Thought it was about time I invaded another owners forum I seem to have monoplised the Q Acoustics thread recently with talk of new amplifiers to drive my Concept 40's, and now that I have made my decision, I thought I'd say hello.
So after considering a number of amplifiers I have cut my search short and settled on the wonderful Gato DIA-250S (non-network version). I bought it directly from Gato and I have to say that I have had the same positive experience that it seems everyone else has had in dealing with them. I couldn't ask for better so far, and have just completed the product registration for the 5 year warranty - happy days!
So much has changed recently in my system as I begin building back up from a low base. Having owned some pretty esoteric equipment in the past and had to get rid of most of it, I'm now indulging my love of recorded music again, and seem to be building a new system pretty quickly! Time will tell if that's a rash way to do it or if I've made sensible decisions. So far, so good.
So my current system is as described in my profile, with the one exception of the DAC. I've just bought an Arcam FMJ D33 to try out as a replacement for my Cambridge Audio CD player, which I've been using purely as a DAC. Had a brief experiment with an Audiolab M-DAC+ before it decided to die on me, not impressed. So far I have to say I am LOVING the new combination of CA CXC transport, Arcam DAC, Gato 250S and Q Acoustics Concept 40s with a mixture of Chord and Van den Hul cabling. My toes haven't tapped this much for years! I've been spending some very happy evenings over the last couple of week trawling back through my CD collection while my phono stage is away having some TLC and therefore the analogue source is out of action. I've been going through all sorts of music, albums that I know very well (or thought I did) and thoroughly enjoying re-discovering them! And a huge chunk of this new-found enjoyment is down to the Gato - what a fantastic bit of kit it is! Built like a tank, beautifully finished, hugely stylish, wonderful to operate (all of which build confidence and pride in ownership), and the SQ is proving to be every bit as good as I'd hoped for.
I admit that my first few hours with it disappointed me. What I heard didn't match at all with the descriptions I'd read about it - I wondered if my hearing was worse than I'd thought! It sounded hard, bass-light, unpleasant to listen to at higher volumes, not at all what I was expecting. Roll forward 50-60 hours or so of use, a change of DAC, interconnects and speaker cables and the difference could barely be bigger. I'd originally intended to audition the 250S against the Peachtree Audio Nova 300, Primare I25 and NAD M10. Well I managed the first comparison (and the Peachtree is a great amp, just not as suited to my environment as I'd expected). But to be honest, I'm so happy with the Gato that I don't really think there's anything to be gained by continually comparing it. OK, I might find something I prefer in one or two ways, but honestly, I just want to get on with enjoying my music, and that's exactly what I'm doing now.
@CnoEvil - thanks for your advice on the selection of the Gato, it's turned out to be right up my street. Looking at the rest of your system compared to mine, and thinking about what you've written about the Gato versus what I hear, I suspect that this amp just gets out of the way in any system and lets the rest of the equipment get on with it. I do agree with you about its abilities with female vocals (it's brilliant), however I would use a completely different set of adjectives to describe the sound. Mine would be punchy, dynamic, expansive, thrilling. That's what leads me to think that our respective systems sound completely different to each other, but in each case the Gato is the common denominator just getting on with the job, and displaying whichever personality the rest of the system demands. I rather suspect my setup would cut your ears in two, and I might fall asleep listening to yours! (joke, no offence intended). Thing is, in both cases the Gato has just allowed the rest of our equipment to flourish and so is an ideal "match".
Is it perfect? Well, no. For my own setup I'd have preferred another set of unbalanced analogue inputs in place of the balanced set (although this has, in fairness, given me an excuse to buy that new DAC!). Also I was a little disappointed by the onboard DAC (hence the Arcam) - I found it to be a bit lacklustre to be honest, with a rather flat sound and a shut-in stereo image that didn't capture my imagination at all. The D33, I have to say, runs rings around it in that respect, but then again it probably should at its original price of £2000 versus £2300 for the entire amp. I can't complain really, and it's OK for non-critical listening. The Bluetooth streaming is useful for the odd occasion (my other half uses it for their iPhone) but I'm an old git and I like flat, round discs I can get hold of, so it's of limited interest to me. It sounds OK, in a Bluetoothy sort of way. Probably as good as anyone else's BT implementation.
With the currency exchange rate being so dire at the moment, the €2500 price tag turned out to be just over £2300, but this put it smack bang in the same price range as the aforementioned Pimare and NAD. To be honest, I think it's an absolute bloody bargain for the performance on offer. Short of hearing some massively more exotic kit at bake-offs, I truly can't think of anything I'd rather be using at the moment, and I'm absolutely made up to have discovered it. Gato doesn't get a huge amount of coverage in the UK audio press, which is a shame in one way and rather good in another (it's "our" little secret!). I suspect that if it had another more well-known brand label stuck on the front (a company also known for creating unusual-shaped components in the past) it would have been fawned over by the magazines. Gato deserve a lot of success with this one.