Classé Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier Page 2

The 2200i's remote control is small enough to sneak behind the seat cushions if you're not watching carefully. It has buttons for power, input, mute, and navigation, plus three function buttons that can be programmed to access various features. I set up F1 to access the configuration menu (for choosing subwoofer on or off), and F2 to access the PEQ menu (to turn it on or off rapidly to quickly sample its effect). Once in the selected menu, you can use the navigation controls to move around within that menu or return to the home menu, though from the listening seat it's not easy to see, on the 2200i's front-panel display, which of these options you've selected. The Classé's Android and iOS apps presumably offer more flexible control that's also legible close up, but connecting the 2200i to my home network via a wired Ethernet link to use the apps wasn't practical, as the Classé has no WiFi capability.

I did all of my listening via a digital link from my Marantz UD7007 universal BD player, plugged into one of the Classé 2200i's coaxial digital inputs. Since the 2200i immediately converts all analog inputs to digital, it made little sense to use the player's analog outputs and thus add unnecessary D/A and A/D conversions in player and amp.

La Folia, by Gregorio Paniagua and Atrium Musicae de Madrid (CD, Harmonia Mundi Musique d'Abord 1951050), is a fascinating recording that makes use of conventional instruments (flute, harpsichord, etc.) plus a slew of the unexpected—kazoo, car engines, Jaw's harp, duck call, chirping birds, church bells, and myriad other sounds I couldn't readily identify. Many selections begin as conventional chamber music, but after a few minutes a wild, dynamic effect barges in to completely change the mood. A prime example of this is track 8, in which a flawless, four-minute flute solo is suddenly followed by a startling crash that segues into "Turkey in the Straw" punctuated by the sound of an antique car horn. But it all works. The Classé didn't miss any of it, including the recording's exceptionally clean and defined top end, startling dynamics, solid soundstage, good depth, the venue's spacious acoustic, and every other plop, crash, burble, and squeak.


The 2200i's presentation of Leo Kottke's acoustic guitar and voice in his My Father's Face (CD, Private Music 2050-2-P) was crisp but not exaggerated. The sound of most tracks, particularly those without vocals, was a bit too warm, but more often than not I found this more inviting than off-putting. Nevertheless, the Classé slighted no details, including guitar riffs that ranged from Kottke's delicate fingering in slower numbers to his slightly growly voice in more upbeat, complex songs, including "Why Can't You Fix My Car"—the only song I've ever heard that pleads for competence in an auto mechanic.

Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live (CD, Vision Music VMCD1005) is a very different recording of guitar and voice. It's exceptionally dynamic, which is likely why one track, "Keith Don't Go," is a staple at audio shows. For a live recording, it's remarkable—if it sounds bad, you can be sure it's the system's fault. It sure didn't sound bad here. From the opening riff, the Classé 2200i passed along all of the recording's excitement, from Lofgren's up-front instrument to his voice. If the result was, like the Kottke, a little warm, that was clearly at least partially an issue of the speakers and my room.

My listening continued, and varied widely: choral recordings, male and female vocals, hard percussion, small groups, and full orchestral works, including film scores on CD. I was never disappointed by what I heard from the Classé Sigma 2200i. It handled everything effortlessly.

There's no question in my mind that the Classé Sigma 2200i was a superb amplifier, but describing the sound of one amplifier without comparing it directly to the sound of another can leave the reader rudderless. Since I don't have a wide selection of high-end two-channel gear lying around, I put the Sigma 2200i up against my resident surround-sound setup with only its front-left and -right channels in operation. This signal chain comprised a new Marantz AV8802a preamplifier-processor and a Proceed Amp 5, a five-channel power amplifier rated at 125Wpc into 8 ohms—significantly less power than the Sigma offers. The class-AB Proceed was discontinued shortly after 2000, but it's a superb product that was made by the same company that still designs and builds Mark Levinson amps.

The prices of these two amplification chains are roughly comparable. The Marantz pre-pro sells today for $4000. The Amp 5 was marketed at $5000 in 1997, which would likely translate to about $8000 today. While that $13,000 combination buys you five channels, if it were two channels of the same quality it would likely still be priced competitively with the 2200i ($5500). (The cost curve as the number of channels change is nowhere near linear.) And I risk kicking a hornet's nest by suggesting that there have been no dramatic developments in class-AB amplifier design in a very long time. Refinements, yes; revolutions, no.

I used the identical system for both amplifiers, the only difference being the 2m-long Cardas Hexlink Fives—interconnects that predate even the Proceed—between the pre-pro and the Amp 5. The latter interconnects, of course, were not needed for the self-contained Sigma.

I matched the levels as closely as possible. My preference with the Marantz pre-pro has always been to engage in only modest use of its tone controls: +1dB on the treble, but using neither its bass control nor its Audyssey room EQ. Measurements suggested that the frequency response was more evenly matched with the Marantz's treble set to +1 and the Sigma flat, but since the difference at up to 10kHz was less than 0.4dB, I went with a +1dB treble-control setting on both, to be consistent. At these settings the Marantz was +0.4dB over the Sigma at 4kHz, they were matched at 8kHz, and the Sigma was louder than the Marantz by +0.4dB at 10kHz and by +1dB at 12kHz. You'd expect that this gave the Sigma an audible advantage in top-end detail and air, but the result was just the opposite.

Together, the Marantz AV8802a and Proceed Amp 5 comprise my current amplification, so I'm accustomed to their sound. While that might lead me to prefer them, I'm always open to improvements. Nevertheless, the Marantz-Proceed combo outmatched the Classé in one respect—it was more transparent in my system in the upper midrange and treble, an area vital to me. I went back and forth between the two setups dozens of times with a wide range of recordings, and in the end the Marantz-Proceed marginally edged out the Classé, with a more transparent quality and a subjectively faster but not overdone impact on transients. The 2200i did have the warmer, more organic sound—a quality that many audiophiles prefer. But the Marantz-Proceed hardly sounded clinical. It also seemed to produce a bit more depth, though that can be explained by its subjective, if not measurable, balance.

But the Classé offers capabilities that the Marantz does not, in particular its flexible parametric equalization. The warmth I noted above was also present in the Marantz-Proceed, although the latter's other qualities rendered it less obvious. So some of the warmth was clearly a speaker/room issue. While many will find this appealing—and with most recordings it was far less obvious than indicated by my in-room speaker-response measurements—I set about minimizing it (see Sidebar, "Equalization Setup.")

So began my adventure with the 2200i's parametric equalization. But it wasn't my first such adventure with Classé. Four years ago, in a different room, I made similar adjustments to their SSP-800 surround-sound processor, with positive effects on a surround array of">Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond speakers I was reviewing for Home Theater magazine. The result was outstanding, and one of the reasons I was anxious to review the Sigma 2200i.

The change in sound from adding PEQ to the system in my present room was relatively subtle with most recordings. It didn't enhance the Classé's top-end airiness enough to match that of the Marantz-Proceed (the EQ I added was all at or below 400Hz, the region where room problems are most prevalent), but the increased clarity through the bass and lower midrange that resulted from the reduction of excess warmth did open up the Classé's sound to bring it closer to that of my reference gear. It also made me wish that the Marantz offered such a useful feature—or at least the option of limiting its Audyssey room compensation (which, again, I didn't use) to a user-specified top frequency—perhaps the same 400Hz.

Near the end of the listening period I also tried connecting a Revel B15 subwoofer (discontinued) to the Classé, using the latter's high- and low-pass filters, and the separate PEQ filter that can be used on the amp's subwoofer channel. The result was a remarkable extension at the bottom end, with two shortcomings, neither the Classé's fault: Flattening of the response made the midbass too lean. Pounding Kodo drums, for example, lacked realistic weight and body. This was the exact opposite of the common audiophile complaint about subwoofers producing a boomy, bloated bottom end. There was none of that here. In addition, even though the 2200i wisely limits the available boost in all bands to +3dB, the bottom-end EQ to flatten the sub's output made my subwoofer's 15" drive-unit produce rude, unmusical noises that demanded that I reduce its level. The floor space dedicated to my setup is midsize, but connects to an open area that challenges any attempt to flatten out the response of even a large subwoofer.

In the right room, however, this capability might make the difference between okay and awesome sound. I might have had better luck in my room with two more bands of PEQ—one to raise the midbass slightly, the other to rapidly roll off the deepest bass—but I'd already used up all the subwoofer control available from the 2200i's PEQ.

Sidelights I currently lack what some might consider state-of-the-art headphones, but I do have a pair of very good ones: PSB's M4U 2 over-ear, noise-canceling model. They performed well with the Classé Sigma 2200i, which mutes the speakers when the headphone jack is in use. But the optimization of any given set of headphones with a specific headphone amplifier is a subject well beyond the scope of this review, or my experience.

I also tried the Sigma's HDMI pass-through capability. It worked fine with 4K output (upconverted from native 2K) from an Oppo BDP-105D universal BD player, with one problem: There was a minor but annoying mismatch of audio/video lip sync—and the Classé provides no way to delay the audio to correct for this.

Despite my minor reservations about some aspects of the Sigma 2200i's sound in comparison to an amplification system I'm intimately familiar with, the Classé is an excellent amplifier that will give pricier separates and other integrateds a run for their considerable money. In addition, it offers features that can address speakers-in-room problems in a way that most audiophile components do not. For that alone, it deserves a close look and a serious audition.

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georgehifi's picture

"I used Audio Precision's high-order AES17 high-pass filter when measuring distortion, as otherwise the reading would be obscured by the noise."

Hi JA, was this filter also used when measuring/presenting the (fig 9) 1kHz and (fig 10) 10kHz square wave screen shots?

Cheers George

John Atkinson's picture
georgehifi wrote:
was this filter also used when measuring/presenting the (fig 9) 1kHz and (fig 10) 10kHz square wave screen shots?

No, the squarewave images were taken with just the external AP0025 filter as the AES17 brickwall filter would have affected the amplifier's reproduction of squarewaves. The AP0025's rolloff is sufficiently high in frequency not to have an effect other than eliminating RF noise.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

georgehifi's picture

Ok it's a different AP in line filter, this 20 Hz to 20 kHz passband filter you used
Has a -50db rolloff rate, I take it doesn't handle much power hence the "small-signal" square wave testing you can only do with it in line.

Myself, I would still prefer to see in tests with and without this filter in line, to see what's being sent to the speakers.

Cheers George

caphill's picture

Hello Thomas,
Thanks for the review of the Classe Sigma 2200i integrated. It was interesting to read your comments about the Classe Sigma 2200i being warm sounding tonally. I personally haven't heard the Sigma 2200i but have demoed the Sigma SSP + Sigma Amp5 combo paired with B&W speakers and Wilson Sabrina multiple times and they were very neutral tonally and very transparent imo. The Sigma combo were spectacular sonically. I demoed in both stereo for music in analog / digital bypass mode as well as for home theater (surrounds).

I would assume that the Sigma 2200i would perform very similar.
Did you get to listen to the Sigma separates by any chance?

Richard D. George's picture

I own the Sigma SSP and Sigma Amp 5. They sound spectacular for both home theater and two-channel audio. I have a Bluesound Vault2 connected to the Sigma SSP and high-resolution two-channel audio files sound terrific.

Richard D. George's picture

I also heard the Sigma 2200i demonstrated with Bowers & Wilkins 804 d3 speakers at a 2016 Music Matters event at my local dealer. Sounded fantastic. Heard four or five cuts (all Redbook format, interestingly, no high res) over the course of 40 minutes.

I don't hear the "not neutral" part. Must be my faulty ears.

caphill's picture

Hi Richard,
How did the Sigma 2200i sound compared to your Sigma SSP + Sigma Amp5 separates? What speakers do you have at home?

Richard D. George's picture

Too many variables to directly compare. I thought both sounded good, with no obvious flaws.

In that particular system my speakers are Sonus Faber Venere 3.0 and Venere Center with two REL S/5 subs connected speaker level with Longbow. I may eventually upgrade to Sonus Faber Olympica for L/R/C speakers, or perhaps Bowers & Wilkins 804 d3. Surround speakers are high-end Bowers & Wilkins two-way in-ceiling speakers (don't recall the model number)

caphill's picture

I think both the B&W 804 D3 and the SONUS Faber Olympica are great speakers imo but I think the B&W 804 D3 will have better synergy with your Classe Sigma Amp5.

I myself am using the Classe SSP 800 pre pro with the Classe CA-M 300 monoblock amps (3×) for L/R/C speakers. Using the Classe CA-2300 stereo amp for my surround speakers. My front speakers are the B&W 802 D3 with the matching HTML1 center speaker. My surround speakers are the 804 D3.