Creek Evolution 100A integrated amplifier

As an audio scribe, the fiercest demons I wrestle are beliefs—yours and mine; those of my friends, my editors, my fellow reviewers; and those of the engineers and promoters of the products I write about. Sometimes the force of these rabidly held and (mostly) conflicting beliefs paralyzes me with self-doubt: What do I know? What makes me qualified to listen and judge?

At the start of every review, the white noise of these diverse creeds fills my head and prevents me from listening in a relaxed and open state of mind. If the product performs amiably right out of the box, I eventually settle down, stop worrying what others might think, and enjoy myself. But my own audio beliefs—my checklists of musical and audio needs—never go away. I don't think they should.

Most audiophiles believe that reviewers can remove their ideological lenses as easily as doffing a pair of 3D glasses—and then, on their readers' behalf, perceive a product's sound as it actually is. That is not possible, nor is it desirable. We all need to remain submerged in the pleasurable identities of our audio beliefs, because these constantly morphing predispositions anchor us and tether us together. They become our shared tribal codes.

This is why you need me to always be just Herb—so that you can be just you. This is important—it's the only way you can consistently measure the ideological space between us, then apply that measure to the words I write. As you read this issue's Herbprattle, remind yourself that I place exceptionally high value on corporality, texture, and the richness of instrumental and vocal tones. While listening to recorded music, I need to sense the artists' intentions and feel a contagious forward momentum. I value expansive soundstaging and precise imaging—but only if these effects feel tangible, natural, and whole. I believe that multimono is dangerous and louche. But if all you listen to is rock music, multimono may be all you've ever experienced. You may have never heard about binaural recording, or microphones in Blumlein pairs, or spaced omnis. You may never have experienced live acoustic (ie, non-amplified) music. You may not believe that artistic intentions can be audible. You may respond more than I do to dead-silent backgrounds and microscopic resolution. My job as a reviewer is to remember what you might believe and prefer.

I say all this because, when I began writing about Creek's Evolution 100A integrated amplifier, I was distracted by some of your firmly held notions, as revealed in the question, "So, Herb, which of all the integrated amps you've reviewed is the best?" Before I even opened the Creek's box, I could feel your need to know. Well, I'm sorry—I can't answer that question. I don't think, dream, or listen like that. In the real world of music listening (and of making love), there's no such thing as "the best." However, on behalf of each of your many diverse selves, I now promise to do my best to elucidate the character of yet another high-quality integrated amplifier.

Description
Creek's website describes the Evolution 100A (base price $2195) as "the most sophisticated and reasonably priced amplifier Creek has ever made." I suspect a big part of this sophistication and reasonable price may be the result of Creek's version of a class-G output stage, designed by senior engineer David Gamble. Mike Creek explained to me that, "Like the Creek 50A, the 100A also uses Sanken STD03 Darlington power transistors, two of which operate as a traditional class-AB amplifier up to 25W. Above that, two more STD03s acting as lifters are switched in, to allow the signal to swing close to the higher-power supply rails. This power-supply strategy allows the 100A to deliver >110W/8 ohms (>170W/4 ohms) in the same chassis as the 55W/8 ohm 50A."

Like my faithful old Creek 4330, the newest Creek integrated has an attractive and subtly charming, asymmetrical faceplate. The volume knob on the right side is bigger than the selector knob on the left, and 1" closer to the Evolution 100A's right edge than the other knob is to the left. Between them is a symmetrical array of four buttons, a lighted display, and four more buttons. Incised directly behind and running under the volume knob is a vertical groove 1?8" deep, and at 1:30 on that dial is a delicately engraved Creek logo. Directly below the logo is the ¼" headphone jack, and to its right the power button. Everything on the 100A's front panel is smart but just a bit off-kilter—like a good old-fashioned British murder mystery.

As I gazed at the Creek 4330 and 100A side by side, the 21st-century model looked considerably more gentrified, with more Whig appeal than my vintage and decidedly Tory 4330. Being a Husbandman, I wondered if the Evolution 100A's sonic character had evolved in a similar fashion.

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The 100A's rear panel is more ordinary than its faceplate. Here are up to five unbalanced line-level inputs (RCA), one of them also offering the choice of balanced (XLR) operation. Another input can be configured as A/V direct. As a plug-in option, Line 1 can be configured for Creek's Sequel Mk.2 moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage (a $200 option). Similarly, the buyer may choose the dealer-installed Ambit FM/AM tuner ($250), or the more fully featured Ruby plug-in DAC module, which includes an FM tuner ($599). The Ruby replaces the Line 5 input and features two 24-bit/192kHz coaxial and two TosLink S/PDIF digital inputs, 24/96 USB, FM, and Bluetooth. As I type, I'm enjoying WNYC via the Creek's wire antenna (included).

Music
Collecting recordings of music provides multiple escape routes from the sufferings caused by vain underclass toil. Consequently, I am a dedicated seeker of the time-wasting, mind-numbing excitements generated by scouring eBay for rare CDs, old microgrooves, and hot stampers. I especially enjoy showing off and playing for friends my hard-won finds. Speaking of which . . .

I was entertaining some flannel-shirted, fear-the-beard guys and their pierced, blue-haired partners when, after explaining the virtues of never wearing socks that match, one of the twentysomething women exclaimed, "Ooooo! The Beatles! They're sooo revolutionary!"

COMPANY INFO
Creek Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Music Hall
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
(516) 487-3663
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Allen Fant's picture

Awesome! review- HR. These "little" integrated amps are something special indeed. A few years ago, I was struck by how well the 4330
made beautiful music w/ (my reference) Thiel CS 2.4 loudspeakers.

anthony.aaron47's picture

Like you, Herb, my taste used to be in expensive audio - high power amps, multi-driver speakers, etc.

A divorce - wherein my former wife got custody of that audio equipment - coupled with my changed financial situation forced me to re-examine my audio priorities.

I now use single-driver full-range speakers (Omega Super 3S) and a tube integrated amp (Dared 2A3C - 3.5 wpc) sourced by an old Nakamichi OMS-7 CD player.

I've had this system almost 2 years, and I wouldn't trade it for what I've ever had before. The sound is magical - and the whole system cost me less than $2500.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

For me, the music comes first. As for the rest of the stuff, I just want it to get out of the way of the music; as simply and affordably as possible. I don't care to impress anyone with audio jewelry. Same goes for the music; it's mostly between the artist and me. (There's an old saying in the tailor business: "Is the man wearing the suit, or is the suit wearing the man?") As a result, my gear is pretty basic, but my music collection is rather large. (The walls are lined with records, which provide great acoustic room treatment.)

I was pretty happy with my:

deplinthed Dual 701 TT
Shure M97xE cart
Jico SAS stylus
Sony PS One as CD player
Creek 4330 SE integrated
Paradigm Studio 20 V3 speakers
entry level Wireworld cables...

...until I heard someone's full range system. I realized how much low end info I wasn't hearing at home. Space did not allow for large speakers so I got a pair of REL T5 subs at a good price.

Although my gear isn't even close to that of many of your readers, it does what I want and can afford. Every album sounds different, which I suspect means my gear is getting out of the way of the music and allowing the production values to come through. As a result, I've culled my music collection over the years. (The only upgrade I'd consider at this point is a more efficient pair of small speakers. Something which allows the music to flow easier, as in a more realistic midrange.)

I suspect that if I started buying high end equipment, I'd start thinking about the gear more than the music; focusing on gear integration, etc. And, not being the manager of a hedge fund, I'd worry more about gear value vs price. I don't want to go there. I'd rather just enjoy my music.

Allen Fant's picture

Anthony & Rick-
both of you guys have great systems. And yes, it is all about the (reproduction of) MUSIC!

spacehound's picture

You knew who made it, had the specs and the 'philosophy' behind it before you reviewed it.

These things should really be reviewed BLIND so the reviewer doesn't have any preconceived ideas on what to expect. Which he then listens for, and of course, finds.

Manufacturers don't like blind testing of course. Simply because it might well find that their $10,000 amp sounds no better than someone else's $3,000 one. That's the REAL reason, not all this "Blind tests are unrealistic because of listening fatigue, unfamiliar music, environment, etc" garbage. And by yourself of course, none of this 'panel' or 'scoring' nonsense. It is YOU that is going to buy it, or not.

I experienced this myself recently. I have a bias towards a well-known UK manufacturer (I'm in the UK). The local dealer had the one I was biased towards but had two others as well, both lower cost. I could not see them. I chose (blind) one of the lower cost ones. Had I been able to see them I would undoubtedly have walked out with the one I was biased towards.

I can PROVE what I say -
"Beowulf-like bleakness of the Anglo-Saxon landscape". You've not been here, have you? Beowulf is (1) imaginary, (2) set in Scandinavia, not England, where Creek amps are made :) The landscape is exactly the same today, unchanged. Not "bleak" at all. The UK is a 'cosy', manicured place, like a rich man's garden, and by comparison with the USA, always has been. Your pre-conceived ideas are getting in the way :)

PS: It's a very good amp, though not the one I chose. You really DON'T need to spend any more on an amplifier, integrated or separates. HiFi means 'accuracy'. If it has a flat frequency response over a wide range things such as PRAT, slew rate, 'impact' etc. are all a result of that frequency response. Given sufficient power to drive the speakers of course. And this one has enough power. You might find a $200,000 KSL Kondo Ongaku (a real one, not the British copy) or one of these expensive D'Agostini amps sounds more to your preference, or 'magical', but if it sounds different from the Creek it ISN'T HiFi as it isn't accurate. (The more you pay the more amplfiers should sound the same. If they don't something is seriously wrong. 'Budget' amplifiers may have excuses for inaccuracy, costly ones have not. And there is only one accuracy - something is either accurate or it isn't. Huge bass? To quote 'Jud', an audio enthusiast and a wise man "No one ever came out of an opera or a classical concert saying 'Wasn't the bass good?'")

Surge's picture

You are totally wrong, my friend. Sounds like you're trying to rationalize that you made the best purchase.

Haven't had a good laugh all week, thanks!

(And btw, the Ongaku's retail price is about $90K and no one pays retail...)

Quote:

You really DON'T need to spend any more on an amplifier, integrated or separates. HiFi means 'accuracy'. If it has a flat frequency response over a wide range things such as PRAT, slew rate, 'impact' etc. are all a result of that frequency response. Given sufficient power to drive the speakers of course. And this one has enough power. You might find a $200,000 KSL Kondo Ongaku (a real one, not the British copy) or one of these expensive D'Agostini amps sounds more to your preference, or 'magical', but if it sounds different from the Creek it ISN'T HiFi as it isn't accurate. (The more you pay the more amplfiers should sound the same. If they don't something is seriously wrong.

spacehound's picture

"High Fidelity" means "Accuracy" by definition. Look it up.

And obviously if a box does not have a FLAT freguency response over at least the AUDIBLE bandwidth it can't be accurate so isn't HiFi.

In fact you need more than the audible bandwidth to give a good rise time as rise time is a function of frequency response - read a school physics book. So called 'Pace, Rhythm, And Timing' will automatically follow - it CAN'T do anything else.

Offhand I would go for 50KHz minimum.

It's not meant to br 'nice' or 'what you like'. It's meant to be ACCURATE. If you don't like the music go buy a more accurate recording. All this 'subjective' garbage is just typical American nonsense marketing.

If you want it 'subjective' go buy a $500 WalMart complete stereo and be happy - you don't need to spend $100,000 plus if you want it inaccurate, do you?

Justify? No. Only stupid people buy something first and justify it afterwards. Sensible people like me do the justification first.