Classé Audio DR-3 power amplifier Page 2

Physically, the DR-3 follows Rolls-Royce in many ways: weight, mass, and solidity of product come first. A ¼" thick polished faceplate, massive extruded heatsinks, and a central transformer box (containing two potted transformers) are bolted to a thick, welded aluminum chassis. The transformers are mounted via rubber bushings to reduce hum and vibration transmission. The internal printed circuit boards (PCBs) employ thick copper traces sealed in glass epoxy to get rid of the lead that, claims Reich, contaminates copper laminate in other PCBs.

The amplifier is bridgeable into mono, for significantly increased power output. The bridging circuit has been designed to run 25k ohms input impedance, to favor tube preamps, and can be entirely switched out of the circuit when not used. Reich contends he used a "true" bridging scheme, sending the two bridged channels out-of-phase signals to achieve maximum power.

Opening the unit, I was impressed with the well-organized, dual-mono construction, and the large energy storage of 160,000µF (over 250 joules). Speaker connectors consist of ¼" silver plated brass bolts, which can really be torqued down—finally! They allow you to use those fancy—and big—spade lugs that adorn Powerline II, MIT Music Hose, and Randall Research speaker cables; these speaker terminals are the best in the business.

Optionally, one can purchase an MFE-1 Large Magnetic Flux Enhancer (or the less expensive MFE-0.5) to reduce (actually, redistribute) magnetic flux in the DR-3. The MFE-1 takes the form of a 30lb silicon-steel brick engraved with the company's name; it is meant to be seated on top of the transformer housing in the same manner as a VPI brick.

Sound Quality
The DR-3, like most pure class-A amps, runs quite warm. More than any other amplifier I've tested, it needs to warm up, the sonic character changing dramatically over the first 30 minutes after turn-on. At first distant, reserved, and detailed, a "cold" DR-3 is too analytical. But fully warmed up, it becomes highly dynamic, sweet, and fast. The change is highly pleasing and very dramatic.

I never before heard such beautiful, rich, resonant, and glowing sound in my listening room! Centerfill was seamless, the soundstage width was huge, and the depth and detailing were tops. My usual awareness of the system's presence—the speakers, electronics, room boundaries, and a nasty slap echo from my ceiling—was simply absent. Using one of the MFE-1 "bricks" on top of the amp slightly enhanced these sonic qualities—but not nearly as much as the simple introduction of the DR-3.

I think all audiophiles treasure memories of how a particular record sounded one day in the past. After time has passed, and they can't achieve those feelings or sonics again, they doubt whether they really heard that special sound, that lost chord. With a warmed-up pair of DR-3s, I rediscovered that special sonic contact. For example, my system reproduced just the right reverb for Stevie Nicks' voice (Fleetwood Mac's Sisters of the Moon); the bass line and drums were up front, but her voice was unmuffled. The elusive bass line once again emerged on the Weaver's "Guantanamera" (The Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie Hall, 1963, Vanguard), heard only once before on an entirely different system using Quad ESL-63s and Spectral electronics.

Of course, the DR-3 wasn't ideal for every record. On Billy Joel's "Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway" (Songs in the Attic, Columbia), there was enormous detailing but not quite enough dynamics for the song's full impact. But when instrumental resonance and musical detailing were required, the DR-3s were wonderful. I have never heard the Brahms Ballades reproduced with such lovely tonality as over the DR-3s; it produced an intimacy and contact with the music previously unavailable to me.

I found a single DR-3 almost as good as two, lacking only the huge soundstage expanse and three-dimensional detailing afforded by the pair. The bridged-mono mode also sounded quite decent, with each amp driving one channel of the normally-configured Snells. Overall, though, the combination of two DR-3s in biamplified mode, using Tandberg speaker cable, is by far the best setup for driving the Snell A/IIIs in my listening room. This should answer the questions of those wondering about power capability: refer back to my original review of the Snell (Vol.7 No.6): "This speaker does best with a very powerful solid-state amp, such as the Levinson ML-9 (330 watts/ch)."

The DR-3 did remarkably well driving a pair of Apogee Scintillas. These speaker systems sound best (to my ears, footnote 4) configured as a one-ohm load, which most amplifiers have difficulty driving. Aside from the biggest Krell amplifiers (the mono KMA-100s and -200s), I know of no other amplifier that makes the Scintillas sound as good as the DR-3. Run full out at the Audiophile Society's meeting for a crowded roomful of audio buffs, two DR-3 biamping Scintillas played as loudly (that's not a typo) as the big 200wpc KMA-200s. Actually, the Classé Audio amps sounded mellower and richer, while the Krells were cleaner, had more presence, and were more transparent and detailed in the highs. Neither was a clear winner, but both sounded great. Trying the two DR-3s in bridged configuration produced muffled, distorted sound with the Scintillas set up as a one-ohm load; one ohm is just too low an impedance for a bridged amplifier.

So here we have an expensive, low-powered amp that sounds marvelous—and will put out plenty of sound in almost any situation. I can't think of any amp at or below its price that sounds as good in my system. Is the DR-3 the best amplifier now on the market? Although the question can not be entertained in the review of just one product, the DR-3's combination of marketing mystique, high price, beautiful construction, ability to drive the nasty low-impedance loads of exotic audiophile speakers, and, last but certainly not least, superb sonics, will make it a leading product in the high end.

The product's impact on our Audiophile Society had to be seen to be believed (footnote 5): members jumped to move out their $6000 amplifiers in order to test the DR-3s. Several members have purchased DR-3s since that meeting, and are glad they did. They were even glad they bought Magnetic Flux Enhancer "bricks," though I'm uncertain the bricks wrought any improvements for me.

Is the DR-3 the equal of its famous predecessor, the Levinson ML-2? Unfortunately, I can't definitively answer that question; try as I might, I couldn't borrow a pair of the hot-running Levinson amps for a sonic "showdown" in my listening room. But clearly, David Reich's amp is the best stand-in for those audiophiles, like myself, who always dreamed they would one day own a pair of ML-2s.

Footnote 4: And everyone else's ears reported in print; see AHC's review in Vol.8 No.3.—Larry Archibald

Footnote 5: FOR SALE: 1985 Audiophile Society. Fully loaded, like-new condition. Must see to believe.—Larry Archibald

Classé Audio LLC
380, rue McArthur Saint-Laurent
Quebec H4T 1X8

CG's picture

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or however you translate that Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr line.

The ML-2 was a direct descendent of the JC-3 power amplifier designed by John Curl. (Lots of stories behind that, I'm sure).

And, guess what? A surprising number of current amplifiers are also direct descendents, too. Many use that circuit topology today. Certainly, there are exceptions, but they are exceptions.

Of course, lots of implementation details have changed as better parts and techniques have come along. (And gone along, too.)

The JC-3 came out 44 years ago. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Anyway, the price of the custom order ML-2's referenced in this article would come to around $22K in 2020 inflated dollars. This also makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile review of the new John Curl designed JC1+ mono amps is coming soon to a mail-box near you :-) .......

T-NYC's picture

Nelson Pass copied Lincoln Walsh' patent for sliding class A, successfully embodied in Paul Klipsch's favorite amplifier, the Brook series of tube amps. The Japanese firms did the same and with considerable finesse in their premium versions.

volvic's picture

Remember hearing it just as I was getting into hi-fi as a youngster at one of my favorite hi-fi stores; one of the employees had brought it in to the store to try with the big Maggies he was contemplating purchasing. He was a friend/acquaintance of Dave Reich, had Dave bridged two DR-3's for him. Classe was never the same company after Dave Reich was forced out of the company. Good memories.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Classe is back, now making Delta series stereo and mono amps ...... Their mono amps can deliver up to 35 Watts in pure class-A ....... See their website for details ...... May be Stereophile could review the Classe amps :-) ........

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
Their mono amps can deliver up to 35 Watts in pure class-A ....... Maybe Stereophile could review the Classe amps :-) ........

I review the new Classé Delta Mono monoblock amplifier in the July issue of Stereophile.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Great ..... Looking forward to reading that review, with comparison with Parasound JC1+, perhaps :-) .......

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
Great ..... Looking forward to reading that review, with comparison with Parasound JC1+, perhaps :-)


John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

My guess is both are going to be the winners, except for the price difference, of course :-) .......

duncanmcdonald's picture
volvic's picture

Good to know, nice to know they are back but still not the same without Reich.

Leif S's picture

reading these old reviews

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Take a look at Hi-Fi News review of D'Agostino Relentless amps ....... Y'all need those amps for some of your top model speakers :-) .......