Adcom GFA-555 power amplifier

I am reluctant to call any given transistor power amplifier a "best buy" or "breakthrough." From my talks with designers and other audiophiles, it is clear that the state of the art in power amplifiers is about to change. From where I stand, the Adcom GFA-555 is the first sample of this new wave. It is so clearly superior to past amplifiers in the low- to mid-priced range—not to mention most amplifiers two to three times its pric—that I can unhesitatingly recommend it for even the most demanding high end system.

The GFA-555 does everything well, and most things exceptionally well. It provides superb, well-controlled bass with far better speaker load tolerance than most amps. Its midrange and treble are remarkably low in coloration. There is no hint of hardness, and none of the loss of inner detail common to transistor amplifiers.

With the exception of the Krells, I have never heard a more detailed, natural, and extended upper four octaves in a transistor amp. The Adcom may even be a legitimate rival to the Krell; it's brighter and more dynamic; and somewhat more open. And, like the Krell, it gives the impression, on really good material, that the amplifier simply isn't there. Nor is the Adcom romantic or sweet, like New York Audio's new Moscodes. Rather, it offers natural upper-octave detail that the latter miss. Other amplifiers have similar upper-octave performance, but I unhesitatingly recommend the Mcom over the very stiff competition from Tandberg and Threshold.

The Adcom's soundstage is sufficiently superior that even those who claim all power amplifiers sound alike might hear the difference. It comes very close to the better tube power amplifiers in providing detailed, stable, realistic imaging with natural depth. It is not an Audio Research D-250, but is extraordinarily holographic—I suspect almost embarrassingly so. This kind of soundstage has previously cost at least $2000.

I am also highly impressed with this amplifier's dynamics. Once again, it is not going to survive a one-on-one with the Audio Research D-250 or Conrad-Johnson Premier Fives, but it rivals any transistor power amplifier in its power class that I have heard—including high-powered receivers or amps with trick power supplies—at any price. It provides these dynamics into virtually any load without bloat, restriction of sound, or change in timbre. For all the nonsense published by most manufacturers about driving complex loads, this amplifier actually delivers.

The Adcom does not lose sweetness and detail as its power goes up. I am normally leery of transistor amplifiers rated much above 100 watts; they too often blur detail and harmonic information, and this sonic price tag is far more costly than the added power is worth. This does not happen with the Adcom unless the distortion lights are blinking, and they only blink when the amp is delivering well over its rated 200 watts per channel (8 ohms) or 325 watts (4 ohms). By comparison, once-outstanding high power amplifiers like the Hafler DH-500 now sound annoyingly veiled.

With a minor dealer modification, you can even drive 1 ohm loads like the Scintilla. I can't measure whether the Adcom delivers its rated 800 watts per channel into 2 ohms, or 20 amps peak, but I can tell you that it does a superb job of driving this superb speaker. Anything in its price range (or even close) generally changes timbre and degenerates when driving the Scintilla at 1 ohm.

I'm going to have to say a few words about its technology before I give Adcom a swelled head. You'll be happy to note that the manufacturer claims for the GFA-555 a simple gain path, a 700VA toroidal transformer, a well-regulated high current power supply, new ultra-stable bias circuitry, direct coupling, no current limiting, and no output inductor. More substantively, its harmonic shape mixes suitable yinyang while avoiding the curse of pyramidology. This, of course, means that it weighs 34 pounds, has simple rack-mount black styling, pilot lights, warning lights (to indicate distortion levels above 1%), and measures exactly 7 5/16" by 12¼" by 19".

More pragmatically, the technical specifications are significant in that they represent reasonable bandwidth (4Hz-150kHz), damping factor (150-200), gain (27dB), and noise (-106 dB). Of these only the noise specification is outstanding. No attempt is made to beat distortion records: 0.09% THD at rated power into 8 ohms, and 0.25% into 4. I have heard so many power amplifiers with infinitely (well, an order of magnitude) better specifications sound so much worse; this may be the amplifier whose sound could convince Stereo Review, High Fidelity, etc. that their present measurements are virtually worthless.

I suspect that the Adcom is going to force many designers in the $1000-$1500 range to either make radical improvements in their products over the next six months, or look at the possibility of retiring from competition. This is a "must" amplifier to audition before you spring for anything close in price. If the Adcom is simply the first of a whole wave of good amplifiers, it will help revitalize the high end for the average audiophile, and force most manufacturers into more reasonable pricing. Now, Adcom, if you can only come up with a preamp as good!—Anthony H. Cordesman

Company Info
Adcom
8551 E. Anderson Drive, Suite 105
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
(480) 607-2277
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