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REVIEW: Copland CSA 28 Integrated Amplifier (Tube) Review by Thor at Audio Asylum

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I'm a valve kind of guy. From the hand built Fourier OTL monoblocks I had a few years back to the Golden Tube SI-50 Mk.II I've had on home audition the last few months, I really like the valve sound. Not the syrupy, mushy euphonic sound associated with poor designs or cheap "get it to market in a hurry" equipment, but the naturalness and simple tonal/harmonic "right"-ness (is that a word?) good valve gear can give. Not to mention rock solid imaging.

Same goes for panels. Ever since I had to part with my AudioStatic ES100's I've been waiting for the day I could get back to panel bliss, either ESL or magneplanar (which I'd heard many times, and like as well).

I was _really_ hoping I had bought my last amp (for a while) with the GTA, and was simply waiting for my new speakers to arrive (silly me, bought 'em unheard - I know, I know) to get everything set up and finally get back to the music and forget about the gear (for a while).

Alas that was not to be. Unfortunately (because it's a really great sounding amp on easier loads) the GTA was out of it's league when it came to driving the big panels on the Maggies. They're rated at 86dB sensitivity, however this is a bit misleading, because the measurement is standardized at 8ohm and the Maggies are 4ohm.....making the real sensitivity somewhere closer to 83dB. Uh-oh.....

So the GTA and the Maggies didn't do too well together (someone on the GTA list told me, GTA and Maggies just don't go together, well I should have listened, now I know for myself first hand). They sound, well, lifeless with the GTA. Muffled, closed in, packed in cotton. Weak or no bass and midbass. Nice midrange, but I have to crank the volume way up to get anything out of the speakers. Why bother with big full range panels if you don't use half of the frequency range...?

So I went out amp shopping, found out what's available here locally, found out what Maggie owners tend to recommend and borrowed some amps. I was looking for an integrated, trying to keep life simple and concentrate on the music, not the gear :-) I don't need a lot of power, I need something that makes music and can reach up to a comfortable 85dB or so at my listening position. I rarely listen much louder than that.

Maggie owners are quick to reccommend Bryston (used by Magnepan for voicing their speakers), Classe, Evo/BelCanto, McCormack, Audio Research and Plinius, as well as more exotic offerings, both ss and valve.

I ended up with the following integrateds on home loan:

Adyton Opera - norwegian 50w design, earlier Adyton gear has been extremely neutral, musical and natural. A brand I've always respected.

Electrocompaniet ECI-3 - another domestic offering, 70w, one well known outside our borders. Beautiful (to some) cosmetics. Nice price here as well :-)

Classe CAP-101 - I got a reply from Classe confirming that this was identical to the CAP-80 except for new faceplate and remote. And the price is down from the CAP-80 as well - can't beat that! 100w.

Copland CSA 28 - 60W hybrid design, designed in Denmark and built in Sweden at a high tech factory (a la Aragon and Acurus in the US - designed by audio people and built by medical/military high tech outsourcing).

I also tried to get a Plinius, but the dealer seems less than eager to respond to my emails and calls. Oh well. Primare A30.1 was also on my list, I'll explain later why I didn't try it as well.

I have to admit that I was a bit (very) sceptical to local/scandinavian designs. We think all too easily that we can't possibly know anything about audio, it's the Americans or British that really make great high end stuff (sometimes the Japanese or Italians as well).

Well, I spent a few days listening for myself, then invited some friends over to verify what I had heard and come with their own opinions.

All amps have been broken in at the dealers, and had been left on at my request before I picked them up. They were off for an hour before being left on at my home for the duration of the auditioning.

Electrocompaniet: In general seems to slant towards the bass end of the spectrum. Incredible amounts of bass, but at the expense of definition and resolution. There was no air and the midrange seemed covered in layers of cotton. This amp seemed very laid back, so much that the music seemed dark, brooding and heavy, regardless of what kind of music was played. Singers sounded very chesty and dark (f.x. Steve Perry on Aerosmiths Get a Grip was not having a good day via the ECI-3) and again there was no sparkle or air. Soundstaging was ok left to right, but seemed flat, with little depth. Height information wasn't really convincing either. This amp would be perfect for first time audiophiles into rap and Cerwin Vega speakers. Very nice display, if a bit hard on the eyes (very intense blue colour). Kind of cheap remote considering the rest of the amp. The volume controll is easily audible when changed via remote (whirring sound).

Classe: This was what I was pretty much expecting to buy, based on what I'd read here and otherwise. I'd also heard a CAP-80 a few years back with Sonus Faber minimonitors that really blew me away, incredibly natural, airy yet defined sound. Pinpoint imagining (of course). This is also the amp I spent most time listening to, because I really wanted to like it. Compared to the Electrocompaniet, it tends towards the brighter end of the audio spectrum (so does most everything :-). Compared to the Copland, it lacks a bit of bass extension and definition. It also seems to lack something in the midrange, that gives instruments "body" and a 3D quality. Overall it was very precise, clean and technical sound that was hard to fault, but seemed to lack....something. Hard to say what. At low levels the Maggies seemed a bit closed in, when the volume increased they "woke up" and things got livelier. We never got the impression that we were listening to anything other than recorded music, there was no life, no sparkle, nothing that seduced into beleiving, if only for a moment, that the artists were in front of you in your listening room (know what I mean?). In the introduction to Le Nozze di Figaro (Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists, Deutche Grammafon 1994) the flute(s) sound like piccolos. While there may indeed be a piccolo there (hey, I have Maggies, not Sonus Faber, ok? ;-) there is at least one regular flute as well. The Copland revealed this, the Classe presented a piccolo (overtones is my guess). The imaging, as with all the Classe gear I've heard, was excellent, both width and depth and height. The image did get diffuse at lower volumes, when the Maggies seem to get "closed in" a bit. We concluded that the Classe was a very good soudning amp, that played very good sound. Very nice design, very hefty remote (I see they copied the Golden Tube Audio remote and painted it black :-)

Adyton: The Adyton was unfortunately not powerful enough to drive the Maggies, although tonally it wasn't far from the GTA. I can imagine it is a very nice amp indeed with more sensitive speakers. Neat design, no remote :-(

Copland: Aha, you've read this far? (I can't beleive I've written this much...) The Copland had the same treble extension and airiness as the Classe, bass extension between the Electrocompaniet and the Classe but with excellent definition and control. Each note is clearly defined, be it Chuck Rainy working out with the 'Dan on Deacon Blue (Steely Dan Remastered, Then and Now, MCA 1993) or Michael Murray blowing out all the stops on the organ in Saint-Saens Symphony No.3 "Organ" (Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy, Telarc 1980). The bass neither overwhelms nor dissapears. The "body" that the Classe lacks (piccolos vs. flutes :-), the tiny nuances like the bit of wood in a stick hitting a cymbal, the flutes richness and foundation (in addition to the overtones), the type of strings a pick strums (phosphor bronze, steel or gut), the metallic part of brass or the edge in a saxaphone are all here, but in a natural way. Nothing is shoved in your face, but nothing seems hidden from view either. I wouldn't call the amp laid back or relaxed, it boogied with Bjørn Berge's debut album (probably available only here, but an incredible blues guitar talent, slidin' around in the Mississippi mud as it were with Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters & co) and got down with Jimi Hendrix (Smash Hits, Reprise 1972). On Moussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition (Chicago SO/Reiner, RCA/Classic records limited ed. reissue) it tackled all the rythmic and thematic as well as dynamic changes without missing a beat. It isn't forward either, however. It never got congested and the stereo image was rock solid. In fact, it was better than the Classe (something I would never have expected), maybe because it seems to flesh out the instruments into beleivable entities. It seems to play whatever it's given in a very convincing manner, one minute it's playing Aerosmith like the best rock and roll and the next it's revealing all the subtle nuances in the Manhatten Jazz Quintets "Autumn Leaves" (Paddlewheel, 1985) and seems to be quite the chamelion. Together with the Maggies, it makes magic. Even at low volumes, the Maggies seem to "open up" and sparkle as soon as the music starts, it handles even great dynamic changes without compressing or compromising the signal, tone or image. It plays loudly when needed, without any harshness. It's an amp that makes you forget the gear and makes the speakers dissapear when the band lines up for the gig in your room. From the first few tracks, my friends and I looked at each other, grinned from ear to ear, and said "this is it!"

I went back to my Primare dealer to arrange a loan of the A30.1 as well, if you want to know why I didn't, email me off list. Seems the Copland beats the Primare, but I didn't need to test it to find out why...

So, in my room and with my equipment, the Copland CSA 28 is an incredible match for Maggies. Highly recommended to anyone looking for not only a modest integrated, but even larger pre/power combos. It might be better in some areas, but I haven't yet figured out how or where - the Copland is that good. And I can't imagine paying 2x or 3x for any improvements, because it can't get much better! Sure, an ARC VT100 or similar would certainly be better (I guess, haven't tried one lately :-), but we're talking an entirely different class of gear. Money in my system with this amp would be better spent on cables, then better source components (upgrade the 506 to 506.24, better arm/cart on the Gyro).

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Topic - REVIEW: Copland CSA 28 Integrated Amplifier (Tube) Review by Thor at Audio Asylum - Thor 16:56:43 02/19/01 ( 2)