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October 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

GamuT Audio System
CD 3 Compact Disc Player
DI 150 Integrated Amplifier
L5 2.5-Way Loudspeakers
Taking the system approach and finding both good and bad.

Review By Phil Gold
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 GamuT CD 3 Compact Disc Player and DI 150 Integrated Amplifier

  There are few companies in high-end audio that can serve up a complete system to take on all comers. Krell, Meridian and Linn come quickly to mind, and today I'd like to bring another to the table. All the way from Denmark, please welcome GamuT Audio. This is the new GamuT and the three components under the microscope are part of a new product range aimed at combining high levels of musical realism with a strong aesthetic to challenge the best lifestyle products. Have they achieved both of these objectives? Let's take a look.

I first heard this combination, with the CD 3 still in prototype form, at the Montreal Festival Son & Image back in March, and was impressed enough to award it a joint Best Sound In Show. Lars Goller, the new owner of GamuT, took me over his plans for the company, which include several more speakers and a lower powered integrated amp along with a range of separates incorporating the new design cues from the CD 3 and the DI 150.

 

L5 Speakers
GamuT L5 SpeakerLet us start with the cosmetics. The speakers are fairly conventional in appearance with contoured sides to prevent standing waves and to create visual interest. They are mounted on a massive spike system for easy leveling and a firm foundation. The most impressive aspect is the sheer splendor of the cabinet work. You can have Bird's eye maple or Rosewood veneer with eleven layers of hand polished high-gloss lacquer. Just beautiful! The L5 is 45 tall but just 8 wide and 17 inches deep. It should be well away from the back wall since it has two rear facing ports (GamuT recommends a minimum of 30 inches measured from the tweeter position).

A GamuT proprietary 4th order crossover design called Non-Resonant Linked Impulse technology, mounted on a bi-level board, feeds the 1.5-inch ring radiator tweeter and two 7-inch ScanSpeak bass/midrange drivers. These 7-inch drivers feature a powerful SD-1 motor, a sliced paper cone and a low-loss linear suspension. Each low-compression aerodynamic driver chassis is spike mounted into the cabinet. This 2.5-way design is in a physical arrangement similar to my own Wilson Benesch Act 1s, where the three units are mounted very close together in a vertical line with the tweeter on top. The cabinet material is high-density fiberboard featuring internal skeleton braces with bitumen damping. At the rear are four high quality 4mm binding posts suitable for single cable lengths or bi-wiring or bi-amplification.

 

DI 150 Integrated Amplifier
GanuT DI 150 Integrated AmplifierThe DI 150 integrated amp is the first electronic component in the GamuT line to incorporate the new design cues, and it is a major step up from the earlier rather plain appearance of the D200 power amp or the D3 preamp upon which it is based. The look is clean, modern, luxurious and symmetrical. It exudes quality, and is in fact a pleasure to use in practice, with a large easily readable display. The exterior is constructed of stainless steel and aluminum while internally it features a heavy non-magnetic chassis for stability. This is a true dual-mono design. Each of the two massive transformers has separate windings for pre and power amp circuitry. GamuT use a dual-FET hybrid input buffer, a single Power MOSFET output circuit and an extremely powerful power supply with high bandwidth and low impedance. They also incorporate a fast-acting protection circuit to prevent damage either to the electronics or the speakers. There are four unbalanced and two balanced inputs, a welcome feature unusual in integrated amps. Pin 2 is positive for the balanced connectors. Sadly, there is no phono stage; you'll have to roll your own if you like the sound of vinyl. In addition to the speaker terminals you'll find both balanced and unbalanced line out connectors, plus a fixed level buffered tape out.

The large central volume control conceals an ALPS dual logarithmic potentiometer, very smooth and silent in operation. To select the source, press on one of the flanking buttons. You can read the input text when you're up close to the unit, but it's too small to read from your chair. That's where the remote control comes in. The other two buttons are for Dim and Mute. When Mute is pressed, an LED illuminates next to the Mute switch. At all other times, an LED lights up to show which input is selected. Now that can be a problem to interpret from a distance. One of the inputs is labeled Direct / HTH, designed for Home Theatre use. A toggle switch next to the HTH input jacks enables or disables the volume control circuitry on the input so you can use the DI 150 as a power amp for the two front channels when you already have a surround sound processor. Where is the power switch? Try under the front panel. This shows you the DI 150 is meant to remain on at all times. The DI 150 comes with a handsome and substantial remote control that includes direct control of a CD player, volume and muting, but can only shift inputs to next or previous. I would much prefer direct selection of input, since I can never remember which input comes next in sequence. The buttons are clearly marked but they are all of the same shape and size. There is also a phase button and a standby button, which the manual reveals are currently inoperative. Gentlemen, can you work some more magic on this please? Take a look at the remote for the Meridian G Series components for inspiration.

 

GamuT CD3
GamuT CD3The CD 3 looks even better, being lower profile with a beautiful CD drawer flanked by three large buttons on each side and a display panel below it in a sculpted recess. But here I must quibble. The display uses much smaller characters with a lower maximum brightness level than the DI 150, and they are not readable from a distance, not by these tired eyes at least. Again, this is a much more impressive look than the earlier CD 1. The CD 3 shares the same remote as the DI 150.

A little history may be in order here. GamuT's power amplifiers, especially the D200 stereo amp and the M250 monoblocks have long held a very strong reputation in the industry for a refined and ultra high resolution sound at relatively affordable prices. Their preamplifiers were more modest components, and they did not offer integrated amps, sources or speakers until the CD 1 burst on to the scene about five years ago at $3000. Subject to some rave reviews at the time, I auditioned one and was very impressed by the sound. No digital nasties and extremely clean and well balanced across the spectrum. For some strange reason, the output level on the unbalanced outputs was over twice the industry standard, causing me some grief with my Perreaux R200i, which I could only overcome by switching to the balanced connections. Unfortunately, there was a snag – reliability. These machines were produced in Germany for GamuT and despite a series of redesigns to the power supply section, the problems continued. The Canadian distributor took the wise step of holding the CD 1 back from the market but the situation was not resolved until new owners came in and terminated production of this model.

The CD 3 is a completely new design and is built like a tank. The unbalanced output level is now a healthy 2.15 V, as it should be. The CD 3 features a nonmagnetic stainless steel inner chassis that holds the rubber-suspended mechanism and the digital output board. This chassis divides the interior into three compartments laterally, isolating the very heavy power supply from the delicate signals handled by the D/A conversion and amplification. The power supplies for digital and analog sections use two separate toroidal transformers while ultra low noise components are used on the D/A board. The Redbook signal is passed through an asynchronous sample rate converter to the Burr Brown PCM 1792 DAC. The use of asynchronous conversion to 192kHz rather than upsampling to 176.4kHz (an exact multiple of the 44.1kHz Redbook standard) is a controversial choice.

The problems of the CD 1 caused quite a black eye for GamuT, leading to a lot of frustration and the cancellation of a number of distributorships. The road back to health has been long but I am assured that all these problems are well behind them now, and I should emphasize that it was only the one product that suffered from reliability issues.

 

System Synergy
So back to the present, and how does the system hang together? I planned to spend most of my time listening to the system as a system, but I also switched out each of the components in turn to get a better feel for how they rate individually. The first discovery I made is that cabling is all-important here. For best sound I fed the CD players a diet of Soundstring Digital Power Cables alternating with Foundation Research LC1s and ran Nordost Valhalla balanced and unbalanced interconnects from the CD players to the amplifiers. Foundation Research LC100s were used to power the amplifiers with Audio Prism QuietLines on the power outlets. I also experimented with Foundation Research NL1s on the amplifier binding posts. The speakers were connected using Chord Signature cables and all components were set up on isolation platforms from Harmonic Resolutions Systems, Sound Anchor and Black Diamond. As far as possible, I used the same supports and wires with each of the alternate components to keep the playing field level.

I must say it took quite some time to get the best sound out of the system, as the speakers were quite sensitive to placement and toe in while the electronics were quite responsive to cabling. Once set up optimally, the listening results proved consistent from track to track and from disc to disc, always a good sign. The sound of the GamuT system is dynamic and open, colorful and displaying good resolution. High points include the deep bass extension and low distortion. It is also somewhat recessed, as if listening from a seat well back in the hall and the transient attack is not as quick as one could wish for. In short, it did not galvanize me to the music and I set out to find what was amiss. The first suspect is always the source. Switching to the Audio Aero Prestige left a hole in the middle of the soundstage and an attack that was even slower than the CD 3, but at the same time the dynamics improved along with the tonality of the instruments. Rather than adjust the speaker location again to cope with the increased channel separation of the Prestige, I switched in my reference Meridian G08 CD Player. Instant Karma and a proverbial night and day difference. The music sprang to life, gained warmth, pacing and speed, and now I was sitting much further forward on the hall. For the rest of the auditioning, I stayed with the Meridian, because the CD 3 does not do justice to the other fine GamuT components on this showing. At $6000 it should at least challenge the less expensive Meridian G08 to gain any sort of recommendation from me. The Meridian has seen off many a more expensive source component and will continue to command my respect and commendation until it is bettered by a less expensive challenger.

So with the Meridian source, how do the other GamuT components fare? Very nicely thank you. The DI 150 / L5 combination is a gem, never showing any signs of strain or distortion, and doing justice to the resolving power of the G08. I found I was able to listen with the volume turned well down, without the presence dying completely on me as it does so often, and I also found I could turn the wick well up to concert hall levels and relish the thrill of the full weight of the superb Concertgebouw Orchestra in Haitink's immaculate Shostakovich Fifth [Decca 425066-2].

On smaller scale music the combination is especially effective. Haydn Quartets [Astrée E8786] are incredibly alive, showing strong warmth on recording that can easily sound astringent through lesser components. This points to the presence of a superb tweeter, the top of the line Super Revelator tweeter from ScanSpeak and fine crossover performance. Dr Ray Kimber's IsoMike recordings reveal an intimate acoustic and strong dynamics. Piano recordings such as Zimmerman's fine Liszt Sonata [DG 431 780-2] have full weight and reveal a lot of detail and subtlety.

Having established how well these two GamuT components perform together, it's time to compare each to some other references. In place of the DI 150, I substituted an EAR-Yoshino V20 Valve Integrated Amplifier, a fine example of a modern tube amplifier, blessed with a very wide frequency response and lightening reflexes. The first thing to notice is the improvement in the imaging, which completely pulls away from the physical location of the speakers. The sound is now lighter, more transparent and the treble sweeter, but we are missing the full bass strength of the DI 150. I prefer the EAR on chamber music and voices, while the GamuT wins easily on full orchestra and deep bass. We're talking about the difference between a 150-watt amp and a 20-watt amp here of course.

Compared to my reference Perreaux R200i Radiance, the DI 150 is quite close, but offers a warmer, more detailed sound without quite reaching the same frightening level of dynamics the Perreaux can achieve, nor its wonderful ability to throw a solid image away from the speakers. The DI 150 is a much more luxurious package, and will do more to impress your friends visually. I could live comfortably with either one, and never feel the need for separates. It is pretty pricy for an integrated amp at $9,800, but you should compare its sound and features to good separates since there are so few integrated amps that come close. On that basis and remembering it offers fully balanced circuitry throughout, it represents good value for money. Remember the slightly more powerful GamuT D200 Mk III amp alone costs $7000, the Gamut D3i $6000, and you won't need expensive interconnects to connect the pre and power amp.

Putting the DI 150 back in service and substituting Wilson Benesch Discovery speakers, really opens up the all-important midrange. The Discoveries are much smaller stand-mounted speakers, a less expensive alternative at $8,200. The music now breathes easier and has richer color and faster reflexes, combined with superb resolution and a warm presentation. The Discovery is certainly clean and well defined in the bass registers, but lacks weight and extension next to the L5s, and it can also lose control if the signal contains a high level of deep bass, while the L5 sails through the challenge. At the top end it is hard to choose between them on many recordings, but when the treble content is demanding, such as jazz percussion or a Mahler symphony, the extra sophistication of the GamuT's expensive tweeter is obvious, resulting in a cleaner less splashy sound. As for imaging, the smaller speaker wins easily, as is so often the case. So this is a tough choice.

The sheer coherence of the Wilson Benesch on chamber music is breathtaking and seductive, while the GamuT L5 wins when playing large scale or demanding music, and also has the ability to fill a larger space without signs of distress. Both have looks to die for, although the Discovery is a much more futuristic design. The Discovery is a much less efficient speaker despite its 88dB/W/m rating, and will demand a powerful amplifier such as the DI 150. On the other hand, the 89dB/W/m efficient L5 will not be an easy load for all amplifiers, since its relatively low impedance load may cause difficulties with some poorly designed amps. My larger Wilson Benesch Act 1s come with a less sophisticated tweeter.

 

And The Winner Is...
Picking a winner from the three GamuT components is easy. The DI 150 integrated amplifier builds on the strengths of previous GamuT units and represents good value for money plus it comes dressed in a most impressive package. You won't get that valve sound but it stands up well against all but the most expensive transistor amplifiers and brings a great deal of musical involvement to your living room. I enjoyed my time with the L5s and admire their ability to play any type of music well at both low and high volume. These are wide bandwidth transducers, and they don't come cheap. You should audition them against the competition from B&W, Focal and Martin Logan, to name but three that have impressed me in this price range. For smaller rooms, consider the L3 bookshelf speakers, and for maximum bass extension, take a look at the 3-way L7 speakers, rated down to 27Hz. I would pass on the CD 3, which at this time does not measure up to the high levels established by the DI 150 and the L3.

 

Specifications
GamuT CD 3
Output level 4.35V balanced, 2.15V unbalanced
Signal to noise ratio: 124dB balanced, 112dB unbalanced 
Noise level: < 5uV balanced, < 10uV unbalanced
THD + N: < .0009%
DAC: Burr Brown PCM 1792 24 bit, 192kHz upsampling
Output impedance: 150 ohm balanced, 75 ohm unbalanced
Digital output: 75 ohms
Idle power: 20 watts
Dimensions: 16.9 x 4.4 x 16.5: (HxWxD in inches)
Price: $6,000
Warranty: 2 years parts and labor

GamuT DI 150
Inputs: 2 pairs XLR, 4 pairs RCA
Record output: 1 pair RCA
Line output: Balanced and unbalanced
Speaker posts: WBT gold plated binding posts 
Rated power output: 180wpc @ 8 Ohms (360 @ into 4)
Input impedance: 20kOhms (single ended) / 40K Ohms (balanced)
Frequency response: 20Hz to 22kHz (±.1dB)
THD: < .05% (mainly 2nd harmonic)
Signal / Noise ratio: > 100 dBA below 100W / 8O
Power consumption: 100 watts at idle, 1000 watts max
Shipping weight: 66 lbs
Dimensions: 16.9 x 6.1 x 16.1 (WxHxD in inches)
Price: $ 9,800
Warranty: 5 years parts and labor

GamuT L5
Tweeter::1.5" ScanSpeak Super Revelator ring radiator
Phase Plug: Stainless steel
Mid/Bass Drivers: 2 x 7" ScanSpeak Revelator sliced paper cone
Input connectors: 4 Gold plated WBT binding posts. 
Frequency response: 32Hz to 60kHz
Sensitivity: 89dB/W/m
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal - minimum 2.8 ohms at 200 Hz
Cabinet: High density fiberboard 
Finish: Bird's eye maple or Rosewood veneer, high-gloss
Dimensions: 45.3 x 7.9 x 16.9 (HxWxD in inched)
Weight: 88.4 lbs
Base: Extra large stainless steel spikes, external mount
Price: $11,900
Warranty: 5 years parts and labor

 

Company Information
GamuT International A/S
Oesterled 28
DK-4300 Holbaek
Denmark

Voice:  (45) 70 20 22 68
Fax: (45) 59 43 97 26
E-mail: gamut@mail.dk
Website: www.gamutaudio.com

 

US Distributor
Rhythm Marketing LLC
120 Avie Ct
Brookfield, WI 53045

Voice: 262-784-7852
Fax: 262-364 2017
E-mail: david@rhythm-marketing.com
Website: www.rhythm-marketing.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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