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Amp/Preamp Asylum: REVIEW: Jeff Rowland Continuum 500 Amplifier (SS) by dcstep@swbell.net

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REVIEW: Jeff Rowland Continuum 500 Amplifier (SS)

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Model: Continuum 500
Category: Amplifier (SS)
Suggested Retail Price: $8,800
Description: Integrated amplifier with 500W into 8ohms and 1,000W into 4 ohms
Manufacturer URL: Jeff Rowland

Review by dcstep@swbell.net on April 25, 2008 at 10:20:22
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Preliminary, limited review --
I took delivery of my Continuum 500 yesterday, after three hours of listening at Soundings and another 3-hours at home, here are some preliminary reactions.

My dealer is Soundings, South of Denver, Colorado, owned and operated by Rod Tomson with the very able assistance of this very knowledgeable crew. See the Soundings site at www.soinc1021.qwestoffice.net/

When I arrived at Soundings the Continuum 500 was driving the very nice DALI Helicon 400 Mk.2 speakers. These are very nice speakers that received a positive review from Michael Fremer in Stereophile recently.

I listened to several cuts from the following CDs:
"Strike A Deep Chord" on Justice Records
"Cannon Reloaded" on Concord
"Breakfast on the Morning Tram" by Stacey Kent on Concord
"Famous Blue Raincoat" by Jennifer Warnes on Shout
"Don't Take Your Time" by Erin Bode on MaxJazz

I started off really worried when I played "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" from the Cannonball Adderley tribute album, Cannon Reloaded. The bass was indistinct, with few overtones and just showing a one-note quality. The bass on this cut is Marcus Miller playing some really tasty electric bass, with lots of energy and pop. It was lacking all those.

After that I pulled out the Jennifer Warnes CD and played the "If It Be Your Will" cut which has extensive, low, bass synthesizer. On the DALIs it lacked definition and detail. I just sounded like a low sine wave being switched on and off, with no character.

Listening to the DALIs with several vocals, with more typical, higher bass and things were pretty good, with great imaging, rich midrange and high-end details.

When I expressed my concerns to Soundings' Mark Krekeler he suggested that we put the Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Baby Grands into the system. There was immediate nirvana. Now Marcus Miller's bass was rich with overtones and details. The synth on the Warnes CD now had texture and detail, not just sine waves.

Now I could really listen the amp and not be drawn to focusing on what I wasn't hearing in the particular speakers attached.

Several cuts on the "Strike a Deep Chord" were very revealing. The richness of Odetta's voice has absolutely powerful. The chest and head were clearly revealed. Most striking was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's which features extreme dynamics, from almost silent to huge sections of bass, guitar, vocal, horns and drums. The quiet was almost totally black.

The highs had no extra edge. I was really surprised by this, given the low hours on the amp. Clarence plays with a piercing tone on "The Drifter". (We guitar players call this tone, "ice pick-in-the-eye" bright). Well it was all there, but not ugly. I didn't detect any of the usual "new equipment needs burn-in syndrome" so if this things gets better with time I'll be VERY, VERY pleased.

That's all for now. I need to get it into my own system, in my own room, burn it in for a few hundred more hours, then spend three or four several hour sessions to get more conclusive. I'll hang onto the Conrad Johnson CA200 long enough to do some meaningful comparisons. (Watch for a great deal on A'gon in the not too distant future).

Oops, I almost forgot to mention cosmetics. I think that JRDG is known for their beautiful chassis and this is no different. In one word, it's "stunning". I'm getting the natural finish chassis which as a ¾” machined aluminum face plate. The sides and top have no rough edges and the stepped volume attenuator shows .5dB increments with attractive, blue LEDs. The pre-amp controls are simple with “1”, “2”, “3”, “4” for Source indication, which I think is a good idea, given that there’s a new source component every year or so. Aesthetically this is a really handsome amplifier.

Here are a few other little minor notes:

The power switch is on the back and hard to reach when it's on a high shelf in my equipment armoire, but that's no problem since it's intended to be left on. (At least I think that's the intention. I'll ask Jeff when I tour the factory in May).

When turned off it needs some time to settle back in when you turn it on again. Of course, it was off when I picked it up at Soundings. I rushed home and hooked it up within thirty-minutes of it being turned off. At first it was a little unfocused. Timbres were fine, but it just seemed slightly confused in a timing domain or something. Anyway, it locked in after about thirty to forty-five minutes of play and then got really sweet.

The total hours are now in the 100 to 150 range. Mark of Soundings picked it up at the end of last week and, per my request, played it constantly from then until I picked it up. Like I said earlier in the thread, it's already much better than the Conrad Johnson it replaced, which has several hundred hours on it (approaching 1000, I'm guessing).

The guys at Soundings are a little surprised, saying that their past experience tells them that most JRDG amps need closer to 1000 hours to sound thier best. Perhaps the Power Factor Correction built into the Continuum is speeding that along.

One last thing, as an early adopter I'm doing without a manual right now. No big problem and I'm sure that'll be rectified shortly; however, I thought that I should mention it.

Product Weakness: None noted yet.
Product Strengths: Extremely quiet, very dynamic, beautifully packaged, relatively compact, high powered, integrated amplifier.

Associated Equipment for this Review:

Amplifier: NA
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): NA
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Pro-ject RM10
Speakers: Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Baby Grands
Cables/Interconnects: Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz, Rock, Soul, Classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 18' x 30' x 10'
Room Comments/Treatments: None, other than plush furnishings
Time Period/Length of Audition: 6-hours
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Power Factor Correction included in the amp
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Jeff Rowland Continuum 500 Amplifier (SS) - dcstep@swbell.net 10:20:22 04/25/08 ( 21)