I picked-up the PS Audio GCP-200 preamp, with external GCPS power supply, this week to further my journey of discovery with digital/power switching technology. Like its cousin, the GCA-250 power amp which I've been using to drive the Revel Ultima Gems, the build quality is top notch.
The preamp/power supply combo has an array of features/specs I found compelling enough to merit a try.
- 5 sets of single-ended inputs
- 1 set of balanced inputs
- 2 sets of single-ended outputs (1 pair buffered for long ICs)
- 1 set of balanced outputs
- 1 set of sub outputs
- Programmable gain for each input - (RCA) 4 to 14dB, (XLR) 10 to 20dB
- Programmable LCD display for each input
- Remote with full feature control (including mute and phase)
- Input Sensitivity 175mV - 8.5V (an absolutely amazing range)
- Frequency Response +/- 0.1dB 10Hz-50kHz
- THD+N < 0.007% at 1V
- Power Supply Capacitance (combined w/GCPS) 140,000 uF
Most interesting to me is the gain stage itself. Hawked by Paul McGowan and crew as "the world's first and only preamplifier with no attenuation of the signal" it had my interest piqued to the max. I have a couple of very respectable preamps in play around here. One, the Dodd MLP, uses a high quality wiper pot in the attenuation circuit. The other, the Carver Research Lightstar Direct, uses a digitally switched stepped attenuator. Both have (very minor) issues inherent to their design--the former a slight coloration between moderate and high attenuation, the latter an annoying, low-level "tick" as the attenuation is stepped up/down.
PS Audio's new design does not attenuate by shunting signal to ground and, for all intents and purposes, has no mechanical, moving parts. Rather, it uses their Gain Cell analog device technology (which is at the heart of a wide range of their recent product line) to simply increase or decrease gain.
Okay, how does it sound?
Source: EE MiniMax tube output CDP with Amperex USN/CEP 7308 gold pins
Preamps: PS Audio GCP-200, Dodd Audio MLP
Power Amplification: PS Audio GCA-250
IC's - PS Audio xStream Statement, single-ended
Speaker cables: PS Audio xStream Statement, bi-wire
Speakers: Revel Ultima Gems
Power: Transcendent Sound Balanced Power Supply
Power cables: PS Audio Statement
Media: Jimmy Smith - Dot Com Blues
First impression, versus the Dodd MLP it seeks to displace, is more laid back in total presentation. After several A/B switchs between the two, I came to the conclusion that what I considered "forward" about the MLP was actually the third order harmonic, "soft" characteristic of tube gain, especially on horn work. Given the fact that my source component also uses tube gain, it may very well be a case of "too much tubes". The GCP-200 exhibited a quantifiably more life-like percussive attack and less colored vocals, less blending of register on Smith's B-3 runs, clear rise and decay of trumpet and sax solos and fills, sizzlin' in the pan brush work, piano work that cut through the mix, and bass dynamic punch (clearly in the OMG! range.)
Media: Al DiMeola - Kiss My Axe
This, truly, is a reference level recording whether you have an affinity for jazz or not. It's engaging, tightly arranged, and has every frequency in the audible range to sample. The Dodd does a great job with it. But, again upon many A/B switches, the same characteristic differences noted above were obvious. My favorite cut "The Embrace" features Al playing his PRS through a Roland GR-50 in tightly knit runs paralleled with Barry Miles lightning quick grand piano, all overlaid with synthesizers by Rachel Z., and puctuated with metal percussion and explosive "heavy drum" statements (actually done by Al himself on a Korg M1 and Roland S-700.) Most notable was the MLP's inability to keep it all "tight". The GCP-200 was down with it all, covering everything with perfect separation and imaging. I had this mental image of it saying "is that all ya' got" with a smirk on its face. The "heavy drums" actually moved the fronds of two potted palms behind the Gems rear ports (a first). Oh yeah!
My preliminary conclusion tells me the GCP-200 is a welcome guest, as the MLP has always been. The EE MiniMax lacks a non-tube set of outputs. My next adventure with the rig is to insert the Shanling CDT-100 as a source and try it in non-tube output mode (to test my "too much tubes" theory.)
New and innovative gear like the PS Audio GC line makes this hobby thoroughly enjoyable for me. If you get a chance to audition any of the pieces, I think you'll share my enjoyment.