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This review first appeared in the January 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Gato Audio AMP-150 in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Gato Audio - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacuła
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air 
Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, Miyajima Laboratory Waza
Preamp: Ayon Audio Polaris III with ReGenerator II power supply
Power amp: Tenor Audio 175S and Soulution 710
Integrated amp: Leben CS300XS custom
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600 Ω
Interconnects: CD-preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp-power amp Wireworld Platinum Eclipse, speaker cable Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cords: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300 (all equipment)
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip
audio stand: Base under all components, Pro Audio Bono under CD
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD, turntables change continuously
Review component retail in Poland: €5.590

Gato Audio’s website names Poul Rossing as chief individual but it’s worth noting that as chair of the board he only owns ¼th of the company. His presence really adds five full decades of business acumen and hifi industry knowledge. Gato Audio is actually run by managing director Frederik and creative director Kresten. Back to Poul, he began work in his father’s workshop in the 1950s and soon became a distributor of major audio brands. In 1973 and under the Avance brand he then decided to design and manufacture his own loudspeakers. This became one of the first companies to profit from Chinese cooperation. Due to internal events Avance would eventually sell to Rossing’s Chinese coworkers who continue to maintain the brand today. Part of the acquisition agreement included the design of a few more loudspeaker lines for which Poul would be assisted by engineer Milad Kahfizadeh.

Frederik Johansen and Kresten meanwhile first met at Holfi where Frederik oversaw production and logistics. By 2001 Johansen was at Scandinavian manufacturer Thule which manufactured its own as well as OEM electronics. The latter were branded Avance but included work for TEAC (their A-BX10 for example). This stint would become merely another notch in Frederik’s broad career belt.

Gato Audio at shows

In 2003 when Scandinavian hifi firm GamuT underwent its most troubled period, Poul Rossing bought the company and together with Milad Kahfizadeh restructured it by founding GamuT International A/S. Both gentlemen were renowned loudspeaker specialists. Milad had worked as head of applications and engineering for Tymphany—Vifa, Peerless and Scan-Speak—to be a truly formidable acoustical engineer who today helps voice Gato Audio’s speakers. GamuT at the time however was regarded mostly as an electronics company.

Gato Audio at shows

To redress the new team’s engineering competence they hired headhunters to recruit a new head for their electronics department. This became Frederik Johansen who by 2004 departed Thule Audio to join the relaunched GamuT. Together with designer Kresten Dinesen these men were responsible for GamuT’s resurrection. From 2003 to 2006 Gamut was operating at full health with a complete product line and established distribution. Poul Rossing now decided to sell it and finally retire.

But by 2007 in Lyskær not far from Copenhagen something occurred to bring him out of retirement again. Frederik Johansen and Kresten Dinesen had joined with Rasmus Holm to launch a completely new company called Gato Audio. By 2009 Poul joined as minority share holder and became chairman of the board. Note that this team of Scandinavian audio veterans includes not merely engineers but a bona fide industrial designer. One glance at today’s AMP-150 suffices to appreciate that advanced industrial design had a very large influence on the final product and that Gato was less concerned with costs but adamant that their amp would look as good as it sounded. Mission accomplished!

Kresten Dinesen added: "As you already explained, Frederik and I run the company, Frederik as managing director, I as creative director. After we founded Gato Audio, Poul Rossing offered his assistance and he now owns a quarter of the company and is chairman of the board. We profit from his 50 years of business acumen and hifi industry experience. Here's what's important. All our products are the result of a complete team effort. None of our products are developed or finalized by a single person. The Gato Audio development team is really a very strategic group which holds a very wide spectrum of expert knowledge on everything from hardware and software engineering to industrial design including musicians and audio specialists."

The AMP-150 is thus a joint effort of the entire in-house development team. With its curved cheeks, inlaid wooden top, milky-white display and classy remote controller it looks fantastic – and that covers just the basics. Despite its compact enclosure the amplifier is powerful to deliver 150W at 8Ω and 250W at 4Ω. In the circular display the nomenclature of inputs relies on icons explained on the back panel which is comprehensively equipped with RCA/XLR outputs and mixed inputs of which one can be converted to unity gain to become a pass-thru for home theatre applications.

A novel feature is the preheater [yellow icon below]. That’s used to quickly bring the output transistors to full operating temperature. What otherwise would take two hours before currents and voltages fully stabilize to settle distortion at the preset low level takes about 10-15 minutes with the push of a button which runs higher current through the transistors to preheat them. For obsessive compulsive types this is pure audiophile heaven.

Sound: During the test I used the following discs - Depeche Mode, Hole To Feed/Fragile Tension, Mute Records, CDBONG42, MS CD; Donald Byrd, The Cat Walk, Blue Note/Audio Wave, AWMXR-0009, XRCD24; Jan Bokszczanin, Komeda – Inspirations, Zakłady Płytowe, ZP 140770-09, gold-CD; Miles Davis, Seven Steps To Heaven, Columbia/Analogue Productions, CAPJ 8851 SA, SACD/CD; Norah Jones, Featuring, Blue Note, 09868 2, CD; Suzanne Vega, Close-Up, Vol 1. Love Songs, Amanuensis Productions/Cooking Vinyl, COOKCD521, CD; Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD; Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch, 524055-2, CD+DVD; Savage, Tonight, Extravaganza Publishing Srl/Klub80, CD001, 25th Anniversary Limited Edition, CD; Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony, Blue Note, 29752, CD; Yoko Ono, Yes, I‘m A Witch, Astralwerks, ASW79287, CCD;.

The AMP-150 is an uncompromising amplifier in all meanings of the term - design, craftsmanship and sound. I’ll cover the physical construction later to first handle sonics. Its uncompromising character here resides in the fact that it does not try to shape the sound in any way (or its designers managed without making it apparent). So the first definition is by negation. It’s not a sound that is warmed up, softened, brightened, slowed down or voiced to mimic tubes or curry any other favors. And at least in the beginning one does not hear any of the usual giveaways of high power.