Preview: Behold’s Gentle G192 Integrated Amplifier
|Preview: Behold’s Gentle G192 Integrated Amplifier
|A Gentle Giant
On a recent visit to the Laufer Teknik audio salon located in downtown Brooklyn, New York, I was surprised by their actual location: 110 Livingston Street. For those of you who were educated in New York City, you’ll know this address was the home of the former Board of Education and the Mecca. We were greeted at the door by Sam Laufer and his accommodating staff. The purpose of our visit, or so I thought, was to listen to the new Sunny Cable Technology “Mini-Majestic” H3W12 loudspeakers ($28k). This is the model above my reference H2W10s (which retail for only $8k) and that I reviewed last fall (here). The loudspeakers were already set up and ready for a quick listening session. Powered by the legendary Behold separates, the differences between my loudspeakers and these H3W12s were very significant.
Like their bigger 3-way brethren, the 800 lb, $88k Majestics that our esteemed publisher boasts about, the H3W12s sport their own super tweeter, and twelve-inch short-throw horn, matched to a twelve-inch super fast bass driver – each enclosed in their own separate enclosure. The sonic similarities were instantly apparent in part to their lineage to the bigger, more expensive models. However the presentation of the H3W12s was more voluminous when compared to the H2W10s I own. The H3W12s exhibit a larger and more dimensional soundstage with a more ambient air. In short, the differences between this model and mine were obvious and somewhat depressing for me.
I attributed the wonderful sonics to the synergistic component matching as well. Speaking of synergy, I’ve noticed that when Laufer Teknik matches the Sunny loudspeakers or the beautiful Ascendo loudspeaker systems to Behold electronics something magical happens. I’ve noticed this sonically-synergistic combination at CES and other events over the years.
Enter the Dragon
The next demonstration featured the Behold Gentle G192 integrated amp used with my Sunny H2W10 model. The sound of this combo was so sonically compelling that I had to ask if I could take a unit home to compare to my all-Tact system and perhaps share my experience with readers here though this unit was outfitted with its room-correction feature. Based solely on the way it sounded with the H2W10s, to be honest, I did not care.
Sam Laufer is the kind of person and high-end dealer that makes the audio industry a pleasure to be associated with. Laufer later mentioned “I’ll send the Gentle over and would like for you to tell me what you think. The Gentle was in my home, in my setup and readied in less than 72 hours! Talk about service!
The Gentle G192 I received was a sample and as a result did not come with an owner’s manual or spec sheet. I did, however, glean a partial description from the Behold website.
The Behold Gentle digital section employs specially chosen multi-channel digital-to-analogue converters (DACs), one per channel with a capability of 192kHz resolution. This alone gives the Behold Gentle a welcome Ginsu Knife sort of flexibility. Where on earth can you find an super-analogue amplifier such as this, that will accept digital SPDIF (coax and plastic) inputs besides your usual run of the mil mid-fi home theater types?
To describe the Gentle in typical audio journalistic terms would not earnestly paint the proper picture of what lies beneath the hood of this remarkable product. For example, you can order the Gentle with the following:
*Amplifier section –Two analog power amplifiers (2x 80W @ 4ohms), Two digital (switch-mode) amplifiers (2x 160W @ 4ohms).
*Digital room correction, with Ascendo room tool software.
*Active digital crossover with phase-linear band-pass filters for bi-amping.
*Up to 8 analog and 6 digital inputs are available to run several stereo channels or one multi- channel 5.1 configuration.
*High-speed FireWire 6-channel ins and outs (IEEE 1394).
*3-RCA analogue stereo inputs
*Additional amplification for multi-channel applications.
These features make the Behold Gentle customizable for every music lover or audiophile. Also included is a well crafted remote control designed to put all the standard control options and more at the user’s finger tips.
It’s difficult to do justice in describing the Gentle’s appearance too. Its chassis has the same level of fit-n-finish as their other more massive products, i.e. beautifully anodized soft-silver colored housing, world-class construction and an ingenious 7” color TFT touch screen display. This unit is a statement of high-quality and high performance.
How does it sound?
The unit had very few hours on it so the privilege of burn-in was all mine (smile). Even though I knew it hadn’t fully warmed up, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. At first blush the Gentle was a bit more than I had anticipated from a new, all-in-one type device. For the last 15 years or so, my system was composed of separates and most recently the very popular Nuforce preamp and 9SE V2 amplifiers which honestly deserve all the accolades they‘ve received in the press. Needless to say, there’s been some serious listening happening here and finally having the opportunity to hear the Behold Gentle in my system as well as compare against some really impressive products proved to be a great deal of fun as well as enlightening.
I expected a protracted burn-in process, but this was not the case. The anticipated glare and harshness associated with most nearly new components, simply wasn’t there.
Listening to the Behold Gentle G192 was unlike anything I’d heard before from an integrated design—or separates for that matter. The first thing that struck me was its silky analogue feel equipped with a remarkable sense of transparency (yes it IS an analogue device). Quiet passages provided a black background to hear tempo changes and dynamics regardless of the type of music played. The music was served on a plate of sonic flavors, be it an appetizer of escargot or Buffalo wings, with the entrée waiting to be devoured. The Gentle served up a plate of tonal colors featuring harmonic rightness that had me engrossed with its sound for hours.
To illustrate these remarks, I sifted through my CD collection and selected the melancholicOnce To Every Heart [Verve B0005476-02] by Mr. Mark Murphy himself. Track one, “I’m Through With Love,” paints a sonic picture that is so beautiful and engrossing that listening to Mark’s rugged bass-baritone voice expressing heartbreak makes you ponder your own personal experiences and heartache.
Every aspect of the recording is presented in dramatic Murphy fashion. His mood is captured via close mic techniques which extracts, every vocal and tonal nuance including his breath control. The Gentle G192 captured this subtle ambience and bloom providing an intimacy that brings the recording to life and makes you a part of the music. This CD features wonderful accompaniments from trumpeter Till Bronner and pianist Frank Chastenier. Their solo interplay create a picturesque and romantic backdrop for Murphy’s style against wonderful orchestral arrangements (conducted by Nan Schwartz).
Comparing the Gentle to my (Tact designed) upper-crust Boz series of amplifiers proved both an eye and ear opening experience that brought to mind the pro and con arguments that have been raging in the press regarding digital vs. analog. Tact, in my opinion is still a very good company that has made huge contributions to the industry especially with its groundbreaking room-correction technology. Having no room-correction feature via the Gentle was not a bad as I had anticipated considering how sonically balanced the Behold Gentle demonstrated itself as. However, there’s something quite unique about room correction that’s unmistakable once experienced. Ralf Ballman equipped the Gentle with this wall-dissolving feature because he too is aware of its capabilities. The Gentle here too, will be provided with room-correction software in the not too distant future and I will again report my findings.
However, comparing the amplifiers side by side was similar to what CP experienced when he switched out his Boz amplifiers for the Behold separates some two years back. The Tact’s presentation of Murphy‘s “I’m Through with Love” is limited in the vital area of harmonics. The areas that excited me most about the Gentle. The absence of harmonic warmth and bloom detracts from the soul of the music, rendering a rather opaque rendition without the full-tilt of tonal and harmonic hues. The Gentle’s character is more tube-like as opposed to being analytical, thereby drawing the listener closer to the expression, pace and artistry of the performance.
The Nuforce 9-SE V2 monoblocks could not keep up with the Behold Gentle’s analogue voice either. It certainly proved to be a better match, particularly in the bass, than the Boz amplifiers. But it too, fell behind in the areas of soulfulness, harmonic embodiment and natural expression when compared to the Behold Gentile. This, by no means takes anything away from these noteworthy products but I must state for the record: the Nuforce sounded so good initially I could not imagine the Gentile – or any other product in its price range – competing. Especially with respect to the Nuforce’s incredible low-end pitch and articulation. This amplifier proved to be another sonic level above my beloved Boz designs. Ultimately, in the end, still could not match the utter natural balance and poise of the Behold Gentile.
Switch Mode versus Analogue
Nothing could have been more illustrative and simpler than comparing the switch-mode section of the Gentile versus its analogue section. By simply switching the taps on the back made for a quick A/B comparison. It proved no contest. Switch-mode sounded brighter, a bit harsher and less resolute. More powerful? Yes. But it paid the price when it came to translating harmonic richness, integrity and expression of the musical whole. I still am surprised by these findings considering how long I’ve lived and embraced digital amplification. Talk about eating humble pie.
Ralf Ballmann designed the Gentle as an analogue design with the option of using its switch mode amplifiers outputs to drive subwoofers perhaps or woofers in a bi-amp situation. He’s a firm believer that switch-mode designs are terrible at driving loudspeakers full-range because of the high-frequency noise they generate. Ballmann Industry GmbH, to this day, makes his living building some of the worlds finest noise measurement devices and equipment (if you don‘t believe me just google Ballmann Network analyzer model S200). And it is in this regard alone he expressed his displeasure with digitally based switch-mode designs. Ballmann prefers to leave the listening to you and I and the building and measurements to he and his staff. He’s a scientist who studies noise and sticks solely to his measurements equipment as a source of confirmation, not audiophiles.
I’ll say that Ballmann Electronica’s Behold product line has introduced a formidable integrated amplifier that stands alone in terms of versatility. Sonically speaking, it provides a palpable recreation of music for the serious music lover or audiophile. The Behold Gentle G192 has raised the bar of what can be expected in an integrated unit. It easily rivals separates in sound quality and handily saves money because you don’t need expensive cabling and AC cords. The purchaser can customize the unit to their particular needs or interest and because of its modularity, it can always be current and upgradeable.
Last but not least is the fact I’ve not heard anything in my systems (ever) that even comes close to the enjoyment the Gentle has given me over the past few weeks and therefore I’m ordering the Gentle to put my ears to where my mouth is.
Hardware Components: Available upon request
Behold Gentle G192 Basic: $15,500
For options and availability please contact: US Importer:www.LauferTeknik.com
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