As I wrote earlier, the AMP 150 is among the most powerful integrated amps I’ve encountered. And its 250Wpc output into the Maggie’s 4-ohm load brought a comforting sense of power-to-spare plus effortless control to these notoriously power-thirsty speakers. Deciding exactly how much power your speakers “need” is an interesting exercise that has little do with a manufacturer’s often-vague recommended power rating. The reason I say that is not just because our rooms vary in size and so forth, but also because our musical tastes and preferred volume levels also differ, not to mention the tradeoffs one is willing or otherwise needs to consider based on sonic criteria, budget, and a host of other choices we all make as we build a system.
As an example, I also have the very different and likewise fine Audio Research VS160 integrated in-house for review. Rated at 50Wpc at both 4- and 8-ohms, the VS160 is quite a lovely- sounding unit that I will report on in another issue. Yet even in my small room the VS160’s power output is barely enough for the 1.7s, and there are moments, especially with large orchestral or rock music, when I wish I could push it just that one notch higher. I have no such reservation with the Amp-150. This baby has juice to spare. So, for instance, if I’m in the mood to blast out with Led Zeppelin’s recently released Celebration Day [Atlantic], from the 2007 tribute concert for Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, or otherwise play a favorite recording of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre de Printemps to recognize its centennial year, this Gato integrated delivers enough drive, control, and dynamic pop to out-distance the Magnepans, whose Mylar membranes can of course “bottom-out” when pushed beyond their limit.
Housed in the same basic chassis, the CDD-1 is arguably an even sexier machine: a top-loading CD player/DAC with an exposed drive that’s protected by a machined clamp when playing a disc as well as at rest. With a disc in place the clamp is lowered over the drive spindle and rotated into the Play position by turning the clamp either left or right. And because the clamp locks into place at eight different positions, one needn’t worry whether it’s being applied the “right” way. It’s that intuitive. Digital inputs include asynchronous USB and coaxial SPDIF. The CCD-1’s meter works somewhat like a multi-function speedometer. Once a disc’s contents have been scanned, a numeric display lists the number of tracks, and the needle pegs far right. When a disc begins to play the numeric display starts at 1, and the needle reverts to its far-left starting position. As the disc plays the needle advances around the dial until play stops. When the CDD-1 is functioning as a DAC, the meter measures sample rates up to 192kHz. The digital readout in the center of the meter reads bit- depths up to 24 bits.
The transport is the fine Philips CDpro2LF, which is fixed to a kilogram block of solid machined aluminum suspended in a tripod of Sorbothane to minimize mechanical and environmental resonances. All inputs (CD, USB, SPDIF) are upsampled to 24-bit/192kHz, and Gato takes obvious pride in its mix of technology—gentle filtering, dual-mono 192/24 Burr-Brown DACs, low-noise, wide-bandwidth, short signal paths, and the like.
The end result with both of these Gato designs is most impressive. As I touched on earlier, the Amp-150 and CDD-1 share essentially identical sonic characteristics, and to a degree I’m not certain I’ve heard from any gear in my experience, outside of MBL.
Take a simply recorded but natural-sounding disc such as Stephen Stills’ Just Roll The Tape [Atlantic], a solo session from April 1968 that contains demos of tunes later made famous by CSN. Though certain moments suffer from overload distortion, the way Stills’ vocals and brilliant acoustic guitar playing are captured has made this one of my favorite recent acquisitions. (“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is an emotional revelation.) Throughout, the Gato pair brings a notable feeling of tangibility, detail, and soft as well as driving dynamic swings to this music. The sense is of a solid balance between an uncolored presentation and one that nevertheless remains tonally rich. Details are simply “there” and never spotlighted. And, as it should be— though this can be hard when wearing a reviewer’s beanie—one quickly becomes absorbed in the music while forgetting the gear.