I recently had the opportunity to review Adcom’s latest update on the Nelson Pass-designed Class-AB $1,395 GFA-555ms power amplifier, and walked away quite impressed by its combination of ample and clean power, retro appeal and astonishing value. As is the story with most audiophile products that arrive at my doorstep for review, I would have loved more time with it, thus was sad to send it back. To ease my emotional audiophile pain, Adcom also sent me their modestly priced, traditional $999 stereo preamp, the GFP-915 stereo preamplifier, which I was able to hang on to for a slightly longer period of time.
The Adcom GFP-915 is a simple stereo preamplifier in terms of its design. It doesn’t have a 32-bit internal DAC. It doesn’t come with any kind of room correction, as it is a nearly all-analog audiophile component (it has Bluetooth 5.1). There is no HDMI or video switching, but there thankfully is a useful phono section for vinyl enthusiasts. This preamp is for somewhat budget-minded audiophiles who are looking for a time-tested, well-made stereo preamp that can switch inputs, control volume and not color their sound in any audible way. Does it live up that challenge? That is why they play the game (I mean, why I write these reviews) …
What Makes the Adcom GFP-915 Stereo Preamplifier So Special?
- The Adcom brand name is synonymous with quality and value both in the past and the present. Audiophiles who have been involved with the hobby for decades remember Adcom as a U.S.-made audiophile brand that literally defined (along with brands like NAD) the concept of “mid-fi,” meaning standalone audiophile components that could really perform, but didn’t empty your checking account. The Adcom GFP-915 at $999, sold direct today with free shipping and a reasonable in-home demo, still delivers on the age-old Adcom value proposition all these years later, and thank God for that.
- The Adcom GFP-915 stereo preamplifier is a straightforward, high-quality preamp that does everything asked of it, very well. For those seeking a traditional preamp that has stellar specs without a mighty price tag, look no further. Theoretically, this preamp has more than enough frequency bandwidth to support the highest possible fidelity of any modern digital HD source. The Adcom GFP-915 also boasts an incredible reported frequency response of 5Hz-100kHz, as well as a Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) + Noise rating of 0.005 percent, which should all but guarantee a distortion-free, pure listening experience.
- Physical connectivity and simplicity are the name of the game with the GFP-915. It features seven source audio inputs, a front-panel 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth 5.1, optical and USB inputs, as well as a phono stage for turntables. Switching between inputs couldn’t be easier, as its included infrared (IR) remote contains 10 source buttons (one for each input). The Adcom GFP-915 preamp also features tone control knobs for bass and treble, which allow you to personalize and enhance your listening experience to your specific musical tastes, as they do in the studio.
- The Adcom GFP-915 was clearly designed for audiophiles who prefer physical media over streaming. For vinyl lovers, it allows the turntable user to switch between moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) modes, depending on your type of cartridge, allowing the user to tailor the listening experience for the cartridge itself.
- Adcom offers an excellent trade-in program if you’re looking to cash in on your older Adcom gear. If you’ve held on to your legacy Adcom gear for this long, might now be a great time to trade up? Adcom will put your gear out to pasture in exchange for newer, updated versions of your classic audiophile components. This is a unique program, and a testament to Adcom’s respect for its customers both old and new. Obviously, values differ based on the age, brand and variety of what you are trading in, but not having to go to eBay.com or Audiogon.com is a welcome lack of complication in your audiophile upgrade process.
Why Should You Care About the Adcom GFP-915 Stereo Preamplifier?
You likely already own a DAC. You likely already own a separate audiophile power amp. You don’t want to add a lot of complexity or sonic color to your two-channel music playback system. You may or may not have a turntable, but perhaps you are thinking of getting an entry-level one to play around with, because you like a very digital life and there is something about the ritual of playing a classic album on LP that is calming, comforting and rewarding.
Oh, and you don’t want to spend a fortune upgrading or reinventing your audiophile system. This is the person who would be most interested in the Adcom GFP-915 stereo preamp.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Adcom GFP-915 Stereo Preamplifier
- In terms of streaming, the GFP-915 has Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, but that’s about it and that’s not super high resolution by today’s standards even compared with Wi-Fi. The Adcom GFP-915 appears geared more towards traditional audiophiles listening to physical media sources, but it did add Bluetooth 5.1 to appease the smartphone-loving crowd. This should more than suffice for casual cord-free listening, but may not have universal appeal for those looking for a more robust streaming experience via aptX or Wi-Fi. If you are looking for the best sound from your streaming at Compact Disc or higher resolutions, go from your streamer into your DAC and analog into the Adcom GFP-915 via an actual cable. It doesn’t have to be an expensive cable, but use one. Bluetooth 5.1 isn’t reference-quality sound for a mid-fi audiophile system in 2024. Taking an analog output from your streamer into an Adcom GFP-915 is a better-sounding option than Bluetooth, even though it is convenient to have quick, wireless access to your music on your phone/device. Simply put, Bluetooth 5.1 doesn’t sound as good as a hardwired connection on multiple levels.
- The Adcom GPF-915 looks retro because it is retro. The Adcom GFP-915 looks right at home tucked away in my media cabinet, and would be equally comfortable next to similar traditionally-designed hardware on a rack. If you are looking for an oddly-sized preamp with a DAC and streamer built in, they are out there, often from Chi-Fi companies, and for about the same amount of money (or even less), but they don’t come with the simplicity and sound of the Adcom GFP-915.
Listening to the Adcom GFP-915 Stereo Preamplifier
I powered my SVS Prime Pinnacle floorstanding speakers with my soon-to-be reviewed $399Monoprice M2100x 2-Channel Amplifier paired with my Schiit Modi 3 DAC (buy at Amazon) (read the review) and Adcom GFP-915 stereo preamp. All musical selections were streamed through QoBuz at max settings and connected directly through my Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 laptop.
My limited experience with the new and improved Adcom has taught me to expect music to sound accurate and robust. I opted to test an open-sounding, lush, midrange-heavy track off of Omar Apollo’s latest EP, Live For Me (buy on Amazon). The title track “Live For Me” (24 bit, 44.1kHz), which features many musical layers and a some serious harmonic density. Lesser systems simply can’t recreate the detail and complexity of this mix. After the first crescendo near the chorus, and with the volume turned way up, the track came to life really nicely. With preamps, you don’t always get that WOW moment as much as hearing some of the subtle little details that, when added up, make for incremental improvements that are so elemental to the fun of this hobby and the inevitable audiophile system upgrades.
Arlo Parks’ cover of Jai Paul’s 2013 track “Jasmine” (24 bit, 44.1kHz) will be featured on her upcoming deluxe reissue of her LP My Soft Machine (buy at Amazon), which was released earlier this year. I love the contrast of Parks’ soft-sounding vocals with a heavy, prominent bassline and thumping electronic drums. Using the GFP-915’s built-in tone control, I was able to rein in the bass and tune down the treble just enough to comfortably enjoy the track, without stressing my SVS Prime Pinnacle speakers OR my ears. The convenience and utility of tone control was very much appreciated as I searched for the sweet spot in terms of sonic signature. The song itself sounded brilliant – strong bass projected deeper and further than without the preamp connected, with clean, accurate vocals throughout, never stressed or uncomfortable.
John Mayer gets a lot of grief on social media, but the fact is that he is one hell of a guitarist. On his masterfully-recorded live album Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live In Los Angeles (Buy on Amazon), which many regard as the pinnacle of his earlier career, Mayer shows off his modern blues-improv prowess on his extended version of “Gravity” (CD-quality, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz). I’m generally not a huge fan of live albums (I’d rather be there in person), but Mayer’s vocals and various solos throughout this track sounded so crisp and detailed, with excellent imaging overall, that I felt like I was sitting 10 rows back in the Nokia Theater. The Adcom GFP-915 did an excellent job of keeping this live track cohesive, consistent, and clear. I’ve listened to this track hundreds of times over the years, often on studio monitor headphones while attempting to emulate Mayer’s guitar playing. Listening on this setup brought the song back to life for me, and I owe that in part to the Adcom GFP-915’s clean passthrough.
Will the Adcom GFP-915 Hold Its Value?
30-year-old $600 Adcom GFA-555 amps sell on eBay.com for the same retail price as they did when they were sold decades ago. Today’s retail price isn’t really even that expensive when you adjust it for inflation. The cost of an Adcom GFP-915 isn’t so high that it has much value to lose and, considering its rock-solid, sonically flavorless performance, I can see how a matching preamp will be a pretty safe place to invest your audiophile dollar.
What Is the Competition for the Adcom GFP-915 Stereo Preamp?
Rotel’s RC-1572 MKII is currently on sale for $1,199 (buy at Crutchfield), which places it in very close comparison price-wise to the Adcom GFP-915. For a couple hundred dollars more, the Rotel RC-1572 gets you an internal DAC, but the Adcom GFP-915 still wins in many audiophile categories, such as a lower reported total harmonic distortion and noise floor.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M (buy at Amazon) is about half the price of the GFP-915 at $549, but would function well as a DAC preamp for most smaller or less complex audiophile setups that don’t have tons of inputs. The Cambridge DacMagic 200M is significantly smaller physically, but has quite a few interesting features and inputs, such as balanced XLR inputs, aptX Bluetooth streaming and nifty ESS Sabre DAC chips.
The Schiit Freya S stereo preamp at $599 (reviewed by Steven Stone) is another solid, no-frills audiophile option that can compare to the Adcom GFP-915. For $300 more, at $899, you can get the Schiit Freya+ preamp, which brings tubes into the conversation, if that is something that you desire. Schiit gear has proven to be rock-solid in terms of performance and unquestionable in terms of value.
I wasn’t sure about using an integrated amp as comparison to a dedicated stereo preamp, but if you wanted to go full-feature audiophile, then the new but very retro-looking NAD C 3050 integrated amp for $1,399 (read the Andrew Dewhirst review here) (FutureAudiophile’s Product of the Year) is an interesting choice that isn’t too much more money. While you might not need its pretty swanky Class-D internal amp, the HDMI switching, internal DAC, Bluetooth 5.4 and phono stage might woo you to spend a few hundred more dollars than the Adcom, and to use the NAD as a stereo preamp as many of us did back when NAD and Adcom literally defined mid-fi gear in the late 1980s. The fact that the NAD C 3050 has room correction makes it like a mini Anthem STR preamp (read the review) or (buy at Crutchfield), which three of our staff reviewers use, and retails for a much higher $4,000 price tag.
Final Thoughts on the Adcom GFP-915 Stereo Preamplifier
Despite its multi-decade hiatus from the audiophile market, Adcom’s reputation for performance at a value price has endured. Audio enthusiasts at every level are ecstatic about the brand’s return to the hobby and marketplace.
The Adcom GFP-915 stereo preamp is the amalgamation of decades of preamplifier success and knowledge, with a few modern amenities added in. For strict, no-frills, old-school audiophile listening sessions, the Adcom GFP-915 is a no-brainer for those looking to add or upgrade the unit responsible for input switching and volume control in their audiophile setup. The Adcom GFP-915’s unique yet straightforward feature set, paired with some limited modern add-ons, excellent build quality and thoughtful design, have forced me to rethink my opinion on classic preamps and the notion that fewer boxes and cables is always better. Adcom has a winner here. I know that their next batch of products to launch in the coming years will build on their meaningful legacy, but at a cool grand, the Adcom GFP-915 is a totally viable and worthy mid-fi preamp that any audiophile could be happy listening to for years to come.
For information on Adcom contact…
J&B Distributors Inc.