Audio-GD Master-19 REVIEW
KEVIN FISKE GETS TO GRIPS WITH A CHINESE-MADE HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
WITH THE ABILITY TO RE-SHAPE HIS VIEW ON WHAT CONSTITUTES VALUE
FOR MONEY IN THIS FAST-GROWING MARKET SECTOR
Audio-GD’s Master-19 headphone amplifier isn’t alone in appearing to offer remarkable value for money: Am Fang’s company Audio Music ploughed a relatively lonely furrow until recently, but now it has
been joined by other privately-held Chinese vendors including Denafrips, Holo, Jay’s Audio and Hifiman, offering products that pose a direct challenge performance-wise to Western ones. So what to expect of a headphone amplifier and line stage that costs just over £900? To dismiss Audio-GD’s Master-19 because it costs so relatively little would be a real mistake, and one I nearly made myself.
I had originally wanted to try the company’s flagship Master-9 headphone amplifier since it gets good reviews within the Head-fi community, but European distributor Magna HiFi in the Netherlands told me that
It is impossible to spend more than just 30 seconds listening to Audio-GD’s Master-19 combined headphone amplifier and line stage and not feel a sense of uneasy disorientation. No, given unlimited funds it’s not the best device of its type in what is becoming an increasingly busy sector, but this Chinese-designed and -manufactured amplifier blows to smithereens any preconceptions we might have had regarding pricing norms and sonic value.
However it is in tonal richness and ballsy dynamic expression that the Audio-GD excels, exhibiting the no-holds-barred immediacy we should expect of a well-executed Class A design with minimal or no feedback. That aforementioned bass emphasis aside, the sonic balance is one that people who regularly refresh their audio memory by attending live acoustic music events will recognise as natural and bordering on credible. This is the kind of flesh-and-blood performance with the energy and immaculate timing that we associate with classy single-ended triode amplification into efficient speakers; an example of silicon crystal amplification that gets close to the best that glass and vacuum can do. Readers who track back over my written thoughts on audio over the last two decades or so will understand that observation as the highest possible compliment.