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Class D flavors. As a genre D sonics have made a 180° turnabout from earliest sightings. What at first was needly, lean, hyper detailed and cold has gone smooth, full, warm, soft and dense. Here the DIA-400 falls close to the best ICEpower implementations (April Music, Wyred4Sound) but plays it still deeper in this counter milieu which as such shares a certain core aesthetic with high-power push/pull valve amps. Hypex as I've heard it from AURALiC, Roksan and Acoustic Imagery (Ncore) has made another turnabout. It's moving back a bit in the other direction. This reclaims some of the qualities which the first massive 'compensation movement' turned its back on.

Where on this flavor axis you want to be is influenced by a number of factors. There are your musical tastes and SPL needs. Playing loud to mimic club performances which invariably mean amplified sound should prefer Gato's voicing. It comes closest. Ditto for live symphonic music in a very large venue. Playing very quietly needs max separation which low levels always undermine. Playing small-scale acoustic fare mic'd up close wants full illumination on harmonic textures to come off as those flatten out over distance and thicken up with sound reinforcement. Here more treble resolution equals more visibility.

Middle-of-the-road to poor recordings as the vast majority are always sound better (less exposed for their weaknesses) over warmer fuller denser amps, even more so as you play them loud(er). Here Gato's friendly very unfussy voicing is a big plus. Ditto bright forward speakers. At least in the still affordable sector those are nearly synonymous with modern hi-def sound. Play mediocre recordings over them at from happy to very boisterous levels and unpleasant results are nearly guaranteed. Here the DIA-400 begs to differ. More things sound better at medium to very stout SPL.

Looking at Gato's own speaker range, the closest approximation I had on their ported 2.5-way towers with paper/textile drivers [left] was the big Rhapsody 200 from AudioSolutions. I mentioned it previously as my suspected best match for that reason [above]. Where Gato run modified ScanSpeak drivers, AudioSolutions do SB Acoustics founded by ex ScanSpeak engineers and Seas from Norway. Lithuanian designer Gediminas Gaidelis deliberately underdamped his twin-port dual-woofer bass alignment. This mandates high damping factors and stout current. Here too class D tends to excel. Hence active subwoofers' near exclusive use of it.

Sonic take 3: Bliss. As a ported three-way with steeper filter slopes the 200 also makes for a far more reactive load than the Italian Albedo. Its wildly fluctuating impedance is rather better dealt with by a truly robust amp like the DIA-400. In theory and practice. What Gato's colossal 800 x 4Ω watts did for this beefy bass system was truly stupendous. With the big ports wide open to breathe deeply I had zero mud even far off axis where the front corners usually telegraph as potent pressure-zone resonance. I deliberately cued up my favorite DJ Mercan Dede and his latest Dünya album at beaucoup volume. Voilà, bona fide subwoofer bass. Given Zu's mighty Submission sub in my digs, this qualifier isn't casual. It's based on a solid reference. Now the DIA-400 had arrived in full!

Having probably lived a past life named Saïd, I have an inexplicable weakness for traditional Arabian music which alas—at least what I can get in Switzerland—tends to fall into the niche of less-than-stellar recording quality. Spinning up my latest CD from Syrian singer Assala Nasri acquired through some Amazon back channels to rip to hard drive unrecognized by Apple's meta-data engine, I was duly tickled. The Gato/AudioSolutions combo crafted a calm reading without any stress overt or subliminal. This bottom-up sound was built upon a very deep black value to create strong color saturation. It begged to play at somewhat elevated levels to properly match its weightiness. It turned the phrase "silence so loud you could cut it" into "chunkiness so potent you could caress it".

Just as a V12 engine isn't made for a 5mph drive-by, this chunky muscular sound wasn't tailor-made for whisper levels. Nor were the speakers proper. This wasn't a ticket to cerebral introspection or meditations on minimalist Satie. This was an invite to highly material rollicking live-sound immersion. This didn't mean I couldn't play a notch above mute. It simply meant it all came together fully at higher SPL. The clearly super-effective damping of the amp was very nicely complimented by the more vintage Sonus faber-style tonal qualities of the Rhapsody's cellulose driver complement.

I had none of the early NuForce sensory overload symptoms which stemmed from hyper-realistic detail pixilation. This was a powerful grippy push/pull sound directly related to my former 130-watt 6550 pentode monos from German Octave Audio which at shows often play big Dynaudio or Triangle Electroacoustique speakers. That I believe is the ideal playground also for the DIA-400. Considering its nearly unbelievable power, obvious mastery of all-over-the-map impedances, comprehensive functionality, sterling looks and attractive price, that's a bit of a shocker. With the Super Black Box outboard capacitor banks for burlier loads, my MRE-130 Octaves had sold for €15.000. That's 3.5 x more than the DIA-400 yet still needed a preamp and DAC. Clearly this Gato was one smoking value. And did it ever look good!

Pushing buttons. I'd earlier said that a personal hifi's only raison d'être is to make you happy. If your hot buttons are twitchier about Pop, Rock, electronica and other big music than purist string quartets and dainty girl+guitar fare, Gato's DIA-400 ought to have you covered. Audiophilia's musical references routinely are stuff the ordinary public doesn't relate to. Most folks listen to the very broad catch-all genre of Pop precisely because it means popular music. That's visceral not mental stuff. It needs powerful taut bass. It requires kick, punch and impact. It needs to slam when called upon. It needs to track dynamic swings without getting shrill. It needs to move you on a physical level. Above all it shouldn't be fatiguing. Gato's DIA-400 complies on all of these counts. That should make it a very popular choice indeed. It also fits my memories of a massive Stevie Wonder arena show in Los Angeles, a Pat Metheny concert in the Northern Bay Area and last week's symphonic Montreux affair. As such I'd not call it a high-resolution audiophile sound informed by Patricia Barber. I'd refer to it as a high-power popular sound. Hip not high-brow. Comfort food not bistro fare with half-empty plates. Real-people fi.

It had made over the Albedo speakers to sound quite similar if not as big for obvious reasons. My earlier complaints about that simply reflected a fact. I'm not a loud listener. As a townhouse dweller I in fact often listen at quite subdued decibels and primarily to purely acoustic smaller ensembles. Hence my need and preference for very high lucidity, separation, microdynamic breadth and low-level ambient retrieval. Here the highly impulse/time-domain trained Aptica towers driven from a Bakoon/Crayon/Job-type amp excel. Hearing them trade those virtues of speed and ultra informativeness to sound more like the Rhapsody 200 clocked in on my debit ledger. A louder listener specializing in more amplified big music meanwhile should have welcomed those same changes. It's back to serving your own needs and musical tastes.

DIA-250's modified Pascal module with perf shield cage removed - stock module below.
250 versus 400-octane Gatorade. Whilst the white towers had dotted the 'i' for the DIA-400, for this sibling rivalry it was back to the higher resolution of the Italian towers of Pisa. There it was clear stone cold out of the box. The perfectly identical-looking DIA-250—in fact there's nothing to give away which one is which except for weight—was the more open, transparent and fleet-footed. It had my immediate vote. In the context of speakers groomed for speed, exactitude and heightened transparency plus an easy impedance, the smaller amp was the more adroit stay-the-course choice. The DIA-400's greater warmth altered the sonic course. That could be just the ticket to flesh out lean transient-led big power-sucking boxes. The very civilized super-spacious strapping Albedos however devolved into something closer to Kenneth Brannagh's Wallander. The DIA-250 did remain marginally softer, rounder and weightier than the Crayon or Job but this offset now was more on the order of same-brand copper versus silver cables. The Italian two-way still was recognizably itself. Whilst it came alive at slightly higher levels than with the traditional topology amps, the DIA-250 sounded terrific on the Aptica. This felt predestined for a popular drawer in the audiophile belief system. Routinely a less powerful amp implementing equivalent tech is faster on the uptake and more transparent than its more muscle-bound sibling. Whilst all that remains relative to the load you mean to drive, the 250/500wpc into 8/4Ω with 0.006Ω output impedance of the DIA-250 would seem ample for most needs. If it were my wallet, I'd know exactly which model I'd buy whilst putting €1000 towards more music.

Conclusion. Rather than cherry-pick only the shiny highlights of my findings, my report took you along the longer scenic ride to present greater context and with it some shadows too (softened a bit with break-in). On raw coin the Merak comparison was unfair and probably not to Gato's liking. Our readers of course are intelligent enough to not take offense but spot a juxtaposition of rarely compared D-class solutions. On raw resolution—detail extraction, recreation of recorded space, distinct separation of overlaid masses, treble illumination—Gato's DIA-400 played far second fiddle to equivalent and lower-priced top-class A/B competitors like Goldmund's Job 225 or Crayon's CFA-1.2. Where the DIA-400 retaliated fiercely was on features and/or raw power. By including a quality 24/192 D/A converter with fashionably asynchronous USB and an active linestage with remote control, one merely adds source and speakers. With 400 watts doubling into 4Ω and seriously effective woofer damping, this ultra-modern Danish integrated allows a shopper enamoured with big Dynaudios—those shall stand in for beefy challenging loads in general—to put together a minimalist system with all the civilized crunch, shove and grip which used to mean very posh very costly muscle amps.

Where more affordable such amps of the past—say Adcom—often lacked sophistication, the DIA-400 was deliberately groomed for suave organic warmth. Hence the apparent oxymoron of 'civilized crunch'. Now add that it looks like a perfectly airbrushed super model. The cost/what-you-get ratio is unusually loaded in the buyer's favor. It's in fact difficult to have my upstairs search engine come up with direct counter proposals. The usual D-class suspects like Bel Canto and Wyred4Sound have integrateds, alas nowhere near as potent. April Music's $6.500 Stello Ai700 ups this game to 500wpc. But it drops the onboard DAC and still costs rather more. Peachtree Audio's Grand Integrated X-1 would seem to be the only direct counter proposal. For now—fall of 2013 for those who came late to this party—Gato Audio's DIA siblings thus seem to have this precise €3-4K slot mostly sewn up between themselves.

... for added DIA-250 commentary, go to the next page...
Gato Audio website