Classé Omega line-level preamplifier Page 4
Now that was interesting. Until then, the absolute best upper bass I'd heard through the Utopias was with the YBA Passion monoblocks. But running the Omega pre into the Accuphase monos, or especially the giant Omega amp, I experienced a similar level of tautness and transparency. Keep the upper bass clean and in control, and the rest of the frequency response has a chance to make it out alive. The trick is to avoid drying out the upper bass and harmonics while doing so. The Omega preamp's lows were always taut and supremely controlled, pitching the associated amp a tight, deep bass line to amplify. While it sounded ultimately a touch drier than the Passions in this region, it was still a virtuoso performance.
Listening to "The Mooche," a grand old Ellington number, on the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (Stereophile STPH013-2 see related archive article), beautifully highlighted the Omega preamp's many strengths. There are several telling moments, beginning with Marty Ehrlich's alto sax at around 1:40. Notes: "The clarity is awesome, the tonal color burnished and glowing." Following an extended and groovin' musical conversation, enjoy the vibe solo beginning about 3:15. That's about the best vibraphone recording I've ever heard. Sure, you'll accuse me of bias—Rendezvous was recorded by John Atkinson—but really, it's astounding, and extremely useful when setting up a system, not to mention the quality of Jerome Harris' bass chugging along in accompaniment. And the music is fabulous.
At 3:51, groove to a series of powerful mallet strokes, each rife with shimmer and color. The solo that follows is incredibly ambient, the listener able to track the position of the mallets as they strike the tonebars. It's easy to "see" that the vibes are set at an angle, the upper registers closer and angled away from the left speaker. I've always found that acoustic "visual" keys enhance my involvement in almost any performance I'm listening to. This one's a complete knockout that way. Listening to the last few minutes of "The Mooche" that evening really captivated me. The soundstage was a joyous, musically coherent whole. The location, specificity, and palpability of each performer were as high end as it's possible to be. There was plenty of startle factor, but never at the cost of the music's luster. Clarity and transparency, guts and color, plus encompassing linearity—the Omega preamp managed it all quite masterfully.
Playing around with the balanced and single-ended connections, I'd say I prefer balanced both in and out. Over time, as more equipment becomes available with balanced connections and, better yet, fully differential operation, I've become something of a fan. Single-ended was a little less quiet than balanced running, not quite so large in the soundstage. On a positive note, there was a touch more vividness in the upper-midrange/lower-treble presence region—but a hair more grain as well. Also, the bass was a stitch tighter single-ended, but didn't sound quite as deep or powerful.
The Nagra PL-P—$10k out the door with a phono stage—benefits from a touch more color throughout the frequency band. Tubes, no doubt. The PL-P offered a certain minimalist yet welcome plushness in the mids. It wasn't overdone, sloppy, or sentimental; just a tad rich, while remaining, like the Omega, tight as a drum—in short, very Nagra. The Omega preamp has a slightly different point of view; a bit less bloom, and more commanding than the Nagra or the YBA 6 Chassis (which costs much more, of course). The Omega's presentation is weightier than the little Swiss Wundermachine, and somewhat more brawny. The Omega put a little more spotlight on the performers than did the Nagra, its highs more illuminated. The Nagra set up a more intimate, close-in view of the soundstage, however. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your taste.
Me? I appreciate them both for what they are. After much careful listening, I'd say the Omega's highs were a touch more open-sounding than the Nagra's, but tubes still do space and air as nothing else can. While the PL-P didn't dig as deep into the nether regions, it remained a little more beautiful and voomanly than the more masculine, he-man Omega.
Omega: The final point
The balance struck between the Omega preamplifier and Classé's partnering Omega power amplifier made for a coherent, linear, super-musical presentation that was well worth the effort to hear together. The synergy was undeniable and entirely special. The preamp worked its particular magic with the other amps on hand as well, bringing to each its many fine qualities. The Omega preamp let these amps set up a soundstage as they would, never imposing any particular signature or limitation on the proceedings, but doing everything possible to provide a clean, musical pathway for the signal.
Crisp—that's the word for Classé's Omega preamplifier. It is a stunning performer that I heartily recommend to all who can afford the tariff.