There was once a simpler time in the high end. Performance was in large part defined by component minimalism: an austere, stripped-down, hair-shirt aesthetic that shunned extraneous complications and pretty much shrugged off user convenience. The mantra was, above all, sonic purity. Tone controls, lighted displays, and remotes? Not a chance. But today’s high end is also married to the world of digital technology, computers, and communications. And that world has seen sweeping changes that have swept us along with them. Electronics are now expected to thread the needle between the analog and digital worlds. This has given rise to powerfully versatile components like the Classé CP-800 preamp/processor and its 200Wpc partner, the CA-D200 stereo amplifier.
If the CP-800 designation sounds a tiny bit familiar at this point, it should. Jacob Heilbrunn reviewed an earlier version of the CP-800 in Issue 230 a couple of years ago. Recently, however, some noteworthy upgrades suggested it was time for a return visit. Let’s review: The CP-800 is still Classé Audio’s top-tier analog preamplifier. It’s a highly configurable and handsome beast, outfitted with an onboard DAC and well appointed with a sophisticated kit of digital processing options. Its internals include fully balanced circuitry and completely isolated, symmetrical left and right channels. The stereo DACs are Wolfson 8741s, two per channel, in a dual-differential design. A phono mm/mc stage is also available as an option.
Visually, the familiar Classé profile has aged well since the Delta Series launched in 2004. Its wraparound aluminum front panel softens the often hard-edged cosmetics of most electronics brands. Its dominant feature is the LCD touchscreen display—now with a modern 16x9 aspect ratio. In fact, the touchscreen is responsible for so many functions that without it the CP-800 would be overrun with buttons and toggles. Fortunately, the screen is very legible, responsive to touch commands, and logically laid-out. There is a large, traditional volume-control knob to the right of the screen, along with a ¼" headphone jack and a USB input for portable devices.
Once I familiarized myself with the comprehensive and graphically rich instruction manual (all fifty-plus pages’ worth!), I found that the CP-800’s menu windows were easily navigable, with clear and intuitive icons. The hefty remote control has a full complement of functions. (See System Tech sidebar.)
The big news and the primary reasons for revisiting the CP-800 are twofold: The asynchronous USB input, which is powered by its own galvanically isolated power supply, now supports full-bore 192kHz signals rather then the 96kHz of its predecessor. Even more welcome is the addition of network connectivity via Ethernet. Previously relegated to an inoperable back-panel input, this feature has been activated and offers streaming options including Apple AirPlay and DLNA. With the CP-800’s own oscillators controlling timing for D-to-A conversion, files up to 192kHz can be accommodated.
The CA-D200 stereo amplifier is the first Class D amp to carry the Classé name—an important development for a company long devoted to Class AB. The CA-D200 is rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms (400Wpc into 4 ohms) and uses a proprietary-designed switch-mode power supply (SMPS) with power-factor correction (PFC) and switching amplifier stages. Classé says that DSP is used to “optimize the performance of the system, lowering the dead-band-time—the gap produced when the plus and minus halves of the switching amplifier’s output stage are both off, and considered the Achilles’ heel of earlier Class D designs—to a vanishingly low three nanoseconds or less.” Because of this reduction, distortion and noise have been markedly reduced in the bargain. It also enables the minimal use of overall negative feedback, another potential boon to performance.
Day-to-day living with the Classé was both a pleasure and a real eye-opener in the way it illustrated the ever-shifting nature of the high end. Whereas once upon a time my source components were limited to a turntable and a Dolby cassette deck, I took stock of all the sources driving the CP-800 during the time of period of my evaluation, and it was a like a population explosion. There was the ever-faithful turntable, CD transport over SPDIF, an HD-DVR, Blu-ray player, Lumin Music Player on the network with twin NAS drives, Apple TV, and a handful of USB thumbdrives. And they were all playing nicely, thanks to the CP-800’s copious input selection and switching flexibility.
For listening I mostly used the CP-800 as a renderer, augmented by routing my MacBook Pro into the CP-800’s back-panel USB input. Since I already have a Synology NAS on my wireless home network serving the Lumin A-1 Music Player, it was an easy task to connect another Ethernet cable from the router to the CP-800.