Many years ago, I purchased a Creek integrated amplifier as a birthday present for my wife to use as the centerpiece in an affordable, easy-to-use, yet engaging second system for our house. Although she’d complained that my reference system was too complex for her, she failed to appreciate all the “research” I’d done to find her the most musically satisfying piece within our modest budget. Although that Creek amp remains the occasion of endless ridicule whenever the subject of inappropriate birthday presents comes up, we spent many years enjoying its surprisingly satisfying sound in our “family” system.
Producing highly musical products at a low price is one of the toughest design challenges in audio, and when a company like Creek does it so well for so long, you can’t help wondering what Creek’s engineers could do with a larger budget. Well, wonder no longer. At $2395 each, the Destiny CD player and integrated amplifier are Creek Audio’s most “up-market” products yet. They’ve given Creek’s engineers the opportunity to stretch out, but do their sonics justify their price?
Hooking the Destiny units up to the new Quad ESL-2805 convinced me that these were not overachieving budget electronics with fancy faceplates and a few extra features. I won’t mince words— the Destiny units rival the performance of more expensive separates and do some things better than any other digital and solid-state combo that I have heard at anywhere near their price. No, the Creeks don’t have all the bloom and body of some tube units, nor the effortless power and control of some gargantuan solid-state amplifiers, but they come surprisingly close to both. Indeed, on the brilliantly recorded Musica Sacra [Opus 3 CD], massed voices sounded so gorgeous, and so many of the ambient cues were maintained from the recording venue (the Örnäset Church in Sweden), that I thought tubes and a good analog frontend were in the chain. (And, indeed, they were, but only in the recording itself—the recording engineer used a custom-built tube mixer and a Telefunken analog tape recorder.)
On large-scale music, I also thought I was listening to a much more powerful amplifier, as the Creeks took the Quads to their dynamic limits. They also gave the ESL-2805 some welcome additional bass weight, but did nothing to blunt the speaker’s lightning transient speed or spoil its remarkable coherence. Still, I preferred the Creeks mated to the Hyperion HPS- 938—a speaker with low-distortion dynamic drivers. The combination was particularly thrilling and would fool many into thinking that they were listening to a mega-buck system. It was able to take all the power classical music, big band jazz, and hard rock I could throw at it. As soon as I started cranking The Ultimate Collection from The Who [MCA], my teen-aged daughters came running into the listening room and started dancing around. Keith Moon’s drumming propelled the music forward without a hint of tube sluggishness; his cymbal crashes were extended and decayed naturally; and John Entwistle’s bass was deep, articulate, and powerful.
Not only are the Destinies more musical than previous Creek units—and that’s saying something—but they also have more clarity, bass power, and immediacy. Unlike some “musical” MOSFET designs from other manufacturers, the Destinies do not veil the sound or defocus the image. They convey the timbre of instruments and voices well. Peggy Lee’s riveting performance of her signature song “Fever,” from The Best of Miss Peggy Lee [Capitol], sounded appropriately seductive and natural, and her finger snaps sounded like the real things. On guitar tracks from Nils Lofgren, Martin Sexton, and Xue Fei Yang, the tuneful resonance of the guitars came through with lots of natural detail and transient speed. I could hear the wood in the clarinet, oboe, and flutes at the beginning of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 on the Reference Recordings 30th Anniversary Sampler, and the triple-tonguing of the trumpets had very good “ping.” Although I’d still give the nod on massed strings to my analog and tube-based references for their bloom and lushness, the Destinies conveyed the delicacy and air of massed strings better than nearly any digital/solid-state combo I’ve heard, the exceptions being a handful of far more expensive units.
Given their pedigree, I expected the Creeks to be musical, but I was unprepared for their ground-breaking soundstaging performance at this price. I have been critical of all but a few costly digital players in this area, because they typically only provide good lateral imaging but not much soundstage depth. Well, the Destiny combo adds that third dimension to the soundstage and actually captures most of the rear of the stage. The string sections on the Enescu were not compressed horizontal masses; instead, the players were spread out from the front towards the back of the stage. The Pines of Rome selection from the same Reference Recordings disc also seemed to cover the entire stage, with the percussion instruments solidly positioned at the rear. Imaging was not only precise and stable; it was almost holographic on this CD—and on many other discs, too. Those who like listening to Hans Zimmer film scores, like Blackhawk Down [Decca], will be in for an exciting spatial treat from the Destinies.
The performance of the Creeks is so exemplary that they merit comparisons with good analog front ends and tube separates rather than with other units in their class. However, they do have some minor limitations. Those who want the ultimate in liquidity, body, air, and “continuousness” will have to look elsewhere— but be prepared to spend a lot more. Occasionally, the Destinies reveal their digital and solid-state roots in some thinness in the highs, but this is more often a result of mediocre digital recordings or power-line problems. Adding a Chang Lightspeed and better cables helps smooth and flesh out the treble, and, of course, with better discs this is typically not a problem. While the Destiny amplifier did not put a vicelike grip on the bass or have quite the dynamic explosiveness of a large Krell or Musical Fidelity, it drew more bass out of the Hyperion speakers than other similarly-rated power amplifiers I’ve tried. The Destiny integrated sounds a lot more powerful than its 100Wpc channel rating.