Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: Adcom GFP-555 preamplifier

 (Image from Google)

Note:  This review is of the original incarnation of this model, not the latter Series II model.  The "Series 1", for lack of a better term, features a moving-coil head-amp that can be turned on via a switch on the back.

History: Adcom.  There's a company that brings memories of the late 80s and early 90s, back when their gear seemed to be everywhere.  The famed GFA-555 amplifier drove a lot of high-end speakers, and as proof of their longevity, one of these amplifiers has been in continuous service at my father's house for over twenty years.  My very first "high-end" preamplifier was the Adcom GFP-565 which was once on Stereophile's Class B list.  I never liked the unit, or, to be fair, I never liked the sound I got out of it when matched with a Harman Kardon Citation V.  I've also owned the GTP-400 tuner-preamplifier; not exactly a stellar performer but good for mid-fi duty.

So how did I end up with a GFP-555 in my system?  It was mostly a matter of need since I recently bought a McIntosh 2100 amplifer.  For now I decided to wait until a good McIntosh preamplifier comes along but I required something serviceable until then.  For $129 via Ebay, the Adcom GFP-555 is certainly affordable, and, as I was to find out, is actually quite listenable.

Ins & Outs: A rather boring, er, conservative black metal case.  The tone controls that are defeatable.  A Mono button.  Two outputs - one with capacitors on the output and a "Lab" output that is DC coupled.  Switchable MC (with a 100ohm load) head amp, and a regular ol' MM phono stage.  Dual tape outs - hey, you remember cassette tapes! - and, more important for the McIntosh 2100, switchable two-prong AC jacks.  No video switching or subwoofer outs.

The Sound: Paired with the McIntosh 2100 - a rather strange combination in terms of years - the sound is actually quite good.  Fairly warm without that upper midrange/lower treble grit that I normally associate with solid-state gear.  The bass goes down low with nice control and the treble is fairly clean too, at least not intrusive with the transparent B&W tweeters.  Not bad for a bunch of op-amps.  However, compared to the departed Quicksilver tube preamplifier, the Adcom suffers from less detail, a flatter, more 2-D sound, and, for lack of a better word, some greying of the musical palette.  But such weaknesses are only obvious with active "between the speakers" listening, and does not normally interfere with my current listening habits.

For us vinylphiles, the phono stage is very good - quiet is the first word that comes to mind.  Perhaps I'm too used to tube gear, but with the Adcom the music comes out of the speakers from a black background.  There is no tube hiss or rush anymore.

Conclusion: The Adcom GFP-555 is a sensible - but perhaps a touch boring - option for any entry-level system.  Where it fails - definition, detail, and dimensionality - will only be noticeable as the quality of the front-end and speakers begin to outpace this classic piece.  So this preamplifier does get a recommendation, but only within the confines of the partnering gear.  For example I certainly wouldn't use the GFP-555 to drive a pair of Eico HF-60s into the UREI loudspeakers because only then would I start to hear the deficiencies of this budget piece.  But partnered up with an Adcom amplifier, or any other budget solid-state powerhouse, and some decent speakers, this preamplifier is a good starting point. 

Dual CS5000 turntable with Nagaoka MP-110
Pioneer DVD-V7400
McIntosh MC2100
B&W Matrix 805s on stands
Wire: Various brands