|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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Classe is one of the top ten most recognizable names in high-end audio history, with a respected lineage that goes back decades. Recently, Classe joined forces in, as some are calling it, a “slow takeover” of the company with the investment firm that owns and operates B&W loudspeakers and Rotel. Their first move was to hire one of Mark Levinson’s big gun executives, Dave Nauber, to run the show. Like Maserati, the newly-reconfigured Classe set out to significantly redesign every element of their product line, from the look of their products to functionality to dealer networks and beyond. Their goal, and I am one who believes they will be successful in this, is to elevate Classe from a Top 10 AV company to one of the most elite brands in the world.
One of the new Classe’s first offerings is a reference-level monoblock amplifier system for high-end audio and home theater use. The CA-M400s are 400-watt-per-channel amps that can be placed in the traditional location beside your speakers or rack-mounted as a part of an ultimate theater system in a 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 or beyond configuration. Normally, the feature set of an amplifier is pretty simple – they power any number of your speakers at a reported watt-per-channel level. In the case of the CA-M400s, their amps do a little more. They are designed to work with a smart system and offer RS232 connections, on-off triggers, computer configurability and computer accessible diagnostics. It is reported that Classe might be one of the only amps that can run both single-ended (RCA) and balanced operations (XLR) without making a physical change to the amp (like flipping a switch). For those looking for classic audiophile A-B tests, this could be cool. I plugged in my balanced Transparent Reference XLR cables and squeezed the spades of my Transparent Reference speaker cables into the space-aged speaker connectors on the back of the amp. With the press of a button, I was in business with these $10,000 per pair amplifiers.
Before I get to the music and movies, it is important to note the aesthetics of the new Classe products. Despite what purists will tell you, the look of a high-end audio product matters. They are, in many ways, performance sculpture, a technological statement that is neatly bolted to your rack or put up on pedestals on the floor of your media room next to your favorite speakers. Let me be the first to rave about the look of the new Classe line. One could argue everything has already been seen in terms of amp design, but the CA-M400s look fresh in terms of their sleek and modern industrial design. The curves on the front of the component gives the amp a sexier, more human look and the way the heat sinks are integrated into the back leave the lines simple and uncluttered. The blue light is reminiscent of my Krell amps and glows beautifully on my floor, yet is never distracting, even during a movie or serious listening session. Classe’s new look is one part Pierre Koenig (famous Los Angeles-based modern architect from the 1950s) shaken with another healthy part of Jonathan Ivey (Apple Computer’s industrial designer know for the iMac and iPod). While the technical chops of the amp are of ultimate importance, the fact that the Classe looks like it belongs in a modern home and a professionally finished interior is also of note.