With a power rating of 150Wpc into 8 ohms, and 250Wpc into 4 ohms, the AMP-150 ranks as one of the more powerful integrateds on the market. Sure, it’s got muscle, but as I’ll describe shortly this is a very refined beast.
But then Gato’s stated design goal for the 150 “was to create the best-sounding integrated amplifier possible inside a compact exterior. Secondly, we wanted to create a line of components where design was not simply a question of a good-looking faceplate, but a more complete product that is beautiful from every angle and expresses a classic electro-mechanical look.”
I’ve quoted Gato’s philosophy for two reasons. One is that no matter how striking these components may appear in photographs one needs to see and operate them to fully appreciate the design and finishing work. Another is to underline the thinking behind team Gato’s approach to creating what are remarkably holistic products. The Gato gear seems completely thought through to a degree rarely seen, and this applies to the sound, too. The Amp- 150 and CDD-1 are notably alike in their sonic signatures.
Internally, as one would expect at this level, component-parts selection is very high; many hours are spent on final voicing; and the pre- and power-amp sections are mounted on their own double-sided, copper-clad-fiberglass circuit boards, each with its own regulated power supply. The linear supplies are wide- bandwidth, which Gato claims is a key to the sound quality. The power amp’s input stage employs JFETs, while output devices are MOSFETs, which Gato believes provides the best of both worlds—high power with a “vice-like grip [and] the softness and transparent sound of a good tube amplifier.”
I found this last statement curious because, while the Amp 150 does indeed have a “vice-like grip,” the last thing I would call it is soft. Transparent? Oh, yes, but there is nothing (at least) traditionally tube-like about the sound of the Amp 150. I say that with no negative connotation. Like current tube designs from Audio Research, which are anything but traditionally tubey— overly warm, golden, soft, etc.—the Gato is neither cool nor dark in timbre, but rather a highly refined expression of the shared “neutral” and “musical” schools of thought that have been defining the modern high end for these past many years.
Operating the Amp 150 is simplicity itself, either from the faceplate or the unusually slick and rather macho-looking remote wand. The remote, machined from aluminum, features a thumb wheel for volume adjustment rather than the usual up/down buttons. In addition to Standby, in which only the microprocessor and LEDs are powered up, the unit also offers something called a pre-heat mode, which shortens the amp’s normal two-hours- to-full-warm-up time to around 15 minutes. The display meter’s light intensity is adjustable on the rear panel, and the meter features a series of graphic icons to indicate the source when the pre-heat stage is complete, as well as the input selection. The meter’s needle indicates volume attenuation from -∞ to +10dB, with a 0dB middle point.