One of the first impressions I gleaned with the Classé separates was a tonal consistency across the spectrum that was neither significantly dark nor light, or if you prefer, neither yin nor yang. Top-end detail was uncluttered, and there was no hazy ceiling clouding the soundspace. These electronics were richly alive, viscerally musical, and dynamically charged. The combo most certainly did not follow the pattern of early Class D-driven systems that seemed to address only surface issues of music reproduction and tended to miss the finer points of low-level detail, ambience retrieval, and three-dimensionality. Classé may not have been first to the Class D party, but its arrival was worth the wait.
Sonically the CP-800/CA-D200 combo has a character that admirers of top-notch solid-state will immediately cozy up to: tight, crisp, tuneful bass response, a well-proportioned midrange, and a top end that seems to extend skyward. Perhaps its greatest strength is just how clean and fast and focused even the smallest musical transitions that it conveys are. The entrances and exits of individual notes emerge and recede into the recording venue’s inky black silences, pure and unfettered by noise or coloration. Whether it’s a churning beat from a high-hat or the distant slap-rattle of a tambourine, or the articulation of a lightning-fast series of notes coming off a concert grand, the Classé is as sure-footed and nimble as they come. The same traits apply to the low-level transparency of, say, the soft string arpeggios from a concert harp, or the steely peal of a percussionist’s triangle. These electronics allow me to peer ever-deeper into the SACD mixes of the Police’s “Murder by Numbers” and BS&T’s “And When I Die,” both tracks heavily accented by dense high- and low-level cues of polyrhythmic percussion and drumming—complex inner phrasing that can be easily smeared through inferior electronics.
Measured against a couple of benchmark competitors that I’ve spent many hours with, I felt the Classé duo could benefit from a little more Pass Labs-style bloom in the midbass and a greater sense of MBL warmth and elasticity in the top end. And compared with a fine tube preamp such as the Rogue RP5 (review forthcoming), I’d have to say that the CP-800 is a bit drier and cooler in personality overall. However, for sheer off-the-line speed, and its ability to convey venue dimensions or a studio recording’s reverberant decay, the Classé is pure, ah, class.
Inevitably I turn to vocals to define a component’s mid- and upper-middle range qualities. Listening to Jane Monheit’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” from Monheit’s Come Dream With Me release, I was quickly swept up in the rich, airy expressiveness of this intimate song about love and obsession. The Classé was discerning in the way it revealed low-level subtleties, from the fretless bass to the shimmering accents of the soft percussion arrangements. Further, opera singers and choruses presented wonderful instances of what the Classé was capable of doing with the unamplified human voice in large acoustic spaces. As I listened to “Ode To Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth, I heard the bass/baritone’s voice fan out into the venue and gradually begin to decay. Similarly, the large chorale’s finer dynamic gradations seemed to expand and contract the venue’s boundaries like the pleated bellows of a giant accordion.
As long as I’ve been acquainted with the high end, simplicity has always been the watchword. Therefore, the traditional audiophile in me should hate all the perks and plusses that largely define the CP-800 and CA-D200. But that didn’t happen.
Actually something indescribably magical occurred every time I began listening through these electronics. Poof, they were gone. I flat-out forgot about them and simply settled back and enjoyed the musical moment.
So maybe I’ve inadvertently stumbled onto the point Classé Audio is making—that in spite of its deep well of high-tech features that both inform and coddle the user, the Classé electronics are really first and foremost about superbly refined music reproduction living in peaceful coexistence with the industry’s latest advancements. That’s a future we all can live with. Well played, Classé Audio; well played, indeed.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Solid-state preamplifier/processor
Inputs: Analog, three RCA, two XLR; Digital, four optical, three SPDIF, one AES/EBU, one USB
Outputs: Analog, five RCA, five XLR; triggers, Ethernet
Dimensions: 17.5" x 4.78" x 17.5"
Weight: 33 lbs.
Type: Solid-state Class D amplifier
Number of channels: Two
Power output: 200Wpc into 8 ohms (400Wpc into 4 ohms)
Dimensions: 17.5" x 4.78" x 16.5"
Weight: 28 lbs.
B&W GROUP LTD.
5070 François Cusson
Canada H8T 1B3