Audio Note Gaku-On Monoblock Power Amplifiers Reviewed

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Think about a nice little cottage, straight out of Lovejoy. Maybe a shiny Ferrari. School fees for you child's entire pre-university education. Any of the above is available to you if you have a spare �128,000.

Or you could buy a pair of Audio Note Gaku-On monoblock power amplifiers.

Yes: �128,000. Unless I'm ill-informed, the Gaku-On is the most expensive amplifier in the world. And for this kind of money, it should transport you to realms hitherto inaccessible outside of a live performance. It should also restore your hair if you're bald, add tens of points to your IQ. Heal the sick, restore sight to the blind.

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Like most of you, I thought this was some kind of joke, an over-the-top piss-take. But never underestimate Peter Quortrop, a man so able to convince himself of the worth of his own claims that he will spend hours justifying this, this, this

Sorry, make that �128, 125. ludicrous -- there is no other word for it --attack on the concept of 'value for money'. To wit: Quortrop argues that the Gaku-On's price is due to the rarity of the main valves (two original, circa-oo 845s per channel), the 1200 man-hours needed to make each pair of amplifiers, including 500 hours for each transformer, the fact that the company makes only one pair per year and the high content of pure silver -- all wiring, transformers, etc. To which I would counter that wages must be phenomenally high in Japan and that pure silver is worth slightly less per ounce than good chopped liver; I have some very large, mint 1920s sterling silver wristawatches which would scrap for about �10 each.

Then PQ replies with his cachet/objets d'art pitch. You're asked to think about one-off fashions from names like Ozbek and Versace and Miyake. Bespoke furniture and jewellery. Big-name architect-designed homes. He suggests that he's merely applying haute monde/ haute couture practices and techniques to hi-fi -- something which all would agree that hi-fi lacks. But are there audiophile sin the world who are that desperate to own an amp merely because it's a near-one-off, something they won't see in any shops or other audiophiles' homes?

For your eighth-of-a-million pounds, you get a brace of copper-clad monoblocks sprouting the aforementioned 845s, whacking-great phalluses which are classified as 'direct-heated true triodes with bright emitters', which means that they almost light up the room. They're air force-grade tubes, designed to be used as transmitters in bombers. Each amplifier also uses a 5687 driver tube and a pair of 6072A tubes for input and phase-splitting, the latter tubes described as 'super ECC83s with lower gain'.

Tango makes the mains transformers to Audio Note specifications, while the output transformers are in-house products. The core material is described as 'ceramic leaf', said to cost �1500 each, while each uses '�3000 worth of 99.99% silver wire'. This magical material is specially drawn and coated, then wound around the core under microscope in a special pattern. Everything else in the amplifier -- admitted to be based on a venerable, simple, classic circuit -- is hard-wired with silver solder.

The direct-heated triodes provide these amplifiers with 45W each of pure Class A power. No feedback whatsoever is used. Other designer goodies contributing to the six-figure sticker price include pure copper chassis, non-magnetic tantalum film resistors, hand-made silver foil resistors and a choke power supply employing Cerafine electrolytic caps throughout. At the back are decent binding posts for bare wire or bananas, while the front contains a rotary on-off switch and a level control, which means that you can feed this with a line source straight in if you don't mind using volume controls which could be spaced quite a few feet apart in certain installations.

That said, the Gaku-Ons look rather ordinary. Well-finished but hardly an inidcator of wealth, taste or status unless the viewer happens to know the price tag beforehand. The footprint measures a tidy 250x480mm (WxD)

So, unlike a Rolls-Royce or a Chanel original purchased for status, this one isn't self-explatory., so it doesn't overwhelm with size either.

Switch on the rotary knob and you get a Frankenstein's laboratory hum, thrum and then silence. After a few seconds, the amps are ready to use, but a good hour seems to be the minimum if you want optimum performance. They glow brightly, enough to elicit a sigh from any anachrophile.

Read more about the Gaku-On Monoblocks on Page 2.

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