Audiopax Model Eighty Eight monoblock power amplifier Follow-Up, January 2006
The second power amp I had around for comparison with the $2795 PS Audio GCC-100 was the Audiopax Model Eighty Eight SE, a tubed single-ended pentode monoblock ($10,000/pair) that simulates the sound of single-ended triodes but with more power (see my review in the May 2003 Stereophile, Vol.26 No.5). The relationship between the sounds of the Audiopax and the Avantgarde Uno speakers is a particularly synergistic one—in fact, the Audiopax was originally imported by Avantgarde USA because of that synergy. Again, to control potentially confounding variables, I had both the GCC-100 and the Audiopax plugged into the PS Audio Power Plant P500 set to its TubeWave setting, which is optimized for tube equipment but is also fine for solid-state.
The comparison between the GCC-100 and the Audiopax was fascinating, and highlighted the longstanding argument among audiophiles about "accuracy" vs "musicality." First the basics: The GCC-100, used as a line-level preamp, had no trouble driving the Audiopax. The noise level of this combination was much higher than that of the GCC-100 alone, but almost all of the noise was created by the Audiopax—muting the PSA or switching it to another input had virtually no effect on the noise. This was surprising to me, in that when I reviewed the Audiopax I'd remarked on how relatively quiet it was. I can't account for the difference, other than to say that it may have been due to some sort of ground loop. (I tried some other connections, but with no success.) In any case, in normal listening the noise was apparent only between tracks.
In general terms, both amplifiers were detailed and transparent, with fundamentally neutral tonal presentations. The GCC-100 clearly had greater top and bottom extension and was more obviously dynamic, sounding superior on large-scale orchestral recordings. However, the Audiopax was ahead in its ability to present music in a way that seemed to reduce the electronic artifacts of the recording/playback process, and in its ability to present voices in a way that had a more convincing in-the-room quality. You might say that through the Audiopax recordings sounded "better than they are," whereas the GCC-100 was more "Just the facts, Ma'am."
The original cast recording of Wicked (CD, Decca B0001682-02) was one of my 2005 "Records To Die For" selections (it also won a Grammy), and I consider Stephen Schwartz's score to be the best that Broadway has produced since Ragtime. Idina Menzel (see my interview with her in the December 2004 issue) as the not-so-wicked witch of the title is an enormously talented performer, and despite having listened to her rendition of "The Wizard and I" dozens of times, it still brings tears to my eyes. With the speakers driven by the GCC-100, the vocal and emotional power of the performance was there in full force, but when I changed over to the Audiopax, Idina just seemed more in the room, and the recording sounded less like a recording and more live.
To put this difference in context: The Audiopax does this better than any amplifier of my experience, and the respective costs are vastly different.—Robert Deutsch