Classé Audio Six Mk.II preamplifier Page 2

Chassis construction and systemboard assembly are first-rate, and are supported by a nontransferable lifetime warranty. The chassis case is standard sheetmetal, but the screwholes are predrilled with nuts fixed to the metal on the opposite side to allow firm tightening. The main circuit is carried on a high-quality epoxy pcb with solder mask and designator. There is no point-to-point wiring on the main board. There are 16 large 4700µF blue capacitors and eight large yellow capacitors. There is a small pcb at the chassis's right rear for the power-supply feed, which is isolated from the main board. Leads from the main board to the gold RCA jacks are neatly dressed, and high-quality silver solder joints are everywhere evident. This type of construction ensures high reliability and long component life.

My first impression of the Classé Six, obtained by listening through its phono section, was that it sounded dynamic, sweet, and dark. But as time went on, the Six's sonic signature became harder to discern. As TJN reported in his review of the Rowland Consummate preamplifier (Vol.15 No.1, p.175), the best high-end gear is chameleon-like; the Classé is no exception. Paired with the Quad ESL-63s, Sonus Faber Minimas, and Totem Model Ones, all of which emphasize the midrange response, the Six's midrange qualities sounded dynamic, resonant, warm, and up-front. With the B&W 805s, the most prominent component of the music was the open, unrestrained top end.

The Classé Six's bottom end did not disappoint me. Test signals from Stereophile's Test CD 2 revealed clean bass down to 17Hz with the Muse 18 subwoofer in the system. The driving pulse of the deep synthesizer bass chords on "The Hit," from James Horner's Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 07863-66051-2), was clear and solid. "Church," Lyle Lovett's thunderous, foot-stomping gospel tale on Joshua Judges Ruth (MCA MCAD-10475) had tremendous "pace" and energy. Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil" (from Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, Epic EK 44313) had generous bass slam and snap without being overblown. And ample bass dynamics were demonstrated by the Six's rendition of the powerful bass drum in Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana (Fiesta, Reference RR-38CD).

Real rhythmic drive was evident with a variety of musical material, supporting my initial impression that "pace" was the Six's strong suit. The soundtrack of The Commitments (MCA MCAD-10286) integrates Andrew Strong's raspy Joe Cocker-esque voice with the band's intense drums, horns, and piano; the Six pulled these elements into a tight, driving rhythm. When the B&W 805s were driven by the Krell KSA-250, the Six's phono section accurately portrayed the wide dynamic range and powerful orchestral rhythms on my favorite LP, Shostakovich's Symphony 6 and Age of Gold Suite with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Leopold Stokowski (RCA LSC-3133). As another test of the Six's resolving power, the furious "pace" and wall of sound captured on this LP did not obliterate the delicacy and voice of the soprano saxophone, which stands apart from the dense orchestral fabric.

My observations of the Six's impressive bass and dynamic range suggest that it would be ideal for what CG calls "real music." I used the Krell remote to cue up Metallica's "The Unforgiven" (Metallica, Elektra 61113-2). This tune opens with the sound of a passing train; there's deep bass and dynamic impact, followed by music with tight, clean, quick rhythms. The Six detailed the band's drumwork and acoustic and electric guitars. Next came Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil." I heard rimshots, kickdrum, and snare drum clearly and with full dynamics over the synthesizer. The combination of Classé Six, Krell KSA-250, and B&W 805 minimonitors was synergistic. Pace, pace, pace--can there ever be too much?

Midrange reproduction was superb on the Six and was evident in its focus and ability to reproduce different miking techniques. The sonics were clean, and free of nasal or honking qualities. Harry Connick, Jr.'s voice on "I Don't Get Around Much Anymore" didn't sound tubby or nasal, but had just the right timbre (When Harry Met Sally..., Columbia CK 45319).

The Classé Six preserved the unique tonal characteristics of different amplifiers. The Mark Levinson No.27.5 played with vividness, speed, and bass definition. The Krell KSA-250 delivered bass slam and robust orchestral timbres. The Woodside M-50 tube monoblocks were exceptionally smooth and generated a wider soundstage than the two solid-state stereo amplifiers. The M-50s provided the most warmth and resonance when matched with the Classé Six and driving the Snell B Minor speakers.

The Six's treble register was extended but slightly dark. Nevertheless, space was well depicted, which contributed greatly to the sense of air around instruments. I heard generous soundstage depth and width while playing Holst's Chaconne (Howard Dunn, Dallas Wind Symphony, Reference RR-39CD). With the B&W 805s driven by the M-L 27.5, a seamless sonic image was created of a chorus spread across the soundstage behind José Carreras (opening "Kyrie" of the Misa Criolla, Philips 420 955-2).

So far, so good. The Classé Six's sonics were good—very good. But how did it stand up to other high-end preamplifiers? Fortunately for the review, the Six could be compared, using gain-matched techniques, with the Mark Levinson No.26; the Woodside SC-26 all-tube preamp; and a Mark Levinson ML-7A run in single-ended configuration. I also compared a Krell KBL line-level preamp, listening to FM and CDs.

The Krell KBL was more neutral, but just as "dark" as the Six. TJN reported (in Vol.15 No.1, p.177) that the Krell had slightly less precise focus than the Rowland Consummate. I found no such differences with the Classé Six. In fact, both preamplifiers manifested the slightly dark, sweet sound that TJN reported. I was impressed that the Six sounded so similar to the $4500 Krell KBL line-stage–only preamp.

More current preamplifiers did better. The all-tube Woodside SC-26, priced the same as the Six, had more bloom and sweetness but did not quite match the Six's imaging. The more expensive Mark Levinson No.26 ($5195; $6795 for the 26S Teflon systemboard version) did have better imaging, soundstage width, and greater definition of detail, although it was quite laid-back and somewhat distant. The No.26 was much more transparent, particularly in depicting individual voices and the transparency in the Harlem Boy's Choir's soprano voices on the first cut of the Glory! soundtrack (LP, Virgin America 91329).

The Classé Six Mk.II preamplifier appeals to me—it is an extremely well-built, reliable product with very good sonics. Construction, parts quality, and feel of the front-panel controls equals or betters those of many high-end preamplifiers in the $3000–$5000 price range. Features are standard but ample: a built-in phono stage, balanced inputs and outputs, bypass capability, and an external power supply for quiet operation.

Only preamplifiers costing more than $5000—such as the Mark Levinson No.26S—better the Six in imaging, a feature which helps such products attain a Class A rating in Stereophile's "Recommended Components." The Six's balance of value, convenience, and sonics places it at the upper end of Class B.

"Rugged," "reliable," and "convenient" are good adjectives, but audiophiles want more. The Classé Six's sonics exceeded my expectations. Although there is that darkness, I found the Six's pace, rhythmic drive, and solid bass response exceptional for its price.

Classé Audio,
5070 François Cusson
Lachine, Quebec H8T 1B3
(514) 636-6384

Richard D. George's picture

And now Classe Audio is dead.

mrkaic's picture

I see them alive and kicking.

John Atkinson's picture
mrkaic wrote:
I see them alive and kicking

See this report on an audio business site:

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mrkaic's picture

This is most disturbing. Thank you for the link.

Richard D. George's picture

Also see this from the PS Audio website. Everything is not rosy at parent Bowers & Wilkins either.

Allen Fant's picture

I can remeber reading this article way back in 1994- miss you LG.