The Behold Gentle G-192 Integrated Amp
|The Behold Gentle G-192 Integrated Amp|
|You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!|
I remember a time a couple of decades ago when integrated amps were little more than the “red-headed stepchild” of their company’s product line. They were simply a more affordable alternative for those who wanted the audiophile brand name but couldn’t afford the audiophile price tag. Among my favorites were the Creek 4040, Naim Nait and the wonderful Musical Fidelity A100. The A100 was a shockingly powerful 100 watt, pure “class A” British amp that besides being very nice sounding also ran extremely hot and actually doubled as a space heater in my tiny apartment. Like most integrateds of the time it was fairly unattractive and rather simple in its form and function. But today the integrated amp has undergone a massive transformation, in both construction and cost. No unit represents just how far the integrated has come than the oddly named Gentle G-192 integrated amp from the German company Behold.
In recent years, I have spent time with a lot of excellent integrated amps such as the Vitus Audio SS-010, ASR Emitter II, and Audio Analogue Maestro Duecento. These amps have a lot in common: stellar build quality, price tags of more than $10K, and performance that is at least the equal of comparably priced separates. But each of those units were in fact just integrated amps. In other words, they combined a preamp and power amp in one box (or boxes in the case of the ASR which houses the main unit and left and right channel power supplies in separate boxes). Actually, compared to these units I’m hesitant to even call the Gentle an integrated amp. It offers far more flexibility and options than any other component I know of. For starters, it can be ordered as a standalone media player or preamp. Depending on configuration, the Gentle can cost anywhere from $15K to $30K. In its integrated amp configuration it features both analogue and class-D digital amplifiers, and offers up to 8 analog and 6 digital inputs. It also offers full room correction and its internal 120GB (500GB) hard drive can be combined with its own Gentle USB-HDD-Drive and used as a music server. I did not spend much time with some of these features, namely the room correction and the server/HDD-Drive. I decided instead to focus on the Gentle’s performance strictly as an integrated amp so that I could compare it evenly to the other amps I’d listened to. It should be noted that I am the second person from this ‘zine to write about the Gentle, Dennis Parham did an excellent job of introducing it back in April of 2008 [read his review here].
The arrival of the Gentle coincided with the arrival of the excellent Dynaudio Sapphire loudspeakers and Esoteric SA-50 SACD player. I connected the SA-50 to the Gentle via the Entreq Audio coaxial digital cable and used Entreq’s Konstantin 09 speaker cables to connect the Gentle’s anologue outputs to the Sapphires and my reference Escalante Design Fremonts. An Entreq “Vibbeater” was placed atop the Gentle to ensure the quietest possible operation, not that it needed it because the Gentle does not run particularly warm and is designed with built-in power conditioning and seemed to operate noise free. I also used a Grace Digital WIFI Internet Tuner, OPPO Digital DV-980H Universal Disc Player, and the Raysonic CD-138 tube CD player.
I live in a detached single-family home and my listening room is about 26’ wide by 20’ deep, with 8’ ceilings and Berber carpeted floors, so I usually play my music fairly loud when I’m home alone. Thankfully, I had a lot of time to myself while I had the Gentle, so I was able to really get into listening to it.
A Smorgasbord of Features
Aesthetically, the Gentle shares a lot in common with its pricier siblings, especially the APU-768 preamp. It features a soft-silver faceplate that is relatively uncluttered except for a massive volume knob and a 7” full color touch screen display. Black heat sinks flank the sides of the Gentle’s 15.75" x 5" x 14.25" chassis, which despite all of what’s inside, is surprisingly light, weighing only about 20 lbs. But the rear of the unit is where things really get interesting. The Gentle has more features than a Swiss Army Knife. Here are some of them:
• High speed digital signal processor SHARC® ADSP-21369 for phase-linear room correction.
• Six analog unbalanced high level inputs for 3x stereo or 5.1 multichannel, free in configuration.
• Unbalanced analog output in stereo with 2.3Vrms output voltage.
• 24Bit A/D and D/A converter with 192kHz sampling rate for all analog inputs and outputs.
• 4 Digital inputs: S/PDIF Toslink. Sampling rates from 32kHz/24Bit to 192kHz/24Bit.
• 1 Digital outputs: 1x S/PDIF Toslink. 24Bit/(192)/96/(48)kHz.
• 10/100MBit/s Ethernet interface for optimum network connectivity.
• Two USB connectors for USB-Sticks, CD-drives or external HDD.
• IR remote control to operate all functions (including text editing).
• Exchangeable firmware and PC software (can be downloaded free of charge).
• Menus can be fully configured via touch screen display.
• Mains power supply from 100V to 240V stepless, 50Hz or 60Hz.
• Removable feet for use with three or four spikes.
Most of these features can be operated via remote control or the touch screen display which actually looks more imposing than it actually is. I’m no genius when it comes to technology but even I found it fairly easy to move between source inputs and use both the analogue and digital amplifier outputs. Overall, the Gentle is fairly easy to use as an integrated amp.
Though rated at only 80 watts per side, the Gentle had no problem achieving satisfying listening volume levels, even when I was listening to a bass-heavy R&B disc. Lady from D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album, “Brown Sugar” [Virgin], is probably an unfair first track to evaluate any amplifier on, but when something is priced at over $15K it better be able to handle even the most brutally over-synthesized R&B song. To my surprise and delight, the Gentle handled this track and disc admirably. But this disc, to me, is a bit over-produced and not at all musical so I shifted to a little “Old School” R&B in the form of the legendary 70’s band, WAR.Their classic album “All Day Music” [Avenue Records] should be on any real music lover’s reference recording list. This whole album, particularly the title track, made for the perfect soundtrack for the summer of 1971 when it was released on vinyl, and still stands as a must listen in digital. The Gentle fleshes out all of the color and texture of this song: from Lonnie Jordan’s mellow vocals to Lee Oskar’s ubiquitous harmonica. The tonal balance is wonderful and the musicians all seem to occupy realistic spaces. And when Jordan’s solo on the Hammond B3 organ comes in, it’ll make you thank God you’re an audiophile.
Just for grins, I switched up and started listening using the Gentle’s class-D digital amp. To be honest, I struggled to hear much of a difference. The music, imaging, height and depth of stage all seemed equally as satisfying. But then I started listening to SACD discs in order to get the best from the SA-50. Staying with the R&B theme, I put on Isaac Hayes’ classic, “Hot Buttered Soul” [Mobile Fidelity] and listened to the first track, a cover of Dionne Warwick’s famous Walk On By. The song begins with an orchestral arrangement which builds to a crescendo and collapses onto one of the coolest and most sinister sounding guitar lines ever recorded. The Hughes Brothers used this song to great effect on the soundtrack of their movie Dead Presidents. The Gentle takes full advantage of the SA-50’s ability to extract spine-tingling degrees of resolution from this superb SACD recording. This was also true of Earth, Wind & Fire’s iconic, “That’s the Way of the World” [MoFi UDSACD 2016]. Phillip Bailey’s unmistakable falsetto on track six, Reasons is rendered flawlessly by the Gentle, as is EWF’s brilliant horn section. This amp just seems to get so much of the music more correct than even many comparably priced separates I’ve heard.
The Gentle also has excellent top-to-bottom balance through both, its digital and analogue outputs. It has excellent bass extension that is plentiful and full-bodied but not overblown or bloated. The midrange is very musical, instruments maintain a vice grip on their natural characteristics and imaging is tight yet lively. Upper frequency extension is slightly edgier through the digital outputs but never gets overly bright or harsh. Believe me, as loud as I was playing music, EWF’s ultra-sharp horn section would have fried my ears had that been the case.
Of the other comparably priced integrateds I’ve heard, the Vitus and the ASR Emitter II were the only amps that may be at least the equal of the Behold Gentle when it came to playing music. The ASR is a beast and is simply more powerful than the Gentle and can rock just a bit harder at extreme volume levels. When I listened to “Other Galactic Funk” from Mecco’s disco classic Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk [Hip-O Records] the multi-layered drum tracks seemed to lose just a bit of focus from the Gentle compared to the ASR, but the Gentle more than held its own with regard to soundstage size and depth which is a hallmark of the ASR.
The Vitus Audio SS-010, at only 25 wpc, is the lowest powered of the three but is a pure class-A design that sounds far more powerful than its conservative rating but was probably not quite as transparent as the Gentle. Still the Vitus is in another class from both the Gentle and the ASR when it comes to construction and just plain sexiness. Also, word has it that Vitus has a couple of new integrateds on the horizon, particularly the RI-100 which will include a DAC, phono stage, and headphone output.
But let’s face it, when you factor in all of the flexibility and options that you get with the Behold, there is no comparison. The Gentle can be a key part of a world-class audio system for many years and in many different ways. Software upgrades will allow it to be future-proof.
The Behold Gentle is certainly unlike anything else I’ve experienced in high-end audio. I didn’t venture into using it as a music server because my time with it was limited and I was having way too much fun listening to music through it. Clement Perry has been a devotee of Behold’s upper shelf products for the last five-plus years and he often regales me with stories of all the people who have visited and were incredibly impressed by how he's manipulated those huge Sunny Majestic loudspeakers via the room correction featured on his Behold anchored system. If the musical performance of the Gentle is any indication of the performance of his system, then I’d have to believe that he’s into something very special. To think, I enjoyed the Gentle without attempting to engage this one important feature shows what further potential lies under its hood.
As I said, integrated amps are not what they used to be. They can now easily be the centerpiece of a top-notch audio system and offer musical performance that is at least the equal of many separate component systems. And with new contenders from companies like Vitus, Pass Labs, Simaudio and many others on the horizon, it’s clear that the integrated amp renaissance is just beginning and the Behold Gentle is leading the way. Highly recommended!
Behold Gentle (Base Unit)
Amplfiers: 2 x 40W (digital), 2 x 80W (analog) into 8 Ohms
Analog inputs: Eight unbalanced on RCA jacks
Digital inputs: Four TosLink (192kHz); Two S/PDIF
Digital outputs: One TosLink
Disc drive capacity: More than two terabytes
Dimensions: 15.7" x 4.92" x 14.25"
Weight: 19.2 lbs.
Price: $15,500 as reviewed
Behold-USA - Laufer Teknik
360 Southbury Road
Roxbury, CT 06783
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