddy Waters performing ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’), the 21st-century blues of Chris Jones’ ‘Long After You’re Gone’, the atmospheric hi-res electronica of Gidge’s ‘Quasar’, the pumping techno of Klangphonics and the grinding alt-blues of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Jubilee St’. Qobuz is a great hi-res streaming service but it has notable gaps in its discography, so I cranked up my trusty Yamaha CD-S2000 SACD player for a couple of tracks, Brand X’s tasty 1970s jazz-prog fusion masterpiece ‘Nuclear Burn’ and a couple of delectable sonic treats from the 2001 Brian Eno and Peter J. Schwalm album Drawn From Life.
As expected, the JAVA Single Shot integrated sounded as beautiful as it looks, but it’s not simply a dispenser of sweet sounds and mellow moods. On edgier tracks like the Nick Cave selection, the amp didn’t soften the sounds but fully fleshed out the bits that were supposed to be rendered with a bit of nastiness. In contrast, the Eno tracks sounded positively holographic and the amp drew out every bit of the superb audio design of that album. And yes, I did inflict a Frank Zappa track on the assembled, but they talked right through it, so I can’t report exactly how well the JAVA handled the convoluted madness of Zappa’s universe on ‘Andy’ (from the fabulous One Size Fits All).
I can’t avoid mentioning the fact that there was a slight brightness exhibited on some tracks, though I later realised that both the JAVA Single Shot and the Eversolo DMP-A6 streamer through which we listened to the majority of our selections were brand new out of the box. From experience, I know that audio equipment often has a long run-in time, and certainly, over the next few weeks, when I was back listening through my usual gear, the Eversolo exhibited a not-entirely-pleasing sharpness in some upper registers, especially on guitars, horns and high voices! The Eversolo, while it’s a brilliant wee streamer, does have an inexpensive DAC. Even so, over the subsequent month or so that I’ve been listening to it, the sonics have continued to improve.
I’m certainly keen to give the JAVA amps another audition, maybe in a different environment with different speakers, but I’m quite certain that these are amps that do what they’re supposed to do: what goes into them is what comes out, beautifully and intelligently put together amplification devices that play the music that they receive, accurately.
There’s a whole lot more to say about the new JAVA HiFi range, including a discussion of the miscellaneous tech specs and the remote and both its headphone amp and phono stage, and all this will be covered in Andy Baker’s forthcoming Witchdoctor review of the Single Shot. We’ll also be quizzing Martin about his company and his products, because he’s a storied individual with a fascinating artisanal product. Go Kiwi!