For my money, the GM13.5B II finally makes real the absolute promise of an all-tube pre-amp with solid state virtues. It's as quiet and precise and controlled as ANY high-end solid-state pre-amp I've used, but with an added kiss of warmth you just don't get with an absence of valves. It sounds big and palpable and open, it's a real Palladium of a pre-amp creating a vast arena with no apparent walls beyond those in the recording. And it is blindingly quick. Digging out a handful of recent bluegrass and C&W items with ridiculously fast - and I mean heavy-metal-fast - plucking of exceedingly metallic-sounding instruments, the GRAAF provided both the speed and the correct ringing and twanging, with decays and full stops as clear-cut as the real thing. Better still, it keeps them all separates, quite a feat when you have a stage full of rednecks trying to out- each other.
But tubes are about warmth, and it was here that I got to savour the true worth of the GM13.5B II. Alison Krauss' voice - as unspoiled an instrument as was ever heard, so sweet it makes Dolly Parton sound like Bessie Smith - issued from those Italian sculptings with the lightness of down, while at the same time her backing band's instrumenst retained all the kick and weight they possess. A dazzling, glorious balancing act, truly a mix of strength and finesse and power, all at the same time.
But back to this unit's almost-USP: the 0dB setting. I actually found myself changing it from recording to recording, but I'm sure that I would eventually discover circumstances and partnering components where either 0dB or 13.5dB were preferred for the majority of the time. But that presupposes a normal life, in which a system is left unchanged for long periods. After two months in reviewer mode, I was still at a stage where the system sat unmolested for no more than two sessions in a row.