Classé CAM 350 monoblock power amplifier Page 4
The Classé's overall tonal balance was a little to the lean side of neutral, as if there was a slight recession or suckout in the upper bass and lower midrange. It didn't have quite the warmth and weight of other amps I tried, and could even sound a touch thin on some material. But again, I'll point out that my background and longstanding bias is toward tube amps, and my solid-state reference is the Mark Levinson No.20.6, which has a slightly dark, liquid personality. The Classé's tonal balance worked beautifully with the Maggies and my tube preamps, but I'd suggest listening carefully before mating it with a speaker, or other electronics, that sound cool or lean.
Putting all of the pieces together, the Classé CAM 350s had a fast, clean, precise sound. They're transparent and open, and effortlessly combine detail, dynamics, and harmonic richness across the frequency spectrum. I returned again and again to Jonathan Edwards' "Sunshine," just to hear the acoustic guitar riff that opens the song. Anyone who plays guitar, or is around someone who does, will immediately recognize how right the sound on this cut is—how the temporal, pitch, and spatial components of the image seem to hang together a bit better than most guitar recordings.
When a guitar chord is struck, the image quickly develops as an inverted pyramid of sounds. For each string in succession, there's the snap of the pick against the string, the vibration of the string itself, and then the blooming, expanding overtones as the guitar's body begins to resonate. In a chord, these all stack up as the pick moves down the strings, and as the mix of fundamentals and harmonics itself evolves. Simultaneously, the spatial image develops and expands as well, beginning with the sharp, focused transient of pick on string, and immediately swelling as the sound of the strings is enveloped by the body's resonance as the harmonics expand outward.
Most systems and most recordings hint at this complex puzzle, or even get some of the pieces right, but never quite pull it off. The Classé/Maggie combo solved this puzzle a distinct notch better than I've heard before, and as close to a real guitar in a real room as I've ever heard through a system. On its musical merits, I can't honestly recommend this album—but if you happen to see one at a garage sale, it's worth picking up just to hear this riff.
...and, in Conclusion....
The Classé CAM 350 is a superb amplifier—pretty much everything I wanted when I wished for my ideal "really good, big solid-state amp." It did everything very, very well, and in some areas—detail resolution, transient reproduction, clarity, and transparency—is the best amp I've ever auditioned. Its pairing with the Magnepan MG3.6/R was magical, absolutely bringing them to life and causing me to rethink some long-held beliefs about what those speakers are truly capable of.
At $7000/pair, the CAM 350 falls into the category of "expensive" on the mortgage/car-payment scale, but "actually pretty reasonable" on the high-end scale. Combined with speakers like the Maggie 3.6/Rs, it's capable of true Class A performance, which puts it in a category that includes much more expensive gear, like the big Krells and Levinsons. On the Damkroger scale, the big Classé falls into the category of "the checkbook says 'No way,' but how can I part with these amps?"—the category into which most of what I own falls, by the way.
Mom's advice has proven sage in most cases over the years, but in this case I think it misses the boat. The Classé CAM 350 is exactly what I wished for, and I'm awfully glad that I had the opportunity to audition them. Very highly recommended.