Galion TS 120SE Tube Amplifier REVIEW
This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis July 2023
For the full review please see my YouTube video linked here .
I think this one of the hardest reviews I have ever done. I have put in hundreds of listening hours with the Galion TS120SE tube amplifier because I wanted to get the review right and to explain its sound accurately to you but, a bit like a chameleon that changes its skin to match its surroundings, the Galion kind of does the same thing. Changing the position of a control and its sound profile changes quite a lot and so just when you think you have the sound understood, you haven’t, because you hear it totally differently, and additionally the Galion sounds nothing like what I expected it to as a tube amplifier in its price range. It made me question my expectations and taste. I don’t remember the last HiFi component that did that.
For some context, Galion is a company owned and run by Thomas Tan who is the Thomas of the YouTube channel Thomas and Stereo. Thomas has now gone over to the dark-side from being an audio reviewer to a manufacturer and seller of products. I want to clarify something straight away because you may feel us YouTubers all know each other and want to stick together. I will be honest here and say I have never spoken to Thomas before he emailed me asking if I would like to review his amplifier and so I have no connection to him at all. I also want to say, in good faith, that Thomas never asked me to say anything in my review either so everything here is all my own opinion.
For a more detailed background on the Galion amplifiers, I would suggest you watch Thomas’ videos about them because there is no better mouth than the horse’s.
What’s It All About
For some of the important basics, this is the Galion TS120 Special Edition variant, which is more expensive than the normal version, and costs $4,495 dollars which is around £3,500. The explanations of the differences between the normal and SE versions are detailed on the Galion website here, and I have only listened to the SE version and so I can’t tell you anything about the differences between them.
This is a heavy amplifier at over 30kg. You can feel the weight is mostly at the rear when you pick it up, which I assume is a good indication of some beefy transformers. I do really like the resistance of the volume wheel and the clunkiness of changing between the different sound modes and similar. I also like the heavy all-aluminium remote control but did find the button layout takes some getting used to. It’s easy to change your input or mute the sound by mistake when you meant to adjusting the volume,
I do like the look of the Galion. It is quite understated in all black, but I am not the biggest fan of all the blue LEDs. However, you realise why they are there and important when you use the amp and start to get into all the features.
I much prefer the look of the Galion when you install Shuguang KT88-Z tubes, these aren not included but can be purchased from Galion. I favoured the sound of the amplifier with these tubes too and I will explain more later.
The Galion comes with good quality tubes from what I can tell, two 12AX7 and two 12AT7 for input and driver tubes and then four KT88 from Psvane, but the Galion can support both 6550 and KT120 tubes also. I would love to have tried some KT120 just to hear them and I tried to buy some, but they seem nearly impossible to buy at the time of the review in the correct variant. This is a shame and, of course, is related to current world events that we all hope don’t go on forever.
For power, the Galion has two distinct user selectable modes of operation; Class A and Class A/B and both deliver different power as you would expect. 30 watts RMS and 75 Watts maximum is claimed for class A and 50 watts RMS and a 100watts maximum for Class A/B so some impressive numbers for a tube amplifier. Turning the Galion around we can see both 4 and 8 ohm output taps, or speaker cable connectors, and five analogue inputs, four normal and one home theatre bypass, there are also subwoofer and tape outputs which could be very useful for some.
The next cool thing to talk about is the auto bias system. If you change between Class A and Class A/B modes, you need to bias the tubes. The process is easy, I generally used the remote control for this but you can do it with the buttons on the front the same. To bias the tubes you press Change, then Class to select between Class A or Class A/B and then you need to bias the tubes to the new selected mode and so you press Bias, and you see fours LEDs showing you the automated process changing from red to blue. When the LED above the bias button turns off, the tubes are biased and ready. You press Change again and you are back to playing music. It’s a very simple process that takes less than a minute.
The process is the same for just biasing the power tubes if you change them for example with the only difference being you don’t press the Class button to change that, so this is all nice and simple. It makes ownership of a tube amplifier much easier for those who are new to them, like I am to some degree.
I also must mention the large user quick guide document that’s included. It has some very useful instructions for getting started which I found it really helped me, so kudos to Thomas for this, it’s a great idea.
Another great idea is the amplifiers auto-protection system which will shut the amp off if it detects anything is wrong. It happened to me a couple of times through the review period which can be startling if you are not expecting it. It seems to be a very sensitive system, even sensitive to static from my touch which I was not expecting but I see it as a good thing as safety is critical and again this is reassuring for new-to-tube amplifier audiophiles.
Time to talk sound quality and this could easily become confusing because of the complexity of the situation. Not only do you have Class A and Class A/B, which sound different, but there are also three sound modes, A, B, and T. Essentially there are six sound variables and that’s before you even consider tube rolling and the different sound they will produce. You can see what I was referring to earlier about this amp being like a chameleon which changes its skin, or really its sound to suit you the listener, which is pretty cool when you think about it.
There are some overriding sonic traits of the Galion that carry across all the sound modes. Firstly, I am told it deliberately has a ‘V’ shaped sonic character so more bass and treble emphasis than mid-range. You may wonder why this character has been chosen, well it’s a great strategy for medium to lower volume level listening and I found the Galion to excel at lower volumes something to take note of if that is important to you. I am a loud volume listener and found things get very loud, very quickly, in terms of the volume position but I didn’t feel the need to listen quite as loud as I often would, owing to the amplifiers ‘V’ shaped character.
I think the reason for doing this also extends into the sound stage dimensionality as the middle region where all the vocals, piano, and many instruments are often sound very beyond the speakers plane, so you see through the speakers on them. The bass can still come out and be present in the room in front of the speakers as can the treble and so it can create a more extended sense of three dimensionality to the soundstage with a lot of music. It’s also a brilliant way for the musical elements that are sitting back in the sound stage, beyond the speakers to still to have real ‘pop’, attack, and presence. It’s a very interesting mixture of a setback tuber like sound but with some solid state amplifier dynamism. Some will love the delivery because it sounds lively, dynamic and fast for a tube amplifier, especially in its price bracket. A lot of tube amplifiers sound softer and squidgier, especially in the energy delivery department going for a romantic musical presentation. That is not the case with the Galion. It’s a more vivid listen with some real pazazz to it, especially in Class A mode.
The treble clarity and how clear small details are presented really impressed me, it is incredible actually. The sparkle, intricacy and the way treble details and small details ‘pop’ is very special. It showed to me that a lot of other amplifiers are softening this region by comparison, and treble details can be lost behind other parts of the music. That’s not the case with the Galion it always sounds very detailed and there is not a hint of brittleness in the treble so no trade off here which Im liked.
It is also has a very impressive bass delivery. It shows what 30 watts can do into reasonable sensitivity high quality speakers like the Sonus Faber Serafino. There is a lot of bass drive and very impressive bass articulation and detail and, at times, a good bass punch, especially with the Shuguang tubes. Even the stock Psvane tubes would be more than satisfying to a very large number of audiophiles. My own expectations regarding bass is not normal, I know that! I always want more bass from pretty much everything I listen to and, even I have been satisfied by the bass quantity but especially the bass quality from the Galion. However, the bass delivery is largely affected by which sound mode you are in, either A or B.
The clarity and focus to the vocals I also found extremely impressive as is the energy and presence with which they are delivered. It is very attention grabbing and the vocal character or changes in vocal character are always really clear so as you listen to old music or compressed modern music, from country Males to big female soul vocalists it is very easy to hear the differences. To explain this in another way would be to say a lot of the music’s vocal character comes through without the Galion stamping too much of its own character on them. There is no glossy bloomy, ‘tubey’ vocals here, they are a fair bit more honest than that but there is a bit more character to the vocals than you would get from a a lot of solid-state amplifiers because of the way they are presented very deep in the sound stage and with a lot of energy. Interestingly, the power tubes really used affect the vocals from the Galion and this is one area where I preferred other tubes to the included Psvane. I prefer a richer, warm and more solid vocal than the included Psvane tubes delivered the Psvane sounded a little too clinical for my taste but, as I mentioned, they were very clear and focused and very impressive in this regard. .
For me, the difference between Class A and A/B is the opposite of how I thought it was going to be. Class A sounds clearer, more upfront, dynamic, precise, and realistic so more high end and audiophile. Class A/B sounds softer, a little warmer and a little more traditional tube amp-like but quite a bit of the clarity, immediacy and the parts that make the Galion stand out in a lot of ways is lost or very much reduced. You may think that this would be a trade-off for better bass and perhaps with some speakers it would be, but with both the Mission 770 and the Sonus Faber Serafino the bass was a smidgen tighter in Class A/B but the difference was difficult to discern. The bass didn’t have quite the same impact in Class A/B mode and so for me Class A sounded noticeably better. It is almost as if Class A/B is just there to show you what a great job they have done with the Class A side of the amplifier but of course its not, class A/B is intended for more of a relaxed listen.
That difference was easy. More difficult and complex is the difference between sound modes A, B and T. Mode T activates tone controls which need no explanation, some audiophiles will be happy these are included. I found there to be some drop in sound quality with them engaged and didn’t use them for the review past testing them . Modes A and B disable the tone controls, and I was informed that each mode has a different feedback being applied in the circuit. I found the sound difference to modes very noticeable and it is hard to decide which is better. Mode A seems to tighten the sound a lot and make the Galion sound more linear in its delivery, and so it sounds technically “better” or more “accurate” and therefore I think more impressive to an audiophiles brain. Mode B seems to loosen the reins or the tight grip on the music, and so the sound is more developed and maybe not quite as crisp and articulate, but there is more boldness to it and I think more character. Mode B appealed more to my heart, but it is important to say, even though the sound is “looser”, it is still more precise and articulate sounding than you would expect from a tube amplifier in this price category.
To summarise the sound, the Galion TS120SE is extremely impressive in a lot of ways. It is claimed that the Galion is trying to combine some of the best of solid state with some of the best of tube amplifiers to create a ‘best of both’ scenario. I don’t know if that claim is true, but it is certainly providing a healthy dose of what you expect from both and so I think it’s an accurate description.
Let’s Get Rolling
This was my first-time tube rolling and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. The Galion comes with Psvane KT88 tubes with a ‘C’ designation. Thomas also sent me some Shuguang KT88 with the ‘Z’ designation. I much prefer the look of the latter and preferred the sound from them as it is bolder with greater mid-bass dynamics and more substantial bass overall. I noticed more texture and, I think, special character to the music too. But there seems to be a slight trade-off to the excellent high frequency clarity and presence, with treble being more pushed back in the sound stage and some of the overall sonic transparency see through the speakers to the music appeared to be lessened as well. With the Shuguang the Galion is a little more forward and intense sounding because of the more developed solidity of sound, but I found the increased texture to every individual aspect of the music, especially the vocals, added something extra special that made all music a more dramatic listen and I found this more engaging. Of course, this is very much my individual preference.
Thomas also sent some Mullard tubes. These changed the sound again, with there being more of a focus on the middle frequencies of the sound for their quality of delivery and so vocals became even richer and more special than from the Shuguang. But the trade-off here was for less bass articulation and less treble energy and immediacy, so these were not the tubes for me. However if you listen to a lot of acoustic or chamber music or more simplistic types of recordings I think these could be a great option.
First up was the Synthesis Roma 510ac tube amplifier and this comparison showed to me me how different the Galion sounds to what I thought was a typical tube am like sound. The Synthesis is a very traditional, super-smooth, warm, lush, and pleasing sounding tube amplifier and it’s a chalk and cheese situation here between ity and the Galion. Both amps are around the same money and it makes a recommendation easy here if you want an always pleasing and warm sound, the Synthesis is a great option; if you want clarity, dynamics and more, the Galion will be the better amplifier for you.
I also then compared to the much more expensive McIntosh MA352 (£8,995) and, despite there being an unfair price differential, it’s a great comparison because the McIntosh is a hybrid amplifier also trying to combine the benefits of tubes in the preamplifier with big solid state 200 watts at 8 ohms and 320 watts at 4 ohms power.
This revealed some very interesting results. Firstly, the McIntosh’s huge power was evident in the control and composure of the bass, especially the very deepest bass notes from the Sonus Faber Serafino. I could hear how they were a little wobbly sounding from the Galion but rock solid from the McIntosh. The second big difference was the McIntosh’s play-it-safe more neutral overall presentation, which is very much about control, smoothness, and scale from the huge power but that means when the music scales up in its energy the McIntosh’s composure stays perfect and never changes. The Galion never quite has this same composure especially at louder listening volumes. Furthermore, the upper vocals sound smoother in modern music from the McIntosh because the treble details are more recessed and less present, not ‘V’ shaped. It’s definitely a smoother more romantic listen with a very big sounding vocal which is effortlessly delivered and then the big bass adds warmth to the sound, all impressive stuff.
Because I had been listening to and enjoying the specific character of the Galion (with the Shuguang) for so long, the McIntosh was sounding a little vanilla to me and lacking some intensity and strong vocal character that I like, but a “vanilla” characterisation is not a negative as all the details in the music were there, maybe with even more sense of depth than from the Galion but just presented in a more stand-offish fashion. There was just something that I enjoyed about the Galion that was missing.
This was a great listening comparison as it showed to me that, despite the huge price difference, there were some key aspects to the Galion’s sound that I really liked and preferred but, despite how good it is the McIntosh showed to me the Galions limits and weaker points, which is more than fine because that’s how it is with HiFi.
What about negatives for the Galion? There are some practical ones such as it runs pretty hot in the Class A mode, but nothing too crazy, at least for me here in the UK. I did find that if I was too greedy with the volume, the upper vocal region would start to harden up, but that was at high volume levels and as I previously mentioned I could be satisfied at slightly lower volumes than I would normally listen at for the best sound as the dynamic extremes were still there. The Galion did seem to take a very long time to run in and I did not like its sound straight out of the box. I am not sure if my experience is comparable to others, perhaps I just got a random one that needed a lot of play time, but this is something I noticed.
To sum up this very long review – should you consider buying the Galion TS120SE? I would say a resounding ‘Yes’. I can understand why there has been such a commotion made about this amplifier because it does very much stand out. It is nothing like what you expect, and it is much better in many ways than you ever think it will be. I think it is striking a sound balance that might be a revelation to some that are used to the soft, squidgy, overly warm sounding tube amplifiers, that can be a little dull at times, but it also is a nice go-between if you are used to a very fast, lively, and dynamic solid state amplifier sound and are looking for something different with more charatcer
The Galion keeps some of the very important tube-like sound such as a holographic sound stage, some vocal character without softening the sound, and with a very good bass. It’s a fantastic amplifier that’s held my attention for hundreds of hours of listening over the last six weeks or more, and with the Shuguang tubes I was very happy. I am going to finish this review with a simple ‘well-done’ to Thomas. The Galion is a cracking amplifier.
A Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price
For the full Specification of the Galion TS 120SE Tube Amplifier
See the website here