Then there are the amplifier options. Pair the I1 with one external A1 to use two channels per each amp to bi-amp a pair of speakers. Theoretically, you can bypass the I1’s amp altogether, and use the integrated strictly as a front end feeding either a stereo or monoblock pair of CH’s flagship M1 power amps. But that’s getting into a whole different price class, and I personally prefer the A1 anyway.
The point is that, far from being a dead end, the I1 can serve as a starting point to a more elaborate CH system. When following any of these upgrade paths, you never have to throw away or sell the I1; just use the sections you still need. You can even move the I1’s boards to other CH components. For example, if you buy a C1 and you’d previously purchased a network streaming board for your I1, you can move that board to the stand-alone controller.
Fixing the Ergonomics
In the midst of my rave reviews of the A1, D1, and C1, I took time out to savage CH’s ergonomics. Each component’s front panel consists solely of a display and two concentric knobs. This makes for an elegantly clean aesthetic. Similarly, the remote’s paucity of buttons is simplicity itself. However, both the front panel and the remote become non-intuitive as soon as you try to do something other than adjust levels or switch sources. With those tools, you’re looking for trouble if you need to change a menu setting—and there are lots of them—or merely want to tweak the balance. The remote is useless in these cases; only some obscure combination of knob turns (which knob? which direction?) and/or pushes will achieve the desired result.
With the I1, CH has released a new user interface called the CH Control App. The app is compatible with all CH models, and runs on any Android device. The new UI turns out to be one of the finest in the industry. Now, with an intuitive tap, you can change balance, polarity, the phono EQ curve, the amount of global feedback in the amp, and even the color and brightness of the front-panel display. Meanwhile, the app keeps you abreast of what’s playing and at what resolution. In streaming mode, you have the ability to delve into your library. Although not as comprehensive as Roon for streamed media (nothing I know of is), the CH Control App has the advantage of encompassing the entirety of the I1’s functions.
I hope I’ve made it clear that the CH Precision I1 is no ordinary integrated amp. A (very) few integrateds can match it in one area or another, but I know of nothing with a comparable combination of pedigree, versatility, footprint, expandability, upgradability, value, and world-class sonics. Yes, the I1 is expensive. But the biggest expectation that this integrated upends is that such devices aren’t supposed to be comparable to separates. Yet somehow CH has transported the secret sauce of its own separates into the I1, and is offering the result at less than half the price of the originals. If you have a $40–50k budget for a complete suite of analog and digital electronics, and were considering separates, you owe it to yourself to experience the I1.
Specs & Pricing
Standard inputs: Analog (balanced and single-ended), SPDIF (coax, TosLink), AES/EBU, CH Link HD
Optional inputs: USB, Ethernet, Word Clock, moving-coil phono.
Power output: 100Wpc into 8 ohms 175Wpc into 4 ohms
Outputs: Balanced analog, word clock, stereo loudspeaker binding posts
Digital resolution: DSD64 via DoP, PCM up to 192kHz/24bits (SPDIF); Native DSD256, PCM up to 768kHz/32bits (CH Link HD); DSD128 via DoP, PCM up to 384kHz/24bits (USB); DSD256, PCM up to 384kHz/24bits (Ethernet)
Dimensions: 17.3" x 17.3" x 4.7"
Weight: 92 lbs.
Price: Base Unit, $38,000; additional digital board, $2500; USB board, $3000; streaming board, $5000; phonostage board, $4500; Clock sync board, $1500.