Hi-Fi+ Awards 2016: Amplification

Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Integrated amplifiers
Aavik Acoustics U-300 Unity,
Ayre Acoustics AX-5 twenty,
Conrad Johnson GAT Series 2,
Naim Audio NAP-300DR

Preamplifier of the Year

conrad-johnson GAT Series II

With its gold-effect front panels, and its black crackle top, rear, and side plates, the conrad-johnson GAT doesn’t cut an impressive visage. It’s fairly rudimentary, single-ended-only line input make for a features list that is not, on paper at least, that impressive, and all this makes the revised version of the GAT line preamplifier perplexing. Why? Because its sonic performance leaves you in no doubt that this – let’s face it – expensive preamplifier is worth every single penny, whatever its appearance and base spec say to the contrary. Isn’t that, at its heart, what good high-end audio is supposed to be about?

The revisions between the original GAT and its Mk II version are far-reaching, with more than 100 changes to the circuit design and component roll-out, necessitating a completely new circuit board. Fortunately, conrad-johnson has offered a full upgrade path for present GAT owners to move to the latest model, and the upgrade is well worth the taking. In testing, Roy Gregory opined that, “I’ve not heard anything that matches the GAT Series II. This is among the most genuinely natural and is definitely the most neutral pre-amp I’ve ever used – with none of the pinched, lean, or mean associations that term normally evokes.” He concluded that, “truly great preamps are few and far between, confined to those that genuinely manage to put the music first – and this is definitely, unequivocally a great preamp.” Summing up, Gregory said, “if you are well-healed enough – or committed enough – to consider a pre-amp at this level, c-j’s GAT remains at the top of the audition list.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 137

Power Amplifier of the Year

Naim Audio NAP 300 DR

A key fixture in Naim Audio’s Classic Series of electronics, the two-box, top-of-the-line NAP 300 has long stood between the more affordable, lower power designs in the Naim range and the top-flight 500 Series and Statement amplifiers. As befits Naim’s inconoclastic approach, the 90 watt per channel amplifier is configured slightly differently from most two-chassis amplifiers, in that it’s divided between ‘brain’ (its power supply) and ‘brawn’ (the stereo power amplifier), rather than a more conventional mono design. Recently, alongside many of Naim’s range of power supplies and amplifiers, the NAP 300 has been upgraded to ‘DR’ status, replacing the chip-based regulator circuit with a discrete component board, as well as using the custom-designed NA009 output devices, which form such an important element in the outstanding performance of Naim’s Statement power amps. This is a fine example of ‘trickle-down’ in action.

Tested in the context of a complete system, comprising Naim streaming preamplifier, Focal loudspeakers, and a complete run of Chord Company cables, the NAP 300 DR shines out as a perfect expression of what Naim does so fundamentally right in all its products. In our test, Roy Gregory was deeply impressed by its, “presence and dynamic authority of its mid-bass, so vital to the feeling of instrumental identity, scale, and power, the intimacy it brings to vocals, its agility and poise, its easy sense of tempo, be that relaxed or hesitant, measured, or urgent.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 135

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