||"...just a great amp in
Classé Audio Delta CA-2100 Stereo Amplifier
by Bob Wood
||The bass "was
tuneful, rich, big, and round," "served up with power and definition."
"But when on the disc, delicate, subtle sounds pop out and overlay the fabric of the
music, the amplifier conveyed them as easily as it did the pounding bass notes."
"The midrange is, well, awesome! It's "clear and highly defined to grab your
attention without any hint of grit or spit or edge or glassiness." "In soundstaging,
the Classé amp equals the best Ive heard." "Listening to CD after CD, even
ones that arent audiophile approved, was a very pleasing experience."
||"The CA-2100 is
fully solid state and fully balanced." "Balanced or single-ended configuration is
accomplished using the Select and Mode buttons." "The amplifier is rated at 100Wpc
into 8 ohms and 200Wpc into 4 ohms, with a bandwidth from DC to 155kHz (-3dB). All Classé
products are based on similar analog gain stages, so while the CA-2100 is the smallest of
Classé's stereo amplifiers, it has many of the touches of the company's biggest brute."
||"For burn-in I used
some old Monster Cables with spade ends, and the spades were too wide to fit into the slot --
I could only get one tine of the spade in. If you have big, thick cables with wide spades, be
sure to check whether or not theyll work with the CA-2100."
piece of engineering is a must-audition amplifier...for anyone who isnt ready to drop
ten times its cost or more just to have this level of sound quality."
The Classé CA-2100 stereo power amplifier ($4000
USD) ships in a unique box. The top forms a five-sided piece -- you lift it off the
bottom, rather than unfold flaps, to reveal the amp. Well within the foam packing, some
sensual curves invite exploration. Perhaps youve seen this amplifier in ads, or at
the local brick-and-mortar store. The pictures dont quite tell the story. The front
panel is mated to the sides by a seamless curve to where it touches the heatsinks about
halfway back. The front panel, with minimal controls (Standby, Select and Mode) features a
black rectangle positioned on a faux slot in black. While for many it all comes down to
the sound, theres no reason why a piece of high-end gear cannot also look good. The
CA-2100 certainly passes the eyeball test. It is 17 1/2" wide, 4 3/4" high and
16 1/2" deep, and it weighs 47 pounds. Despite the curves, as almost square overall,
the unit is actually larger than you might expect from pictures.
The CA-2100 is fully solid state and fully
balanced. Its rear panel includes both RCA and XLR inputs, an IR input and output for
system integration, Classé CAN Bus control ports (for use with other Delta-series
components), a DC trigger input and output, an RS-232 control port for future downloads
and external control (think A/V friendly), an IEC AC receptacle and fuse, and twin pairs
of speaker connections via WBT terminals, so the amp is ready for biamping.
Balanced or single-ended configuration is
accomplished using the Select and Mode buttons. In Standby, pushing the Select button
lights up the Channel LEDs, of which there are two sets: one for balanced and the other
for unbalanced. One of the Channel LEDs will then blink, which means you are about to set
it up by pressing Mode to toggle between single-ended or balanced input. Then you push
Select again to go to the other channel and repeat, finishing with a button press until
both Channel LEDs are off.
If you have a large system and would rather
stagger the startup of your power amplifiers, you can do so with the CA-2100, using your
PC to program a turn-on delay. Clearly, this product is well thought out, with many
control options built in. Extensive protection circuitry will signal a problem by turning
a normally blue LED red.
The amplifier is rated at 100Wpc into 8 ohms and
200Wpc into 4 ohms, with a bandwidth from DC to 155kHz (-3dB). All Classé products are
based on similar analog gain stages, so while the CA-2100 is the smallest of Classé's
stereo amplifiers, it has many of the touches of the company's biggest brute.
I configured the CA-2100 for balanced input, my
VSE-modified Sony SCD-1 CD/SACD player running balanced to a Great Northern Sound-modded
Audio Research LS5 Mk III preamp. This preamp also has a set of 6H23EB type 3 tubes from
Upscale Audio, replacing the stock 6922s. My system has been upgraded since my last review
-- with an Audience aR1p used with each of four new dedicated lines, one for each piece of
gear. I also have a Fusion power cord on my preamp.
All interconnects are balanced Audience Au24. The
speaker cables feeding Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7s are also Audience Au24. Other power
cords are Electraglide Reference. Aurios sit under the SCD-1 and preamp. Walker Extreme
SST treats tube pins in the preamp and various interconnects. Porter Port outlets are used
for each circuit. All equipment sits in a cutout in a wall and backed into a closet, the
backside of which opens into a hallway. My dedicated listening room was designed by Rives
Because I couldnt be sure if the review
unit was broken in for the recommended 300 hours, I set it to do so with an extra set of
speakers and tuner-fed interstation FM static. The manual describes how various elements
of the circuitry tend to settle in after such a session. Incidentally, the WBT speaker
connectors have somewhat limited pass-through to the posts. For burn-in I used some old
Monster Cables with spade ends, and the spades were too wide to fit into the slot -- I
could only get one tine of the spade in. If you have big, thick cables with wide spades,
be sure to check whether or not theyll work with the CA-2100.
Settling in to listen
Saluting the Canadian heritage of the Classé
CA-2100, my first CD was the excellent Dancing in the Dragons Jaws by Bruce
Cockburn (Columbia CK-48736). Recorded and pressed before the hyped and compressed CD era,
the disc is full of acoustic beauty to match wonderful wordplay. But I thought the first
cut sounded tizzy! However, this impression was fleeting, and perhaps due to the turn on
and immediate play of the gear. Though the amp was warmed up -- only down for about
five minutes, so I could insert it in my rack -- the preamp might have not been ready for
prime time. The sound clarified quickly. My second impression, and a more serious one, was
that the CA-2100 had great bass. When I finished this disc I returned to the first cut,
and the tizz was gone.
That bass was tuneful, rich, big, and round. On
the Bruce Cockburn CD, the bass line is often mixed down some, but the musician is playing
both high and low notes, and they were splendid through the CA-2100. On Steely Dans
"Gaslighting Abbie" from Two Against Nature (Giant 8247192), the opening
of the song has a big, up-front bass line that the Classé amp served up with power and
definition. Dire Straits' On Every Street (Warner Brothers 926680-2) has several
cuts that include what Ill call a "bass drone." With this amplifier, you
will hear every low note so clearly reproduced that its almost a surprise when a
higher-range sound overlays the solid underpinning. The drums on "Someone Saved My
Life Tonight" via the SACD of Elton Johns Captain Fantastic and the Brown
Dirt Cowboy (Island B0003606-36 ) rise in an arc above the rest of the instrumentation
and punch with power, size, and volume. This is impressive. Theres enough apparent
dynamic range on this disc to make it so, and again the CA-2100 made it all plain.
In soundstaging, the Classé amp equals the best
Ive heard. In my room, I dont get sound deeper than the speaker plane;
instead, given the right material, the sound can spread in a 270-degree arc before and
beside me. This was the case with the Classé amp. Theres a spot in "On Every
Street" where there were little guitar-picked notes popping out all over the
room as if in 3-D. They appeared to hang in space -- some far forward of the speaker
plane. The CA-2100 didn't congeal them together, keeping them separate entities instead of
turning them into a single mass.
The midrange is, well, awesome! Since this is
where most of the music lies, it has to be clear and highly defined to grab your attention
without any hint of grit or spit or edge or glassiness. Again and again, I was amazed at
the clarity of vocals and other instruments that inhabit the sonic middle ground. I kept
writing "pure" in my notes. From Jimmy Smiths Dot Com Blues (Blue
Thumb 314543978-2), I played "8 Counts For Rita," which really showed off a
well-recorded organ for what it can be -- an energizing force, with waves of notes and not
a trace of taint of any kind. This was sound as clear as a bright sunny day after rain,
and it came courtesy of the CA-2100.
Is the incredible Tower of Power horn section
midrange, treble or both? No matter. On the live CD Soul Vaccination (550Music/Legacy
BK69829), when I played "What Is Hip," I actually got goose bumps. Ive
heard T of P live a number of times over the years. For me, the CD was as good as or
better than the live show. The horns were lightning fast and absolutely free of glare.
Here was a cut that defined "propulsion," with the help of the Classé amp, of
Through the CA-2100, I heard remarkable nuance
and delicacy, but only when called for by the performance and recording. Balls-to-the-wall
rock was just that -- no lacy delicacy here -- and there was no artificiality anywhere.
But when on the disc, delicate, subtle sounds pop out and overlay the fabric of the music,
the amplifier conveyed them as easily as it did the pounding bass notes. I never ran out
of steam using the Classé CA-2100. In fact, I couldnt hit the ceiling of
limitations before the volume would drive me out of the room. My nominal 4-ohm,
93dB-sensitive speakers mated exceptionally well with the Classé amp. Played loud, I
noticed no tightening or compression, no artifact of the extreme volume.
I believe I have a reasonable attention span, yet
one of the issues with reviewing is that if the gear under review fits synergistically and
complimentarily into your system, you may find yourself drifting away from listening to
the sound, seduced by your library into listening for fun -- playing hooky from the
reviewing process. This is the wall I hit with the Classé CA-2100. Listening to CD after
CD, even ones that arent audiophile approved, was a very pleasing experience. This
isn't an indication of added euphonic color, just a salute to the way whatever is good on
the disc is conveyed expertly through the speakers. Yeah, the CA-2100 does that.
In a previous review, I wrote about the
Canadian-made Bryston 2B SST C-series ($2650), also a 100Wpc stereo amplifier. I felt it
produced a clear sound, though it diminished certain more subtle cues as if they were
somehow pushed deeper into the mix but not deeper into the soundstage. I thought maybe
there would be a good comparison of the products, but honestly the Classé CA-2100's
performance offers no peculiar stylistic interpretation. Its just a great amp in
every respect. It drew me in as a music fan. While I came to appreciate the Bryston
amp, I immediately loved the Classé. The CA-2100 gave the music a full-sized
My NuForce Reference 9 SE V2 mono amps ($5000 per
pair) presented a conundrum. On Carmen-Fantasie performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter
(Deutsche Grammaphone 437 544-2), I heard a faint -- what? -- castanet under the
orchestral swells on cut 7 with the Classé amp, but not with the NuForce. However, the
violin sounded more lifelike (rosined) with the NuForce amps. I can't explain it.
I think the NuForce amps have deeper bass, but I
think the Classé CA-2100 is one tick bolder. To use a wine analogy, the NuForce amps have
more mouth feel, and the Classé amp a little less of that but just a little more taste.
Ive had a selection of amps through various iterations of my system -- Audio
Research VT100 Mk I and Mk II, Henry Hos H2O Signature stereo amp, NuForce 8s, then
9SEs. Even after hearing all of these, I could live most happily ever after with the
Theres a point at which synergy happens in
terms of the system, the room, and, frankly, luck. The Classé CA-2100 introduced me to
this sort of synergy, offering physical bass, a true-to-life midrange, and expansive
soundstaging. Its obvious design and control features offer the home-theater owner a solid
performer for True HD or any ultra-resolution input, but, even so, it's an amplifier that
won't disappoint a music lover as well.
This impressive piece of engineering is a
must-audition amplifier (remember the 300 hours of burn-in) for anyone who isnt
ready to drop ten times its cost or more just to have this level of sound quality.
Its that good! I dont want to give it back!
|Classé Audio Delta CA-2100 Stereo
Price: $4000 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Classé Audio, Inc.
5070 François Cusson
H8T 1B3 Canada
Phone: (514) 636-6384
Fax: (514) 636-1428