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HeadAmp GS-1 – A Forgotten Treasure

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 

HeadAmp GS-1 – A Forgotten Treasure

 

So after hemming and hawing for several months about picking up a solid state amp to compliment my Woo Audio WA22, I finally made the jump. I was looking for a solid stage amp in the $700-$1200 price range. Amps I considered were the Violectric V200, Corda Classic, Audio gd Phoenix, SPL Auditor, Burson HA160, and HeadAmp GS-1.

 

Having a great sounding euphonic tube amp already, I was looking for a contrast that would be complimentary to that sound. I was looking for a neutral, transparent amp that was very true to the input signal from my DAC/Source (CDs played through my Cambridge Audio Azur 650C transport feeding my W4S DAC-2). All of the amps noted above seemed to fit the bill for transparency with a neutral sound signature.

 

Long story short, I decided to go with the GS-1 (w/ DACT Stepped Attenuator) in silver (not dust…err...I mean black) based on the Kevin Gilmore Dynalo. It’s been a staple around here for 6 or more years and has kinda fallen out of the headlines on Head-Fi. I was however intrigued by the discrete design behind the amp. No opamps or capacitors in the signal path. It’s a Class A (a must for me) solid state amp (JFET, Bi-polar transistors) with a 1 W maximum; a good amount of power for the headphones I have on hand (I no longer own the very hard to drive Hifiman HE-6s).

 

Upon first opening up the box, I can easily say that the construction is top notch. It is very well built, professional looking and solid. Justin has very commendable workmanship skills and product design. It’s got a very nice and sleek look about it and I like how it looks in my rack:

 

GS-1.jpg

 

It’s got some versatility as well. It allows up to 2 separate inputs and can function as a pre-amp. Two headphone outputs are available (both are equivalent) and a two gain settings (1x and 8.5x).

 

Now, how does it sound?

 

Test Tracks:

Jazz at the Pawnshop

Copland: Third Symphony, etc. Eiji Que: Minnesota Orchestra: HDCD

Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years

Porcupine Tree: The Sky Moves Sideways

Metallica: The Black Album

The Sheepdogs: Learn and Burn

The Grateful Dead: The Very Best of (HDCD)

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain

Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World

Rush: Fly by Night (2011 Remaster from Sectors I)

 

Headphones/IEMs used:

Full sized headphones: LCD-3, HD800, T1, Ed.8LE

IEMs: Westone 4, NuForce NX700, Hifiman RE0

 

Initial out of the box impressions were very good. First thing that got me with this amp is the absolute “blackness” of the background. If black is the canvass for an HDTV’s picture, then complete silence is the canvas for audio gear. And the GS-1 does this better than any other amp (desktop or portable) I’ve heard. I’ve owned some really good amps in this regard like the Meier Concerto or RSA Hornet, but none have come close to this level. I was able to plug in my Ed.8LEs (the most sensitive headphones I own) and heard nothing. Even my IEMs were completely silent on the Low Gain setting. Initially I thought the amp must be defective as I thought only the LED was ON. Then I pushed PLAY on my CD player and was amazed to find that the amp was indeed fully ON.

 

I would definitely describe the amp as very transparent and neutral. If you’re looking for an amp to “tune” your system (either for your headphones, upstream gear, or personal preferences) I would look elsewhere. I feel that the music just flows through the GS-1 like an open window of what the recording has to offer. Very little of the GS-1 is imparted to the sound.

 

First off, I am not a believer in burn in for amps/DACs/cables. But after some initial burn in, I found that the sound staging improved, the treble became smoother and the bass impact/detail tightened up. So I guess we’ll leave that to an Act of God. ;) If you’ve heard the GLite (one of my favourite sub $500 solid state amps), the GS-1 has a similar clean tone, but from memory, the bass impact and definition is quite a bit better on the larger sibling. As well, the highs on the GLite could be a bit too tizzy for my liking (as could the Corda Concerto). The GS-1, in my rig, has very extended and detailed treble; without any sizzle on my HD800s or T1s. I think the best improvement (along with a bit more power) has to be the imaging over the GLite.

 

A few long term Head-Fiers have described a holographic sound stage and after some burn-in, I can definitely attest to that effect. While the imaging on my WA22 is slightly wider and deeper, I find it slightly more precise with the GS-1. Every instrument in Jazz at the Pawnshop was exactly placed in my mind’s eye, every clank of a dish or quiet background discussion by the audience was accurately placed in the pawn shop.

 

The bass on this amp is tight, deep and fast. The organic and earthy bass of my WA22 is outstanding and I do enjoy it very much. But the GS-1 plays Enter Sandman’s initial rumble very tight and fast without the tube bloom that I’m used to. It’s still impactful (though less than my WA22), fast and tight. A great counter presentation to my tube amp. Yet, it still comes off as very musical.

 

The mids are presented in the proper proportion to my ears, nice and very clean. My WA22 presents very organic/upfront mids. Some might say a bit too much or a bit too lush, but then others might say that the GS-1 has mids that aren’t organic/full enough. It’s really personal preferences here and both are very enjoyable and complimentary.

 

Amazingly it drove all of the headphones that I threw at it very well with plenty of head room; from my LCD-3s to my very efficient Ed.8s. Amazingly, being as quiet as it is, on Low gain, it was fantastic with my IEMs. It had a lower bass floor than my portable iBasso D4 Mamba or FiiO E5. I haven’t come across such a versatile amp that could drive so many different full sized headphones and IEMs.

 

Overall, this amp is one amazing choice for those looking for a clean and transparent amp that doesn’t add anything to the music; just amplifies the signal from your DAC0 to your headphones…period. If you’re looking to “tune” your system with a warm or bass-heavier amp, you’d better look elsewhere. But you’d be missing out on a true audiophile experience of very transparent fidelity and one heck of a headphone amplifier. 

 


Edited by MacedonianHero - 1/28/12 at 10:42am
post #2 of 54
This just proves that a sound design that is well executed doesn't need to be constantly updated.

Well done Peter. As always.
post #3 of 54

Great review. I owned the GS-1 DACT (as you know) and I think you nailed the description.

 

Aside from the SQ, I love its versatility and form factor.

post #4 of 54
Thread Starter 

Thanks Ross and Shahrose. I felt that this amp was getting lost amongst the newer released amps. But good discrete amp designs have been around for a very long time...part of what makes this versatile amp so "timeless".

post #5 of 54

Nice review MacedonianHero,

 

This was the very reason that I went with the GS-1 over other amps that I had in mind ie..  M1 HPA, Burson 160, and the Violectric V100.  The transparency, I wanted to listen to my recordings - not the amp.  I didn't even want to know the amp was present.  I have some hi res recordings I want to listen to without any color provided by the amp.  So far that is what this amp is giving me.  The only other amp I listened to was the Burson 160D, 160 and the 160DS.  All of which did not have the transparency I was looking for.  I can't say about the V100 and there is not much info out there on the M1 HPA.  But all the reviews that I read on this amp from years back seem to say the things I was looking for and "by George" they where right.

 

As I type this listing to Diana Krall, Patricia Barber and Rachelle Ferrell with my HD800's, HD650's and the D7000 -  the only thing you can hear is the difference in the phones.  The amp puts out exactly what the recording is giving it.  That's great and the exact thing I was looking for.  

 

For my next project I don't know rather to go up to the GS-X or to a B22.  I'm a SS man, I don't want to deal with the tubs and rolling and all that.  Two things about the GS-X  1.  The wait time is like 3-4 months according to Justin.  2.  I'm not sure it can drive the HE-6, as this might be a CAN I would like in the future. 

 

My next pair of CANS will be the T1 and the LCD 2.  I can't wait the listen to these puppies on this bad boy.  

 

As I am still in the so called burn in stage, with a little more than two days.  It can only get better from here.  

 

Thanks to Ars, Radio Head and a few others that recommended this amp.

 

That's right - the GS-1 for the 1K range of amps  IS BACK......

post #6 of 54

Nice review MH.  I've owned some good amps in the past; GS-1 is the only one I've kept.


Edited by peanuthead - 1/28/12 at 12:58pm
post #7 of 54
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by preproman View Post

Nice review MacedonianHero,

 

This was the very reason that I went with the GS-1 over other amps that I had in mind ie..  M1 HPA, Burson 160, and the Violectric V100.  The transparency, I wanted to listen to my recordings - not the amp.  I didn't even want to know the amp was present.  I have some hi res recordings I want to listen to without any color provided by the amp.  So far that is what this amp is giving me.  The only other amp I listened to was the Burson 160D, 160 and the 160DS.  All of which did not have the transparency I was looking for.  I can't say about the V100 and there is not much info out there on the M1 HPA.  But all the reviews that I read on this amp from years back seem to say the things I was looking for and "by George" they where right.

 

As I type this listing to Diana Krall, Patricia Barber and Rachelle Ferrell with my HD800's, HD650's and the D7000 -  the only thing you can hear is the difference in the phones.  The amp puts out exactly what the recording is giving it.  That's great and the exact thing I was looking for.  

 

For my next project I don't know rather to go up to the GS-X or to a B22.  I'm a SS man, I don't want to deal with the tubs and rolling and all that.  Two things about the GS-X  1.  The wait time is like 3-4 months according to Justin.  2.  I'm not sure it can drive the HE-6, as this might be a CAN I would like in the future. 

 

My next pair of CANS will be the T1 and the LCD 2.  I can't wait the listen to these puppies on this bad boy.  

 

As I am still in the so called burn in stage, with a little more than two days.  It can only get better from here.  

 

Thanks to Ars, Radio Head and a few others that recommended this amp.

 

That's right - the GS-1 for the 1K range of amps  IS BACK......


I wouldn't think the GS-X would be a good solution for the HE-6s. It puts out 2W max and while this would be more than sufficient for most headphones, the HE-6s are a very different beast entirely.

 

post #8 of 54

Nice review. The WA22 and GS-1 are both on my dream list of amps. Glad to see someone else though they would make a good complement to each other as well. 

post #9 of 54

Nice review.

 

Isn't the GS-1 like a Gilmore Lite/Dynalo on steroids?  These amps are legendary and shall never be forgotten!

 

Too much focus on bling-bling and FOTM in these forums...

 

I only wish that headamp still sold the Gilmore Lite *sigh*

post #10 of 54

That's a very well thought out review Peter.  You really nailed it.  The GS-1 is an incredible, full featured, yet compact amp.  You're absolutely right that Kevin Gilmore hit a home run with that design, and IMO, Justin's HeadAmp GS-1 version is 'as good as it gets' for the wire with gain sound. 

 

I don't believe in burn in either, but my GS-1 also under went an act of god, in exactly the same way yours did....  I don't known what's up with that, but it happened.  So much for trusting your ears. wink_face.gif

 

post #11 of 54

Agreed.  For me, the fact that Headamp's designs don't change all that frequently is a good thing.  It just shows that Justin's amps are done right the first time.  (How many other portable amps designed in 2007 are still strong sellers, let alone have the resale strength of the Pico?)

 

Loving my GS-1 as well, wish I had more time to listen to it.  Still trying to pick up a Gilmore Lite for the office!

 

Edit: Also wanted to note that the GS-1 is being discontinued and Justin currently has no plans for a replacement.  :(


Edited by zhenya - 1/28/12 at 11:47pm
post #12 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by crazyfrenchman27 View Post

Nice review.

 

Isn't the GS-1 like a Gilmore Lite/Dynalo on steroids? 


The amp circuit is more or less the same but the GS-1 has a better PSU. 

 

post #13 of 54

Nice. Spot on.

post #14 of 54
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone. It was a pleasure to write as the amp was a pleasure to listen to. smile.gif

post #15 of 54
Quote:

Originally Posted by preproman View Post

 

...I can't say about the V100 and there is not much info out there on the M1 HPA.  But all the reviews that I read on this amp from years back seem to say the things I was looking for and "by George" they where right.

 

 

For my next project I don't know rather to go up to the GS-X or to a B22.  I'm a SS man, I don't want to deal with the tubs and rolling and all that.  Two things about the GS-X  1.  The wait time is like 3-4 months according to Justin.  2.  I'm not sure it can drive the HE-6, as this might be a CAN I would like in the future. 

 

My next pair of CANS will be the T1 and the LCD 2.  I can't wait the listen to these puppies on this bad boy.  

 

As I am still in the so called burn in stage, with a little more than two days.  It can only get better from here.  

 

Thanks to Ars, Radio Head and a few others that recommended this amp.

 

That's right - the GS-1 for the 1K range of amps  IS BACK......


 

I had the Violectric V100. It wasn't nearly as transparent, neutral or 3D-sounding as the GS-1...ended up getting rid of it and keeping the Headamp.

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