Creek Evolution 50A integrated amplifier Page 2
With percussion recordings, the Evolution 50A demonstrated its ability to unravel dense, complex clusters of high-frequency textures. In George Crumb's Spanish Songbook 1: The Ghosts of Alhambra, from The Complete Crumb Edition Vol. 15 (CD, Bridge 9335), percussionist Daniel Druckman plays a wide range of mallet instruments, bells, chimes, and cymbals; the 50A was able to easily unravel the extended, crystalline, subtle details of these instruments' sounds. The Creek's ability to unravel transients without a sense of dulling or artificial sharpness also made percussion recordings sound more realistic, and made me want to listen to a wide range of jazz drummers. I reveled in every delicate phrase Paul Motian created with sticks and brushes on all of his drums and cymbals on his :rarum XVI: Selected Recordings (CD, ECM 8016). I also loved listening to Max Roach's solo drum fills in many of the tracks on pianist Herbie Nichols's The Complete Blue Note Recordings (CD, Blue Note CDP 8 59352 2)the Creek was able to cleanly and clearly unravel layers of low-level dynamic subtleties.
And although I normally prefer Chick Corea's earlier work, I've lately been listening to The Ultimate Adventure (CD, Stretch/Concord SCD-0-9045-2), a 2006 suite inspired by a science-fiction novel by L. Ron Hubbard. This work is very percussion-oriented, with boisterous, syncopated, Latin-tinged rhythms throughout. Several movements focus on intense interplay between bassist Carlos Benavent and drummer Vinnie Colaiutathe Creek rendered even the most complicated sections with crisp, clear, forceful, high-level dynamics; all rapid and complex passages were resolved with no trace of smearing.
The Evolution 50A's definition in the bass was impressive for a relatively low-powered amplifier, even when it drove the floorstanding Epos M16i speakers to loud levels in my large listening room. I loved listening to double-bass solos on live Bill Evans recordings: Chuck Israels on At Shelly's Manne-Hole, Hollywood, California (CD, JVC JVCXR-0036-02); and Scott La Faro on Live at the Village Vanguard Featuring Scott LaFaro (CD, JVC JVCXR-0051-2). Both sounded woody, airy, and forceful, every note crisp and clean. On the electronic side, even with the amp cranked, the electronic bass and percussion in Sade's Love Deluxe (CD, Epic 53178) were punchy and clean.
The 50A unraveled extraordinary amounts of detail from even the densest orchestrations. Train, from Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, with Michael Riesman and the Philip Glass Ensemble (CD, Nonesuch 7 93230 2), includes multiple layers of densely woven vocal and instrumental lines. The Creek cleanly delineated every line. On the delicate side, the amp was also able to clearly reproduce the pitch definition on the high-level timpani passages at the beginning of the first movement of David Chesky's Violin Concerto, with soloist Tom Chiu and Anthony Aibel leading the Area 31 ensemble (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD288, CD layer).
The Evolution 50A's dynamic capabilities at low levels enabled it to clearly separate good from great piano recordings. Listening to my unaccompanied introduction to "Sleeping Metronomes Lie," from my jazz quartet Attention Screen's Takes Flight at Yamaha (CD, Stereophile STPH021-2), I was able to clearly hear the delicate dynamics throughout the Yamaha AvantGrand electronic piano's entire timbral range as well as I did the day the piece was recorded. By comparison, Feldman Edition Vol.1: Aki Takahashi Plays Morton Feldman (CD, Mode 54) sounded dead and one-dimensional, Takahashi's piano sounding not as rich or as vibrant through the Creek as through my reference amplification. And the late cellist János Starker's reading of J.S. Bach's Suites for Solo Cello (CD, Mercury Living Presence 432 756-2) breathed with every low-level dynamic attack of his bow, with all gradations, from ppp to mf, as clearly delineated as I've come to expect from more expensive electronics.
Nor did the Creek run out of gas with demanding high-level recordings. The opening passages Kodály's Háry János Suite, with Antal Doráti conducting the Minneapolis Symphony (CD, Mercury Living Presence 432-005-2), were dramatic, forceful, and airy.
In only one area did the Creek fall slightly short of other amplifiers I've heard, and this happened only with certain discs. When reproducing complex, highly modulated recordings with a lot of high-frequency content, the 50A developed a slight amount of tension in the upper midrange and lower highs, and began to lose the relaxed, effortless quality I heard with most recordings. In "Rituel," from pianist Marilyn Crispell's Circles (CD, Victo CD012), there are several passages in which saxophonists Oliver Lake and Peter Buettner get very frantic; through the Creek, there was a tension to the sound that added to the music's dissonant character. Also, in the more boisterous sections of early Beatles songs excerpted on Love (CD, Apple 3 79808 2), the upper midrange was more forward than I've heard it when playing this album through other amps. This quality was independent of the 50A's volume settingit wasn't as if the Creek's power-delivery capabilities were being stressed. That said, I played and enjoyed dozens of recordings through the 50A, and noticed this effect on less than 5% of them.
The More Expensive Predecessors
I compared the Evolution 50A ($1195) with Creek's 5350SE ($1695 when last available) and Destiny ($2495 ditto). Although I still own the review samples of those older integrateds, both were discontinued long ago, and have completely different circuitry that's unrelated to Creek's current line of Evolution 5350 ($1895) and Destiny 2 ($2795). The 5350SE had airier, more extended highs than the Evolution 50A, a richer, more dimensional midrange, and finer gradations of dynamics. Transients were cleaner and crisper, and the midbass had superior definition. The Destiny revealed much more inner detail than either the 50A or the 5350SE, with silkier, even more extended highs than the other two. It also had the greatest sense of ease and the widest dynamic range.
The Road Forward
I've long expected Michael Creek and his design team to continue coming up with ever more impressive designs, and integrated amplifiers that always push the envelope of delivering good value for money. This time, Creek pulled a fast one on me by designing his latest model to a price point below its predecessors. In the process he has created an involving, flexible and good-sounding piece of electronics. The Creek Evolution 50A may set a new benchmark for what's possible at an affordable price. And Creek has packed more features into this amplifier than he has with any of his earlier amps at any price. Finally, don't let the Evolution50A's modest 50W power rating fool you. During my listening, it was never stressed or seemed limited in power or dynamics, and that was when driving floorstanding speakers in a large listening room at loud levels. It never even got warm to the touch.
The Innovation 50A may well satisfy those expecting to pay $2000 or more on an integrated amplifier, and free up more cash to spend elsewhere in the system. And that's always a good thing.