Red Wine Audio Black Lightning LFP Edition Power Supply for DACmini
When I asked the marketing manager at CEntrance for a recommendation about power supply options for the DACmini, he was unequivocal in suggesting I try one of the hand-built battery supplies from Connecticut’s Red Wine Audio. These bespoke “Unplug and Play” supplies are specially built to suit whatever item one wishes to power, so I wound up with a Series 10 Black Lightning LFP Edition, which featured a 12.8 Volt, 5-hour, high-current, LiFePo4 (lithium iron phosphate) battery pack with a nominal 12 Volt DC output.
The unit is utterly functional to behold and is, quite honestly, not what anyone would describe as especially “attractive”. It is a pragmatic design at best. The fascia is home only to its on/off touch switch, which is an unusual flat design and looks rather like a restrained badge: barely visible, it is black and flush-mounted on a black fascia. It is not even connected to the supply circuit. An LED behind the switch indicates the operational status of the supply.
This is the larger of the two boxes that comprise the supply. The second is a small, nondescript aluminium case fitted with a power on/off button and a pair of LEDs. This unit is the automatic battery charger for the LFP. The latter has a switch on its rear panel that toggles between “AC” and “Batt” settings: in the first mode, the battery is trickle charged while the supply powers the DACmini. When you select “Batt” the DACmini is powered entirely by the battery and operates completely “off the grid”. This provides the cleanest supply possible and is recommended for critical listening: “AC” mode is fine for non-critical listening to background and low-bit-rate music – internet radio, MP3s and the like.
Although the Black Lightning LFP is resolutely audiophile in nature – using premium wiring, components and construction – it lacks no convenience. The unit contains a SMART module (Seamless battery Monitoring and Auto Recharge circuiT) that automatically assesses the condition of the battery and maintains its state of charge at an optimal level: when it detects the output voltage dropping too low, it signals the user, then turns off the Black Lightning LFP and begins recharging the device. Switching to “AC” allows you to continue listening while the recharge takes place.
I auditioned the supply as part of my regular reference system, using multiple-amplifier Naim electronics and NEAT XL10 speakers, along with an Acer notebook computer running a stripped down Windows7 operating system and connected to the DACmini through a Chord Company audiophile USB lead. All the cabling to and from the Black Lightning LFP was as supplied except for the mains lead, which was a Mains Cables R Us No. 27. All the hi-fi equipment was supported by my regular Quadraspire Sunoko Vent tables.
The Black Lightning supply certainly elevated the performance of the already very capable DACmini. The presentation of dynamics when the unit was being powered by the battery supply was startling and dramatic: there was a sudden leap from absolute silence to a heavily struck piano chord that opened one piece and had a truly shocking impact. I was subsequently surprised by the gentle and complete timbre of notes extracted from other instruments: there was an amazing contrast in the capabilities of the device. The dexterity with which the RWA-powered DACmini revealed the drummer’s deft touch on the cymbals with a brush was remarkable and, indeed, the Black Lightning made the original supply sound rather coarse and indelicate in comparison. The LFP revealed the full note shape and timbre far better, displaying the true sheen and gloss of the cymbals. It further gave a far richer account of the piano: even grace notes exhibited authentic character and the DACmini conveyed the full envelope for each note from the initial leading edge transient through to the eventual decay.
Vocals were rendered with fine conviction and displayed all the singer’s passion and persuasive intent, lending their reproduction a distinctly human – as opposed to digitally rendered – quality.
The LFP-powered system lacked none of its resolving power – clearly revealing the difference between losslessly compressed and lossily compressed files. In fact, the Black Lightning appeared to heighten the resolution of the system with its remarkably quiet noise floor affording easy access to the low-level information that was – or was not – present. This could prove disturbing – the tonal qualities of the music could sound very obviously diluted. The more transparent sound of the “Batt” setting, which, I have to say, the instructions do note is not really intended for ‘serious’ listening, did rather highlight this ‘dilution’. If you need to listen to compressed files, I’d suggest leaving the unit charging: you really do not need or want that last ounce of resolving ability for MP3s.
I further noticed that the supply, unlike other battery types, did not diminish the sense of timing of the DACmini. I suspect this is a function of the high-current, low-impedance LiFePO4 battery. Timing and dynamics did not falter in the slightest, a fact that was made evident by stridently cadenced and energetic, polyrhythmic music such as Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime”, which lost absolutely none of its impetus, vitality or propulsive drive.
Accepting the outstanding performance of the Black Lightning LFP edition, it is also worth noting, in practical terms, that Red Wine Audio’s hand-built, purist products all come with a 30-day satisfaction return policy and carry a five-year parts and labour warranty.