Classé Audio Delta Series CP500 Preamp and CA2200 Power Amplifier
|Classé Audio Delta Series CP500 Preamp and CA2200 Power Amplifier
Now This Is Fun
Me, Myself and IRS
I have been a fan of Classé Audio’s components since they were first introduced in the U.S. back in the early 80’s. At a time when the prices of the Krells and Jeff Rowlands of the high-end world were climbing to the top of Mount Silly, Classé was developing high quality products at more and more affordable prices.
After getting back a fairly hefty tax return in 1992 I decided to treat myself to a couple of their newest pieces: the Five preamp and Fifteen power amp. I added the Apogee Stage loudspeakers and a Well Tempered Classic turntable to complete my dream system. For the next two months I was in Sonic Heaven. I spent hours spinning vinyl and chiding all those poor bastards who had begun mothballing their LPs in favor of those funny-looking silver “thingamabobs.”
Then one damp and dreary Saturday afternoon, two things came into my possession that started my dream system’s demise, causing me to repack the Classé pieces along with the rest of my system and send them back for a refund. The first thing was a five-disc Onkyo CD player with remote control and a headphone jack. Not only did I become enamored with the surprisingly good and quiet sound of the CDs but the remote control satisfied the fact that I was a world-class slackass. The second thing was a letter from the Internal Revenue Service that informed me that I had made a gross miscalculation on my tax form (damn that head of household status!), which resulted in my having to make monthly tax repayments that were more than my rent. Soon that Onkyo player and a pair of Grado headphones replaced my dream system.
Well more than a decade has past since that fateful day and at long last a Classé Audio preamp and amp have made their way back into my listening room. When CP told me that Dave Nauber formally VP of marketing at Madrigal/Levinson and, an old acquaintance was now the Vice President of Classé, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I’d make my move … Actually, it only took me about three seconds. “When can you put me in touch with him!” I said in a momentary lapse of cool. Luckily, CP was reading my mind and before our conversation was through he had already sent Nauber an e-mail introducing me and suggesting that we talk about the possibility of a review.
Dave Nauber was extremely kind and accommodating and within a few weeks, the new gear arrived. I knew I was in for something special and that I was dealing with a special company just by the way that the equipment was packed. They weren’t packed in any flimsy cardboard boxes and they weren’t in wooden crates that made them look as though they belonged on some steamship making its way from some far off land. Instead, each piece came in boxes that were made from some type of heavy-duty plastic/foam/polymer hybrid material. Inside, the units are held in place by heavy foam encasements. The amplifier box has a unique touch in that when you lift off the top section of the box, the sidewalls of the bottom section fold down so that the unit is sitting on a flattened box and can be easily removed. This is thoughtful thinking folks and not nearly as annoying as trying to take a dozen or so wood screws out of a crate.
No “Trickle Down” Here
As I mentioned before Classé has always been an electronics builder who makes affordable high-end audio gear as painstaking and thoughtfully as they do their top-of-the-line products. The new Delta Series CP500 preamp and CA2200 power amp – which are the subjects of this review – are perfect examples of this.
I’ve often wondered when some companies introduce a “new and affordable” line of components that utilize the same technologies and parts quality of their state-of-the-art components, just how close to the reference line do they actually make the less expensive stuff? I couldn’t imagine Bentley building a car that had most of the same design, engineering, and luxury features of their $200K Arnage, but then priced it like it were a Chevy. Yet that is what Classé appears to have done with the Delta Series.
In engineering or physics, the delta signifies a small and incremental change. From Classé’s Omega gear, the delta is represented in a line of products that are designed to integrate music and movies via some exciting new digital processors, multi-channel amps, and source components. They have maintained their usual high standards for construction and sonic performance yet still managed to do it at an affordable price and with an unusually high degree style and flexibility.
All of the Delta Series chassis are made with thick, soft-silver machined aluminum and black anodized accent pieces that the displays are built into. Each piece is 17.5” wide, features large rounded corners, and black top and rear plates. Navcom feet are under each piece as well, though I preferred to use the Golden Sound DH Cones and discs to maximize resonance reduction.
The CP500 preamp, like all of the Delta Series gear, is a ruggedly built and very nicely laid out. It has two balanced inputs and four unbalanced inputs. There is also one set of balanced and unbalanced outputs. All functions can be controlled via a simple to use touch screen display or on their rather extensive remote control. The sources initially appear on the screen as Line 1-4 and Balanced 1-2. But you can also select the names of each of your source inputs (i.e. Balanced 1 can be CD, Line 1 can be Tuner, Line 3 can be Phono, etc.). You can also set the output level for each source to avoid the stress of having to readjust the output level when you change your sources.
When you start up the CP500 the screen reads “Initializing” and after a few seconds shows the source component display. You can even set a timer on the display so that it goes blank after a specified period of inactivity. To get the screen back simply touch it or press one of the buttons on the remote. There is a receptacle for a detachable power cord so that you can use your favorite after-market power cord though the stock cord works just fine. Finally, all of the Delta Series components can be linked via CAN BUS connections at the back of each unit (Bi-directional RS-232 connections are provided for external control and to allow software updates). So if you’re lucky enough to put together a complete system, you can operate all the components via the remote.
The CA2200: Delivering The Mail
It can be argued that the power amp has the least affect on the sound of a music system because its only responsibility is to amplify the signal and send it to the loudspeakers. But as Clark Kent’s salt-of-the-Earth parents told him, “With great power comes great responsibility,” … or was that Peter Parker’s folks. At any rate, delivering the signal to the loudspeakers is an extremely important job as the amplifier must not impart any sonic artifacts upon the signal and it must deliver that signal with enough current to properly move the speaker’s drivers, ribbons, or whatever passes for a transducer these days. Delivering power is what the CA2200 does, and does very well.
Physically, the 2200 features the same styling as all of the Delta Series gear and excellent user-friendly operation. The front panel has two soft-touch buttons; one for power and muting and the other for selecting between balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) operation. A set of blue LEDs indicates the operating mode and a beautifully sculpted row of heat sinks adorns each side. On the rear are two pair of speaker terminals and of course the balanced and unbalanced inputs. And as with all Delta components the CA2200 has a RS232 connection for remote system integration and diagnostic services.
Music Maestro If You Please
Okay, enough about the hardware. Let’s get into what these things sound like … Let me begin from the top and work my way down. Feeding the CP500 was my Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player and the feature-laden Magnum Dynalab DT5 AM/FM tuner. The cables used were the Virtual Dynamics Nite II, the KAS Primus, and Rapport. Finally, the speakers were my Talon Peregrine Xs, Escalante Design Pinyons, and the excellent Wisdom Audio NS-27 ribbon/dynamic hybrids. For comparison sake, I used my 600-watt Electrocompaniet Nemo Monoblocks and the shockingly good Opera Audio Consonance A-120 tube/hybrid integrated amp.
When I first got the system up and running it was about 2:00am on a Friday night, so I decided to give my girlfriend a break and kept the volume down to a fairly low level. I figured it would be a waste to put on my favorite bass-blastin’ P-Funk disc, Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome [Casablanca] so I opted instead for the more cerebral sounds of Rickie Lee Jones’ Pop-Pop [Geffen GEF-24426]. Track one, “My One And Only Love” was the perfect tune for this time of night. Jones’ delicate voice seemed to have an intimate texture that was conveyed nicely by the Classé gear, even at low volumes. I sat close to the Talons, almost in a nearfield setup, and Jones’ perpetually moist mouth was right in front of me allowing me to hear every deep breath and lick of her lips. Boy, talk about detail!
Feeling this vibe for female voice, I threw on a disc from another Jones, Nora. Her Feels Like Home disc [Blue Note 7243 5 84800 0 9] sounded wonderful as well, but unfortunately, she lacks the sense of humor and style of Rickie Lee so by the time I got to track three, “Those Sweet Words,” I was fast asleep.
The next morning I woke up to find my girlfriend gone running and me with a whole stack of CDs that were dying to be played. The first was the soundtrack from the movie Good Will Hunting [Capitol CDP 7243 8 23338 2 1]. The Oscar-nominated song, “Miss Misery” by the late Elliott Smith was a good first test of the Classé component’s ability to both render fine detail and handle deep bass. The song begins with Smith’s whispery vocals over an acoustic guitar before drums segue to a deep bass line that follows throughout the song. The CA2200 never adds any bloom to the bass or over-hyped the treble. The sonic character could be summed up in one word, natural.
But at this point I’d been listening to a lot of acoustic music at moderate listening levels and the dark side of the force is starting to move me towards the hard stuff. As I mentioned before, late at night is not the time to be blasting my Parliament-Funkadelic discs, but now that I’ve got the place to myself, it’s time to see what the CP500 and CA2200 can do with Star Child and Sir Nose D’VoidOfFunk.
Now I realize that unless you were a black kid from the inner city or a really, really cool white kid from the suburbs, you may not appreciate the music I’m talking about. But trust me, the P-Funk (Parliament, Funkadelic, and William “Bootsy” Collins) music genre that defined the 70’s for black teens was performed by some of the most gifted musicians around, most notably, legendary guitarist, Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel and keyboard wizard, Bernie “Dr. Funkenstein” Worrell.
When I played the first track from the life-changing Parliament album, Mothership Connection, and Ray Davis’ rich baritone voice says “Good evening. Do not attempt to adjust your radio. There is nothing wrong. We have taken control as to bring you this special show. We will return it to you as soon as you are grooved. Welcome to station W-E-F-U-N-K. Better known as WEFUNK, or deeper still, the Mothership Connection. Home of the extraterrestrial brothers, dealers of funky music, P-funk, uncut funk, THE BOMB.” I was immediately pulled in.
Davis’ voice was full and barrel-chested like James Earl Jones’ … only funkier. For the next hour, Worrell’s piano and synthesizers, Bootsy’s “Space Bass,” Maceo Parker’s horn, and the madness of King George Clinton, et al, turned my listening room into a veritable funk-fest. The Classé system reproduced all of the energetic rhythm of this merry band of funksters. The dual ten-inch bass drivers of my Talons were getting a workout and had to be rescued by the Escalante Design Uinta sub. The midrange was fairly neutral and actually gave some clarity to Clinton’s cosmic ramblings. And Worrell’s white-hot synthesizers coupled with Hazel’s raging guitar teetered on the edge of brightness yet managed to stay musical, especially on the classic funk tune, Tear the Roof Off the Sucker. But what really brought things home for me was a performance by guitarist Mike “Kid Funkadelic” Hampton on the song, “Flashlight.” Now I have always felt that Worrell’s performance on this tune was the driving force behind its popularity when it first hit the airwaves back in 1978, but the CP500 resolved and fleshed out Hampton mimicking Worrell on guitar throughout the entire performance. I have never heard this before and found it mind-blowing. I can’t imagine any other top-shelf preamp resolving this performance any better.
Whew! I needed a few days to get all that funk out of my ears before I could get back into listening to some lighter fair, and a few days later, I picked up John Mayer’s disc Heavier Things [Columbia]. My favorite track is “Daughters.” Though I’ve not been fortunate enough to have any kids myself, I have a couple of Goddaughters that I am very fond of and this warm and melodic tune was the perfect song to get me thinking about where I’d be taking them on my next visit. Mayer’s voice and vocal style are eerily similar to that of Michael Franks. The Classé system’s ability to render performances is very nice though still treading ever so close to the bright side of the scale. Having said that, I have to remind myself that I am using the KAS cables on the balanced output of my Electro CD player and that combination tends to hype up the resolution a bit and can make recordings sound a bit truer than may be comfortable. What I mean by that is that a bright recording will sound a tad overextended and a laidback recording can sound rather flat. I changed to the Virtual Dynamics Nite II cables and the edginess was gone but so too were a bit of the dynamics. Pay attention to the cables you’re using. The right cable could be the difference between good sound and a whole new level of music enjoyment.
I really enjoyed my time with the Classé CP500 and CA2200. This company continues to give me hope for our hobby. The Delta Series components are visually striking, thoughtfully designed, fun to use, and just plain fabulous to listen to. Classé has made some true Bentley-quality products and is offering them at real-world prices. I’m going to increase the amount of taxes being deducted from my paychecks and start socking away a little something extra each week in hopes that eventually, Classé products will be in my home permanently. Highly recommended and my choice for this year’s 2005 Editors Choice Most Wanted Component!
CP 500 Preamplifier
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 200kHz +_0.1dB
Distortion (THD+noise): 0.003%
Single-ended input (max level): 5V
Single-ended output (max level): 10V
Balanced input (max level): 10Vrms
Balanced output (max level): 20Vrms
S/N ratio: 110dB (max level to noise floor)
Channel separation: >110dB
Single-ended inputs: 3pr RCA (incl. 1pr w/phono option)/100kOhms
Single-ended tape inputs: 1pr RCA/100kOhms
Balanced inputs: 2pr XLR/200kOhms
Single-end: 1pr RCA
Balanced: 1pr XLR
Tape out: 1pr RCA
17.5” x 16.5” x 4.75” (wdh)
Weight: 26 lbs (12 kg)
CA 2200 Stereo Amplifier
Voltage gain: 29.1dB
Bandwidth: 155kHz (-3dB), 22kHz (-0.1dB)
Phase: <-10 degrees (22kHz)
Power: 200W (8Ohms), 400W (4Ohms)
THD + noise: 0.003% (8Ohms), 0.005% (4Ohms)
Power consumption: 480W
17.5” x 18.5” x 8.75” (wdh)
Weight: 80 lbs (36 kg)
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