|Classé SSP 30 MKII AV Preamplifier/Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ed Masterson|
|Tuesday, 01 April 2003|
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Classé Audio has been producing high-performance audio/video electronics for more than 20 years. From their factory in Quebec, Canada, they have produced gear that has arguably performed among the absolute best of its kind, oftentimes at a much-reduced price when compared directly to its competition. For many years, I used the Classe’ CA-150 amplifier in my reference system and have long respected Classé for both value, performance and their simple yet tasteful aesthetics and exceptional build quality.
The SSP 30 MKII A/V preamp represents the entry level in preamplification and theater processing from Classé. The original SSP 30 had all of the latest features in theater processing at the time of its release. Since then, several new formats have been developed, so the SSP 30 needed a major update to stay competitive in this quickly evolving market. The SSP 30 MKII is currently available at a price of $3,000. With the MKII, in addition to Dolby Digital, you can now process today’s hottest new DSP modes – DTS, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Matrix, and Dolby Pro Logic II. The MK II also adds 7.1 analog audio inputs to support both SACD and DVD-A formats. For those of you who own the original SSP 30, the MK II upgrade can be purchased for $1,000. This is a factory upgrade and will need to be processed through your retailer. The unit will need to be returned to Classe’ in Canada.
The SSP 30 MK II is designed to support today’s complex multi-room, multi-function home entertainment system installations. It has two independently programmable zones for audio and video. I/O connections include one AES/EBU digital input, two optical digital inputs, four COAX digital inputs, eight line-level inputs, six composite video inputs, six S-video inputs, composite and S-video outputs with or without onscreen display, 7.1 discrete analog inputs and a tape loop. Other features include three remote triggers, remote IR inputs and a RS232 port, all handy in complex custom home entertainment installations. The MKII version has no provisions for switching high-definition sources or component video. The unit measures19 inches wide, 12.75 inches deep, 4.4 inches tall and weighs 25 pounds.
I have always admired the build quality and styling of Classé products. The SSP 30 MK II is no exception. From the moment I opened the box, I got the feeling that I was dealing with a very high-quality piece of hardware. The SSP 30 MK II has a look of modern industrial elegance, with its signature thick-machined front faceplate and clear finish. Classé uses a second piece of machined aluminum with a black anodized finish around the display. Besides being a nice conservative styling touch, the dark finish helps to emphasize the display. The controls on the front of the unit include several smooth round buttons, along with a large machined aluminum multifunction selector knob. The remote is also machined aluminum and is custom designed for the processor. The remote does not have lighting, which is something that makes little sense for a product that can be expected to be operated in the dark, yet the button layout is clean enough to allow you to learn the button locations with a little practice. Every aspect of this product’s construction appears to be a cut above the competition in this price range. As a show of confidence in the quality of their product, Classé includes a five-year warranty with the SSP 30 MK II.
The manual provides thorough and complete instructions for set-up. This is not to say that the average person will have an easy time with the installation of this processor. In fact, the average person will be hard-pressed to hook up any modern theater processor without some help. Fortunately, dealers who sell Classé products should be very knowledgeable and capable of walking you through the installation.
The connections on the back of the unit are clearly marked and the connectors feel solid. Once connected, a small amount of set-up and calibration is required. Each of the inputs must be configured. The speaker distances, levels, and crossover settings must also be adjusted according to the other equipment in the installation and the room in which the system is being installed. The display on the front of the unit is only visible from up to 10 feet away for a person with good vision, making the onscreen display menus the easiest to use. I connected my DirecTV receiver box, DVD player and CD player (transport/DAC combo), using S-video for all of the video connections. I was able to complete the set-up of the system in just a few minutes. As is the case with most modern theater processors, the audio modes were automatically selected based on the signal from the source. The SSP 30 MK II always found the correct mode, so no further interaction was required other than volume control. One minor annoyance that I encountered was with the auto-detect function and the onscreen menu system. Any time that the output signal on the source hiccups, the onscreen display would pop up and remain up until the standard time-out occurred (five seconds or so). This was especially problematic with the satellite receiver. In the worst case, there were periods when the signal would drop out for a moment (less than a second) every 20 seconds. This could be heard as a low-level pop in the speakers, but this was so short in duration and low in level that it would probably go unnoticed if not for the onscreen display also turning on. This eventually led me to disable the onscreen display, which made control a little less convenient because I could not read the display from my seat. I was forced to get up out of my seat to see the display just to turn the onscreen menu back on. A similar temporary loss of signal had occurred with the DVD player a couple of times, but this happened infrequently enough that it was not a problem. This is not unique to the Classe’ product. I have noticed this occurring with other processors’ auto detection function. The difference is that the response of the onscreen display seemed to exacerbate what is really a minor problem.