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At this juncture, whenever one mentions truthfulness in a review, the specter of cold, analytical, shrill sound rises again from long forgotten listening sessions where one was forced to agonize over a never-ending demo of the latest thousand-watt solid-state monster from the US (you can tell I write from experience here - if you want to know why I am a tube head, look no farther). The GR360 could not be further away from this mental image. It will force some serious recalibration of expectations. It is sweetness personified, with a rich and dense sound but not darkness per se. The GR360 is only dark when the source or the disc played are. Feed it a diet of lean and mean CD player from the early nineties and it will give you shrill pain. From that perspective, the GR360 is not here to spice your system one way or another. Nor to rescue it from mismatched components either. In other words, it's not the oyster omelet with hot chili sauce that Mr. Koh referred to in his interview. Yet to be perfectly honest, if the GR360 deviates from neutrality, it would be slightly to the warmer side. Still, my feeling is that this sense of warmth is more due to the total absence of treble distortion than to any actual lower midrange emphasis.

Far from being the cold brute you might have thought, the GR360, if anything, is far more SET-like in the way it handles micro detail in the midrange and in its ability to get you very close and intimate with the recorded event. Yet it is not quite as tonally transparent as the very best SETs I have heard lately nor does it have this very last level of wetness on voices. If you are a SET fanatic, that will be the end of this affair; but if you need 360 watts, you'll get the most SET-ish, involving and intimate 360 watts I can think of below $10,000; and with bass performance that no SET would ever dream of.

I love voices. That's another reason why I am -- or rather was -- a tube head. The GR360 got me to revisit my assumptions and preconceived ideas. Actually, coming out of this review I even wonder how much longer tube push-pull designs will continue to exist. The GR360 can provide more power, more bass quality and quantity, more tonal exactitude, more relaxation, better reproduction of ambiance and soundstages far more credibly and engulfing than my McIntosh which is no slouch in any of these attributes. The Genesis amplifier achieves all this without any help from harmonic distortion; never needs new tubes; and uses a fraction of the electrical power the MA2275 gobbles happily.

One of my favorite opera singers is the upcoming mezzo Joyce DiDonato. I heard her for the first time in 2002 in Paris where she was singing in the Barber of Seville [TDK DVD] and a few times since. The last time was about a month ago in a recital with piano, quite a departure from all the previous performances I had attended but she had the same stage presence and deliciously intoxicating voice I remembered. One of the striking things I noticed during this concert was how much weight she had lost (yes, opera nuts do notice these things too) but even more importantly, how her voice had evolved from a relatively dark mezzo to a mezzo-legero actually suited for quite a number of soprano roles.

As Mr. Koh with Wynton Marsalis, I went back to the discs of Mrs. DiDonato I own and listened to them in chronological order. Back in 1999, on her first recordings of Vivaldi Arias with the King's Consort [Hyperion 66839], her tone came through dark and deep but maybe not fully blossomed yet. At that time her voice was closer to an alto than a soprano but it did not have the level of expressivity she demonstrates today - nor was she capable of the huge dynamic range that I heard during her Philadelphia concert.

In 2002, on the Arias from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito KV621 with Franz Bruggen [Glossa GCD921107], her voice had already evolved towards slightly lighter tones while still firmly residing in the Mezzo range, resulting in an absolute perfect marriage with Eric Hoeprich's basset horn's darker tones. By 2007 in her Spanish recital !Pasion! [Eloquentia 0608], she sounds as she does today - vibrant and full of energy but at times completely in the Soprano register while showing no stress whatsoever from this evolution.

If I went through details retracing the changes in Joyce Didonato's voice, it is because those changes are hard to hear on disc and my usual system only hints at them. Alas, the P05/D05
driving the GR360 amplifier directly left no ambiguity on whether a disc was recorded at the beginning of her career or more recently or any stage in between for that matter.

If that's the kind of subtle nuances you expect your system to resolve and highlight for you, then the GR360 is a very serious contender. The very best SET amplifiers can and will do it even more perfectly and with an even greater level of micro detail but again, the GR360 sets a new reference for me in this field when considering both its price and power output - not just among solid-state amplifiers but also among push-pull tube designs.

One of the things I learnt thanks to the GR360 is actually how good the Nomad Audio RPDs are. Of course I like them and enjoy them, they have been my reference speakers for a year now, but I also know that the MA2275 cannot take control of the sealed woofers as efficiently as I would like and the A5 amplifier can't really match the pristine midrange and spacious stages those large open baffle dipoles are capable of. With the GR360, the Ronin Paper Dipoles finally found their soul-mate. It should not be a surprise as Nomad Audio commercializes a stereo amplifier based on one of Hypex modules but it is still revelatory to hear those speakers finally give everything their designer expected - and they have far more to give than I had realized thus far.

I've already mentioned the deep and engulfing bass, the revealing and undistorted midrange. What I have not talked about much yet is how these same qualities extend into the treble. Few discs that I know will give you a better idea of a system's treble performance than Jed Wentz playing the Fantasias for Flute by Telemann [Brilliant 93440]. The recording quality on this CD is truly exceptional but nothing will change the fact that all the energy is contained in a very narrow frequency range (although the harmonics and breathing sounds do reside at lower frequencies). It's a frequency range that can give you headaches rapidly if it is not perfectly controlled – the one frequency range where the RPDs are absolutely unforgiving. Paired with the GR360, the flute extended high and powerful (yes powerful, not in the fashion of a trumpet but like a focused laser beam) yet never harsh or painful. I am not sure I had ever
realized that a flute, when played by a master like Wentz, can actually have texture and exhibit very complex tonal nuances. Until the Esoteric P05/D05 and Genesis GR360 arrived at our house, flutes always sounded shrill and monotone. How wrong I was.

As I wanted to test the GR360 with trumpet music, I realized I did not own any Marsalis so I switched to Alison Balsom playing arrangements of various pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach [EMI 7243 5 58047 2 3]. The revelation was not as profound as with Wentz but again, the wonderful skills of the artist came through not so much in the form of more details or more technical flamboyance but simply through the awareness that her playing was far more varied and subtle than what had transpired with lesser electronics. A breath withheld here, an sharper attack there, a light vibration gone unnoticed so far - it may not sound like much but if you have been in the hifi game for a while, you already know how rare those qualities are and you certainly know how rare they are in any piece of gear below $10,000.

So far I have not spent a lot of time describing the qualities of the GR360 playing large orchestral music. With the soundstaging quality, bass ability and tonal exactitude I have covered, you can expect the GR360 to excel with large ensembles. I won't describe Saint-Saens' Third Symphony [RCA 82876 61387 2] or Shostakovich's Eleventh [LSO 0030] note by note. Suffice to say that the GR360 handled the most demanding passages without breaking a sweat while allowing each instrument that needed to be heard above its peers to do so effortlessly. On this type of music more than anything else did I come to realize when the McIntosh A2275 was reaching its limit; when it was just not capable of pushing the dynamics further while the GR360 did not indicate any sign of being close to its limit ever.

When the GR360 first arrived and I realized how well it did with large orchestras, I wanted to hear my entire collection of symphonic recordings one CD after the other. And I did just that. But as the amplifier and I got better acquainted, I ended up spending far more time with more diminutive, subtle musical miniatures requiring a lot of finesse to convey their emotional load. After all, it is to be expected from a 360-watt solid-state amplifier to nail Saint-Saens' organ; but what about the caresses of Roel Dieltiens' bow on his cello in Vivaldi's Concerto RV419 [Harmonia Mundi 901655]? I do not know who Vivaldi was thinking about when he composed the second movement but the usually jovial and colorful music suddenly turns somber, sad and pensive and with the GR360 in the system, I was able to feel all the sorrow he painted into his music. Interestingly, the slightly more detailed top end of the McIntosh allowed me to hear more micro information yet it missed the loaded atmosphere of this piece and what makes it so unique in Vivaldi's oeuvre.

Similarly, the last act from Bellini's La Sonnambula [Decca 417 424-2] contains some of the most emotionally charged arias between a tenor and soprano ever composed. Nobody ever sung those with more passion and personal involvement than Pavarotti and Dame Sutherland. I dare you, I double dare you to listen to this last act on a system capable of conveying the nuances those two amazing voices impart to their lines without tearing up (maybe I am a big softy but it gets me every time). And despite my knowing the piece as well as I do, the Genesis and Esoteric just got to me once more.

From the Contessa's Aria in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro (another heart-breaking aria if ever there was one) to the black diamond that is Ravel's Piano concerto in G minor's second movement (try the less traveled version by F.R. Duchable and Armin Jordan [Erato ECD75323], so tenuous it feels on the verge of collapsing throughout the piece but moving in a way even Argerich can't match), the P05/D05 and GR360 went right past the flashy details to hit the deepest emotional chords of the music. I doubt one will ever be able to measure this ability but I sure can hear it and never had 360 watts do it in this fashion for me before.

It should be quite obvious by now that I fell hard for the Genesis Reference 360. It was for me the same revelation as the Bel Canto Reference 1000s were for John Potis (but don't ask me how they compare - I have not heard the Bel Cantos in my system). It should be equally obvious that this amplifier is without a doubt Blue Moon material, more than any piece of gear ever going through my system for review. Still, the GR360 is not getting a Blue Moon. Yet.

The first reason is Gary Koh's own fault. Everything he's told me about the GR360 proved true and if adding the optional power supply is really akin to turning soy milk into whole cream, then maybe the souped-up GR360 will be the one to deserve the award despite the substantial cost increase. So I will put this decision on hold until I have heard what the MDHR delivers to confidently decide which of the two configurations deserves our highest recognition.

The second reason is related to the first in a rather oblique way. Despite the impressive qualities of the P05/D05 driving the GR360 directly (I could not hear any effect whatsoever of the digital volume control implemented by Esoteric although its range, as mentioned in the review, is far from being practical), the match was not always perfect. More than once did I find myself wanting for more dynamics, more life, more PRaT, more raw energy. The combination could swing huge dynamics - I just wanted it to swing them faster. It also had no problem with very light and subtle dynamic wrinkles yet again, I wished they felt more like a staccato than they did.

Obviously I spent a lot of time listening to classical music and never was it an issue with any of the classical CDs I listened to over the past couple of months. But when switching to the Gorillaz or REM or even Renaud Garcia-Fons' frantic compositions, I could not help but want for a little more bite, rush and passion. I had noticed a slight reduction in PRaT already when plugging the D05 into my McIntosh but it was so subtle and the P05/D05's other qualities so overwhelming that it did not bother me. The effect was more noticeable when driving the GR360. There can be many reasons for that. One could be that the GR360 has a certain PRaT softness. Another one could be the absence of an active preamplifier often blamed in similar circumstances. A third one could be that the GR360 simply reveals the true dynamic nature of the D05 DAC's output stage, i.e. a minor limitation in the Esoteric.

My belief is that the last two are probably the main culprits here; no preamplifier to play the role of impedance-matching interface between amplifier - and a source direct-coupled to an extremely revealing amplifier, with the slightly reserved nature of the D05 getting magnified beyond what is strictly desirable for a Blue Moon award. Not far beyond though. The music never turned boring or slow but it did sometimes lack the last bit of hot-bloodedness and speed I desired.

As it would not be conceivable to grant a Blue Moon award with the endorsement it entails without fully understanding the true reasons for this effect, the award will have to wait for a few more weeks - enough time for the Genesis MDHR to get here for me to assess its impact on PRaT; enough time for Steve McCormack's VRE-1 preamplifier to get here as well and allow me to test more configurations and components with the GR360 to confirm that it is indeed true Blue Moon material as my heart tells me it is - by then without any further ado.

In the meantime, if the very last bit of speed and raw energy matters less to you than gorgeous soundstaging, luscious tones and just plain emotional connectivity with the ability to drive just about any speaker ever designed, consider the GR360 as good as it gets. Regardless of whatever other configuration I will test it with in the coming weeks, those qualities are far too deeply rooted in the GR's way with music to ever go away...

Quality of packing: Adequate.
Reusability of packing: Once or twice.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: No particular issue.
Condition of component received: Flawless except for light scratches from previous uses.
Completeness of delivery: No issue.
Quality of owner's manual: Very detailed and informative.
Website comments: Complete and again very informative.
Warranty: 90 days, which can be extended to 5-years with registration.
Global distribution: Check website for distributors; broad distribution worldwide.
Human interactions: Probably one of the most courteous, open and responsive persons in this industry.
Other: Amplifiers accept only balanced connections at this point.
Pricing: Based on the price of other Hypex-based amplifiers, the GR360 will seem pricey at first but the technology that goes into its design, the parts used and its sophistication fully justify the price. More importantly, the GR360 easily cohabits with five-figure amps when it comes to performance and musicality.
Application conditions: The GR360 can drive about any load effortlessly while providing tremendous finesse and tonal richness. It might be preferable to drive it with a fast and transparent preamplifier rather than source direct but this will be confirmed in a followup. Balanced inputs only is a practical limitation but a version accepting SE connections is on the way.
Final comments & suggestions: Should the GR360 be more than you would like to spend, the GR180 can safely be considered guilty by association and for 40% less, it will certainly bring most of what its big brother achieves. It may actually be the better choice with loads less demanding than my RPDs are.