While the GA-120S may lack visual excitement at least when sitting side-by-side with the Manley Labs Stingray I have in for review, it sure offers thrilling performance. The Vasant was characterized by a rich, warm and present midrange, with good weight and drive in the bass. This helped propel music into the room and, while exhibiting surprising mass, depth and authority, didn't at all err on the side of bloat or exaggeration. The highs were silky smooth, extension decent if somewhat lacking in air. Many inexpensive amps produce a flat, bland rendering of the music but the GA-120S offered a lively three-dimensional presentation in which instruments and voices had plenty of depth and body, along with a pleasant bloom around images. I was able to crank up the integrated quite loud before the soundstage started to flatten out and dynamics became pinched. This touch of hardness and fine grain also during large dynamic peaks and complex passages was largely absent at normal volume levels. Within its comfort zone, the GA-120S was one chunkless smoothie of an amp.

Song Kim had told that one of the design goals for the GA-120S was to approach as closely as possible the sonics of a tube amp such as Song Audio's own SA-34 SB. There indeed was a hint of tubey richness in the midrange that delivered a seductive immediacy and spectral balance which definitely leaned towards the thermionic rather than solid state side of things. Affordable tubes tend to highlight the presence region and the midband. While there was some of that in the GA-120S, it didn't quite offer the same sense of fluidity and continuousness such as the SA-34 SB or the Stingray do. Still, for $1200, I'm not complaining. Keep in mind too that the Vasant_K will be compatible with a greater range of loudspeakers and is essentially maintenance-free.

Inger Sodergren's lyrical and profound reading of Beethoven's last three piano sonatas [Calliope CAL 6648] was rendered warm yet vibrant via the GA-120S. Piano can be a difficult instrument to record and then comes across as a somewhat clanging cacophony. Not here. Sodergren's piano was coherent and well-rendered. While I felt that some of the piano's percussive nature was smoothed over slightly, the natural rhythmic flow and sense of grip it did exhibit brought a smile to my face. Transient attack of each note followed by the body was ably handled while the decay ended slightly more abruptly than I'm accustomed to.

While I generally can't stand Holly Cole's almost comical vocal affectations on traditional jazz numbers, her fine disc of Tom Waits covers [Alert Z2-8102]) is thankfully devoid of the most annoying aspects of her delivery. Cole's voice here was sultry, voluptuous, full and yes, even wet. Previous budget transistor amps tended to dry and thin out her voice. Bass, drums, horns, piano and vocals were arrayed across a wide, deep velvety soundstage and projected into my room rather than bunch up behind the loudspeakers. The subtle dynamic expressions and tonal shading of this album were well reproduced by the Vasant_K's sweet midrange. There also was a quite intoxicating roundness and palpability to the tunes.

A more uptempo disc such as The Now Sound of Brazil [Six Degrees 657036 1081-2] was given a big propulsive push via the GA-120S. I was completely captivated by the amp's performance of this fine compilation which contains a wide -ranging spectrum of contemporary Brazilian music. The heady mix of electronica, bossa nova and samba soul was handled with convincing aplomb. As above, voice and instruments were spread across a wide deep stage and exhibited an almost tactile quality.

Normally I'd avoid comparing components to more expensive ones but at this point, I felt confident that the Vasant_K could hold its own against my Bryston B60.Yes, the B60 is at least half-again as expensive, but the GA-120S did well when placed toe-to-toe with its more upscale competitor. The Bryston was certainly more transparent but did lack the more affordable amp's fullness and palpability in the midrange. The B60 allowed for more spatial cues, better separation of instruments and longer decays. The GA-120S did exceptionally well with the attack and body of notes but decays remained slightly truncated. The B60 offered greater resolution and more transient speed and snap, but its upper midrange tended to sound a little thin and ultimately offered a cooler, more laid-back sound. The B60 had a way of revealing a wealth of detail and musical information without sounding overly analytical or unnatural.

While the Bryston excelled at illuminating subtleties, the GA-120S offered greater emotional involvement and excitement. It also demonstrated considerably more extended and powerful bass. Still, at high volume and during large orchestral peaks I could detect some dynamic compression and graininess which also flattened out the soundstage somewhat. But keep in mind that this proved noticeable only in comparison with the more expensive integrated. On its own merit, I was not too troubled at all.

On big scale orchestral music, the Vasant_K favored the tone color, scale and weight of Guiseppe Sinopoli's sumptuous recording of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder ([Teldec 4509-98424-2] rather than the B60's extraction of every little detail that lit up the darkest corners of the acoustic. The GA-120S only protested during large orchestral peaks by becoming slightly compressed and hard. I suspect that if you normally listen to a heavy diet of large scale orchestral works at high levels, you may find fatigue setting in.

Against Vasant_K's recommendation, I tried plugging the amp into the GutWire MaxCon AC conditioner but quickly preferred it connected straight to the wall. As with many power conditioners I have tried, there was certainly a reduction in line hash but the sound dried out too much and the upper midrange became overly highlighted. I did however find the included upscale power cord a distinct improvement over standard no-name AC cables. And, the more than twice as expensive GutWire Power Clef SE gave me an even blacker, quieter background and a more dimensional soundstage. Regardless, I would heed Vasant_K's advice and just plug the included cable straight into the wall and be done with it.

At the onset of this review, I honestly did not expect too much from this amp as I have been rather spoiled of late with such fun units as the Manley Labs Stingray, Audio Zone PRE-T1/AMP-2 monoblocks and the stand-alone AMP-1. What a pleasant surprise this amp from Thailand turned out to be! If I seem to have been overly critical of some aspects of its performance, it's only because I compared it to much more expensive amplifiers against which, in fact, it held up rather nicely. To my ears, the GA-120S walked all over the $2600 Underwood HiFi-upgraded Music Hall Mambo (in for review) by sounding far more natural and emotionally involving even while not offering quite as silky-smooth and utterly grain-free a presentation.

It surprises me how certain products with so-called audiophile shortcomings still manage to serve the music better than sonically "purer" gear. How can that be? As long as I can obtain some sense of emotional involvement with the music, I can overlook one or two sonic flaws. If you are an audiophile who values the last words in transparency and detail extraction, the GA-120S will not be your ultimate answer. The Bryston B60 would come closer as well as setting you back farther. On the other hand, if you lust after a more full-bodied presence, a sense of immediacy and an emotional connection with the music, the GA-120S will go a long way in serving you in that fashion.

I really can't think of any solid-state integrated amps that are as much fun at this price. Nor do they come equipped with such a treasure trove of tweaks. All for $1200? There certainly is gear that will eclipse this amp in specific areas but it is likely also considerably more expensive. The Vasant_K GA-120S Final Edition is a fine affordable transistor amplifier for the cost-conscious 'phile who is mainly concerned with the music but is also looking for something that marches to a different drummer than the parade led by the larger mass market firms.
Manufacturer's website
North American/Canadian distributor's website