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November 2007
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Nightingale Gala Stereo Amplifier
"The path to enlightenment is defined by minute changes in the sonic fabric."
Review By Ron Nagle
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Nightingale Gala Vacuum Tube Stereo Amplifier  "The Nightingale tells it's fairy tale of paradise where roses grew." Thank you Mr. Carmichael for this romantic refrain, it is a timeless melodic reminiscence. We shall see if this high-end Italian tube invasion is as George and Ira pondered, "May just be passing fancies and in time may go." Nightingale is an Italian brand name one of the Italian designed audio components washing up on our shores. The Simetel Company located in Rome Italy launched the Nightingale line some 12 years ago. They also make two other popular integrated amplifiers called the ADM-32 and the Armonia along with a line of speakers they call the Concentus. Surprisingly the Company builds the Nightingale amplifiers at a factory located in the heart of high priced Rome. Valentina Del Rio Ross the daughter of the manufacturer directs distribution in the United States from a location in Lancaster Pennsylvania.

The Nightingale brand has dealers in Italy but at this time they have no dealers in the United States. The Gala amplifier made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2007. Ms. Ross tells us she plans to exhibit the amplifier at the Top Audio show in Milano September 2007 and the CES again in 2008 and possibly the next Rocky Mountain Show in Denver. As I walked the CES corridors in 2007 at the Venetian Hotel I passed rooms alive with music and if I paused it was usually to be warmed by the sound of tubes. Who would have though so many years ago that today we would immerse ourselves in such an antique art form. From the land of Amati and Puccini from across the wide ocean they have not forgotten the alchemy of tubes. What was once old has found new life in the ancient eternal city. It's only now I remember the words of the Master: "You must follow the light Grasshopper for there is yet joy to be found in the spiral path."

 

The Ghost In The Machine

With the lights in my room turned off and amidst the warm glow of 16 vacuum tubes I am reminded of the glow of sanctuary candles. And it is then I remember another time another place. And again I recall the words of the old one: " Grasshopper the path to enlightenment begins as a journey from within."

And so within the twin retro looking black and chrome chassis that I find so appealing company founder and designer Luciano Del Rio designed a 20-Watt per channel Class-A amplifier. There is a second separate chassis that contains and isolates the amplifier power supply. At the back of the Power Supply are a power cord and two right and left power cables. You need to connect these to the rear chassis of the Amplifier: all four connections, two per chassis are secured via 12 pin locking Cannon plugs. Also, there is a trio of EU standard WBT speaker binding posts on each side-of the rear amplifier they are marked negative and 4 and 8-Ohms and in the center two left/right RCA input plugs.

There are two differing esthetic renditions of the Gala. You could select a polished aluminum enclosure or alternatively chose the appearance of the Gala review sample furnished with black painted chassis supporting a chrome plated top panel. Looking at the front of this component amplifier the two parts look identical the function of each chassis is far easier to see when the tubes are installed. Both sections have a small round push button at the front to turn on the Amplifier and the Power Supply.

The designer states that, "with traditional amplifiers the power transformers are close to the audio transformers and the flux (magnetic field) of the first one can disturb the second one. The construction in two units avoids this and reduces electrical noise and maintains lower operational temperatures." The Gala Amplifier powers the left and right channels with a quartet of tubes. It has two 300B triodes per side and these are configured in a push pull circuit topology. The amplifiers triode driver stage consists of two ECC82 (12AU7) tubes and two ECC88 (6DJ8) tubes used for the input amplifier and phase splitter functions. The separate power supply chassis uses a GZ34 as a rectifier and has ECC83 (12AX7) 6080 and OD3 tubes to regulate the anode potential at 450 volts. The Gala uses no negative feedback it has zero feedback. Additionally it has an automatic tube bias system accurate to 0.5%. If you leave the power supply turned on you can keep the amplifier in a standby state that will keep the tube filaments warm even when the amplifier section is turned off.

The Gala is stable into 4-Ohm loads but the designer admits it sounds better with an 8-Ohm speaker. The Gala Amplifier is now at the top of the Nightingale line of audio components and it is the first they manufactured without a wood chassis and the first amplifier built with two separate chassis.

 

Out Of The Box

All is not well when I unpacked the boxes I found one of the four 300B tubes was broken. I notified the distributor and after awhile I received four brand new matched Electro Harmonix 300B power tubes. When I setup the amplifier I placed the power supply on the floor under a small table and I then placed the amplifier on the top of the same table. I let the two halves power FM radio for approximately six hours and even after all that rough handling I found it worked just fine.

 

Reviewer Observation

Italian audio types are enamored of wood adorned audio components. I think the long demised Antonio Stradivarius is probably hanging around haunting these guys. But I am not being serious audiopals I really do emphatically agree. Wood chassis or just some wooden accents help move the aesthetic appearance of audio hardware away from a toaster closer to a Titian. And my last observation is that with two of the Gala power supply tubes I had to find some old crumbling tube books and look them up. The OD3 tube is a Voltage regulator and the 6080 tubes are listed as a hi-current series regulator with an unusual 26.5-volt heater filament. Up to this point this narrative is based on preliminary research done by myself and by Colin Flood some of it even before the Gala made its appearance at my place.

 

Aural Aspects

As I begin I remember my teachers sage advice, "Learn to listen Grasshopper, for the unknown". First impressions are something I value. For me they often provide a basis for all the subsequent trials and permutations that follow. A portion of these usually endures even as my last words are written. However what follows is a synopsis of impressions culled and condensed from many pages of notes I gathered along the way. Driving my rebuilt and modified Quad ESL 63 speaker's full range with the Gala amplifier the midrange absolutely seduces you. I am specifically referring to one of my references, the Super Audio (SACD) edition of The Look Of Love by Diana Krall [Verve 589 507-2].

This recording captures the natural organic sound of a human voice as it is in life. I have heard the whispering warm overtones of a female voice reproduced like this only once before and that was through one other 300B Class A amplifier. The midrange is smooth without any rough edges. And stringed instruments and piano accompaniment may seem slightly subdued but after some reflection I find it is because they are now layered a bit deeper into the soundstage. The seamless magic of the Quads midrange is a perfect compliment to this Gala amplifier. But, and there is a but, it is because the Gala will only produce 20 watts per channel. The Quad speakers come with a recommendation that they require a minimum of 40 watts per channel. And so dear reader the answers to some questions are still unknown.

Reviewer types like myself of necessity own more than one pair of speakers. And so lets try and move a bit farther away from the midrange and test the upper limits of the Gala amplifier. My Aurum Cantus Leisure 2SE speakers have a 70mm aluminum ribbon tweeter perfect for this task. They go flat out to 47kHz and even though a two way design they have a respectable 60-Hertz bass response. I deem this more than adequate to find out how a 20-watt tube amp controls bass frequencies. Mind you I am not into room rumbling deep bass. I do not give a flying f%@< what a 747 sounds like on takeoff. Any audiophile worthy of that title knows what is important is bass pitch resolution and harmonic content. And so moving on we listen to the same source The Look Of Love by Diana Krall but now through the Aurum Cantus speakers. And it is now I find what has been missing it is extension at the upper and lower frequencies. As one might expect the bass does not start and stop on a dime but as I said I don't care. What I hear is that the bass guitar goes down deep and the harmonic content remains intact and the cord changes propels the music just as it should. At the same time the treble extension paints a deep dimensional image that is composed of small lifelike details and it is this that draws you into the performance. The bottom line has bin writ, I now know what this Gala thing does.

 

That's Life!

Like Sinatra said, "Iv bin a puppet a pauper a poet a pawn and a king. Iv bin up and down and over and out and I know one thing". And that is we still have a way to go before we capture the sound of the real thing. Last summer I was fortunate enough to score two very hard to get tickets to a James Taylor concert at The Tanglewood Music Festival.

As I sat there transformed I listened with a smile on my face and I thought, "This doesn't sound much like my stereo system." O.K. I know that may seem dumb but the point I am trying to make is maybe high-end audio manufacturers are going in the wrong direction. Seems to me they are functioning under the influence. Companies seem overtly influenced by the digital technology spun off from computers and they are chasing ultra resolution too far. When I listened to James Taylor at Tanglewood I do not hear razor sharp transients and pants flapping bass from subwoofers. The sound of the real thing is the very definition of the word easy; it is clear and free flowing, there are no overlapping intermodulating harmonic envelopes competing within the performance. As you listen it becomes clear how the overtone structure of each element might contrast or blend into the harmonic whole, they remain separate neither are they sanitized clean. Even now tubes when done right still have a quality missing from most solid-state and digital devices. All of this only serves to remind me of the thin line we walk to fill or souls with music. This is not an audio device for a rank beginner. Undoubtedly it will take the care of a tube lover's touch to appreciate what the Nightingale Gala brings to recorded music.

 

The Bottom Line

At $16,350 this amp is not cheap. However the truth does not always come cheap. If you find in this amplifier the subtle overtones of music, if you value a presentation of pitch, voicing, timing and timber each separate on a dimensional stage. If like me you heed the advice of the Zen Master that, "The path to enlightenment is defined by minute changes in the sonic fabric". If you believe recorded music can slip the bonds of artifact and can become real and appear before you then you know the Gala. If not than surely you have strayed from the path.

 

Epilogue

Finally the long perilous upward climb brings me back once again to the cool darkened interior of the Monastery. The old one although born blind has long since known of my return having heard my footsteps from afar. Wordlessly, I sit in silence facing him and I wait. Finally, in a faint dry whisper he asks, "So grasshopper what have you learned?"

"

Imperceptibly he nods and whispers, "It is well."

 

Specifications

Type: Vacuum tube stereo amplifier

Tube Compliments: 
Power Supply, a pair each: E838CC, OD3, 6336A and GZ34
Power Amplifier, a pair each: E88CC, E82CC
Output: Four 300B

Output Power: 20 wpc

Frequency Response: 10Hz to 30kHz (+/- 1.5dB)

Harmonic Distortion: < 0.3% @ 18 Watts

S/N Ratio: >88 dB

Input Sensitivity: 300mVolts eff.

Output Impedance: 4 or 8 Ohms.

Dimensions (each, two total): 424x428x240 (LxWxH in mm)

Weight: Two @ 50.6 lbs each

Price: $16,350

 

Company Information

Simetel S.p.A.
Via Pieve Torina 42, 00156
Rome Italy

Voice: + 39064121091
Fax: + 39064110557
E-mail: welcome@nightingale.it
Website: www.nightingale.it

 

North American Distributor
Valentina Ross 
1111 Davis Drive 
Lancaster, PA 17603

Voice/Fax: (717) 299-9250 
E-mail: nightingaleUS@gmail.com
Website: www.nightingaleus.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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