Creek 5350SE integrated amplifier Page 2
Although I always hope for high levels of performance within all parameters when I review a component, I'm particularly sensitive to and unforgiving of products that deviate from a neutral tonal balance. Bob Reina's Hippocratic Oath of Timbral Accuracy is "First, do no harm."
Well, after more than three months of auditioning the 5350SE using six speakers, two analog and one digital source, and after comparing the Creek to three other amplifiers (more on that below), I cannot conclusively point to any instance in which the Creek deviated from a neutral tonal balance throughout the entire frequency spectrum. Pretty boring, huh?
Much less boring was the 5350SE's behavior in the three areas where I felt it clearly surpassed the performance of earlier Creek integrateds I've heard:
1) a lifelike, delicate, yet forceful re-creation of transient articulation no matter what the source material—transients were neither too sharp nor too rounded, as in live music;
2) an organic reproduction of low-level dynamic nuances and subtle ambient cues, without a trace of electronic artifacts or opacity; and
3) degrees of bass definition, articulation, clarity, and bottom-end extension unlike any I've heard from any amplifier in this price range and/or power rating.
George Crumb's Quest, for chamber orchestra (Bridge 9069), makes extensive use of silence, low-level dynamic nuances, and subtle ambient cues in which classical guitar, woodwinds, and percussion dominate. With the 5350SE, the woodwinds—all their breathy, pianissimo inflections intact—floated on individual beds of air on the wide, deep soundstage, with the sometimes delicate, sometimes forceful, close-miked classical guitar featured in all its tactile glory as the front-stage solo instrument. Rapid-fire marimba passages were clearly articulated with the appropriate wooden thunk, without a trace of blurring or amusical hardness.
Madeline Peyroux's Dreamland (Atlantic 82946-2) is the best advertisement for the HDCD recording process in my collection. "Hey, Sweet Man" features this young Canadian reincarnation of Billie Holiday in a simple blues vocal, accompanied only by guitarist Mark Ribot on dobro. Notwithstanding the Creek's accurately holographic rendition of Peyroux's breathy, intimate vocals, the reproduction of Ribot's dobro resonator was even more remarkable. In the hands of the wrong engineer, this quirky instrument can easily sound muddled or tinny. Through the Creek, every fingerpicked twang on the round-wound strings (they sounded like bronze strings) rang out with the appropriate buzz, thunk, and resonance.
Speaking of unusually natural female vocal recordings I just seem to play over and over again, I checked out Patricia Barber's recent live effort, Companion (Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2). What I love about this recording is Barber's wonderfully minimalist use of the Hammond B-3 organ. She never plays more than two or three notes at once, usually in the upper register, as background color. With the Creek's timbrally perfect re-creation of this recording's high frequencies, I could almost (as a former B-3 player) visually re-create her drawbar settings, as well as follow her subtle drawbar movements as she played.
One of the greatest tests for mid- and upper-bass articulation is the Spaceship movement from the unabridged recording of Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach (Elektra/Nonesuch 79323-2). There is a lengthy passage in which the synthesizer plays rapid ascending and descending scales that cover the entire midbass and upper-bass region, each note doubled by woodwinds an octave or two higher. If there is any discontinuity in the bass reproduction of a component or a sense of overhang or detachment from the rest of the frequency spectrum, this recording will smoke it out. With the Creek at fairly loud listening levels, the bass passages were rapid, clean, uniform, and coherent.
Further down the bass spectrum, the 5350SE impressed me with its reproduction of the organ-pedal tones in John Rutter's Requiem (Reference Recordings RR-57CD). Although only two of the affordable speakers I used for most of my listening sessions were capable of convincing 40Hz reproduction, the Creek reproduced the pedal tones with air, definition, ease, and not a trace of roundness, coloration, or sluggishness.
Rock music also fared well with the 5350SE. Aimee Mann's Bachelor No.2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (Super Ego SE 002) is my pick for best rock album of the year. It's been many years since I've been equally impressed by the melody, harmonies, lyrics, and arrangement of a single tune, and I am with "How Am I Different." The coherent drums, tuneful bass guitar, and raspy electric guitar gelled with coherent clarity in this very busy mix, the Creek enabling me to follow each instrument easily without losing the work's fundamental gestalt.