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Musical Life Conductor MK II Turntable, GamuT Phi 7 Speaker & D200i Amplifier Review

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Musical Life Conductor MK II turntableA few months back I was invited to check out a few items from K.T. Audio Imports’ Tom Vu. I was going to have an opportunity to audition the GamuT Phi 7 speaker, GamuT 200i solid-state stereo amplifier and Musical Conductor MK II turntable and matching arm. Sounded like an interesting combo. I had previously had the chance to listen to some of these products in a private listening session provided us at CES by Tom. All were rather intriguing in one way or another. Of course, being of curious mind and inquisitive nature I could not pass up the opportunity to take an extended listen. Unfortunately, due to timing, the allowed audition period was less than ideal for a full in-depth review of any one piece, let alone three different products of differing nature simultaneously. Most of us in the audio press community have real jobs that pay the bills (generally, writing is not a paying gig) and allow us to indulge in this hobby. So having 40 hours a week to devote to listening and reviewing is normally not in the cards. Anything less than 90 days with a piece of equipment will not yield you much in the way of a good in-depth review. This was clearly going to be the case so let’s look at this as an extended audition for initial impressions, and perhaps Tom can arrange a more lengthy review of these three products. I can tell you that all three really deserve in-depth and more detailed reviews that would come from a more reasonable time frame.

So challenge number one was to listen as much as I could in the time that I had outside of work. Not a problem. No need to twist my arm to listen to new gear. Besides I don’t sleep much. Challenge number two was getting the equipment from LA to Vegas. The only way it seemed was for me to drive to LA and retrieve it. So off I went, with Paula in tow, from Vegas to LA. Upon arriving at Tom’s place, loading the amps and the speakers was a breeze. The challenge came in loading a 250lb turntable into a small space. That was lots of fun but Tom and I managed to get it all loaded, and off we went on our trip back to Vegas.

Once home, I went about the art of unpacking and setting up. So right out of the chute it was all very normal and mundane with the speakers and amp. Both were packaged in a double boxing affair but the boxes were heavy, the foam insulation was dense and the speakers and an amp were a breeze to pack and unpack if needed. I would say the packing material was about as UPS friendly as one could expect. That is always comforting to know.

Musical Life Conductor Turntable

The real fun began with getting the turntable out of the SUV and into the house. Again, my son Matt was there to assist. I don’t think I ever take the time to thank him enough for always being willing to help the old man schlep this stuff in and out of the house. There was no shipping container of any kind with the turntable so I am not sure exactly how it would arrive if you chose to buy it. I would imagine it would come on a pallet and in heavy wood crating. This thing is a beast. Be sure that you have a stand that can support upwards of 300 pounds. I have an audio credenza that we tested by standing on it. Since it held two grown men, we were confident that it would handle the table, and fortunately it did.

Placement and dispersion of weight are serious matters to consider with this table. Also choose location of placement wisely and with great thought, as you will not want to move this and set it up again anytime soon. So, once I got everything in the house I decided to spend time listening to each piece as a standalone item inserted into my main system. I did take the speakers and insert them into my second system to allow them to run for as long as I could before doing any actual critical listening. So first up was the Musical Life Conductor MkII turntable.

The Conductor is one impressive piece of rock. Not rock as in accompanied by roll but rather as in stone. The entire turntable, sans platter, is made of slate. The plinth, chassis and two arm boards are all made from select 60mm slate. Slate was chosen for its resonance damping ability. Slate is mainly composed of quartz and muscovite or illite, often along with biotite, chlorite, hematite, and pyrite and, less frequently, apatite, graphite, kaolin, magnetite, tourmaline, or zircon as well as feldspar. Occasionally, as in the purple slates of North Wales, ferrous reduction spheres form around iron nuclei, leaving a light green spotted texture. These spheres are sometimes deformed by a subsequently applied stress field to ovoids, which appear as ellipses when viewed on a cleavage plane of the specimen. For some reason I just thought you might need that info.

Before you poo poo the idea as a gimmick, understand that slate has been used in a number of differing areas for eons. Because it is a good electrical insulator and fireproof, it was used to construct early 20th century electric switchboards and relay controls for large electric motors. It is dense and tough and fine slate is frequently used as a whetstone to hone knives. Due to its thermal stability and chemical inertness, slate has been used for laboratory bench tops and for billiard table tops. In 18th and 19th century schools, slate was extensively used for blackboards and individual writing slates for which slate or chalk pencils were used. In areas where it is available, high-quality slate is used for gravestones and commemorative tablets, and by artists in various genres. All of these uses require durability and the ability to work it to fine tolerances.

It is a truly unique and beautiful material for the use of the base and accompanying pieces. The only downside is it takes a community to move this beast because, all told, it weighs in around three hundred pounds! Can you say hernia accompanied by spinal injury? Some things really are better left to burly moving professionals and this might be one of those things. For people like me with history of spinal injuries, this is definitely not a table to take lightly, get it? Once it is set up though it is a relatively plug-and-play affair. The table came with two of Musical Life’s Conductor SE tonearms on at 10 inches, and the other at 12 inches.

The table utilizes a detached motor that is covered by a top plate that acts as the mounting board for the tonearms. The only issue I ever had with the table, is that if tightened down too tight the top plate actually causes start up troubles with the platter. If the end user finds this to be the case, then simply back off the screws that attach it to the plinth by a quarter turn and all is well. The manufacture does not provide much detail about the table and keep specs pretty close to the vest. It being such a unique affair, I imagine that is fairly normal with all the industrial espionage that goes on. At any rate though, it is all very straightforward and simplistic in setup. The platter is made of solid carbon with eight brass weights and is 40 mm thick. I would estimate the weight of the platter to be 25-30 pounds. Once set up, adjusted and dialed-in, the table’s speed ran true and consistent the entire time I had it. Of course, at these prices you expect that, and the good news is you get it. Once I had the table running I grabbed the stethoscope. As I expected, not a single sound or hint of rumble. Slate is a pretty inert material and not much for conducting vibration. One thing that really needs to be addressed is the feet. Tom provided me with three massive cone feet but they should actually come solidly attached in some way, rather than trying to balance the table on them. Be careful or you will gouge your rack or stand if you are not careful, or worse yet crush your hand under the table should you miscue this step.

Next came the arm mounting. I installed both arms but quite honestly after making sure that both operated correctly most of my listening was done with the 12” arm. Set up was relatively simple and straight forward. The arms are nicely machined and attractive units, and about as nerve wrecking as I have ever encountered. Part of this nervousness was my lack of comfort with an arm held in place by a top mounted magnet connecting to a small ball bearing affair. The arm wands on the two that I had were made of ebony. The counter weighting was easily adjustable, but at one point I bumped the arm and it simply detached from its magnetic bearing and dropped to the platter. Thankfully, I did not have an expensive cartridge on it and the stylus cover was protecting the suspension. It was one of those odd and surreal moments that make you throw up in your mouth. Clearly, caution is to be used when the only form of attaching the arm to the arm base is a small magnet. Other than that one misstep, there seemed to be no problems.

The arms tracked beautifully and seemed to be totally lacking any of the fidgety and finicky accoutrements that many arms have these days. I tried a number of cartridges in the arm and it seemed to deftly handle them all. The only one that seemed to give it any trouble was the 16 gram Goldnote Baldinotti. A wonderful cartridge but it does not suit every arm. The Koetsu Azule and Vermillion both worked extremely well along with the Dynavector 17D3 (yes I know it is an inexpensive cartridge but it is also quite good and showed itself well in this setup, so never judge a product strictly on price). Mounting the cartridge is very straightforward although the instructions for the arm are non-existent. Speaking of that, Tom was able to get me some poorly translated instructions, but this is something that any manufacture wanting to market high-end components in any country but their own needs to invest in a good copy writer and translation software to provide proper instructions. To not do so at these price points is absurd.

The sum total information available from the Musical Life website is included below. I would say minimalism is a core competency for them.

“The Conductor is the state-of-the-art turntable by Musical Life. Only selected materials with highest manufacturing precision are used. The highlights of the Conductor are: substantial mass, smooth running, concealed motor unit, 100mm high POM (Polyoxymethylen) platter and the extremely complex construction of the plinth. This is manufactured from a 100mm high Slate stone and brass in a complex labor-intensive process. Besides the enormous expenditure of time required in manufacturing The Conductor, no machines in existence can work on this material as precisely and cleanly as the human hand. Therefore, more than 60 working hours are necessary to manufacture a Conductor turntable. This expenditure of time might be singular to turntable manufacturing, and serves to illustrate the uniqueness of the Conductor. Perfection hand made in Germany!”

I would agree with them that this is an exemplary turntable and certainly to be considered if you are looking at the ultimate statement of mass as a way to end all external vibration from finding its way to your stylus. Be sure you have a rack that can handle the weight and also be sure you have a lot of friends handy to help you schlep the thing and get it set up. Great sound, ultra chic looks and it is environmentally friendly to boot!

GamuT Phi 7 Loudspeakers

The speakers that came along for the ride were the GamutT Phi 7. A tall slender drink of water these are! Very attractive and rather room-set-up friendly. They came in a beautiful rosewood finish.
This speaker incorporates the knowledge gained during the development and refinement of the L series, and then brings it down to a lower price point. Blessed with four 15 cm (roughly 6.15 inch) inch woofers, one mid range of the same size as the woofers and a 1.5 inch radiating ring tweeter, the speakers are roughly 49.5 inches tall by 7 inches wide and 13 inches dep. They come with a pretty interesting foot arrangement. The stand feet swing out from the unit to give the speaker a four point stand. It is a nifty idea. The narrow baffle is intended to enhance sound dispersion in the upper frequencies. This is a very elegant looking speaker and very WAF friendly. To quote the manufacture, “The tall baffle with the woofers distributed over its height gives an excellent acoustic coupling to the listening room and assures maximum control over resonances generated in the listening room itself.”

They are roughly 89dB in sensitivity and are primed for a 4 ohm load. This should make it a pretty friendly and easily driven speaker for a number of amps and the GamuT i200 that came with the package seemed a pretty good match. I ran them in for a few days without paying much attention to them. After three days I decided to do some measurements. From 20 kHz on down I found some interesting drops along the way. I had heard of another reviewer claiming that between the 4 kHz range and 20 kHz there was approximately a 5-6dB drop. I did not see this in any of the measurements I took. I did notice a slight drop of 2db at around 500Hz and another 1 db drop at around 4kHz but other than that they were pretty flat all the way through and this could have been a room anomaly. I am not sure what caused someone else to see such a difference but I am sure it must have been something really out of the norm. I cannot say the Phi 7s are totally neutral, I am not sure anything is ever totally neutral, but I can say that they were close and extremely pleasing and easy to listen too. The bottom-end rolled off steeply around 45 Hz which I will attribute to the rather slender cabinet dealing with 4 woofers, a midrange and the tweeter. For the bulk of the time I had them I had them well out in the room and away from any reinforcement and in when pulled closer to the back wall there was a bit of a change. The midrange and highs were very smooth inducing absolutely no fatiguing.

Overall the speaker was well integrated and most likely voiced to accommodate the cabinet shape and size. What really struck me about the Phi7 was how utterly natural the high frequencies sounded to my ears. It was well integrated and lacked any hard edge without being overly laid back. That is a tough hat trick to pull off. The speaker overall had a great coherency and continuity. The midrange was tight and up front and not as warm and smooth as I have heard in speakers like the Von Schweikert VR4, but then again these are not in the same price range.

One thing the Phi 7s did in spades was to create a wide and open soundstage and completely disappear from the room. They were also incredibly rhythmic and toe tapping inducing. I expected a bit more in the bottom-end and perhaps I did not get them broken in as well as they could be. I did find that with more than usual toe-in the bass seemed tighter, more musical and slightly deeper. This is a speaker that can comfortably be placed near a wall or a corner without creating booming bass. I tried this by pulling them back and it did enhance the bass but at a slight cost in the sound stage. I think these would be incredibly good with a subwoofer to take you to that 20 Hz mark.

The fit and finish is first rate and as I said the cabinet shape and the quality of the veneer lets it blend in well with most any décor and still deliver very dynamic, highly rhythmic sound. I would like to try these in a home theater setup. That would be something. All in all, I enjoyed my time with the Gamut Phi7. According to the manufacturer, they are designed with home theater application in mind and would most likely serve that utilization rather well. This might be the perfect speaker for the audiophile who has to get their two-channel thrills out of a family-centered theater system.

Gamut D200i Solid State Stereo Amp

The amp that Tom provided with the speakers and turntable was the GamuT D200i. Rated at 200 watts per channel, with a dual mono design that utilizes two power transformers and two pairs of large power supply capacitors, the Gamut D200i brings lots of power and dynamics to your system. Plus, it does that with an elegant design and small foot print. At 17” by 17” and 6” tall this amplifier is not about girth, width or compensation for certain body parts. It is about delivering 200 watts of class A power in a foot print that works well with any rack and a clean and classy look. I will say this: it is heft and weighs roughly 70lbs.

From the front the amp looks somewhat plain but there is a one inch wide cutout on the front panel with a blue LED and the ON/OFF switch set into the recession in the face plate. Again, there is an elegant look and feel. Heat sinks run the entire length along both sides and in the back the setup is straightforward and easy. There are single-ended and XLR inputs, two pairs of WBT outputs, with an IEC power cord receptacle smack dab in the middle, which I rather like. According to GamuT the idea of using 32 transistors makes an amplifier sound more like a choir than a single, clear source. To combat that in the D200i they use a single massive transistor per channel capable of handling up to 500 watts of power. The use of a single transistor allows Gamut to tune them to “sonic perfection”, as they say. The whole point is to combine the fluid softness of tubes, and the sheer power of mos-fets.

This is a titan of an amp. Upon firing up the unit you will hear a series of two clicks or pops. That is normal and it is the way of the amp letting you know it is ready for battle. It does the same thing when you turn it off, albeit a bit quieter. This amp has everything you may want. It has tremendous strength, incredible dynamics and the ability to produce music that simply channels whatever comes through it without adding any of its own personality or sound signature. Not as warm and laid back as tubes, and certainly not harsh and edgy like many other solid-state amps but rather neutral, very neutral! Did I tell you that the D200i is neutral? This is an amp that is capable of moving your foundation when cranked to the hilt (something I no longer do but I can still tell that it will do it). I ran Joe Satriani’s “Flying in a Blue Dream” through it at pretty substantial volumes and the clarity and control were simply great. No distortions or grain, just the music as Joe laid it down on the tracks. At the intro is the sound of a conversation that actually came through an amp during the recording session, and it was decided to leave it in. When I played the same track again at lower volumes you could still hear all the detail of that conversation and the delicacy of the acoustic rhythm guitar.

On some older jazz with Art Pepper and Chet Baker, the sounds of brass were never harsh and never produced that effect that comes from someone scraping their nails down a chalk board. What it did do on these tracks was give you all the delicate detail of brushes on a snare drum, the ever-so-light tapping of the head of a drumstick on a 20-inch ride cymbal and the decay of that sound. A truly stunning delivery to be sure.

I wish I had been allotted more time with this amp to truly flesh it out more but during the time that I did have it and was able to run a few different speakers with it, I found it tireless and never fatiguing. I am not sure exactly how they did it but GamuT has a real solid-state gem on its hands and when the time comes for me to buy another amp, I may well investigate the D200i as the amp. If one is that good how would two be strapped and used as monoblocks?

Overall the time spent with all three components lightly discussed here was a bit too short to really dig into the more long-term performance issues; but I think it is safe to say that the quality and the sound of these components all warrant serious investigation if you are in the market for speakers, amps or turntables and I know Tom Vu has a vast array of pieces from all the manufactures sampled here. Check him out and get familiar with GamuT and that amplifier technology. You will not be sorry that you did!

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