Geco Audio Vanguard

Air

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Yesterday as a fulfilment of a promise made to Rudi before he left our shores that I would listen to a Vanguard, a new unit was delivered to my doorstep. So stay tuned! I will listen to the amp over the next few weeks and share my impressions but I also would like to invite all who had the opportunity to listen to the amp to also share their views.

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Air

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The Vanguard is brand new and was probably only used during the set-up and testing of the amp. So I will definitely let it run in the background for a while. I will also listen to the unit with different preamps in the chain so that I can get a good impression of the amp's personality.

Just as a start, I must say the fit and finish of the amp are very good.  I like the design. It is not overly embellished with detail, but the required hardware, like the heatsinks, is used in an interesting and novel way without obviously ?trying? too hard. I think that is what style is all about. I think it would not look out of place next to some of the established international brands, especially from the Scandinavian countries, such as the recent designs from Copland.

I installed the unit, switched it on, and it has been running without a glitch, and I might add very quiet since Sunday. It seems as if the Vanguard design has been well thought through by Rudi and that with Heinrich?s hand in the production process, what we have here is a viable, marketable product. Rudi has been very successful over the years with his designs and is one of the main contributors to the forum, but the Vanguard is clearly in a different league than what he has done in the past. Not that his previous designs were not good; to the contrary, they are excellent and well-loved by many, but the Vanguard is a mature product ready for the market.
 

Air

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Before I share my first impressions, all-important first impressions, I just want to put a few stakes in the ground regarding my biases.  Some of these views and preferences you might already know if you have read my contributions and others not so known and perhaps implied but never stated explicitly.  Firstly I see no need for a pre-power combination in most circumstances, and I also don?t see the need for an amp of more than 100W maximum. If you do require such kinds of amps, in my view, you have the wrong kind of speakers. It is a personal bias; I accept it. I also understand that it is a controversial standpoint.  Many enthusiasts are crazy about the high powered amps, about pre and power combos and even using multiple amps to bi-amp or even run different sections of the speaker system altogether.

I also want to say upfront that I really see no value in a hyperbolic approach to share impressions about a product. Statements like ?the best ever, it tranced so and so, or there is no comparison at all? just don?t do it for me. It helps me zero to understand a product and what it sounds like. I need to have a nuanced understanding, give me the context, personal preferences, share differences and similarities, virtues and sins and ultimately why you like the product and why not. Also, I believe price correlates with quality, but it is not a perfect correlation by all means. On an international forum, someone the other day asked about a Pathos product. Someone else answered that this particular guy must listen to an amplifier four times the price of the Logos amplifier in question. I think that is just poor judgement, social and otherwise. So I tried to understand products within price brackets at least.

Lastly, I have specific preferences for the kind of sound that I enjoy. I value midrange palatability and naturalness, rich textures, a balance between leading edges and decays, a coherent sound rather than a highly analytical sound. I am pretty willing to give up something in the frequency extremes to get more of what makes me happy. Suppleness in the expression of dynamic contrasts, macro-dynamics, but especially micro shifts is crucial to me.

The Vanguard is therefore not the typical amp that I would pay attention to, considering some of my departure points. Still, I have given Rudi my word that I will listen to it and listen to it and will listen with an open mind. 

I can say with confidence that my initial impressions of the sound of the Vanguard are very positive. The mere fact that I have been listening to the amp since Sunday, although mostly in the background as I work, is a good start. I know myself by now and I know how I relate and respond to different components.  Although I often have a number of components around, I sometimes very quickly decide I just frankly can't listen to the component at all. I won?t name and shame but some of you might know about the integrated amp, a well-known name, but for the life of me I could not listen to it for more than a few hours, maybe maximum for a day. With such components, I get quickly restless and start to think about taking a component out if I don?t like the sound. On the other hand, there are components that I always feel happy to have back in the chain I look forward to installing them and can?t wait to do so. It is an emotional response but very indicative for me.

The amp sounds balanced with no obvious abbreviations in the sound, not overly warm or clinical, there is no sense that it is all about power and no finesse and although I think the level of detail is very good, but it also don?t strike me as an amp that constantly will remind you of ?look how can I be like an X-ray, or microscope and zoom in on detail while losing the essence of the music. With crescendos, the amp stays in control and even taxing recordings are listenable. Maybe some negatives in my book at this stage; it sounds like a SS amp and is less sweet than what I prefer. It is certainly not clinical but I will never mistake it for a class A SS amp even. I also prefer a more supple bass approach rather than an amp with an iron fist control in the bass lines. The Vanguard is voiced on the edge in this regard. As for the all-important midrange I think it is good at least for a SS amp of this nature.

I know many of you would ask but what pre are you using in the chain and what speakers etc as you are a proponent of the of the idea of synergy, but as this should be read as initial impressions I would rather not introduce those variables right now. Just take it as first impressions and I will make an effort to change the pre, and other variables over the next few weeks. I have already had offers for a pre that many of you would be interested in to hear how it works with the Vanguard. What perhaps could be of interest now is to say that I have used an integrated as pre-amp and that this has given me some sort of baseline to easily compare the Vanguard to that of the build-in power stage of the integrated(excluding the effect of the interconnect if you think IC do contribute to the final SQ).

I am in no rush, even more so give the Covid circumstances to rush through the listening process, but I would be keen to hear your thoughts on my views so far, I do believe at least some of the forum members heard the Vanguard and a number of units were sold by Rudi before he left.
 

xumbug

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Hi Stefan,

I liked the Vanguard a lot and promised Rudi I would do a review, but i only had the amp for two days and it was just to short a time to do proper analysis. There were a few very small issues that i asked Rudi to look at and one was the Amplifiers Gain. He did manage to increase the gain somewhat, but time was not on our side as he was leaving within a few days of completing the changes and my second session with the Vanguard was not to be. What i can remember about the Vanguard was the Midrange and upper frequency response was very nice.

Look forward to your final impressions ;)

 
 

Achiroe

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Thank you for your impressions thus far. I look forward to reading the rest.

Your close-up photographs are a tease. Please share more photos of the full amp and accompanying setup, over time, if you can.
 

GECO

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The particular unit is the stock unit (800va) before i created the higher power unit with the 1,2kva power supplies (only two exist atm, one in South Africa and the other in Australia) but with the mods requested by @xumbug

The higher power unit did appear to be more airy and more revealing subtle nuances
 

Nirvana

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Quite sure it will, Spyder - fantastic to see (and for Stefan to hear) this homegrown duo, ostensibly able to compete very well with almost anything that talks 'foreign'...  :2thumbs:
 

naughty

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Air said:
As suggested I organized a VA pre-amp.
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that combination looks a treat  :thumbs: i'm sure it sounds great - waiting to hear your impressions on the combo
 

GECO

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Just for clarification. The unit below the VA isn't the vanguard but a audio analogue integrated amp - AAcento of which Stefan is the distributor.
 

naughty

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GECO said:
Just for clarification. The unit below the VA isn't the vanguard but a audio analogue integrated amp - AAcento of which Stefan is the distributor.

thanks for the clarification - and apologies for the confusion
 

Air

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For the past week, I have now listened almost exclusively to the Vanguard, and since Friday, I have also had the VA Black Widow preamp in the system. Over the weekend, I listened to music both in a focused manner and in the background whilst watching sport or a Netflix series. Informal listening is often essential to me as I think that when relaxing a bit more, one also gets a more holistic view of the SQ of a system. On Saturday, I chopped and changed some components (speakers, amps and preamps) to calibrate my impressions.

The sound of the Vanguard has been quite consistent over the time I have been listening to it and across different components in the systems. Over the week, I do think that it has improved in some respects, such as the smoothness in the top end. New out of the box, I thought it had a bit of grain and grit in the top end, but now I think it is smooth and clean. Especially with the VA pre the sound in the top end became nice and smooth. The VA is definitely a smooth sounding unit.

The outstanding quality that I can discern from the Geco Audio amp is the balance in the sound and that I feel it is always well in control. In terms of the balance, I find the tone spot on, and nothing stands out to distract from the sound. It doesn?t emphasise any part of the frequency spectrum. The bass is solid and deep, and I quite like it. It is not overblown neither is it emphasising leading edges at the cost of the decay of basslines. The midrange is good for a SS amp. I don?t feel that the mids are so focused that it almost pinched, so it does not allow voices to bloom to natural size, neither small nor overblown. As I mentioned earlier, I find the high frequencies smooth and well balanced against the rest of the frequency spectrum. In a way, this balance relates to the good overall impression of tone. Neither heavy and weighted down or lit up and light. Often the latter is used by designs to give an impression of detail (many speakers do this nasty trick, but it often leads to disappointment in the long-term).

If I look back to my initial impressions, they were a good indication of what the amp is all about. So how does it compare to other amplifiers I have experienced of late. Compared to Audio Analogue Maestro, I would say the Vanguard has a slightly better tone. Still, the power, impact and detail of the AA are better. Compared to the big Accuphase amps I listened to of late, the Vanguard is a bit faster. Still, the Accuphase units have a very dense and saturated sound that is harmonically richer. Especially the E480 has such a strong and powerful bass that it is almost unnerving if not match correctly. I also think that the Accuphase units are a bit richer and creamier in the highs. Compared to the kind of amps that I love, lower-powered SS amps(class A) and of course valve amps(both SETs and medium powered push-pull amps), all the high powered SS amps will outplay the lower output amps in terms of macro-dynamics, but the lower output amps and generally amps with simpler typologies are champs when it comes to the way they resolve more inner detail. Therefore they are more expressive in the midrange. The bigger SS amps are powerful, but with my listening preferences (choice of speakers and required volume), a Sugden A21 integrated resolves more nuances of the music across the frequency spectrum than any of the bigger amps. If one listens to mass stringed music and baroque music, the Sugden is just very, very good. However, things are never straightforward.  In an interesting comparison with a 20W class-A power amp that is a replica of a Bedini design plus VA pre the same trend was found. However, in this comparison, the Vanguard had a better tone even though the textural density was less. Despite the virtues of the Bedini replica, I would choose the Vanguard to listen to on a long-term basis as the sins of omissions (lack of textural density) is less worrying for me than the Bedini that is too light and lit up. ProAc speakers and SS amps generally don?t match well for example, but the Vanguard sound really nice, even one of the most demanding mini-monitors in the range.

In short, I think the Vanguard based on what I heard, and experienced hits the mark dead centred. It is balanced, powerful and even-handed. I think it will do well with even the most demanding speaker both in terms of its ability to drive a challenging load and make the best of most speakers unique voicing. The build quality is excellent and comparable to well-known brands, as I have mentioned in the beginning.

Rudi and Heinrich have done well, and the Vanguard is, in my opinion, a huge success. They can be proud of what they have achieved, and they have my admiration as the hurdles to do so in SA are many. It is easy to be an armchair critic or designer, and I will stay clear of giving any advice or input; suffice to remark that all we now need is a matching full-function preamplifier and, of course, an integrated!
 

GECO

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Thank you for taking the time to listen to the amp. I really appreciate and value your feedback. I do miss not being able to shoot up the street and come visit and the other way round and the obligatory coffee of course
 

Nirvana

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Thanks Stefan!

Well, Kudo's to Rudi and Heinrich (and off course Schalk, with the established BW in the mix) - you guys have done yourselves a job to be proud on!
The main message I personally get from this summary, is one of 'balance', and to me, that is as important a trait as any of the others mentioned, when one of the other highly regarded amps were in the chain. Also, natural tonality is key - combined with balance, this will keep you listening and involved for long times.

Like Stefan infers, NO single amp will do all of these traits better than the rest, so it's up to us to decide what are the criteria that will give us as individuals the most satisfying listening experience, based on your taste and preferences. After all, I think what most of us want is to 'enjoy the music' and quality of the sound, without brandishing a magnifying glass!

So, imo, another excellent value proposition from our own shores, hopefully more exposure like this will get the 'good word' out there!
:dop:
 
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