Classé CA-5200 Multi-channel Power Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Multi-Channel Amplifiers
Written by Tim Hart   
Monday, 01 January 2007

Introduction
Classé has thrown the gauntlet down in the multi-channel amplification arena by introducing the CA-5200, a five-channel, 200-watt-per-channel amplifier whose sole intention is to raise the bar high enough in both aesthetics and sound to make everyone swoon, from the design-oriented to the hardcore audiophile. One look at the CA-5200, even unplugged or without a preamp, and you’d be hard pressed to suggest Classé hasn’t accomplished at least half of its mission. The CA-5200’s sleek lines and nontraditional metal work beautifully matches the stealthy pose of the lauded Classé CDP-300 DVD player and the SSP-600 AV preamp.

The size and stature of the CA-5200 is certainly a head turner, with heat sinks on either side of what appears to be a solid block of aluminum, refined to a blended front face with large rounded corners asymmetrically bisected by a vertical black anodized aluminum panel that is consistent with the rest of the Delta product line. The bulk of the 17.5 inches wide by 21 inches deep and eight-and-three-quarters inches tall chassis is supported by four cushioned feet, which are in line with the rest of the CA-5200’s appearance and isolate its 121-pound bulk from unwanted vibrations and resonances. The packaging of the unit is very specific so as not to damage it (or you) during the unpacking process. Moving the CA-5200 into position is at least a two-person affair. Be prepared to have the right stand or rack to accommodate this behemoth. I think I heard a small whimper from my Lovan Sovereign stand once the weight of the CA-5200 settled onto it. Be advised that there are no means to hold onto the chassis, such as handles, so you might want to rig some block and tackle or hire a piano mover to do the maneuvering. Actually, forget that – make your local Classé dealer do it. Do you change your oil on your S65 AMG Mercedes?

Under The Hood
The sexy front panel of the CA-5200 is simply stated with a low-profile blue LED lit standby switch located on the lower left side, with a row of five blue LEDs in the center, one for each channel, bracketed by a select switch on the left side and a mode switch on the right. During the initial power-up, you are asked to set up the interconnect scheme you will be using, either XLR or single-ended RCA. Each LED flashes until the desired mode is selected, then moves on to the next. Once they are all set up, you are ready to roll. When next you power up the unit (the CA-5200 stays idle, drawing 348 watts in standby), the CA-5200 starts one channel at a time at about five-second intervals, avoiding a huge inrush current that could blow your breakers. It’s kind of like a NASA countdown to blastoff. Did I mention that it looks really cool as well?

The back panel has five high-quality XLR and RCA connectors, five-way binding posts for speaker connections, an RS-232 port (DB-9 connector) for software upgrades (yes, this amp is software-driven) or other system automation controls, such as Crestron or i-Command. DC input and output triggers allow other gear (Classé included) to turn the CA-5200 on and off. Also present are one IR input and output for IR remote control operation, a RJ-45 CAN bus connector for future control of Classé gear (see my explanation in the October SSP-600 review of the CAN bus system ), a single fuse and an IEC connector for a detachable AC cord.

The chassis of the fully balanced CA-5200 uses steel, combined with the single extruded aluminum front plate, which forms a very rigid structure supported by four Navcom™ LimbSaver® inserts within the radiused feet. Classé obviously spent some serious time analyzing the effects of vibration on their products.

Within the CA-5200, you will find bulletproof engineering, with top-quality components delivering a clean signal path, and a fault protection system that doesn’t adulterate any of the circuitry with fuses and such. Shorts and over-current conditions are kept in check by using hall-effect rings around signal cables. This requires some tricky monitoring of current conditions within the conductors to differentiate between high current excursions due to dynamics in the music or soundtrack, or fault conditions like crossed speaker cables. Spiky DC voltage is tamed using a DC servo to control degradation of the sound and helps protect your loudspeakers under extreme conditions.

Along with total harmonic distortion of 0.0003% and a frequency response of 10Hz-22kHz +/- 0.1dB, the CA-5200 will deliver 200 watts per channel at eight ohms times five and nearly doubles that output at four ohms, which requires the ability to have large power reserves immediately available. The CA-5200 uses a large toroidal transformer with separate secondary windings, which is said to enhance channel separation. The filtering to the power supply is handled by banks of different-sized capacitors, which homogenizes the input voltage and provides instantaneous power when needed. So what does all of this mean to the listener? Let’s find out.

Music And Movies
I ran the CA-5200 for about 30 hours with Revel Ultima Studio mains, Performa C32 center channel and S30 surrounds. The Studios are a tough load to drive at 87 dB and therefore a good test for the CA-5200. I also used the CDP-300 for the source and the SSP-600 preamp/processor for this review.

There is something about the production quality of Billy Idol’s Charmed Life (Chrysalis Records) that is alluring, well-defined and very detailed. The soundstage is expansive and encompassing and the vocal tracks, especially the female backing vocals, are sweet and inviting. It’s certainly not something one would expect of the snarling bad boy of rock. “Prodigal Blues” opens with Steve Stevens’ guitar and a soul-grabbing synth bass line that will stress any amp. On weaker amps, the character of this section loses the finer grain structure of the notes and the three-dimensionality that fleshes it out. The CA-5200 made this very apparent. The female backing vocals had a bit more three-dimensional quality to them with the CA-5200. The presence on “Pumping on Steel” was more palpable than I was used to hearing. Steve Stevens’ guitar riffs had more tangibility and snap to the notes, and the drumming was commanding, taut and well-defined.

I had to play Metallica’s Black album (Elecktra Entertainment) on DVD-Audio for its in-your-face dynamics. This is an impressive remix in 5.1 and the louder it is played, the better it gets. ”Sad But True” offers some hard-hitting guitar, bass and drums that are felt as well as heard through the CA-5200. It literally made my clothes move, just what well-produced, high-energy hard rock should do. The CA-5200 never groaned once and sounded as detailed and well-defined at high volumes as it did at lower volumes. It could also carry the nuance and intricacy at high volumes as well, as noted on “Nothing Else Matters.” James Hetfield’s growl carried a lot of depth and feel on this song and it really is a pleasure to listen to through the CA-5200. I never wanted to back down on the volume once.

The midrange of the CA-5200 is stellar. Vocals and acoustic instruments seemed to benefit more noticeably from the CA-5200 than other aspects of the music I ran through it. The body of Steve Wilson’s acoustic guitar seemed to take on a new persona on “Buying New Soul” on Porcupine Tree’s new DVD Arriving Somewhere (Snapper Music). This concert was recorded in Chicago in 2005 on their In Abstentia tour and is a great live recording. Richard Barbieri’s atmospheric synthesizer opens this song with an enveloping cloud that is diffuse, yet has a defined whispery texture that benefits from the added control given by the CA-5200. The guitar adds to this effect and becomes the focal point as the song progresses. Wilson’s voice is distinct and pinpoint accurate in the soundstage. The bass line has such a well-defined texture that it almost seems like it is being performed live in my room. The CA-5200 captured the live ambience in ways I had not quite heard through my reference P5, largely by presenting more defined edges of the notes and percussion. Never did the CA-5200 sound bloated, but at times I would have liked to hear a bit more low-level presence – a personal preference, not a criticism. “Hate Song” has a lot of odd time signatures and intricate interplay amongst all of the musicians in this band; it tested the ability of the CA-5200 to keep everything dynamic and coherent at loud volumes. I was not able to cause it any stress, nor notice any congestion or distortion throughout the review period. This amp has a lot of legs.

I’ve said this number of times and it still holds true in this case: if an amplifier can produce an accurate portrayal of music, it is likely a given that the movie experience will be no less so. Case in point, Mission: Impossible III (Paramount Home Entertainment). Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has just captured Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and is returning him to headquarters. Ethan loses his temper, drags Davian to the back of the plane, opens a hatch and dangles his prisoner into the air stream. The sound as the cabin depressurizes is enveloping and intense, putting the listener right in the middle of the scene. Wind noise and debris whipping around the cabin is deftly sorted out and very defined by the CA-5200. The next scene is on the bridge, where a convoy is supposed to transport Davian back to where super evildoers go. The first missile strike catches the viewer by surprise, launching the stricken vehicle ass-over-teakettle. The whoomph of the explosion and the grind and groan of tearing metal are intensely delivered by the CA-5200. I never once heard any duress or distortion during any of the high-energy portions of Tom Cruise giving it to the bad guy, providing nothing but high-resolution butt-kicking.

The Downside
Sonically, I could not find any fault with the CA-5200. Its smooth, articulate and controlled demeanor is the top of its class. The CA-5200 is not a bombastic amp and does not over-accentuate the lower frequencies, but at first listen, you may feel it is a bit lacking in low-frequency presence. What you’ll find after listening for a while is that the CA-5200 doesn’t have any one characteristic that really jumps out at you. It is more about finesse and control, which it delivers in spades.

In reaching to pick fault with the CA-5200, the logistics of installation were a bit tricky but worth the effort. Perhaps removable handles as are found (yet make the amps look more clunky) on other competing products could help you or your installer get a CA-5200 where you want it more easily and without any potential damage.

Conclusion
My time with the CA-5200 was very special. I was treated to a fine example of how well-executed engineering can bring out the subtlety and nuance of music that I was intimately familiar with and still give me a bit more detail and control than I was used to hearing with my reference Anthem P5. While the P5 produced more low-level authority, the CA-5200 was ever the consummate amplifier, portraying articulation, detail, musicality and refinement. CDs benefited from the CA-5200’s sonic character with at times stunning clarity and coherence. DVD-Audio sounded superb, bringing out that extra detail and a tad of midrange warmth that was never fatiguing, instead adding a bit more weight and texture to the sound. The same was true with DVDs, whether music or movie soundtracks. The coherence of the CA-5200 with multi-channel material exemplifies the no-holds-barred approach that Classé took with this product and, in my opinion, puts the CA-5200 at the top of the reference class. There may be better price-per-performance amplifiers out there, but before you make that decision, you’ll want to audition the CA-5200. You might just find that the extra expense is worth every penny.
Manufacturer Classe
Model CA-5200 Multi-channel Power Amplifier
Reviewer Tim Hart





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