CES 2015

CES 2015: GamuT is a sexy beast

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ces-logoI will admit that I’m a newcomer to GamuT, with my only real experience with the brand being enthusiasm from George Counnas of Zesto Audio for their amps (Newport 2012, RMAF 2012, and Las Vegas 2013) and an enthusiastic endorsement of their loudspeakers from TONEAudio’s Jeff Dorgay.

Regarding the loudspeakers, it was something of a surprise to see Robert Greene of TAS pan their mid-level offering, the new $30k/pair RS-5. Having heard these loudspeakers in New York, and again at RMAF a couple of weeks later, I can honestly say I have no idea how Greene got to his conclusions, but I do wonder if he set them up right. Seems to be the only way I can reconcile his view and the universal acclaim that these speakers received at those two shows — something’s really off in that review. Just sayin’.

Anyway, the RS-7 is what was on display here at CES. The RS-7 ($40k/pair) is a full 3-way, unlike the smaller RS-5, adding a second woofer at the top of the cabinet. Were it up to me, the RS-7 would be the one I’d want in listening room. Well, sure, the mammoth RS-9, at a whopping $110k/pair, would be awesome, but I’d need another room (in a different house) for that monster. So, back to reality (ha!) — the RS-7 would be pretty much an ideal game-ender loudspeaker. A 4Ω (3.2Ω minimum) loudspeaker at 89.5dB and capable of 22Hz – 60kHz, the entire line sports a very clean look. A raked-back fascia, with grooved, textured and a deep sweeping curve to the side panels, all conspire to make the speakers appear much smaller than they are — they’re 150lbs+ each, for one thing, and 51″ tall and 20″ deep. Most definitely not tiny.

Shown here with the same equipment from RMAF, including the M250i mono power amps ($12,990 each), the D3i Dual Mono preamplifier ($8,290), and a GamuT CD3 player ($7,990). Cables were all GamuT also, including their new leather-clad “Wormhole Reference” speaker cables ($14,990/biwire set @ 5′), and the Wormhole Signature interconnects ($2,990) and power cords ($3,490). Pear Audio Analogue provided the complete analog source path, based on their gorgeous Kid Thomas turntable from the new Pear Blue line ($5,995) with a Cornet 2 tonearm ($2,195), an external PSU ($1,995 extra) and Reference 2-box phono pre ($4,495), an EAR MC4 SUT ($2,295) for the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze moving coil cartridge ($2,309).

This system, like the last several GamuT setups I’ve heard, was powerful, eloquent and tonally rich, with more than enough bass to irritate the neighbors several floors away. That said, what I kept thinking, kind of over and over, was: “Really, there aren’t tubes in there? You’re SURE?”

The sunset on the strip didn’t hurt the overall presentation, either. This was magic, pure and simple.

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RMAF 2014

RMAF 2014: GamuT Audio and Pear Audio Analogue Run the … No, That’s Too Easy

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Logo - Blue VectorDanish company GamuT Audio brought a little bit of Denmark with them to the show, with their blue-skied backdrop and a live recording of the Danish blues act Shades of Blue. 2014’s been a good year for GamuT; early in the year, the former subsidiary of Kvist Industries became an independent company, and they’re celebrating with an absolute explosion of new products.

The most visually arresting is the RS Superior line of speakers. Like the original S-Series, the inner structure of these speakers is still based on Finnish birch engineered wood. Now, however, the outer skin consists of five thin layers of ash wood. The internal networks, damping, and drivers have also been revamped and upgraded. I was more than a little in love with the RS5’s ($32,000) clean visual appeal, particularly the combination of blonde birch and the metal grills.

So new that it’s not yet named was GamuT’s DAC. This was still in the prototype stage, but production is planned for December, and it will likely retail in the realm of $12,000. Also demoing for the first time ever were the Signature power cords ($2,500/each) and prototype leather-covered Reference speaker cables (likely retailing around $14k).

Preamplification came from the less-brand-new, but no less exciting, D3i Dual Mono preamplifier ($8,000). This solid state preamp features a dual Mos-fet hybrid in- and output buffer and a separate power supply for each channel. It makes a good visual match with the M250i mono power amps ($13,000 each). The rest of the power cords were also from GamuT. Pear Audio Analogue provided the analog source, their gorgeous Kid Howard turntable from the new Pear Blue line ($2,850).

While I was visiting this room, I mainly listened to a digital recording from Shades of Blue. This was a live recording, and it definitely sounded it! The noises from the crowd during the performance were particularly well-expressed, the sound stage well-defined and the band alive. At one point, I thought that there was some kind of hum going on in the system, a ground loop or somesuch — only to realize that what I was hearing was actually a hum from the PA system in the recording. I thought the impact, clarity, and decay on the snare drum and cymbals was particularly impressive.

Independence seems to be treating GamuT well.

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New York 2014

New York 2014: GamuT plays big, bad wolf and blows us away

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Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014“There was something about this room …” is what I heard, repeatedly, in reference to the all-GamuT room, put together by local NJ dealer Woodbridge Stereo. Something …. Maybe it was the speakers, the new Superior RS-5 ($31,990/pair) playing in the room. These speakers are 2.5-way floor-standing loudspeakers, shown in black and not to their best effect, sadly — in “real life”, these gently sculpted creatures are works of art. Michael Vamos of GamuT Audio was on hand to point out a couple of interesting/odd design elements — including the double-ring radiating tweeter, the sliced-cone mid, and the wood-fiber cone woofers.

“Wood?” I asked. “Why wood? Why not aluminum or something like that?”

“Too slow,” Vamos said. “With the wood, you get stiffness and speed but with a far more natural tone and harmonics. And with these wood dust-caps in the center, the woofer is far more piston-like,” he said, making a punching-fist gesture. I found no reason to argue with this, based on what I was hearing.

He also pointed out the extremely unusual binding posts — all arranged in a linear array. If you scroll all the way down, you can see the tasty, chunky terminals. The RS-5 is an 89dB speaker, 4Ω, with 31Hz-60kHz performance. The enclosure is extremely damped, with over an inch of laminations on the sides walls, as well as grooved contours on those sides, to help with resonance. Overall, the new cabinet upgrades (over the outgoing “S” versions) is a 50% improvement in structural inertness.

The Superior Series is new, and features several new models — the RS3 ($19,500/pair) is a 2-way stand mount. The RS7 ($40k) is a true 3-way that features a “DC-coupled” midrange (no caps in the signal path), and the driver complement adds a second 7″ wood-fiber woofer to the dual-ring tweet and sliced-cone mid. The RS-9, the new flagship at $115k/pair, was sitting in the corner showing off the second finish-option for the new Superior line — “blanco” (white ash). I think that finish is extremely sweet-looking. Aside from all the internal and hidden tweaks and upgrades, the RS9 adds a third wood-fiber woofer to the mix. I can’t afford pretty much anything in this line, but if I could, I’d be on that RS-9 like white on rice.

The electronics in the room were also, all-GamuT. I’ve heard “good things” about their old amplifiers, but aside from the occasional blip here and there, there hasn’t been a whole lot to read. A shame, really, and something … well, perhaps it’s something yours truly could rectify! Hmm. Just a suggestion.

On the deck were a pair of M250i mono block amplifiers ($12,900 each, bottom rack), below a D3i dual-mono pre ($8,290) and a CD3 disc spinner ($7,990). The lattermost is just that, a CD player. It’s been highly regarded and well-reviewed, but don’t expect a USB input or SACD support. This is, at least to some, a pinnacle in CD playback design and that might well be enough. Given the absurdly high quality of sound coming out of this system, I think I’d be okay with that.

With regard to the former-most, these amplifiers are not precisely new, but they are new-to-me. 250 watts into 8Ω, with 500 watts in 4Ω, these are some very impressive amplifiers. Fitted out in a rather upscale-minimalist enclosure with large heat-sinks off the side, I’m told that the sound is very open and with the right speakers, there are some interesting options. From Robert Harley’s review of the D200i (the stereo version):

“There are two pairs of output binding posts per channel, but there is more to them than the provision for bi-wiring. The inner pair is called “normal” and has an inductor in parallel with a resistor between the output section of the amplifier and its corresponding binding posts. The outer pair is called “direct” and has no added inductor and resistor (Zobel) circuit. The “normal” Z-circuit pair is offered to help handle low-impedance speakers or highly capacitive cable loads. Provided the speaker has two pairs of binding posts (i.e., it is bi-wireable) GamuT recommends connecting the inner/normal pair to the speaker driver’s terminal with the trickiest impedance—the bass driver terminals, in the case of a typical dynamic cone type speaker, or the tweeter driver terminals, in the case of an electrostatic speaker. I experimented with both the inner and outer pairs and preferred the outer/direct pair.”

That’s pretty fancy, in my book. All the wire was GamuT, too — Wormhole Signature balanced interconnects (starting at $2,990/pair) and a prototype of the Wormhole Reference speaker cables ($13,990/3m pair). I’m told that the final, shipping product will include a leather wrapping (!).

All in all, this was a remarkable sounding room. Another Best-in-Show contender and another brand to add to my “Must-Explore” list.

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New York 2014

New York 2014: Hegel and GamuT, revving the engine

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Legacy_at_NY_Audio_Show_2014Ah, Hegel, let me count the ways ….

Hegel Audio may or may not be named for the (in)famous 19th century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. As some of you may or may not know, I spent a happy decade bouncing around the halls of higher education seeking a degree in Philosophy. During that time, I may or may not have obsessed over Hegel. Really, there’s no other way to “do” Hegel — reading his work is very much like falling through the Looking Glass. Simplicity, brevity and clarity were really not his style. I cannot overemphasize the word ‘not’ in that last sentence. Pardon me while I have an existentialist shudder.

With this as my own personal albatross, I also cannot overstate how perplexing it is for me to see Hegel Audio’s creations. For one, the complete lack of Byzantine, Rube Goldberg-like structure is entirely disconcerting. There is no thesis. No antithesis. Just, simple, straightforward, synthesis. It’s like someone predigested everything Hegel ever wrote (and given that Hegel was one of the most prolific writers in the history of Humanity, that’s saying something) and just delivered the punch line. It’s almost unseemly. The case work for Hegel is silver or black, and that’s really all there is to say about it. It’s … solid. Functional. Almost utilitarian. Pardon me while I shudder again. There’s really just not much to see — all the magical confection is on the inside. And let me be plain, because apparently, simply invoking the ghost of Hegel is enough to twist my mind and speech, this stuff is just great.

One of my all-time favorite amplifiers is the Hegel H30. It’s like a neutron star. Like most Hegel gear, there’s not much to look at, except for its appearance of an absurd concentration of mass. But that amplifier has the almost unique ability, to my admittedly limited experience, of making the “everything else” sound so much better. It’s a polisher, in the best possible way. At $15k, it’s nowhere near cheap, but that’s like saying that paying 1/10th the sticker price for a brand new Ferrari is “too much”. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s also a supercar that we’re talking about and it compares directly and favorably with gear costing fantastically more. Me? I like to call that little ratio, “value”. Maybe there’s something to this “deceptively simple appearance” thing? Hmm. Power rating on the amp is a bit hard to track down as the website talks about the amp almost exclusively as a mono-bridged setup, where two of these are used. I don’t know anyone that’s done that (but it seems like a smashingly good idea, and will yield over 1kW when run this way), but according to my erstwhile publisher, you can expect 350 watts into 8Ω when running it in stereo. Seeing it here in New York kinda makes me all happy inside.

Fronting the Black Beauty was the matching preamplifier, the synergistically and stylistically compatible P30 preamplifier ($7,500). A H300 integrated amplifier ($5,500) sat underneath a now-discontinued H70 integrated (the new model, the H80, is priced at $2,000) that they were offering a sweetheart deal on. The new H80 does include a full 24bit/192kHz DAC (USB is limited to 96kHz). A CDP2a ($2,650) was sitting atop the rack for those silver-disc lovers that haven’t fully gone digital.

Speaking of which, that brings me to the star of this particular show, the HD12. The HD12 ($1,400) replaces the outgoing HD11, and I adds “true” DSD64 capability (with no PCM conversion) to the already excellent sonic brew. A fully balanced design (with volume controls), the HD12 includes a headphone output (¼” TRS plug) on the front and a digital display walking you through the menu, replacing the old push-button input selection from the outgoing model. Notably, the USB input has been significantly upgraded and now supports 24bit/192kHz in addition to DSD support. The noise floor on the new DAC hits -145dB.

Eileen Gosvig of Hegel was on hand to do the demo, and quickly walked us through an A/B listening session between the HD12 and the HD11 — the new DAC is much quieter, with far better detail retrieval than the outgoing model, but still has that natural, non-fatiguing Hegel sound that I love. I’m going to have to get one of these at some point to explore it more fully.

On a side note, Eileen also let me peek at her personal Hegel Super USB Headphone amplifier/DAC ($299). Super-quiet, the Super does 24/96 over USB and includes an optical/mini-jack combo output.

The room also had a pair of loudspeakers, did I mention them? Ha! Yes, GamuT M’inenT M7 ($16,490/pair), a bass-reflex design with curved side walls of veneer-over-MDF, was shown with the Hegel gear, and this pair came in a sexy, matching, matte black. The M7 is a 4Ω nominal loudspeaker with a 90dB sensitivity and a frequency response between 29Hz and 50kHz. Two 7″ wood-fiber (!) woofers, a 7″ “sliced cone” mid and a double-ring radiator tweeter complete the picture. The finish was extraordinary — very clean, very modern.

I am quite partial to the sound in this room, so I feel a bit biased. I’ve been very impressed with GamuT generally, and hearing them driven by Hegel electronics was a special treat.

I’d happily take home any and all of this stuff. Hook it up!

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