The Gold Note PA-10 Power Amplifier is a stereo amplifier offering up 150W into 4Ohms, but add a second PA-10, flick a switch on the back of the amps and you have a pair of monobloc amps that give you a total of 600W into 4Ohms. Stuart Smith gives these £1300 (each) amps a whirl.

A good looking shoebox-sized box with a minimal aesthetic

The Gold Note PA-10 is an interesting stereo amplifier in that when it was sent there were two boxes, almost as if what had been sent was a pair of monobloc amps – well I had been sent a pair of monobloc amps, but I’d also been sent a pair of stereo amplifiers. Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode of Hifi Pig (aficionados of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s tellybox program ‘Soap’ will get this reference, but to others, it will have gone completely over their heads – sorry!) So, yes, you guessed it, the PA-10 is a stereo power amplifier that can be run in bridged mode to run as a mono amplifier – or rather a pair can be run in bridged mode to run as a stereo pair of monoblocs.

Now this to me seems rather a shrewd move on the behalf of Italian brand Gold Note, in that users may well buy one of the PA-10 amplifiers with a view to upgrading in the future, or when funds allow. It also allows a degree of flexibility for users who may want to move up to more demanding loudspeakers in the future or move to a bigger listening space.

BUILD AND FEATURES

This is a good looking bit of kit in a sort of champagne finish (Gold) reminiscent of Marantz and TEAC, but it is also available in black and silver – judging by the images online, and I had I being buying one of these, I’d have gone for the black finish, but that’s just down to my personal choice and preferences. Gold Note tell me that the Silver finish will no longer be available post 2021.

Each box is compact and very nice looking to these eyes. They have a brushed front panel that looks rather attractive in a very minimal kind of way and has just a blue LED to indicate the amp is on. The case itself is chunky and well put together and has ventilation ‘fins’ down the sides of both top and bottom – see the picture above and you’ll get what I’m on about.

When I say the amps are compact they are sort of shoebox size (20cm x 80cm x 26cm WHD) but they weigh a reassuring 4Kg.

Each PA-10 is built around a solid steel chassis and all the panels are aluminium which Gold Note suggests will avoid RFI and EMI issues.

Power output is a quoted 75W into 8Ohms and 150W into 4Ohms when used in stereo mode. In mono (BTL) mode they kick out a healthy 600W into 4 Ohms and presumable, though it is not mentioned in the company’s bumph, 300W into 8Ohms.

I’d guessed given the overall sound of the PA-10 that it was in some way Class D in its architecture, but Gold Note makes no mention of this in their technical specifications. Personally, I’m a massive advocate of Class D technology when it is done well and so I asked Gold Note directly “What Class of amplifier is the PA-10?”. Here is the response I got – “ The PA-10 features quite an interesting design. It is not a Class D amplifier but it leverages a new technology that uses MOSFETs for the output stage, in common with the Class D, featuring an output oscillator (GaN Mosfets with Gallium Nitride), a proprietary design that actually doubles the power of the amplifier when reducing the impedance – exactly as a pure Class A but with extremely high efficiency to deliver great amounts of energy.” So there you have it.

A look around the back of the PA-10 reveals plenty of ins and outs plus a series of switches on the top right for specific situations

Around the back where things start to get interesting and it’s pretty busy around there. Each of the amps has RCA and Balanced XLR inputs, Balanced XLR outputs, a pair of speaker binding posts that accept all the usual suspects, a power in, and a master power switch.  There are also two minijack size holes for GN Link (more in a mo’), and tiny little buttons and associated LEDs for BAL, DF, and BTL (again, all will be clear in a moment).

Most of the inputs and outputs are pretty obvious on the single unit if we look at it a stereo power amplifier and set up is as you would set up any power amp – pre to input (RCA or XLR) and then wire up your speakers. Nothing out of the ordinary at all here.

The GN Link 3.5mm ins and outs are pretty useful if you have other kit with the feature. Basically, this allows you to connect suitable kit together so that they turn off and on at the same time – sort of like the 12V trigger on some products.

The three little ‘tiny little buttons’ I mentioned are used for the following. Press the BTL (an LED above will turn blue to show it is on) for when you are using the amp in mono mode. BTL actually stands for Bridge-Tied-Load. The DF button is for when engaging low-damping factor – a useful feature for matching the amp’s damping factor to your speakers. You use the default high-damping factor when driving large and/or “difficult” loudspeakers and then engage the DF button for low-damping factor when using high-sensitivity or other speakers that are easier to drive. The BAL switch is used to activate the XLR inputs – without this engaged and the blue LED not lit, the amp will only work on the RCA inputs.

So all that is pretty straightforward when using the amp as a stereo amp, but it does change a little when you use two amps as a mono pair – the handy and well-illustrated instructions pamphlet explains it all. When using as a stereo pair you need to press the BTL button so the LED lights up on both amps, and then attach the Left and Right outputs of your preamplifier to the LEFT-hand input of each of the amps. With speaker connection, you use the left positive output and the right negative output on each amp, and this is similar for both RCA and balanced inputs, although, of course, you need to press the BTL button so the LED is NOT lit. It sounds confusing but the manual is pretty clear to be fair and has excellent diagrams for several scenarios with regards to the amps’ use.

The manual also includes information on how to connect four loudspeakers (two stereo pairs) to a pair of PA-10 as well, as to how to connect four loudspeakers to four PA-10s. The latter two iterations are beyond the scope of this review and I mention only to give an idea of the amps’ flexibility.

SOUND

I think it’s worth separating this review into, broadly speaking, two sections – one for when I used the amp in stereo mode and one for when I used it in bridged mono mode.

A single LED on the front of the unit to indicate it is turned on

First of all I used the amp in stereo mode and using our Audiovector R3 Arreté loudspeakers rated at 90.5db sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 8Ohms, and so not really a difficult load by any stretch of the imagination  – I left the DF button unengaged for the most part but found little difference with these speakers when engaging it, but your mileage may vary depending on the loudspeakers you have to hand, and I do think this is a useful feature to have on board, making it a much more relevant amp for many more potential users – smart move on Gold Note’s part there!

I put on a bit of Gabber first of all as I do like a bit of this kind of stuff and it is certainly a workout for any amplifier (or loudspeaker), though it’s not to everyone’s taste. What I really took from this was the kick sounding very dry (that is a good thing) and true to what I think the artist was intending. So, what do I mean by using the word “dry”? Well, it was fast in its attack and decay, but with the slam that is a prerequisite to this genre of music. What I also liked about the bass kick here was that it was projected well out into the room rather than being slightly hidden in the background of the mix. What I’m trying to say here, I suppose, is that the PA-10 managed to separate the individual sounds on the (very busy) record into a coherent image. The speed of this amp is in no doubt, and it feels as though it starts and stops sounds as they should. Sounds aren’t left hanging in the mix for longer than they should and they also appear in the mix instantly is the effect. This instantaneous, for want of a better phrase “on and offness”, the amp presents is something I like in an amplifier and it makes for an exciting and engaging listen. This is, to a large degree, reminiscent of the better Class D amps. On the very upper frequencies and with our Celestion SL6s speakers on the end of the amps there is a little tizziness (with a metallic edge) in the very upper frequencies and so potential buyers may need to keep this in mind if they have speakers that are prominent in the tops. Power-wise into the R3s (90.5dB sensitive) there was oodles of steam left in the single amp, and I did push them pretty hard, though I would have liked a little more power on tap with the SL6s. Which begs the question (and I will come to this later), why would you want to buy a pair of them to run in mono when the stereo amp is ample for most circumstances and most real-world loudspeaker demands.

Switching to Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird (I’ve not used this in a review for a long time) I have presented a good sense of the recording space and the nature of its acoustic. Christine McVie’s vocal came across with the right amount of emotion and feeling that can be missing on amplifiers that smear the sound a little. This is a simply recorded tune and, as such, there is no place to hide for a given piece of kit, but piano here sounded like a piano in a big empty room, as did the vocal. Here the decay on instrument and voice is much more prolonged than with the music I mentioned earlier, but that speed I mentioned previously also translates into accurately portraying the acoustics and (god, I hate this word) micro-dynamics of the recording. The Audiovectors have, and this is a big part of why we chose them as our review speakers in this system, a very open and three-dimensional presentation, and the PA-10 plays very nicely to this character and enhances it a little. Again, I think it is that rock solid stability of the image that the PA-10 brings that many will enjoy.

A look inside the PA-10

So, we have so far an amplifier that has plenty of control and power in the bass end of things, but it also had a deftness of touch in the mid and upper frequencies. In many ways, the PA-10 is like our reference Merrill Thor amplifiers which are a Class D design. Both have an even hand across the frequency spectrum and both add very little of themselves, though I would say the PA-10 is a little warmer overall through the mids – some will prefer this, whilst others will like the leaner approach of the Thors.

So, given that the stereo amp is a more than capable performer, why would anyone go for the bridged pair and the added expense? Let’s find out.

Well, it’s actually just more of the power, control, and lightness of touch that you get with a single amplifier, only just a little bit more so, with a more assured feeling of command and speed. You also have the benefit of that 300W into 8Ohms on hand, and so I plumb in our notoriously power hungry Celestion SL6s speakers again. The PA-10s barely break a sweat, delivering the same strength and command in the bass registers I’d heard previously, and still managing to have a truthfulness to the mids and tops. Switching the R3s back into the system there is a sense of there being more there in reserve, much in the same way that if you are cruising in a sportscar you know you can change down a gear, put your foot down and have that power on tap. Personally, I’d only buy the two amps if I had a more difficult pair of speakers to drive, or had a room so large that I really needed that extra power to drive the room to high SPLs. However, if you have the budget and you want that little bit extra control and power in reserve, then why not go for the pair if budget allows – they will certainly stand you in good stead should you ever feel the need to upgrade to a more difficult speaker.

CONCLUSION

Gold Note’s PA-10 is a very capable performer across all the genres and styles of music I threw at it in its standard one box, stereo format. It errs on the side of having an ever so slightly warm presentation that many will enjoy, but it is certainly no slouch in the speed, slam, and control department.

In mono mode you get more power for more difficult speaker loads, along with a sense of there being more control, and more in terms of presenting dynamic shifts in the music.

The damping factor feature is a useful one I would suggest, though I found I didn’t need to use it with the speakers I used, and engaging it to Low had little effect, though your mileage may well vary depending on the loudspeakers you used.

In a lot of ways, the PA-10 amplifiers are very much like the better iterations of Class D amplifiers in their presentation.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Very well put together and very well specced. Its size means it is easily accommodated on a rack and it looks very attractive

Sound Quality: Clean, fast, detailed and controlled, though erring on the side of a warmer presentation through the midband. At the very top end, there was an ever so slight tizziness to the sound leading to a metallic edge on particularly the SL6 speakers we used

Value For Money: £1300 is not a great deal in the grand scheme of things for an amplifier that is so well built (those cases will not come cheap). Sound-wise it delivers nicely for the asking price and I think the price is very fair. I also think the Gold Note will hold its value well on the second-hand market, something that cannot be said for some.

Pros:

Flexible

Upgradeable

Fast and powerful presentation

Clean sounding but with a touch of mid warmth

Good looking

Fairly priced given fit and finish

Cons:

You will need two to drive bigger rooms or bigger speakers

You are paying a good percentage for the fit and finish

A metallic edge to the very top frequencies that may become evident on more revealing loudspeakers

Price: £ 1,300, € 1.390

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

Review Equipment: Technics 1200G turntable, Graham Slee phonostages and SUTs. LAB12 pre1, Audiovector S3 Aretté and ClestionSL6s loudspeakers. Atlas, Tellurium Q, and WAY cables.

Technical Specifications

POWER OUTPUT 75/150W @ 8/4Ω per ch. in stereo to 600W @ 4Ω per ch. in mono (BTL)
FREQUENCY RESPONSE 10Hz-30kHz at +/-1dB
TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION (THD+N) 0,05%
DAMPING FACTOR selectable high/low
INPUT SENSITIVITY 1,4V RMS on RCA and XLR
INPUT IMPEDANCE 13KΩ RCA/XLR
POWER CONSUMPTION <1W in standby; <10W no signal; 150W at a 1/4 of nominal power, 1400W max
DIMENSIONS 200mm W x 80mm H x 260mm D
WEIGHT Kg. 4 net
Kg. 5 boxed
FINISHES Brushed Aluminium in Black, Silver or Gold

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