Classé CAM 350 monoblock power amplifier Page 3

The CAM 350 also did a superb job on smaller, subtler microdynamic shadings. Clark Terry has a way of bending notes just as they die out—or, in the last split second before he begins the next note, of oh so gently altering the pitch and shading the level through one or more subtle, wavering oscillations. With the Classé in the system, these delicate phrasings were vividly clear and never failed to catch my ear.

Such subtle microdynamic touches contributed significantly to the piano's realism as well. My listening notes remind me that, with the Classés, the piano notes "hang in space, expanding outward from the soundboard...and when they decay, it's truly into the background, and all the while they're continuing to expand outward...incredibly realistic!" With other amps, "the notes just seem to be chopped off wherever they are in level and space. I always accepted this before, but in comparison to the CAM 350s, it now seems abrupt and unnatural."

The precision of the CAM 350's dynamic transients was another component of its incredible clarity. I'd always felt that the Maggies slightly rounded the leading edges of transients, and that the rounding was an inherent characteristic of their sound—it became something I just listened around. Not so with the Classé. Leading edges were incredibly sharp. A good example was the articulation on Eric Lewis's fast, tumbling piano runs in "Liza All the Clouds'll Roll," the third cut on One On One. No matter how fast the run or what the frequency or volume, the Classé began every note in the run with a distinct, popping hammer-on-string impact. With other amps, the notes' beginnings were much less distinct, giving the run a slightly imprecise, slurred quality.

Pace and timing were also excellent with the Classé. I ran through a number of LPs and CDs that show off and test for pace and timing, and the Classé/Magnepan combination blew me away with each one. One of my very favorite LPs is the Ray Brown Trio's Soular Energy (Concord Jazz LELP 111, Bellaphon Germany 180gm version), particularly "Mistreated But Undefeated Blues." The Classé made the entire cut snap with drive and energy, but its strengths were particularly evident on Emily Remler's guitar solo. I knew, listening to the CAM 350s, that they were doing a great job of bringing the guitar image to life, but not until I switched to another amp did the difference really hit home. With other amps, the image was a little blurred and a little less alive. What's more, Remler seemed to always be about a tenth of a beat slow, as if she was constantly caught unaware by the next beat and was struggling to catch up.

Although I'm a big believer in the axiom that more power is always better, the VAC Renaissance 70/70, the lowest-powered amp I had on hand, came closest to matching the CAM 350's dynamics. With a lot of speakers, in fact, it was a tossup. With Meadowlark Kestrels and Castle Severns, for example, the VAC's speed, precision, impact, and gradients equaled those of the heavyweight Classé. The Maggies, however, are a far hungrier load, and with them the CAM 350 had a clear advantage.

Another area where the Classé was superb—and again, one that contributed to its fast, open sound—was in its performance at the frequency extremes. It seemed to take the MG3.6/R about half an octave lower than other amps. A quick set of measurements suggested that this wasn't really true; I think the impression arose from the CAM 350's ability to better maintain its speed and precision to the very bottom of the frequency range. The VTL, for example, went every bit as low as the Classé, and with excellent power and lovely pitch definition; but it didn't have quite as much air, and didn't define the leading and trailing edges of bass notes as well.

On the top end, the CAM 350s' extension and air was excellent—a perfect match for Magnepan's superb ribbon tweeter. Bells, for example, rang sweetly and cleanly, with never a hint of steel or edge, and their images hung precisely in space—expanding waves of overtones and bloom around a dense central bell. Cymbals had just the right mix of ring and shimmer, and on "Cry Me a River," from Ray Brown's Soular Energy, I noted that the background ride cymbal was perfect. From my notes: "It's part of the air that you breathe, like mist around a waterfall." Even here, in the upper reaches of its frequency range, the CAM 350 retained all of its detail, precision, and speed. Gentle, subtle movements of Gerryck King's brushes and sticks were captured perfectly; even the slightest impact would inject just the right amount of bell-like ringing into the cymbals' shimmering cloud.

Don't let my effusive ravings about the frequency extremes let you think that the Classé was deficient in the midrange. Not so—just recall that my experience with the CAM 350 was set against a backdrop of tube amps and smaller, less powerful transistor units. The Classé's midrange was excellent. On Western Wall, the vocals were sweet, detailed, and vivid. Emily Remler's guitar on Soular Energy was richly complex, and the rich woody overtones of the acoustic guitar on Jonathan Edwards' "Sunshine," from his eponymous LP (Capricorn SD-862)—wow!

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