|Classé CA-M400 Multi-channel Power Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Multi-Channel Amplifiers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 01 February 2005|
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On Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” from Axis Bold as Love (MCA – CD), the clean tone of Hendrix’s upside-down Fender Stratocaster takes on a more open and detailed sound than I had been used to hearing in my room with my reference Krell FBP 350 monoblocks, Mark Levinson No. 336 and other high-end amps. The cracks and smacks on the snare during main verse of the song coming from Mitch Mitchell’s drum set have life and vibrancy to them, yet never sound over-the-top or bright. On “Up From the Skies,” Noel Redding’s bass has a round yet hefty sound to it. I even turned off my Revel Sub 30 woofer to hear just my Wilson Watt Puppy version 7.0 speakers rock the lower octaves of the track. You can hear and feel part of the groove, but it is the subtlety of the bass that solidifies the entire sound stage above it.
Acoustically, the Classe CA-M400s do their best. On “Mother,” from Disc One of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the three-dimensionality of the strumming acoustic guitar is believably real. In the second verse, it is immediately apparent when the organ sneaks into the mix, despite the fact that the instrument moves in very subtly. The bass guitar sound big, yet not bloated whatsoever. In many ways, you can hear how these amps would rock on a pair of B&W 800s, considering how controlled both the amps and the speakers are, with special attention to the all-critical midrange and its openness. On one of the less famous tracks on The Wall, “Don’t Leave Me Now,” you can hear the eerie breathing in and out recorded on the track, which in some ways keeps time during the early part of the song. The ability to resolve details, even ones buried deep in the tracks, gives a Classe owner the ability to hear elements of his or her favorite records in ways not easily heard in even top audio playback systems.
On Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By” (MFSL stereo SACD), the Classe CA-M400 amps showed off their ability to reproduce depth of field. In the introduction, the warm-sounding Hammond organ is sweetly layered with the vast string section creating many different listening opportunities. By the first verse, the righteously sleazy song strips down to a bare bones mix where the squeaky and brash guitar takes on the kind of bright yet lively three-dimensionality that you expect from Miles Davis’ horn. At first, to counterbalance the brightness of the guitar, there are ultra-smooth wa-wa strummings and then Hayes’ rich voice, layers of horns, strings and a great-sounding bass. Not only does the track have soul, it has life, energy and musical three-dimensionality on my system with the Classe CA-M400s in the loop.
Clearly, openness and resolution of even slight details and layering are strengths of the Classe CA-M400s, but I wanted to see how they kept up with the best performance element of my Krell FPB-350 Mcx amps. What Krells do so well is handle dynamics and bass even at top levels. I spun up Dark Side of the Moon on SACD for “Time” (Capitol – SACD) and buried the volume on my Meridian 861 preamp. At 90 (that’s really loud), the Classe kept up with the cacophony of chimes and bells without showing signs of the end of the power reserve of the amps. The ensuing bass and drum intro to the track had the power and low end you’d expect from a live show. All that was missing was a really cool laser light effects show, like the kind you get at the Planetarium.
On “Show Me How to Live,” from Audioslave’s self-titled record on DualDisc (Epic), I really put the Classe amps to the test. This track, with its 24-bit 96 kHz stereo track and bombastic hard-rocking flavor, simply begs to be played loudly. With volumes set at a rock-the-house and offend-an-audiophile level, the track sets out with aggressively digging bass in a slow march towards a musical explosion. The Classe amps keep Chris Cornell’s voice beaming way out in front of the soundstage, even when the chorus erupts into a somewhat messy explosion of sound. Note: there is nothing messy about the way the Classe amps reproduce the chorus; this is a critique of the mix of the album, even on higher-resolution DualDisc. The verses, on the other hand, are about the most intense, enthusiastic, high-resolution rock you will have the chance to hear at home.
If the Classe CA-M400s amps could hang with Audioslave at top volume, then I was no longer worried about the depth charge scene in “U-571” from D-VHS playback. While the bass is amazingly powerful in the “point one” channel, I turned off my sub to hear the speed and clarity with which the Classe amps could keep up with this demanding soundtrack. I could quickly understand how designers would want to rack-mount an entire battery of these amps to physically rock a large, dedicated home theater room. They have impressive headroom for movies and can play loudly and impressively at top theater levels. The amps’ ability to reproduce layering noted earlier is not lost on film soundtracks. The dynamics of Alec Baldwin’s speech in “Glengarry Glen Ross” (D-VHS) are spellbinding, not just for the prose but for the overall sound.