A key S2 attribute is the dark silent backgrounds that the Rowland confers on acoustic recordings. There’s a complete absence of electronic hash—no veiling and no sense that a fine layer of dust needs to be brushed away from an acoustic image. The benefits that this lower noise brings are finer gradations of micro-dynamics and greater contrasts in tonal color and richness. The Rowland serves up a symphony orchestra with neat-freak orderliness, every instrument placed just so, but also with the ability to hone in on each instrumentalist without losing connectedness across the soundstage.
Lower mids and bass reproduction are superb in pitch and timbre. Bassoon, cello, and contrabass are darkly burnished, harmonically ripe, and pitched with tuning-fork precision. Bass control is as tight as the proverbial drum, and only as loose as a loudspeaker allows it to be. While the S2 doesn’t quite have the imposing, saturnine weight of big monoblocks, there is little sense of any attenuation of dynamic energy. I repeatedly listened to the orchestral kettledrums from Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and the rhythmic beat from Mick Fleetwood ’s drumkit on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and in both instances bass was tightly controlled, punchy, and absolutely pitch perfect.
The performance of the S2’s internal DAC is very, very good across the board, and will likely satisfy all but the most finicky digital devotees. Throughout Peter Gabriel’s New Blood—a collection of orchestral versions of the singer’s classic hits—the Continuum teased out low-level details with ease, from the large-scale and spookily immersive atmospherics of “Don’t Give Up” to the harmonic sustain of the triangle motif on the tender “Mercy Street.” Equally compelling were the delicate metallic ring and sustain of the distant mandolin played during John Gorka’s “Let Them In” [AIX Records]. Of course there are an infinite number of pricier outboard DAC options from third parties, but keeping sources under one roof, so to speak, is what makes integrated amplification so appealing in the first place.
However, the last thing I expected was that the performance of the phonostage would catch me on my heels. Perhaps the analog audio gods were smiling on me, but shortly after I plugged in the phono card the Julie London classic 1958 Liberty Records LP, Julie Is Her Name, Volume II, arrived from Analogue Productions. It was the first record that the Continuum S2 phonostage saw. As I listened to “Blue Moon,” I heard that this early stereo disc had all the hallmarks of the day—from the reassuring tape hiss to the widely panned guitar and standup bass, and, of course, the seductive, satiny, “come hither” vocals of Ms London. It made an interesting contrast to Boxstar Records’ remastering of the earlier (1955) original mono release, Julie Is Her Name, which featured the astounding guitar fills and flourishes of the legendary Barney Kessel. Like all good mono LPs, especially those remastered by great engineers like Bernie Grundman, songs such as “Cry Me a River” and “I’m in the Mood For Love” sonically transcend the supposed limitations of the monaural medium and embody the dimensional aspects and image focus that we presume only stereo can capture. Listening to Holly Cole’s “Frank’s Theme”—a spare piano and harmonica piece—image specificity on a stunningly realistic and engrossing level emerged from the soft acoustic pockets on stage. While the S2’s phonostage can’t match the tonal density, three-dimensionality, and micro-dynamic nuance of a near-reference-level standalone unit like the Parasound JC 3+, it is still pretty darn good. And like the DAC option, it is a genuine bargain.
Perhaps the most striking statement the Continuum S2 makes pertains to the overall musicality of Class D amplifiers. Just a few years ago, the argument asserted in these very pages was that Class D wasn’t ready for prime time—the primary gripe being that it lacked extension, air, and transparency on top. True enough then, but that argument has been firmly laid to rest by a component like the Continuum S2. I asked Jeff Rowland what had changed. He replied that Class D is only as good as its implementation and integration within a greater amplification strategy—just as the engine in a Formula 1 car is only as powerful as the chassis, suspension, drive train, and transmission allow it to be. Rowland, a man whose knowledge about electronics is matched by few others in the high end, still feels that much of the Class D debate is like complaining about the first Prius while standing next to the Tesla P85D. You have to just get in and drive it. In the case of the Continuum S2, I couldn’t agree more. It’s elegant, poised, powerful, and a pleasure to experience. High fidelity just doesn’t get much better than this.
SPECS & PRICING
Power: 400Wpc into 8 ohms, 800Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: Two pair balanced (XLR), two pair unbalanced (RCA), one pair unbalanced (RCA) unity gain (bypass)
Output: One pair balanced (XLR), one pair unbalanced (RCA)
Dimension: 5.3" x 15.5" x 15"
Weight: 35 lbs.
Price: $9500 ($350, phono; $450, DAC)
JEFF ROWLAND DESIGN GROUP
2911 N. Prospect St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80907