At Alpha-Audio we prefer to think of ourselves as down-to-earth music lovers. When you read our reviews, you will notice we are especially charmed by audio equipment that looks ‘unobtrusive’; not flashy, no gimmicks, no bells and whistles. But of course, they have to sound good. Form follows function. But, honestly… we also – secretly – like equipment that looks slick. We currently have two such beauties in the studio, from Denmark’s Gato. Will you follow us into the listening room?
Audio, hi-fi, high end; these are words that come up when we unpack the Gato’s. And we think back to the shows in Munich or, closer to home, in Alkmaar, Tilburg, Veldhoven.
What distinguishes hifi from high end? Just the price tag? In our opinion it is a bit more nuanced. High end means that no compromises have to be made. The price is not a limiting factor. But this is also a flexible concept, because where is the boundary?
We often see that design and choice of materials play a role in high end. Technical excellence wrapped in a beautiful casing. A brand can go to extremes to cater customers that are willing to pay big money for shiny and impressive products. In terms of looks, that is. Sure, it sounds good but the bling seems more important than the sound.
A few years ago we were in at the High End in Munich, entering a booth with humongous cables. The expo area was paved with meters of huge thick, gold-coated hoses. It was as if we had ended up in a movie with aliens. Pricey aliens that is; expect to pay some EUR/USD 100.000 for these fellas.
These kind of experiences biase our judgment of high end audio. We could assert that ± € 10-15,000 for an audio component is an optimum if the price is not an obstacle. If you are able and willing to spend more, then this will be becausee you love the design, the brand or the choice of materials.
Although the name might suggest otherwise, the roots of Gato are not by the Mediterranean Sea but at the Baltic Sea. Denmark is the birthplace of Gato, which was founded in 2007 by Frederik Johansen, Kretsen Dinesen and audio pioneer Poul Rossing. All three previously were connected to brands such as Avance, Thule Audio and GamuT.
Gato produces amplifiers (Pre/power and integrated), CD players, network players and speakers. You can choose from all kinds of combinations; a DAC and preamp (DIA 250S), a six-channel power amplifier (DPA-2506), an integrated amplifier with DAC (DIA-400S) or a CD player with DAC. And there are modules to upgrade your unit to a Roon-ready network player.
The design of all electronic components is in the distinctive horizontal “8-shape” with the top finished in glossy lacquered walnut wood, or black or white.
Among all our highly functional devices in the Alpha studio, the Gato Amp 150 really stands out. What a beauty! It is impressive and engaging at the same time. The rounded shapes and lower centerpiece give the unit a slenderness to which the angular amplifiers, DACs, and streamers that make up our reference set stand out somewhat bleakly.
A Gato system is an ornament in your living room, they would say in decorative stores, and it really is. Especially with the walnut finish and combined with the brushed aluminum, it is very classy. The round glass ornament in the middle completes the design. Is it a clock? A VU meter, the likes of that other high end brand Dan d’Agostino?
The Gato Amp 150 is a classic analog integrated amplifier. On the back we see speaker terminals and from left to right RCA and balanced line outputs (if you use the amplifier (also) as a preamp), a balanced line input and four RCA inputs.
Gato supplies a remote control that works fine. We have to get comfortable with the meaning of the icons, arrows and other symbols on the remote control but we get used to it fairly quickly.
The ‘clock’ in the middle of the Amp 150 is an ingenious combination of volume indication, source selection and status display of the amplifier. It reminds us a bit of Swiss watches that combines all sorts of functions on the face, from a stopwatch to the phases of the moon.
Source selection is indicated by the hand of the clock that rotates with us as we change sources. Volume indication is with numbers in dB. At the bottom we can see if the unit is in Mute, or if the Direct function is activated (the Amp 150 then acts as a power amplifier).
Gato uses a proprietary technique in its amplifiers. They call it TwinFET. This means that two completely identical FET transistors are used as the heart of the amplifier. This should lead to near-perfect accuracy and timing, great amplifier power and a very accurate current curve. It can be compared to a push-pull technique that we also see in tube amplifiers, where one tube amplifies the positive curve and the other the negative. However, tubes have a more limited output power than transistor amplifiers.