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Gato Audio from Denmark is run by a dynamic duo of remarkably young men who to their existing stable of very attractive top-loading CDP with digital inputs and 150wpc integrated amp added two new class D integrateds (International Rectifier power processing chip) with USB DAC plus two new entry-level speaker models. The DIA-250 and DIA-400 deliver 250/500 and 400/800wpc into 8/4 ohms respectively. Pricing for the smaller one starts at €3.250.

Unlike the speedometer module of the top models, the newcomers get a more conventional albeit big and easy-to-read two-section numerical display for volume and input. As is standard for our audiogators, the hot-swappable top cover comes in a variety of finishes including real wood. I signed up to review one of the new DAC/integrateds and matching two-way monitors. This is real-people fi for smart modern homes.

Fang Biang of HifiMan had his long-awaited HM-901 mobile hi-rez player ready. The only item he wasn't completely happy with was the tactile feedback of the selector wheel. I could take a unit with me for review or wait until he had tweaked this final bit. I opted to wait.

If you remember how Astell & Kern's new AK120 went dual-mono on its Wolfson chips, HifiMan's top deck previewed at earlier shows always had specified two 32-bit Sabre 9018 DACs. Unlike the Korean, this machine has no built-in memory. It simply sports a single slot for a standard (digital camera-type) SD memory card. The current max is 64GB but we'll see 128GB capacities in 6 months and a doubling thereof a year later. Fang's software engineers have worked hard to make the GUI multi-lingual. At present five languages are supported. A combo jack at the bottom outputs analog or digital. HifiMan offers various cable links with specific terminations to use their deck in all of its modes - as rechargeable headphone portable, as fixed-output streamer and as streamer with analog volume control. A dedicated dock is already in R&D but not yet finalized.

Marco Manunta of Italian company M2Tech whose async USB transceiver modules appear in some very expensive DACs as well as his popular hiFace USB bridges—look closely and you'll see his latest orange hiFace DAC on the Macbook below—introduced the new Marley headphone amp.

Under the heading 'dual-drive pure class A headphone amplifier', the Marley promises 4wpc into 8Ω, dual single-ended or balanced outputs, independent volume adjustments when used with two 'phones, balance control, volume display in dB or steps, two crossfeed options, two line inputs, fixed and variable outs, lo/hi impedance settings, input for optional linear power supply, 120dB S/N, 0.0006% THD+N, 12dB gain single-ended and 6dB balanced.

Bruno Putzeys' Mola-Mola Makua preamp with feedback-embedded volume control and DAC/phono option plus four of his petite 400-watt (1200w into 2Ω) Kaluga monos were physically crushed by big Lansche Audio towers. I won't talk sound as I didn't pay attention to instead chat with Bruno then someone from Lansche. Being perhaps the most brilliant engineer currently working in class D for hifi applications, Bruno's marketing too operates on a different level. As we've documented elsewhere, his new Hypex Ncore tech was first disseminated to DIY as the NC400 modules. With those and their matching SMPS solder slingers can roll a pair of monos in nice cases for <$2.000. Just how nice the next photo shows where a machine-shop enthusiast from Kraemer Designs went to town.

That one cannot successfully prevent Bruno's generous DIY support from spilling into the commercial zone to compete against him and his likely far less tolerant NC1200 OEMs is shown in the next photo.

When DIYers became curious about just how the NC1200 modules—which are strictly off limits to them—compare to what they had access to, Bruno himself entered the chat rooms. He explained how the difference between modules was minor, that in fact the NC400 benefited from a discrete input stage. One thus shouldn't expect marked sonic differences. Were those words to live by now that his wildly costlier Kaluga monos bowed? On his just-launched site, we find this: "The amplifier board is a Mola-Mola specific design deriving from the famous NC1200 amplifier. The audio circuitry is trimmed to the bare bones and board-to-board connectors are eliminated in favour of soldering a pair of star-quad cables directly into the circuit board for the cleanest, lowest impedance connection possible. The input stage is moved to a separate circuit board that uses the same discrete buffers as those found in the Makua. The redesigned output filter sports monolithic capacitors whose dielectric stability is reflected in an impressively neutral and poised rendition." Cynics will detect an effort to distance himself from earlier comments whereby to enlarge the perceived performance delta.

When I asked a current Hypex OEM whether they'd consider Ncore for future flagship amps, he expressed major frustration with the Mola-Mola brand because with it the tech's designer competes against his would-be OEMs. Another industry veteran opined that though the technology was undoubtedly brilliant, the associated marketing strategy could have rendered it irrelevant already. I disagree. Even if Mola-Mola were the only brand to champion Ncore—which they aren't—it'd suffice. Do we really need endless minor variants as we've seen them with ICEpower? Having reviewed the Acoustic Imagery Atsah monos which were based on purely stock NC1200 with matching SMPS boards, I was thoroughly impressed. Class D has finally come of age. As an industry commentator, I of course also feel perplexed about the Hypex marketing strategy. But time shall tell. As to status, Bruno wasn't yet happy with the casework finishing to consider switching to the popular Neal Feay if his current supplier couldn't deliver perfection. That decision will determine the time line of first shipments. For our pages, Marja & Henk are already set to do the review honors. From prior exposure to sonics, I'm convinced enough to want a pair. Drive-anything amps sized like a cigar box? They'd make the perfect reviewer's tool.

Audio Technology Switzerland's Nagra Audio brand premiered their new DAC which I'd highlighted last month in an industry feature to detail out the involved tech and people. Showing with Mårten Design's new Coltrane Tenor speakers whose German importer they share, the pre-production DAC inside an ugly box was stuck behind the rack...

... specifically here (the silver one).

Attentive readers will notice that the final casing lacks a model name. With the Nagra Jazz and Melody preamp setting a new naming trend for the firm, I proposed Time as in Swiss watches keeping perfect time which in digital is key. We'll see what it goes by when production commences.

Should you wonder what the small knob next to the display is for, it's push to access the menu and navigate various layers, then turn to select specific options.