Mastodon – Blood Mountain

Released nearly a decade ago, Mastodon’s landmark concept album about scaling a bewildering peak—and encountering bloodthirsty wolves, unified tree-people colonies, and ice gods—has been recently reissued and remastered on colored vinyl befitting the record’s chromatic characteristics. While the Tolkien-esque premise would flounder in the hands of a lesser band, the Atlanta metal quartet responds to the thematic and musical challenges with aplomb.

Weaving together a web of thrash, prog, psychedelic, and blues disciplines, Mastodon approaches pace, contrast, and angularity with idiosyncratic discipline. Brann Dailor’s ultra-dynamic drumming and jazzy faculty for off-kilter spacing and color functions as the anchor. Manhandling complex rhythms, his arm-twisting rolls launch soirees and double-bass thunder ignites percussive landslides. Dailor’s mates are equally proficient, their instruments doubling as lances that carve fills that, akin to the songs’ breadth, stem from a classical school of thought.

Blood Mountain remains as fresh today as it originally sounded in 2006. Shredding passages mutate into a shoots-and-ladders series of harmonized solos on “Crystal Skull.” Acoustic passages and fluid notes lighten the load of the alternately crushing, alternately consoling “Sleeping Giant.” Bench-pressing riffs and vocoder effects recreate the alien life forms of “Circle of the Cysquatch.” On “Siberian Divide,” grinding turns respond to tales of hypothermia and cannibalism. Mastodon embraces a cosmic sensibility throughout, turning to Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme to supply hallucinatory background vocals for “The Colony of the Birchmen” and delving into fractal folk on the reverb-misted “Pendulous Skin.”

Producer Matt Bayles preserves Mastodon’s thickness while allowing songs to breathe. Dailor’s floor-shaking beats and firm drive illuminate the spacious midrange, and the background vocals fight for transparency, it doesn’t subtract from the forceful footprint and solid tonal balance that account for the involving reproduction of the arrangements’ seemingly indefatigable structures.

Reprise’s new $20 pressing is relatively quiet and, with custom-swirled yellow and green wax,  affirmatively psychedelic. It marks the first time Blood Mountain has been available on LP since a 2010 black-vinyl version, and there’s a reason why the band’s studio catalog keeps going out of print. Namely, Mastodon sounds aptly muscular and burly on vinyl. While this edition doesn’t register the dynamic impact and three-dimensional forcefulness of 2010’s collectable Record Store Day 180g 45RPM pressing—limited to 2500 copies and now fetching upwards of $150—it’s well worth the time of any analog lover that values elite musicianship and hair-raising intensity. Bob Gendron

Purchase this on vinyl from Music Direct HERE

And stream it from our friends at TIDAL HERE

Arcam irDAC

There’s something about visual and operational simplicity that resonates with me, which is why I’m drawn to Arcam’s irDAC ($700), an understated unit about the size of a John Grisham paperback novel.

Its minimalist design is refreshing. The front panel includes white lettering and a thin green LED for each input and a small remote sensor; the top panel includes just the Arcam irDAC moniker and a small round power button. Though the unit is just 7 inches wide, the back panel, while crowded, still allows for easy gripping of wires. It includes L/R analog outputs, an RCA digital out, two coax, two optical, USB-A and -B and a USB switch, and a power toggle and input for the external power brick.

The irDAC sounds mellow right out of the box. After about 100 hours of constant play, the depth opens up, creating an easier and more expansive soundstage. Credit the Arcam engineers for a design consisting of the Texas Instruments PCM796 chip, isolated digital and analog stages, and eight total power supplies—not to mention Arcam’s well-known emphasis on minimal noise and jitter. The two optical, two coaxial, and USB-B inputs are all 24-bit/96-kHz asynchronous without a driver, and 24/192 once the software is downloaded and installed.

Playing various file sizes, the irDAC consistently offers up easy musicality. Don’t expect it to push music to the sonic cliff; it stays a couple of steps back from the precipice, but remains smooth, which still an excellent place to be for this price.

Arcade Fire’s “Keep The Car Running” is always too harsh to play from my iPhone into my reference system, but with the irDAC, this track comes through with greater ease. Barry White’s “I’ve Got So Much To Give” is the definition of smooth, and the Arcam presents it naturally, never sounding harsh or overly digital. Not so long ago, this level of musicality used to cost a lot more. You may not be able to tell whether the cymbal is located 6 or 6.5 inches from the center of the mix, but you’ll appreciate the presentation nonetheless.

Playing the Bill Evans Trio, the irDAC sounds relaxed, but it still gets the essence and energy of the high-frequency content in “Swedish Pastry.” Throughout the At Shelly’s Manne-Hole recording, the piano is easy and laid back, much like the club it was recorded in, and the irDAC resolves enough detail to pick up the distant voices in the audience.

When it’s either/or, this reviewer always prefers a natural presentation to the final bit of resolution. The last time our staff was this smitten with an inexpensive DAC was the Neko Audio D100 (priced at about $1,100), making the irDAC an absolute steal for $700. Portraying the nuances in Elvis Costello’s “Veronica,” the irDAC is nipping at the heels of my current reference, the Simaudio 300D.

Between the balance of the harp and the deep notes of the horn in Sinatra’s “Nice ’n‘ Easy,” or the delicacy of the clarinet and oboe lushly presented in Beethoven’s Ninth, the irDAC’s complete absence of shrillness allows hours of non-fatiguing listening—something budget DACs never used to be capable of.

How non-fatiguing is the irDAC’s sound? A nearly eight-hour eulogy-writing marathon that should have left me alternating between music and silence instead triggers a relaxed flood of creativity. And I find myself digging deeper into my digital jazz collection.

With the irDAC, the lossless streaming service TIDAL sounds just as terrific from my MacBook music server as it does from my iPhone, via the iPod port. The irDAC and the $20-per-month TIDAL service is a fantastic combination for those craving good sound and a large music library on a limited budget. The ability to access the digital signal from an iDevice is a major bonus. A friend comes over with a few tracks on his iPhone, and we’re listening within moments. Sadly, the Arcam does not recognize the iPod Classic, a mainstay of many audiophiles, so perhaps the company will address this in a future firmware update.

Oftentimes, products in the sub-$1,000 category come with “yes, but” at the end of the review. This is not the case with the Arcam irDAC; it performs all the critical functions with ease and provides every input type necessary for complete digital integration. It’s so good that our publisher has decided to purchase the irDAC as TONE’s reference in the sub-$1,000 category—and we happily give it our first Exceptional Value Award of 2015.  -Mark Marcantonio

Arcam irDAC


EgglestonWorks Emma Loudspeakers

Great things come from Memphis. It’s the BBQ capitol of the world. Elvis is from Memphis. My wife is from Memphis. And the Eggleston Emmas are from Memphis. Though the price of gasoline and big screen TVs keeps going down, speakers seem to be getting more expensive all the time, so it’s refreshing to hear a pair of speakers that cover all the bases for $3,995.

Of course, my priorities are warped, and I’m sure we’ll get plenty of sniping about “considering a $4,000 pair of speakers affordable,” but I do. In a world of six-figure speakers, four grand for a pair that accomplish this much is a major bargain. Infected Mushroom’s latest release, Friends on Mushrooms, proves that these little southern belles can rock the house, even with a modest amplifier—in this case, a 35-watt-per-channel PrimaLuna ProLogue Four sporting a set of EL34 output tubes. Wow, wow, wow! Wu-Tang’s “Ruckus in B Minor” has plenty of boom (the record, not the speaker) and though the mix is somewhat compressed and harsh, the Emmas can cope, even at high volume, keeping the mix intact; it never sounds pushed or polite, with the speakers reproducing only what’s on the recording.

Slowing it down a bit with She & Him’s “This Girl’s in Love with You” reveals the delicate side of the Emmas, which do a smashing job of exposing inner detail and female vocal texture. Even a really shitty-sounding record like the Aquadolls’ Stoked on You proves palatable with the Emmas as a conduit; they wring every bit of information out of this playful yet dreadfully compressed exercise in slightly surf punk.

If the Shoes Fit, Find a Dress to Match

As I’ve said time and again, all you need to enjoy music is a Tidal subscription, your smartphone and a pair of earbuds. Sure, a few hundred well-spent bucks will get you an old receiver and a great pair of vintage speakers—but if you really want to unravel what’s lurking deep in your recordings (and get a glimpse at what the folks with mega systems are hearing), you’re going to have to shell out some money.

I won’t call $10K a point of diminishing returns; it’s more like the point where the excitement begins in earnest. Yes, that is serious money, but it’s no more than what a six-year-old Harley Davidson or a 10-year-old Miata would set you back. And unless you live in a really sunny area, you’ll probably spend a lot more time listening to your audio system than you’ll spend riding a Harley or driving a Miata with the top down.

Though I feel every part of a system is equally important, I’ve always been a firm believer in making the speakers the first major component purchase, because they interact with your environment more than anything else. There’s no point in blowing a fortune on source components and amplification if you can’t buy speakers that keep up with the rest of the system. In a perfect world, I’d suggest finding the speakers you love first, spending as much as you can, and then building the rest of the system around them.

Also in a perfect world, a manufacturer’s time and money spent on researching ultra-high-performance machines trickle down to the hardware the rest of us can afford. EgglestonWorks builds some major speakers—like its Andra IIIs, which are used in recording and mastering studios around the world and as reference speakers at hi-fi shows.

Having heard the Andras numerous times (and being a big fan), I was shocked when I heard the Emmas last summer at the Newport Beach hi-fi show. When EgglestonWorks’ principle Jim Thompson demoed the speakers, I was expecting a $10K-to-$12k price tag and couldn’t believe that they were only $3,995. I don’t usually get fooled to this extent, but the more time I spend listening to the Emmas, the more I’m convinced that they are one of those rare components that perform well beyond what is normally offered at a given price.

Simple Setup

With a footprint of only 7.5 by 14 inches—less than the majority of stand-mounted monitors—the Emmas occupy little floor space, and at about 3.4 feet tall, they place the tweeter at ear height for most listeners when seated. Thanks to a 4-ohm nominal impedance and 91-dB sensitivity, the Emmas don’t require much power to sing. The 20 wpc from either my Nagra 300B push-pull amplifier or 845 SET does the job nicely. EgglestonWorks does not provide a “maximum power” spec for these speakers, which are able to play incredibly loud without distortion—a hallmark of the company’s monitor speakers. I can’t imagine needing more than 100 wpc of clean power to achieve high sound-pressure levels with these speakers.

Thanks to considerable vertical and horizontal dispersion, the Emmas are not terribly room dependent, nor are they tough to get sounding good quickly, even if you have an environment that doesn’t allow optimum placement. I’m able to achieve excellent results in both my small (11-by-14-foot) and large (16-by-24-foot) rooms, though for obvious reasons it’s a little bit trickier to achieve a balance of bass extension and imaging in the small room. That being said, I would still not shy away from using the Emmas in a small room, and with their efficiency, you certainly won’t need much amplifier power.

As with every speaker we audition, achieving bass balance in the room is paramount, with everything else usually falling into place once the speaker is locked in. In the large room, the Emmas end up about 8 feet apart and slightly toed-in, while in the small room, they are only about 6 feet apart with no toe-in and GIK 242 panels at the first reflection points. After about an hour of jiggling the speakers back and forth, I install the machined spikes for the final bit of room synergy.

The speakers’ two 6-inch woofers move a lot of air, with a lot of speed. Thomas Dolby’s “My Brain Is Like a Sieve” proves instrumental in finding the perfect sweet spot of maximum bass output without sacrificing soundstage width and depth. Once optimized, the Emmas disappear into the room as easily as our little KEF LS50s, but with a lot more full-range heft.

The current Aphex Twin album, Syro, doesn’t have a single sound that could be considered accurate, but its electronic wonder (if you’re an Aphex Twin fan, that is) is a massive ball of electronic effects, showing off the spatial abilities of the Emmas to full effect. Yes, violins sound great played through the Emmas too, but they also can create a huge musical landscape—especially in a moderate-sized room, again fooling you into thinking that these are much more expensive speakers.

The Emmas’ fit and finish is at the top of the class. While these don’t have the Aston Martin–like finish of a pair of Wilson speakers, they still have a smoother paint job than my neighbors new C-Class Mercedes. The Emmas we have in for review come in a gorgeous olive-brown color that has everyone arguing whether it is actually green or brown. Of course, white, black and silver are also available.

Relax and Enjoy

To recap, with the Emmas for four grand, you won’t get the same performance as with EgglestonWorks’ flasghip Audra IIIs, which offer a level of resolution that you’ll have to spend the big bucks to get; there’s no free lunch in the world of high-end audio. However, what they have done at EgglestonWorks with the Emmas is make some very intelligent choices. If you don’t need the massive dynamic swing that the Emmas’ larger siblings provide, and can live with a bit less bass extension and high-frequency dreaminess, you’ll be amazed at how close the Emmas come in a modest-sized room at moderate to less than ear-splitting levels.

The Emmas are so easy to set up, drive and pair with ancillary components that they will be the last part of your system you’ll ever feel the need to upgrade. And if you never feel the need to spend $50K on a hi-fi system, they could easily be the last pair of speakers you’ll ever need.

I’m keeping the review pair for my home system, and I believe that’s the highest compliment I can pay them. And we are awarding the Emmas one of our first Exceptional Value Awards for the year, too. These are great speakers.

EgglestonWorks Emma Loudspeakers

$3,995 per pair

Kickstart(er) Our Heart and a PRINT Issue

Many readers have told us we should put the magazine in print. With your help and support we going for it! You have always come to us for content, so it’s time we come to you. Today, we went live with a new Kickstarter campaign to fund a special 10th Anniversary Print Issue this Fall, and another issue in April 2016.  Please consider an $8 pledge to get both copies, shipping included anywhere in the world. Also, we will greatly appreciate your help spreading the word!

What makes the Anniversary issue special, you ask? Well, it will be our biggest issue ever, at over 250 pages. Unlike all the other issues in our history, these print issues will *not* be available for download, so make sure you don’t miss out on the action!

We have a $20,000 funding goal in order to make this a reality. So we really do need your help. Please share our Kickstarter link on your own social media pages, and encourage your audio-loving friends to do the same.

Here’s that magical URL for ease of copying it:

Thanks for supporting TONEAudio for all these years. It’s hard to believe a decade has passed since our first issue.

Best regards

Jeff Dorgay, Publisher

Waxahatchee – Ivy Trip

Katie Crutchfield, who performs under the guise of Waxahatchee, is what it might sound like if a bundle of nerves could talk.

On her group’s third and most structured album, Ivy Tripp, the Alabama native takes stock of circumstances, possibilities, and worries from close-up perspectives informed by first-hand experience and imagined scenarios. Dealing with relationships and expectations, Crutchfield addresses themes to which most 20- and 30-somethings can easily relate in a clever fashion largely free of irony yet loaded with sharp-tongued directness. She navigates the balance between keeping her distance and getting intimate, and when accusations fly, doesn’t spare herself from blame.

While Crutchfield observes love from a cautionary stance, she refrains from viewing it with a jaundiced eye. Since the band’s 2013 breakout and largely solo-based Cerulean Salt, she’s also gained more confidence, which is on display throughout the more put-together record. Waxahatchee’s lo-fi roots remain visible, yet many songs call for a full band, and some even rock out with the four-on-the-floor beats and dynamic thrusts. Each claims ownership of a subtle hook or wordless melody. Crutchfield’s modest country-tinged voice emerges as a fuller instrument, too, with her phrasing weaving between dips and divots created by spare bass lines, humming organs, and stair-climbing percussion.

Against raw and exposed arrangements, the vocalist often seems as if she’s singing thoughts to a best friend or delivering a break-up notice to an ex amidst the commotion at a bar. And where Crutchfield could appear overly fragile and insecure on past efforts, the 26-year-old comes across with deeper maturity and self-assuredness here. She’s still confessional, openly vulnerable, and occasionally sad, yet she also expresses unmistakable determination and punk-derived toughness.

“You’re less than me/I am nothing,” she repeats on the fuzz-coated scrawl of “<,” demonstrating both the will to knock herself down a notch and float above the ruinous fray of a wrecked romance. On the chiming bash-and-pop of “Under a Rock,” Crutchfield confronts insatiability and expendability as she evaluates her role and future. Similarly unflinching, the beautifully minimalist piano ballad “Half Moon” reflects the vocalist’s penchant to evaluate states of affairs with painful honesty. “Our love tastes like sugar/But it pours all the life out of me,” she sighs in a tattered tone, resigned to accepting loss and moving on.

Indeed, Ivy Tripp might be pockmarked with moments of despondency and uncertainty, yet the record never wallows in despair. Crutchfield often gives reason for optimism in spite of outlying challenges. She takes space to locate her bearings on the rubbery “Poison,” admits a need for companionship the deceivingly innocent “La Loose,” and relishes peacefulness on the acoustic “Summer of Love,” a devotional tune accented with the natural sounds of the outdoors and a barking dog.

“I’m not trying to have it all,” Crutchfield sing-states with authoritativeness on the back-and-forth emotional teeter-totter that is “Breathless,” before closing the serious dirge with a frolicking la-la-la coda that could’ve been pulled straight out of the hills scene in The Sound of Music. It’s the mounting echo of an intelligent artist that may not know exactly what she wants, but who realizes sorting through anxieties ultimately lead to finding one’s identity. —Bob Gendron

Purchase this on vinyl from Music Direct HERE…

And STREAM it from our friends at TIDAL HERE…

Dali Epicon 8 Speakers – Preview

A recent visit to the Dali factory in Denmark revealed a nearly 250,000 square foot facility full of highly skilled workers dedicated to every aspect of loudspeaker design and construction.  The stylish cabinets and sophisticated drive units are all built and tested in house.  And the result in their flagship speaker is stunning.  These speakers sound as wonderful as they look, perhaps better. Dali calls the Epicon 8 a “3 + half-way” system, utilizing a ribbon supertweeter for the uppermost segment of the frequency spectrum.

Unlike most other speaker manufacturers, who usually cross the ribbon tweeter over at a much lower level (usually in the 4,000 – 5,000hz range) Dali crosses their supertweeter over at a nearly inaudible 15,000 hz level, eliminating the LF breakup and brittleness often associated with ribbon tweeter based design.  The result is brilliant, with a smoothness we’ve never heard from a speaker of this nature.  Our review will be live shortly, along with a chronicle of our factory visit. – Jeff Dorgay

Dali Epicon 8 Speakers


WireWorld Pulse 2 interconnects – Preview

Wanna make that $1,400 Astell & Kern player sound a lot better?  Grab the new WireWorld Pulse 2.  In a world of mega expensive cable, that everyone loves to complain about, a mere $40 will take the sound of your portable player to a new level, whether you are using it in a high performance automotive system or just plugging into your home system. The same can be said for the $116 headphone cable, which we are using with excellent result on our OPPO PM-1 headphones.

WireWorld takes their designs seriously, using the best materials and assembly.  They produce some of the world’s finest cables, yet the Pulse 2 combines their capabilities in a cable that is accessible and affordable.  We’ve yet to hear such a modestly priced cable make such a big difference. Now, let’s go out on our favorite internet forum and argue about it!

WireWorld Pulse 2 interconnects

$40, $116

Harman Kardon 730

When I was graduating from high school in 1976, what I wanted most was a Harman Kardon 730, a pair of JBL L100s and a Technics SL1200 turntable.  That was my dream system.  The 730 went for about $400, the JBL’s slightly more and the Technics with a Shure M91ED around $350, so for about $1,200 you could put together a pretty rocking system. Revisiting the 730 with a pair of L100s and my somewhat geeked out SL1200, I’m still amazed at just how musical, valid and relevant this combination sounds.

Perusing my favorite internet forums, the 730 is described as warm by some and dark by others.  Through both the JBL L100s, L26s and the contemporary Dali Rubicon 2s, I’d call the 730 just right.  Yes it is a bit on the warm side, but for vintage solid state, I’ll take this any day over the Pioneer, Sansui and Kentwood’s of the day.  I’d even give this one a nod to the receivers in my stable from Marantz with similar power ratings.

Don’t let the 40-watt per channel rating fool you.  Truly dual mono in construction, with two separate power transformers and power amplifier boards, the 730 renders stereo images like crazy.  Connecting the system together with modestly priced AudioQuest cable (which is light years beyond the crap we had in the 70s) and plugging into a Running Springs Haley power conditioner takes this vintage ride into the current century with a sound that easily outperforms any of the $500 – $600 integrated amplifiers you might buy today.  And they don’t usually include a phono stage or a tuner.

Even though the 730 has relatively modest tuner specs, here in Portland, Oregon it pulled in quite a few stations, near and far, along with delivering incredibly good fidelity.  Should you be living in an area with decent radio stations you will be pleasantly surprised at just how good plain old FM radio can still sound.  And if you have this experience, Sirius XM will be an even more dreadful experience than it is now.

Pairing up our Thorens TD-125, refurbished by Vinyl Nirvana and an Ortofon 2M Black and SME 3009 makes for a spectacular analog experience that reveals more music than I ever remember this receiver capable of back in the 70s.  Low and high frequency extension is excellent, painted on top of an incredibly quiet background, again proving that a nice mix of new and old technology can be a good thing indeed.

The tweakasaurus that can’t leave well enough alone can bypass the circuit breakers protecting the output devices, resulting in more transparency but less margin for error.  Should you go down this path an accidental crossing of the speaker terminals will fry the output stage.  Local vintage dude, Kurt Doslu from Echo Audio in Portland, Oregon warns that the output stages were somewhat prone to failure anyway, but that the semiconductors are still readily available.  While you’ve got the hood open, I suggest doing a full recap (or at least the power supply) and keep this one around forever.  Another weakness in the 730, as with all 70s receivers is the fuse type dial lights.  If the one you’ve found or purchased has functioning lights, never fear, they will fail soon.  A set of green LED replacements will save you the frustration of future disassembly.  The red, lighted power switch is another story – take that to a professional unless you are a champion at the game Operation.

The manual states that the 730 can power 8-16 ohm speakers, but can even power one pair of 4-ohm speakers without problem and the 91db Eggleston Emma speakers in for review turn in a pleasing performance.  Though not able to drive them with true potency, the 730 is able to push a pair of Magnepan MMGs to a decent background level.

With parts readily available, strive for a unit with as close to perfect cosmetics as possible.  Capacitors are relatively easy to find and replace, a front panel, not so much.  A beater 730 can go for as little as $50, while a mint example shouldn’t cost more than $200.  Plan on spending about that much again to make it perfect electrically, if you have a great vintage technician at your disposal and considerably less if you are a proficient DIY’er.

Whichever way your journey takes you, the Harman Kardon 730 will make an excellent cornerstone to an enjoyable system while keeping within a reasonable budget. – Jeff Dorgay

Gryphon Kalliope DAC – PREVIEW

Flemming Rassmussen builds some of the most technologically advanced audio components in the world and some of the most beautiful.  The casework, bathed in black with its fine extrusions only hint at the miracle inside. Able to accommodate every kind of digital file now available, the Kalliope takes no prisoners.

We’ve just finished the photos and begun critical listening, but it’s instantly apparent that the Kalliope is something special indeed, even at first blush it is one of the finest DACs we’ve had the pleasure to audition.  With effortless dynamics (thanks in part to 12 farads of reserve in the power supply) and a complete lack of graininess, the Kalliope makes you look at your turntable and think why bother?  Review in process.

Gryphon Kalliope DAC


Octave HP700 Preamplifier – PREVIEW

Some of you might freak out that the HP700 features tone controls, but Octave has included those and more in their flagship HP700 Preamplifier.  Like their Phonomodule we reviewed a couple of years ago, the HP700 takes a modular approach, offering a wide variety of phono modules, RCA and XLR input modules and RCA or balanced XLR output modules, allowing you to customize it to your system.

Basically a vacuum tube design, the HP700 utilizes an enormous, external power supply, sophisticated voltage regulation and soft start circuits, with Octave claiming a 20 year life for the tubes. Electrical, mechanical and aesthetic design are beyond reproach, making the HP700 a true destination preamplifier.  A perfect companion for their sublime Jubilee monoblocks. Full review in process.

Octave HP700 Preamplifier


GamuT M250i Mono Power Amplifiers

It’s my turn to get in on all the GamuT fun. Our publisher has been using GamuT speakers for years now and managing editor Rob Johnson is smitten with the D3i preamplifier.

Of the few manufacturers that build a full complement of electronics and speakers, they voice things differently. Burmester, for example, produces speakers that are somewhat forward, punchy and a little tipped up on the bottom and the top, yet the electronics are very warm sounding, almost tube-like, though fully solid-state.

GamuT however, is somewhat different. The speakers have an incredibly natural voice, and the electronics even more so. Even though their electronics and speakers produce perfect synergy, as you might expect because their components are much more neutral, tonally speaking, you do not have to have an all-GamuT system to achieve great results. Though you just might want to for simplicity’s sake.

Like the average Dane, the M250i is slim. 84 pounds (38kg) is substantial, but not what you’d expect a 250-watt per channel (into an 8 ohm load) that doubles into 4 ohms and still produces 900 watts into 2 ohms. Lifting the cover with the GamuT logo, it’s easy to see why; the power supply is huge! Unlike some solid-state amplifiers that require a huge bank of output devices to produce high power, GamuT uses two really big MOSFET transistors per channel, capable of passing 400 peak amperes of current each. Naim also takes this approach with their 500 series amplifier and the result is very special. Two transistors means no device matching is necessary, with none of the associated problems. Less is more.

While on that subject, the M250i has an interesting bit of simplicity or complexity, depending on how you look at it. On the rear panel, there are two sets of speaker outputs that you might mistake to use to bi-wire a pair of speakers. Don’t do it. One has a traditional resistor and coil output filter, as many solid state amplifiers do, more suited to ESL speakers and those with more difficult impedance loads, while the other outputs (the ones closer to the heatsinks) are direct coupled outputs. GamuT claims that either way, you can’t hurt these amplifiers, but I did follow their lead when using my pair of Quad 63s.

Inputs are via RCA or balanced XLR, and this is a fully balanced amplifier, so that mode will provide the best results. It’s worth mentioning that it is tough to tell the difference in sound using the ARC REF5 preamplifier, which sounds equally good through it’s balanced, and RCA outputs––and I have equally impressive results with my CJ Act Two preamplifier, which is RCA only.

Danes are usually somewhat reserved, but the GamuT manual is not only well written but also pretty amusing to read. They make great points about setup, cables and gain, mentioning that “at 4 ohms, full output power is more than 151,000,000,000,000,000 times larger than the input noise power.” A cursory listen confirms that these monoblocks are indeed quiet.

Not only does this provide a fatigue-free sound, but I’m sure this simple design contributes to another wonderful aspect of the M250i: it sounds incredible at low volume. Amplifier genius and mad scientist Nelson Pass likes to say that if the first watt isn’t great, the rest don’t matter. The M250i exemplifies this philosophy. Make no mistake, when you want to crank AC/DC or Skrillex, the M250i is fully capable. The cannon shots at the end of “For Those About to Rock” are awesome and have the necessary “crack” upon ignition without blur.

Mated to my Vandersteen 5A speakers, which are just slightly warm tonally, the M250i proves a perfect match for the rest of my system, utilizing an Audio Research REF 5 preamplifier. For decades I’ve been a fan of a great tube preamplifier mated to a powerful solid-state power amplifier to reap the rewards of both. The M250i does not disappoint in any way.

Never edgy or strident, the M250i’s feel a little foggy when powered up from ice cold. They only draw 50 watts in standby mode, so unless your energy habits have you immersed in guilt, I say leave them plugged in all the time. Otherwise, expect about 30 minutes before they reach full capability.

Unless you have the world’s most inefficient speakers, your ears will run out of headroom before the M250is will. Even listening at brain damage levels, these amplifiers do not run overly hot, so you will not be able to heat your listening room with them. Even after exhausting my record collection, I find it impossible to overdrive or overheat the GamuT amplifiers. I am most impressed at how they fail to draw any attention to themselves – they merely let the music flow.

What I do notice is the way these amplifiers render the finest of detail without ever sounding harsh, strident, or particularly solid-state in character. Well-worn recordings feel brand new again. A TONE favorite, the Crash Test Dummies’ Give Yourself a Hand, is full of sonic surprises. With extra overdubs and little vocal anomalies floating all around my listening area, it is almost like consuming something illegal. The only thing I didn’t really get to explore was the depth of the M250i’s bass response, as my Vandersteens only need the main power amplifier to go down to 80hz. But our publisher put them to the full test.

Spending way too much time with the entire Neu! catalog offers up the same results with jangly guitars and driving rythym in full force. Not happy to stop there, a couple of evening’s worth of Eno’s Ambient series, finishing up with the classic Ambient 1: Music For Airports is marvelous. Eno’s gentle touch on the keyboard is even more delicate than I remember, with decay that seems to go on forever. Even this vacuum tube lover finds plenty to love here, and it really has me considering a pair for myself, especially in light of just having bought 16 KT120 tubes!

The GamuT amplifiers are a statement product, and for all but the most insane audiophile, should easily be the last power amplifiers you’ll need to buy. They offer musical delight with no negatives whatsoever. Enthusiastically recommended.

Additional listening – Going all GamuT

After discussing the performance of the GamuT M250i amplifiers with Rob and Jerold, we all agree that they stand on their own as world-class power amplifiers. In the context of tube and solid-state systems, they integrate easily into whatever components you happen to be using. Thanks to their high current capability, they drive any speaker with ease. Though class AB in design, their lack of grain reminds me of a class-A amplifier, or the Burmester 911.

The M250is join a very elite group of solid-state amplifiers that just reveal music, not really sounding like transistor amplifiers or vacuum tubes. As one of the few manufacturers that can successfully build electronics and speakers with equal prowess, a complete GamuT system is wonderful. And for someone wanting an incredibly high performance audio system without the anxiety of trying to choose the right amp, preamp, speakers and digital player, I suggest an all-GamuT system. Complete the system with a set of their power cords, interconnects and speaker cables – one stop shopping!

Mated with their preamplifier and the recently reviewed RS5 speakers provides a highly compelling and dynamic system that can play anything you can throw at it with ease. Mixing it up with different amplification proves more different than better or worse. The Audio Research GSPre and GS150 offer up a bit more holographic, three dimensional presentation, while the mighty Pass Xs Pre and Xs300 monoblocks present a slightly warmer tonal balance and a little more slam. Keep in mind that these are hairsplitting differences; you won’t go wrong either way.

Of course the M250is sound lovely with my reference GamuT RS5 and S9 speakers. I’ve heard the M250is at a number of trade shows, and the match with GamuT speakers is as close to perfection as it gets. Just as these monoblocks work well in tandem with other preamplifiers and source components, they should be able to drive anything. Torturing them with Quad, MartinLogan and Acoustat ESLs is a breeze, and they work equally well with the Epicon 8s from Dali we recently had in for review as well as the Dynaudio Evidence Platinum speakers. I even lugged them to a friend’s house with a pair of old Apogee Divas! Nothing presents a problem to these high current powerhouses.

Because Mr. O’Brien’s Vandersteen 5A’s are passively crossed over at 80Hz, I spent quite a bit of time examining the bass character of the M250is. Whether I was enjoying “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Bitch Better Have My Money,” these amplifiers provide weight, control and fine detail. A perfect balance is struck in texture, never under nor overdamped, something that is easy to notice with speakers like the GamuTs, which reproduce ultra low bass with ease, and often a hallmark of massive solid-state amplifiers.

Great as the M250is are with GamuT speakers, they are particularly good with the current Quad 2815s too. These speakers are mercilessly revealing and finicky to get good sound from, yet the GamuT amplifiers deliver a presentation that is smooth and dynamic, along with being controlled and forceful in the lower register––something not easy to achieve with the Quads. The thundering bass line in Bowie’s classic “Fashion” was wonderful to experience, yet in the middle of the dissonant piano solo in “Aladdin Sane,” the bass line is well articulated, holding its own space brilliantly between the keyboard and Bowie’s vocal. These are indeed special amplifiers, no matter what speakers you own and whatever your musical choices might be.

-Jeff Dorgay

The GamuT M250i Monoblock Amplifiers



Analog Source             SME20 turntable/SMEV Tonearm, Sumiko Palo Santos cartridge

Digital Source Simaudio MOON 750D

Phonostage                  Audio Research REF Phono 2

Preamplifier                Audio Research REF 5

Cable                           Nordost Frey

Speakers                      Vandersteen 5A