GamuT CD 1 CD player Page 2

I poured a glass of a wine and cued up Mozart's Flute Quartet in D, K.285, which opens the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's Serenade CD (Stereophile STPH009-2, engineered by JA), and sat back to listen. My first impression was one of an easy vibrance—a rich, flowing sound that seemed to coax the tension out of me. As I melted into the music, I could feel my shoulders lowering, my hands loosening their grips on my chair's arms. The soundstage seemed to envelop me and fill the room, Mozart's lines flowing through it with a liquid-like coherence.

But within this smooth, vibrant presentation, the GamuT was uncovering and reproducing a wealth of inner detail. The lower strings, in particular, were portrayed with a rich complexity and realism. The notes of Peter Wyrick's cello weren't the simple tones that the good budget players provide, but a complex mix of distinct sounds: A clean, resinous string tone anchored and was surrounded by deep, woody resonances that propagated outward from the cello's body.

Compared to players like the Parasound CDP-1000 or the other relatively inexpensive units, there was just a lot more going on with the GamuT. True, at $2999 the CD 1 is substantially more expensive than the Parasound, Arcams, or Ultech, but the difference is buying a proportionate improvement in performance. There was a fundamental change in how I related to my system with the GamuT installed, a nonlinear shift in the level of musical involvement. The CD 1 had passed its first test with flying colors.

Another thing I noticed immediately about the GamuT, and another way in which it firmly established itself in the upper echelon of players, was its reproduction of ambience cues. On Shostakovich's The Age of Gold Ballet Suite (RCA/Classic LSCCD-2322), it did a beautiful job of describing the venue—not only the greater space of the hall, but the micro-environments surrounding the individual instruments and sections.

The muted trumpets at the piece's opening were a great example of this. Via the GamuT, the space around them simply felt right. The mix of direct and reflected sound, the perception of distances, even the very density of the ambience—it all coalesced to describe the space at the rear of the stage with uncanny accuracy. Later in the movement, the ambience surrounding the woodwinds—easily heard during their solo passages—feels different, less dense, than that surrounding the trumpets. There's more air around the woodwinds, more space for them to breathe, so to speak. As a result, their apparent image size as the instruments' auras expand out from their cores are correspondingly, and correctly, larger than those of the trumpets.

The portrayals of these different micro-environments continue as different orchestral sections enter, each portion of space reflecting its location within the orchestra and on the stage. Don't get me wrong—the space amid and around the orchestra on The Age of Gold wasn't at all discontinuous or incoherent. These slightly different local environments all fit together seamlessly to form a single, coherent space.

Although the GamuT belongs in my top tier of CD players, in a couple of areas it fell a bit short of the very best I've heard recently—the Wadia 861, the Simaudio Moon Eclipse, the Oracle. The first area is those players' portrayal of individual images, specifically in terms of their precision and dimensionality. I raved about the complexity of Peter Wyrick's cello on the Mozart Flute Quartet earlier, and indeed, it was lovely. Compared to the Simaudio's portrayal, however, the CD 1's image was a bit vague in terms of location and boundaries, and slightly two-dimensional. Wyrick's cello was sized appropriately in terms of width and height, but was a bit too shallow in terms of depth. And while it was properly located on the soundstage in a general sense, it wasn't located terribly precisely. Nor were its edges as well-defined as they were with the Simaudio, for example, being more of a diffuse halo of sound than a clear contour.

"Chuck E.'s in Love," from Rickie Lee Jones' Naked Songs (Reprise 45950-2), was a good example of the GamuT's slightly less precise imaging. With the Simaudio or the Wadia, Jones' voice and guitar—even the individual people applauding and laughing in the audience—were precisely located and clearly bounded in all three dimensions. While the GamuT put everything in its place, and did a superb job of reproducing and weaving together the hall's ambience, the images just weren't as sharply bounded as they could have been.

410 Park Avenue, Suite 1530
New York, NY 10022
(917) 210-8075