Creek 5350SE integrated amplifier Page 4
I thought two comparisons would be interesting: first, to compare the 5350SE with an older Creek—my affordable reference, the 4240SE; and, second, to compare the 5350SE with a currently available and similarly priced and powered unit from a competitor—the Arcam Alpha 10 integrated (100Wpc, $1599, reviewed by Wes Phillips in Vol.21 No.12).
The comparison with the older Creek was informative. Although the 4240SE exhibited a rich, coherent portrayal of the music, there was much less detail, less articulate highs with a bit more tension, as well as less impressive low-level dynamic realism when compared with the 5350SE. In short, it exhibited almost all of the strengths of the newer Creek, but to a much lesser extent. It was fascinating; I could hear the loss of resolution caused by the additional gain stage, much as one hears the loss of resolution in a second-generation recording. On the other hand, the high-level dynamic performance of the older Creek was the equal of the newer model, especially in the bass.
The Arcam Alpha 10 also impressed, especially with its holographic, almost tubelike tactile reproduction of midrange timbres, particularly vocals. Its sonic perspective was a bit more laid-back and polite when compared with the 5350SE, and the Arcam seemed to resolve less high-frequency detail than the Creek. The 5350SE was more impressive at bass extension, definition, and high-level dynamic performance. Overall, I found the Arcam to be closer in performance to the older Creek, excelling in midrange resolution and body and a more relaxed high-frequency depiction; but the 4240SE was superior to the Arcam in bass definition and high-level dynamics.
Of course, I'm splitting hairs here; all three amplifiers are excellent performers. I would be much more forgiving of the shortcomings of the Creek 4240SE and the Arcam Alpha 10 had I never heard the Creek 5350SE.
Surely something bugs you about this amplifier...
Of course, not everything about the Creek 5350SE is perfect. I wish it had a balance control. Mind you, I'm not the kind of person who fusses endlessly with balance to ensure that my center image is spot on. But as a reviewer who's constantly plugging and unplugging gear and troubleshooting, I'd like to have the flexibility of running one channel at a time during the testing process. Even if the 5350SE had a balance control, I would use it rarely—but it would have been nice to know it was there.
You say you want a revolution?
After 20 years of evolutionary improvement in his designs, Mike Creek has taken several leaps ahead with the 5350SE integrated amplifier.
Do I believe the 5350SE to be the most significant Creek design I've heard? Yes.
Is the 5350SE the most exciting component I've reviewed in four years? Yes.
Am I buying one? Yes.
The Creek 5350SE is the finest $1500 integrated amplifier I've ever heard, but I'll say more than that: If you're considering spending $10,000 on a stereo and have allocated $3000 to a separate preamp and power amp, you might want to consider spending $1500 on the Creek 5350SE and allocating the leftover cash elsewhere. It's that good. Mike Creek, you revolutionary, you.