Meanwhile, the PA‑10 is a really clever design for the wannabe upgrader. It’s a fully balanced Bridge-Tied Load design that facilitates really easy bridged mono mode. This turns the 75W stereo chassis into a 150W design that doubles its power into four-ohm loads, meaning a pair of them can deliver up to 600W into four ohms. It also features an adjustable damping factor, allowing the amplifier to adapt to different loudspeakers; the default option works for most large loudspeakers, while the ‘low’ setting works best for high-sensitivity designs and small monitor models.
Bridging involves the throwing of a switch on the rear panel (next to the damping factor and balanced/single-ended switches, all three have little blue LED indicators), while connecting the PA‑10 upstream to other Gold Note models is easy thanks to the ‘GN Link’ connector. This is a 12V sync/trigger system that allows a Master/Slave mode for powering up and down electronics in order.
Gold Note have not tried to squeeze too much into the PA‑10 box. A 75W power amplifier as standard, it can nevertheless deliver 150W into four ohms and 300W into two ohms (in bridged mono mode, the amps do not have a rating for a two ohm load). For a comparatively small Class AB design, the PA‑10 is surprisingly load-tolerant, too; OK, so the sort of punishing impedances that are a function of the highest of high-end loudspeakers are beyond any amplifier that doesn’t weigh as much as a car engine, but the highest of high-end loudspeakers aren’t normally combined with a £1,170 stereo power amp; especially one that could be delivered in a reasonably large shoe-box.
I’m not going to break up the band too much. The DS‑10 and PA‑10 (and especially the DS‑10 with a pair of PA‑10s) work extremely well as a team and their performance envelopes match one another well. But in a very real way, the DS‑10 is the star of the show. That isn’t to decry the performance of the PA‑10 – it’s a very good power amplifier in its own right – but the sheer flexibility and performance of the DS‑10 would make it a star of many a show. The DS‑10 is a fine digital hub with outstanding flexibility thanks to those three adjustable parameters, a streaming system that works smoothly, and a headphone amplifier stage that comes close to the performance of dedicated standalone headphone amps.
The Chameleon DAC does make the performance of the DS‑10 somewhat hard to pin down because it affords the Gold Note a degree of sonic flexibility unparalleled in most digital replay systems. However, there are common features to this flexible sound. It’s a very detailed sound, with excellent soundstage space and openness, held in place by a rock-solid bass foundation. If you think ‘bass foundation’ to mean a sort of big, overblown bass, the DS‑10 isn’t for you; that foundation is one of control and ‘right sized’ tonality. ‘Congo Man’ by Ernest Ranglin [Below The Bassline, Island] is a perfect barometer here; even the smallest amount of excess in the bass comes over as flabby, cone-flapping, one-note bass drone, but here the bass notes were tidy, ordered and extremely deep. You could change a lot of the parameters to fine-tune that sound, but the basic performance remains and that’s a good thing.
It’s good because it’s the perfect match for the PA‑10. The PA‑10’s sound is similarly clean, detailed, and dynamically taut yet controlled. Once again, bass is tighter and precise rather than ‘phat’ (although there is some flexibility thanks to the damping factor control) but still deep. Mono makes a big difference here; with soundstaging being ‘good+’ with one PA‑10 and ‘excellent’ with two, and that has a particular emphasis both in terms of stage size and openness, and solidity of instruments within that stage. A good example of how this stage size affects the sound is The Emerson String Quartet’s reading of Bach’s The Art of Fugue [DG]. This exceptionally clean early 2000s recording is quite close mic’d and while there is a soundstage, it’s seemingly not uppermost in the engineer’s list of priorities; it’s a recording all about the detail and the majesty of both composer and musicians. Nevertheless, it’s a good ‘more in the breach than the observance’ test of staging, and where a lone PA‑10 makes a good impression of the physical and musical interplay of four musicians, two amps really give that sound a sense of authority and physical space between instruments.