On tracks from Pat Metheny and Charlie Hayden’s Beyond the Missouri Sky, the bass transients were nicely focused and tuneful. The initial pop off the string was clean and forceful, although ideally it should have been more of a swift jab. This impression is consistent with the Evolution 100A’s nature of veering to a rounder, slightly warmer sound overall.
Tracks from Norah Jones’ seminal album Come Away with Me were well focused, spacious, and three-dimensional, though the soundstage also narrowed slightly on “Cold Cold Heart,” and the 100A didn’t reproduce the bass vamp as tenaciously as certain other amps. I also felt that the singer’s vocal transients were not quite as resonant and airy as I’ve noted with highbrow references such as the MBL C51 integrated, the Jeff Rowland Continuum S2, or the new Pass Labs INT-250 (review forthcoming).
The 100A’s ability to reproduce ambient information from a live acoustic recording was very good. I admired the nicely positioned and layered orchestra sections during Vaughan Williams’ The Wasps Overture, as well as the low-level sparkle emanating from the concert harp. And in the background, the ambient space of the hall lent a sense of volume and perspective. Turning to studio-born music, a track like “Tea in the Sahara” from The Police’s Synchronicity album presented penetrating bass, percussion, and kickdrum information with remarkably clean dynamics, pitch, and air. The Evolution 100A handled the complex intermingling of these cues with aplomb, although some constriction and dynamic foreshortening slipped in at higher levels.
The instrument that authenticates performance (at least for me) is the piano. No other instrument combines its vast repertoire of textures and touch, explosive dynamics, and expressive detail. As I listened to Warren Bernhardt’s “Autumn Leaves” track from his So Real disc, I was impressed with the persuasive ease with which the Evolution 100A reproduced the track. The tonal color and tactile “feel” were present in satisfying measures, albeit not up to reference standards. But during the solo portions I felt the imaging between the bass and the percussion could have been expressed more cleanly. As mentioned earlier, the Evolution 100A by nature doesn’t extend; rather, it subtracts. Thus, acoustic bass misses the resonant shudder coming off the soundboard.
My most favorable impressions were reserved for the Ruby DAC, an affordable option at $599 that I would consider a must for all but the most hard-bitten analog fans (JV, for instance?). Although limited to 24-bit/96kHz sampling rates, I found its performance fluid, focused, and dynamic. The spread of backing vocals during Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” was pristine and transparent; voices combined without smearing the distinctive timbre and attack of the individual singers. And during soprano Audra McDonald’s rendering of “Lay Down Your Head,” the individuation and space among the backing group’s players was refined and delicate. Overall, the Ruby DAC gamely held its own—even against some of the most stellar digital I’ve had in hand, such as the soon-to-be-reviewed Esoteric K-03x. It was not quite as open or color-saturated as the big K, but it came closer than I would have expected.
High-end doctrine dictates that we eventually aspire to à la carte audio—hand-selected-and-prepared component separates. It’s a bit of nose-in-the-air snobbery that many of us succumb to at some point. I know I have. However, when you allow yourself to fully experience music reproduction as we all innocently did when we first got into the high end, you more fully appreciate what a compact, nicely sorted-out amp like the Evolution 100A accomplishes. The Creek Evolution 100A reminds us of just how satisfying ordering up a single classic entrée can be. A tasty product that will keep you coming back for more.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 110Wpc into 8 ohms (170Wpc into 4 ohms)
Inputs: Five RCA, one XLR
Power-amp inputs: RCA and XLR
Dimensions: 17" x 2.4" x 11"
Weight: 20 lbs.
Price: $2195 (Ruby DAC, $599; Ambit AM/FM tuner, $250; Sequel Phono, mm, $200, mm/high-output mc, $250)
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023