Lejonklou's Smooth Sounding Gaio Moving Magnet Phono Preamplifier

The Lejonklou Gaio MM phono preamplifier is as simple to use as Swedish designer Fredrik Lejonklou’s name can be difficult to spell or pronounce until you get the hang of it. The Gaio has been referenced in various AnalogPlanet moving magnet phono preamp shoot-outs but it’s never been given a stand-alone review.

In April of 2018 Mr. Lejonklou upgraded the Gaio to the Gaio 2. However I’d bet the 2 is similar to the Gaio, just better, not likely worse. The Gaio itself replaces the KINKI3. The original intent was for the Gaio to be the KINKI4 but too much had changed.

Since Gaio has gone to Gaio 2 and not to KINKIBOOTS or something, it’s probably more similar to than different from the original. Note: American importer Nokturne Audio’s website doesn’t show the Gaio 2 so perhaps it’s been delayed after its introduction. The Gaio price on the website is $895 (Lejonkou also offers the Slipsik 6 at $1495). You can find more details about the design philosophy and parts used on the Lejonklou website. Mr. Lejonklou designs, but the products are manufactured elsewhere (nothing unusual there). Here’s a photo showing multiple Gaio 2 circuit boards. You can easily see that it’s a “dual mono” design:

If you like “fiddling”, you are out of luck here: the Gaio is strictly “plug’n’play”. Gain is 40dB, input impedance is the “standard” 47kOhms and capacitive loading is fixed at a low but very reasonable 80pf. Cable capacitance will add a certain amount per foot and this is less critical on the low side than on the high, where highs can roll off and you can always add capacitance but you can’ subtract it! You can’t even change power cords. The Gaio is hard wired, which is probably a good thing at this price point and it allows for a compact single-box design that’s approximately 4” wide, 2” tall and 7” deep.

The back panel features a ground lug plus signal “in” and “out” RCA jacks, a pair on each side. Note: both left and right channels feature red and white jacks because according to Mr. Lejonklou, he likes the sound of these and the manufacturer refuses to make them in black. So both outputs are red and both inputs are white.

Among the LPs I used for the audition were three AAA albums: a 1988 Harmonia Mundi album Mozart Horn Concertos ((HMU 7012) engineered by Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath and mastered by Doug Sax, Soul Journey (Acony ACNY-0305LP) a just reissued on AAA vinyl for the first time Gillian Welch album and Yarlung’s live to tape recording of the Yuko Mabuchi Trio Vol. 1 (Yarlung YAR 88157-161V 45rpm).

The cartridge was the recently reviewed $299 Sumiko Moonstone. As a reference (and reality check) I compared the Gaio to the Doshi Audio V3 phono stage ($16,995) as well as the closer in price ($1450) Graham Slee Accession, which also includes a volume control and can be used as a preamplifier connected directly to a power amplifier, though of course I used its fixed output.

The Gaio’s overall sound was sweet and “feathery” much like the cartridge with which it was paired. The natural horn played by Lowell Greer has a warm, but airy tonality that the Gaio well-captured, though there was more air to be had from the $16,995 phono preamp (no surprise) both from the instrument and in the surrounding space, but given the price what the Gaio managed in terms of avoiding both lower midrange “stuffiness” and transient “etch” impressed.

So the strings were also pleasing both timbrally and texturally, spread stably across San Francisco’s Lone Mountain College Chapel’s stage, with the horn equally well presented between the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Mostly what was lacking compared to the far more expensive phono preamp was air and the sense of the chapel’s space but considering the price differential, so what? What this modest combo (cartridge and phono preamp) produced bettered in many ways any digital front end you could name, especially in smooth, long term listenability and musical flow.

Not surprisingly the Welch record sounded, inviting, with her voice appearing naturally and effortlessly between the speakers. As a tonic for the digits at any price, the Gaio and Moonstone combo soothes, engages, connects, involves, relaxes and energizes, which is what music itself is supposed to do (among other things).

The Yarlung recording was done using a single AKG C24 stereo tube microphone. It’s capable of re-creating the live hall space and placing the piano in thrilling 3D relief. The $16,995 phono preamp gets it all. The $895 one at best suggests it, but while listening and enjoying you don’t really miss what you’re not getting. To me that’s the sign of a well-designed piece of audio gear.

The top isn’t as airy and can be, the bottom, while very well extended (surprisingly so when I played Dafos [Reference Recordings RR-12] with Mickey Hart, Airto and Flora Purim, a record that, to use a tired cliché [because, why not?] plumbs the sonic depths), doesn’t hit rock bottom with full intensity and dynamics are not fully expressed. Spend a great deal more and you’ll hear blacker backgounds but use the Gaio in an appropriately prices system and you’re probably not missing any or much of what the assemblage can do in the first place!

Put the Moonstone on moderately priced turntable, plug it into the Gaio and if you’re new to playing records you’ll quickly know what it’s all about (and more). The Gaio 2 is probably much like the Gaio but incrementally better (I’d hope quieter for one thing).

Ortofan's picture

... the Schiit Mani, the Mobile Fidelity StudioPhono and the Parasound Halo JC 3 Jr.

fetuso's picture

"What this modest combo (cartridge and phono preamp) produced bettered in many ways any digital front end you could name... "

Based on the systems I've experienced at home I definitely prefer analog. But, just to play devil's advocate, there really isn't a digital system at any price that would better this very modest system?

Michael Fremer's picture
Not in the ways that analog is intrinsically better...at the EISA event we heard 3 days of very high quality digital. Last demo was Pro-Ject Jukebox- modestly priced TT built into in amp and speakers. Most agreed it was most musically pleasing presentation...
fetuso's picture

I'm pretty sure I know what you mean. Sometimes I'll be listening to a great sounding sacd on my marantz and I tell myself I could be happy if this was all I had. Then I put on a record (especially AAA) and I realize I'd be miserable without analog.

francisalbert's picture

I oftenprefer Analog over Digital . I’ve heard many of Project’s modestly priced TT’s ( I actually purchased one based on one of you’re reviews) and I have never experienced the same musical nirvana you always speak about in you’re reviews of these ( modestly ) Project TT’s Michael . Especially in comparison to well produced hirez files through my (not so modestly priced ) Invicta DAC . You are mostly responsible for getting me back into analog but you’are so immediately dismissive of anything digital I’m starting to question you’re objectivity .

Martin's picture

My daughter, who is five and a half, asks me to put on records.
She has CDs, nursery rhyme stuff. Which she plays. She must be the only five and half year old in the world with a four thousand dollar CD player.... My old one, which I thought might come in handy one day....
However, me, she asks me to play records.
She never asks me to play a CD. Ever.
I ask her, "would you like me to put on a CD?"
I ask her, "what about Daddys player?"
Daddys player being loaded with high resolution digital downloads from HD Tracks.
It's records.
Oh, she'll put up with high rez. downloads all right if I'm doing something else. But she definitely prefers it when I play AAA vinyl.
I asked her when she was four; "What sounds better, rekkerds or CDs"
"I don't know"
But she is very clear on records sounding better.
She likes Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and a few others on the jazz side. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the like on the pop side.

Howard's picture

Nuff said.

Howard's picture

For being (one of) those who helped preserve the vinyl format through your writing and reviews. One of my early memories of the digital format is reading you saying (Paraphrased) "Any decent vinyl/analog system will make you want to throw your CD player against the wall." It was true then (circa 1985?) and remains true today. At various shows Ive heard some non Godly priced digital systems and to date havent heard one I preferred to even a modest vinyl/analog system. I think it was Herb who expressed it as I do, again paraphrased..."A good vinyl system keeps me glued to the chair, where as with digital, very shortly, Ill find myself up doing something else." I finally gave up and took the CD player out of my system altogether. I only have limited time, so if Im going to burn expensiveglass I want to maximize my listening experience with vinyl.

casperghst42's picture

I got the Gaio (original) paired with an MC30 Super and an MCA 10 / Passive Stepup - as the author writes the midtones and highs well organized, I find that the lower midtones / bass are a bit weak.

Some peole have been saying the same, the Gaio (possibly all Lejonklou phone stages) have been made with a very specific set of cartridges ... I not complaining, just pointing out.

For vocals this thing just sound great.

SeagoatLeo's picture

I have 7,000 CDs, 25,000 LPs and 7,000 78s. I generally have less record noise compared to MFs videos of his records so that's not an issue. It's just that my $16K analog front end and $10K phono pre-amp can be and are equal to my EAR Acute CD player (with tweaks, NOS Amperex tubes and high end cabling, like my analog gear). I have many Mercury Living Presence LPs and all 3 box sets of the series. Often, the CD just sounds clearer, cleaner and more dynamic than RFR and FR pressings. On the other hand, one particularly bad transfer was had of the Richter Lizst Concerti on the CD wherein the common U.S.black label Philips for $1 easily killed it (this CD was not remastered by Cozart or Plangent but a one off from someone else and has heavily filtered highs). So, it works both ways. Sometimes a CD is better, sometimes the LP and sometimes its a tie even if there are sonic differences. If it weren't for CDs, those Bones Howe Mode releases as stereo LPs which sounded horrible on LP are fully resurrected in glorious stereo by V.S.O.P. CDs.

francisalbert's picture

Thank you - a very refreshing and objective statement about digital vs vinyl . It’s not as black and as is often suggested on this site . And not all of us can play vinyl through a $200,000.00 plus system .

lakeallen's picture

I've been listening to the Gaio 2 for a little over a week now, smooth, so far, is a good description. Good all around and easy to listen to at length, though not as dynamic or punchy as my more expensive phono pre (LKV Phono 2-SB)which has a surprisingly good MM stage. I'm using a Nagaoka MP-300, which is a great MM cartridge.