Let’s get one point straight right up front. Calling the Furutech/Alpha Design Labs GT40 a “USB DAC” is like calling the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vincent “a nice secure place to store expensive airplanes.” While the statement is true, it definitely does not convey the whole truth—if you see my point.
In the case of the GT40, we have what might arguably be the most versatile, performance-oriented desktop audio component any of us have yet seen. To appreciate what I mean by this statement, let’s look at the many, many functions the GT40 supports.
The Furutech/Alpha Design Labs GT40 can comfortable serve in any or all of the following capacities:
• A 24-bit/96kHz-capable USB DAC.
• A phonostage with switch selectable gain settings for moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) phono cartridges.
• A solid-state headphone amplifier with three user selectable inputs:
o The aforementioned 24/96 USB DAC.
o The aforementioned MM/MC phonostage. Or…
o A line-level stereo analog input.
• … And now get ready for the really unusual part because—get this—the GT40 can also serve as a 24-bit/96kHz-capable digital recording interface, effectively digitizing analog signals from either its onboard phonostage or line-level analog inputs (can you say, “cool digital archiving tool?”).
Any way you look at it, the GT40 packs an awful lot of functionality into a chassis that’s not much larger than a medium-sized paperback book, and for the reasonable (very reasonable by Furutech standards) price of $525.
As many, though perhaps not all, Playback readers may know, Furutech is a venerable, Japanese high-end (some would probably say “ultra high-end”) audio company best known for its extremely high-quality audio cables, audio interface connectors, and specialized audio accessories.
I’ve have had the privilege of reviewing several consecutive series of Furutech cable products for our famous sister magazine The Absolute Sound, so that I’ve come to have some pretty clear-cut impressions of the Furutech “house sound.” Specifically, I’ve found Furutech’s “house sound” to be extremely revealing, transparent, and yet highly refined—a sound that doesn’t smack the listener over the head with any one spectacular quality, but rather offers a well-balanced combination of sonic virtues.
In my view, this balanced, revealing and oh-so-refined sound makes Furutech cables (and other components) a great choice whether one is listening for pure enjoyment, or for purposes of doing serious review work. The only catch, really, is that Furutech components tend as a rule to be purist designs that are inherently expensive to produce and to buy, which by definition means they aren’t for everyone. But, frankly, this is where Alpha Design Labs comes into the picture.
Of Alpha Design Labs, Furutech has this to say: “ADL was created by Furutech to imbue its Pure Transmission Technology into carefully engineered innovative designs that everyone can afford.” Translation: Alpha Design Labs = Furutech-like gear for those of us not made of cubic dollars.
Thus far, my sense is that there is no better expression for what ADL is all about than the $525 GT40—a product that, if built using full-on, cost-no-object Furutech construction techniques, would probably cost ten times what it does now (no joke).
This is not, however, to suggest that ADL gear is in any sense “cheaply made.” Instead, think of ADL gear as being merely “excellent”—as opposed to being “surpassingly, obsessively, waaaay-far-over-the-top excellent,” as would be the norm for Furutech-branded products. As you’ll quickly discern from the photos I’ll provide of the GT40, the little DAC/amp/phonostage/digital recording device is beautifully and exquisitely made, which means prospective buyer’s can take real pride of ownership in the product, yet without dropping a small fortune to buy it. That’s what makes the whole ADL concept so appealing.
Thus far I’ve focused on using the GT40 as a USB DAC and headphone amp, but have not yet sampled the capabilities of its phonostage section or digital recording interface. Based on the listening I’ve done thus far, let me offer first impressions of the GT40’s “Sonic Character.”