This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Shipping via Hong Kong express post meant super speedy two-day transit. My door bell rang early, at 7:45AM on a dim Saturday morning. The big carton was filled with irregular styrofoam bits. Whilst a bit makeshift, those safely surrounded the three black bricks in their ziploc bags. Instant proof of life for daddy Funjoe came from my desktop. Here the threesome stowed away just so under my HP2710 monitor. The optional second preout leashed up to my Gallo TR-3D sub firing sideways on a footstool. My AURALiC Vega DAC got temporarily bumped to the floor since my layout had run out of room. I streamed some Vicente Amigo 320kbps from Spotify+ for instant utterly noise-free grippy sound. For more serious duty I dumped some hi-rez files from my music iMac to memory card. That went into my HP work station. Presto, proper uncompressed tunes to ward off the hifi police.

Coming off Gato Audio's DIA-250 Pascal-based class D integrated, the Clones perked up sooner on the volume scale. They were the keener more resolved low-level performers. I find fully animated low levels vital for both max enjoyment and to get actual work done where I still have to hear myself think. I reserve immersion-style oceanic auditions for the big rig. By working my audio beat at an earlier quieter hour, the black brigade would have my vote in the above installation. Its shallower depth also freed up real estate which admittedly took away a bit on width. But like a smaller high-rev engine, the bricks were sonically more aspirated than the high-power more lumbering big Dane. They separated farther down to the bone and stripped out some congealing fuzz with more top-end vigor and penetration power.

160GB iPod Classic, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, AURALiC Vega, Gato Audio DIA-250

Compared to the 25i replacing the trio, going twice the power wasn't key. On raw SPL the Gallos here can't ever get to the 25i's bottom. But dual mono did benefit stage specificity. The areas to get more concrete and fleshed out were the 'wings' between dead center and hard-panned left and right. I also felt that despite the screen's visual barrier, depth improved. In this context the 55pm's appeal wasn't more power. It was channel-specific drive without a shared power supply. How much the AP1's small but active circuit contributed over the 25i's passive pot I couldn't determine. My integrated lacks a pre-out. Aside from being grippier and even more informative on ambient recovery, on tonal balance the trio reading was quite similar. The main differences were body and energy. Going solo was more relaxed. Going separates was friskier. Wirier. Comfort vs. speed? As a mere essence, yes.

The triplets also went to the gym to buff out their musical bods. This toning effect I'd lay at the AP1's feet. In preamp land it's a nearly invariable effect of passive-to-active conversion. It's not about added fat but higher mass. The upgrade path from one to three boxes thus crossed off three key points. Soundstaging rolled out the depth domain a bit farther and upped tone density in the stage wings. Overall substance enhanced to get beefier. And as a sum of the two, impact and grip tightened up.


Let's put these specific gains on the happiness scale called return on investment. We remember that on sound flavor one remains in the family. We also acknowledge that in my desktop context of high 50s on the db(A) scale with 70dB peaks, nothing was remotely challenging. On power the 25i was completely sufficient. But going separates still struck me as a very attractive proposition. That's because this setup raised the curtain fully at modest levels and really turned up the far back stage lights. On tone textures I was reminded of a good 50wpc p/p Mosfet amp like the Aura Note Premier and Vita from Korea's April Music. It's not a lean bleached zippy sound. It's robust and slightly warm though it's plainly not tube warmth. The perception of minor warmth is actually more an avoidance of the chalk and dryness which so often betray budget gear over-dialled for detail.

On Jaadu/Magic, French journeyman Titi Robin's love of Rajasthan sees his guitar/bouzuq team up with Pakistani qawwali maestro Faiz Ali Faiz. As anything Titi, this is rather well recorded. It shows off the very virile timbres of Titit's strings and the effortlessly elastic voice which morphs from hoarse scratchiness at mellow levels to crystalline power belting in Faiz Ali's jubilant high registers in spontaneous improvisation. And the clones really tracked the constantly changing harmonic hues which the singer turns up and down like a dial to alter his voice. I heard similarly impressive tone tracking on Chants, Hymns and Dances between Vassilis Tsabropolous on piano and Anna Lechner on cello; and with Khalil Chahine's gorgeous "Cheyenne" from his Turkoise album which sounded positively huge.

In fact so compelling became this setup off my digitally tapped iPod that I decided to live with it longer. To keep the screen at standard height plus the Vega back on the level to reach its controls required a reshuffle. The above shows how it got sorted. When the first phone call had me reflexively reach for the volume, I noticed how even fully counter-clockwise there remained a small sonic trickle. Hence no perfect mute. If that was the only nit I'd find, things were good indeed.

What kept surprising? How mature and wonderfully balanced these clones acted their humble parts. There's good reason why gainclones are such a proven recipe. If you sweat the nitty gritty as Funjoe does; and don't attempt silly stunts into unreasonable loads... op-amp power can really do the job. And well! With their high voltage gain and more serious project brief, the 100w-into-4Ω monos of course still had to prove their mettle in the big rig to determine what they were good for. But I wasn't at all in a rush to brush 'em off the desk.