AkitikA GT-102 power amplifier Page 2

I played this setup every day and never once questioned its verity, charm, or competence. It sounded so detailed and lively that I had zero motivation to swap out the XA25 for the GT-102. I mean, jeez Louise—should I even bother to drive a $7700 pair of speakers with a $488 amp? How could a lowly kit possibly compare to the most dynamic-, true-, transparent-sounding amp I'd ever used?

I wrote the above paragraph only minutes after making the swap. Now, as I type this paragraph, I'm listening to "The Transritualistic Object Reveals Itself," from percussionists David Philipson and Mark Nauseef's Venus Square Mars: Music for the Deep Night, with the late Hamza El-Din, master of oud and tar (CD, M•A Recordings M028A). (This is one of the compositions featured in the video mentioned above.) I can hear the Paiste Sound Creation gongs, Carl Orff mallet instruments, 1964 Slingerland snare drum, and the "well-oxidized" (as it says in the credits), 22" Zildjian cymbal sounding weighty, deliriously spatial, and with tone to die for. Philipson's bamboo flutes with paper membranes float airy, pensive, antique melodies over the deep, rolling bass power of Chinese drums. It is a wow moment, and I don't know if you will or should believe me, but with this recording, I'm not 100% sure I don't prefer the gentler, warmer, darker sound of AkitikA's little black box over the burnished, hypertransparent authority of the Pass XA25.

The most obvious difference between the XA25 and GT-102 was that the Pass delivers a soundstage filled with 10am sunlight, while the AkitikA's stage is lit by something akin to a twilight in which the entire landscape sinks into a penumbra, and instrumental forms acquire halos.


The GT-102's sound was distinctly warm, but not fuzzy-coloration warm. The Pass XA25 probably leans 5% on the cool side of my conception of a neutral sound, while the AkitikA snuggles in about 10% on the warm side. Compared to the XA25, the GT-102 sounded less sharp but more supple—and it didn't have as much power, which gave it less punch, clarity, and weight, along with significantly less midrange presence and transparency.

With the Magnepan .7
My 47 Laboratory 4706 Gaincard was definitely current-limited into loudspeakers of low impedance. I was curious to hear if the AkitikA GT-102 could crank up the Magnepan .7 (nominal impedance: 4 ohms) quasi-ribbon speakers without sounding dull or mushy.

At first, listening to the combo of AkitikA GT-102 and Magnepan .7s was enjoyable. I kept noticing how rich and bouncy it sounded as I played a complete set of Beethoven's sonatas and variations for cello and piano (2 SACD/CDs, Channel Classics CCS SA 22605). Rhythms and momentums seemed 90% there. Pieter Wispelwey's cello had good swing, and Dejan Lazic's piano delivered countless dynamic moments, from the subtle to the Åberpunchy, but the Maggies sounded as if someone had draped a thin blanket over them. The presence range was tonally rich, but everything above 3kHz and below 100Hz sounded dull and distant.

The entire Pulp Fiction soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-11103) sounded mildly distorted. Leading edges of transients were blunted, and forward momentum felt restrained. But! Bruce Willis's talking in "Zed's Dead, Baby" sounded extraordinarily textural and surprisingly lifelike. The more closely I listen to amps driving speakers, the more I notice that midranges with moderately elevated levels of harmonic distortion tend to generate an acute sense of tonal realism and intelligibility with spoken-word recordings. I wonder why that is.

With the KEF LS50
It was obvious from the start that KEF's LS50, also with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, got on well with the AkitikA GT-102. This pleased me immensely, because their combined cost is less than $2000.

The Dead Weather's Horehound (love that title) is the audiophile version of a canary in a coalmine (CD, Third Man/Warner Bros. 2-519785). When Jack White's guitar distortion itself sounds distorted—muddy, thick, noncrystalline—you know your amp and speakers are struggling. The GT-102 plowed its way neatly into and all the way through every cut on Horehound with no trace of smear or mud. Their cover of Dylan's "New Pony" had full, raving boogie factor and LSD-spiderweb detail. Lower-midrange sounds, such as male voices, were a touch rounder at the edges than through the Pass XA25 or Bel Canto Design REF600M monoblocks, but very close in overall tonality to Nelson Pass's First Watt J2, my solid-state reference for natural, balanced tone. Through the LS50s, the AkitikA delivered Dead Weather in a manner I can describe only as forceful and crystalline.

Soundstage dimensionality and fresh, open-air transparency are traits I've never associated with low-cost, solid-state amplifiers other than the Pass Labs XA25 ($4000), which excels at those traits. I love the sound of room tone and lifelike spatiality so that, in the under-$5000 range, I usually recommend simple, low-feedback, tubed amplifiers like the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium ($2199) or the Line Magnetic LM-518 IA ($4400). For a budget solid-state amp, the AkitikA GT-102 produced extraordinarily deep, wide soundstages and enjoyably lucid transparency—very much like the PrimaLuna's. In fact, with the KEF LS50s, the AkitikA sounded enough like my 35Wpc, EL34-tubed ProLogue Premium that, in a casual, unsighted audition, I might mistake one for the other, mainly because of their similar midrange tonality, bas-relief instrumental textures, focused imaging, and shadowy soundstages.

The AkitikA GT-102 and KEF LS50s displayed such an assured gymnastic personality that I had no desire to change loudspeakers. Nonetheless . . .

With the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a
Just when I thought I'd found the perfect amp-speaker partnership, I discovered an even better one: the AkitikA GT-102 driving Falcon Acoustics' revealing LS3/5a ($2995/pair). I judge all audio components by how they play solo piano. For piano, I need solid but not hard. I need delicately insightful reproduction that allows acoustic forces and rhythmic shifts to be marvelous to behold. I need to hear the keystrokes, pedaling, wooden soundboards, and microphones on stands. I want to be in the presence of a big, expressive music machine. I want to sense the spirits of pianist and composer. With the AkitikA driving the Falcons and Samson François playing three CDs' worth of Debussy's music for solo piano (Erato 638754 2), I got all of that—especially the rhythm shifts and a feeling for the composer's intentions.

Playing a variety of solo-piano discs, I compared the GT-102 with the less powerful but sevenfold-more-costly PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium. The AkitikA seemed to emphasize the extreme ends of the keyboard; the PrimaLuna emphasized the presence region.

The AkitikA and PrimaLuna sounded a lot alike driving the KEF LS50s; they sounded a lot different driving the 15-ohm Falcon LS3/5a's. The GT-102 made the Falcons sound fatter, deeper, fuller; the PrimaLuna made them sound leaner, brighter, more transparent—but also more taut and solid.

I suspect the main reason the ProLogue Premium and GT-102 sounded so different was not an issue of tubes vs op-amps, but the way their power supplies interacted with the Falcons' impedance, which is far higher than the norm.

The AkitikA's No.1 strength with the Falcons was how attractively it rendered the complex harmonic structures of such instruments as saxophone, harmonica, violin, and marimba. Nevertheless, the PrimaLuna's EL34 tubes took men's and women's voices several steps further in clarity, luminosity, and presence, and the Falcons made those differences very easy to hear. With the AkitikA, my reference Falcons sounded superbly detailed and harmonically enhanced. And the bass was better than ever.

The AkitikA GT-102 answers several age-old audiophile questions. First and foremost, can a peasant-priced power amp dance with a princess or dine with a king? The GT-102 proved that it can. But when the AkitikA hobnobs with such audio royalty as the Joseph Audio Pulsar, does its fantastic ratio of price to performance suggest that expensive audiophile amplifiers are overpriced?

I think not. Oversize, low-impedance power transformers, current-wrangling power supplies, nonresonant enclosures, high-quality jacks and binding posts, and isolating footers all cost extra to build and ship. Nor are dealers, marketing, and advertising free. For $488, the AkitikA GT-102 delivers 60 extremely satisfying musical watts direct from the factory, without those expensive extras—and it's available as a kit for even less.

Building kits is fun—it makes you a wiser, smarter, more spiritual person—and DIY forums are the best of all audio forums. When you plug in your finished project for the first time and music starts playing, Voilà! Your hands will shake and your chest will swell. Are you ready for that? Super-highly recommended.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Goes to show more money can't always buy more happiness ..............

hifiluver's picture

...but for the same money you can buy even better.

Ortofan's picture

... to delete the output coupling capacitor and lower the output impedance?

Jason P Jackson's picture

How could that be? I'm building one.

Oh I see, It's a 1k sine. Still, nice measurements.

Anton's picture

Great glimpse!

trmntr03's picture

I have a DAL Audio 3875 Chip Retro Amp, purchased used (virtually new, though) at Audiogon about 9 months ago at $158 ($350 new then, now at $400 new) for my 2nd system, and I can't be happier. It is build to the order in the U.S. They also make 3886 amp at the same price. Anyway, now I am a firm believer of the well-designed chip amps regardless of the price.

jorgen's picture

Hifiluver can you really?

Ortofan's picture

... for $299 the A-150, which is rated (with both channels driven) at 75 watts RMS per channel into 8 Ohms and 150 watts RMS per channel into 4 Ohms.
For $399, their A-300 is rated (with both channels driven) at 150 watts RMS per channel into 8 Ohms and 300 watts RMS per channel into 4 Ohms.

invaderzim's picture

comparison with those would be great

invaderzim's picture

Herb, you are my new hero for reviewing an amplifier that is sold in kit form.

JRT's picture

Glad to see the review of the kit. Hope to see more like this.

If any reader might be interested in this LM3886 amplifier, I would suggest that they should consider the NeuroChrome line. I am not affiliated with them, only making a suggestion.


thatguy's picture

I'd been looking at the Akitika for about 3 years but kept thinking "it can't be that good".

I'd built a LM3886 based amp that was highly rated before and just wasn't impressed. There wasn't anything wrong with it but I just didn't use it after my initial testing; there wasn't any part of it that drew me into the music with it. I built a TDA7293 that also received praise and it was slightly more enjoyable but nothing great.

I finally just broke down and bought the kit reviewed here and it was fun to build and I really enjoy the sound. I will find myself just sitting and listening to the music; excited to hear the next song and the next....

I probably spent way more on the other chip amps I built from scratch gathering up parts from here and there for them and they never looked as finished as this. They always seemed like bargains when I'd start buying the PCBs and components but then you add the cost of the case, and heatsinks and power supplies and connectors and on and on. By comparison it was great getting everything in one box for one price.

Rbertalotto's picture

Like you, I built tons of Dynaco, Heath and Emco(?) kits when in High School. Built them for myself and anyone that wanted a kit built. My brother in law and I even built a Heathkit TV...But it never worked. I blame my BIL...Terrible with a soldering iron! Anyways, this week I plan on picking up a VTA St120 Dynaco clone tube amplifier kit from Bob Latino...I want to try a tube amplifier in my system. But this under $400 kit has me thinking....Maybe I should just suck it up and do both! Great review...BTW are you aware that there is model for 4 ohm speakers and one for 8 ohm speakers now....Thanks