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Equipment Review
April 1998

Clayton S-40 Amplifier

by Doug Blackburn

OK, let’s recap. The Clayton S-40 amplifier is a 40Wpc, class-A, stereo, solid-state design selling for $2,950. It has been reviewed on SoundStage! before as have its big brothers, the Clayton M-70 monoblocks. You may remember that the SoundStagers who wrote about the Clayton amps liked them a lot. I’m not going to change that consensus one bit. The S-40 is the virtual sonic duplicate of the $5,600/pr M-70 monoblocks. The S-40 even uses the same case/chassis as the M-70 amps.

Lots of people think that a 40Wpc tube amp sounds stronger than a 40Wpc solid-state amp—but not this solid-state amp. In fact, I doubt there is any roughly 40Wpc tube amp that kicks as hard as the S-40 does. This modestly sized but heavy amp will surprise you to no end with how powerful it sounds. Bass seems completely uncompromised by the lowish power rating. There are a large number of systems that do not need an amp with any more power than the S-40. Personally, I have a prejudice that makes it difficult for me to take any amp with less than 100Wpc too seriously. The S-40 is quite a challenge for this kind of thinking. As long as I didn’t do anything way out of line, the S-40 had plenty of power. My room is a lot bigger and my system more complex than other rooms and systems for which I would recommend this amp, but the S-40 still did an admirable job.

Here’s where this amp will really shine: medium or small rooms with small to moderately large full-range speakers. Speaker efficiency should probably be 88dB/w/m or higher. Under those circumstances you will even be able to do stuff that is in bad-boy territory and still not run out of power. In my large room (19.5' x 23.5' x 10.5') there was enough power for normal listening levels when playing symphonies, rock, folk, and jazz. I could coax the amp into running out of steam if I pushed it over 96dB or so at the listening position. But remember, this is a big room with speakers that are in the 89dB efficiency range. Changing to a 91dB-efficient speaker, I could close in on 100dB peaks before detecting stress. But 96-100dB is WAY too loud an average SPL to be listening to music at anyway. Movie soundtracks were handled well, but there were signs of running out of gas in a few places. Connecting the subwoofers, which have a crossover that limits bass to the main amp, quite nicely solved that minor power shortage.

The sound of the S-40 is alarmingly close to that of the M-70 monos, virtually identical. I detected differences so small as to be insignificant. The S-40’s highs are ever so slightly restrained, and the bass is ever so slightly reigned in. I feel like the world’s biggest nit-picker even mentioning these slight differences. I think most people would either never notice or shrug their shoulders and think Well, THAT’S nothing to worry about. The S-40 retains the easy, tuneful presentation of the M-70s, perhaps a little less dynamic than the best of the killer amps, but supremely refined nonetheless. Put on some naturally recorded acoustic music and you can easily forget that the music isn’t live. This is the kind of amp a non-tweak audiophile would buy and live with happily for a decade or more.

You do know there is more than one kind of audiophile, right? The S-40 and M-70s are not for those obsessed with hearing every pin drop and more and more and more air through a rising top-end response. No, in contrast the potential S-40/M-70 owner is someone who is into music more than equipment, but someone who nonetheless appreciates a well-crafted product, a product with pains taken to make it visually attractive as well as mechanically durable. An S-40/M-70 owner is not likely to be someone who changes components every year or two out of restlessness or fear of falling behind the curve.

Setting up the S-40 for the best possible sound quality is pretty easy. The supplied aluminum feet sound about as good as anything I tried under the amp, so there is no need to invest in fancy cones or pucks. Placing the S-40 on an isolation and damping platform was a worthwhile sonic improvement. I used the Bright Star Audio Air Mass and Big Rock together and got a really nice dose of added refinement and detail. Changing the power cord and adding an appropriate power-conditioning device were also useful. Some PLCs actually made this amp sound worse, so use caution when selecting a PLC. I got the best results with the "clean line by VansEvers" model dubbed The Unlimiter. The Unlimiter is made specifically for amplifiers and is particularly good at passing current spikes without limiting them, a most important consideration for amplifiers. For the power cord, both the $99.95 standard-series VansEvers power cord and the API Power Link ($159 per 6' length) were significantly better sounding than the stock power cord. The edge went to the API cord, which sounded a little more open and dynamic. That was about all I could do to make the S-40 sound better. Feed it top-notch interconnects and speaker cables and you’ll have fine sound that will keep a smile on your face.

Summing up the S-40 experience is easy: For $2,950 you get a product with enough power for many systems, build quality that is top-notch, and an attractive, natural sound that will make this amp the darling of those who hold on to their equipment for many years at a stretch. If you’re looking for that amp to complete your own private stress-relief system, the Clayton S-40 is a prime candidate (as are the M-70s). A single malt or nice pinot noir, a comfy leather listening chair and your Clayton-driven system will make one heck of an escape pod from the hustle and bustle.

...Doug Blackburn

Other SoundStage! reviews and follow-ups on Clayton amps:

Clayton S-40 Amplifier
Price: $2,950 USD

Clayton Audio
8151 Stratford Ave.
Clayton, MO 63105
Phone: 314-862-6017
Fax: 314-862-0765

Email: ClaytonAmp@aol.com

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