Classé Omega monoblock power amplifier Page 2

Love at first hearing...but will the honeymoon last?
From the very first notes on the very first album, it was obvious that the Classé Omega was something special—not just good, but extraordinary. Ironically, given its massive size and immense power, it was in the reproduction of the tiniest details and subtlest nuances that the Omega was most, and most obviously and immediately, spectacular.

One evening I put on the Stokowski reading of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 (LP, RCA/Classic LSC-2471), lowered the lights, and sat back. The opening crescendos were stunning, emerging from a background both blacker and more alive than I'd ever heard before. The following swirling string passages, noticeably denser and more complex than I'd heard with other amps, took my breath away. And a minute or two later, when the strings receded, leaving only a solo woodwind line, my jaw dropped—the stage and surrounding space were much, much larger and significantly more realistic than I was expecting.

The notes flowed out with a more natural speed and jump with the Classé than with other amps, and bloomed into a denser, more complex mix of tonal nuances. And both the fully orchestrated passages and solo lines simply had more shades in their tonal palette and more microscopic levels in their dynamic gradients—an infinite number of variations that had my head spinning trying to absorb and sort them all, which is exactly what happens to me in a concert hall when the lights drop, the crowd hushes, and the very first notes of the performance break across the tension.

Then there were the notes' trailing edges. Wow! Before the Classé, the decay of notes was something that I pretty much took for granted, knowing that they were there but not really noticing them. With the Omega, believe me—I noticed. It was as if the notes now had distinct trailing edges, where before there had been none. With the Omega, these edges trailed off smoothly into the hall's farthest reaches as they dropped way, way down into the surrounding ambience. I could close my eyes and imagine following waves of sound out to the hall's corners, up into the rafters, and finally settling down into silence.

The Classés' effect on my system's spatial performance was equally stunning. The soundstage was wide and deep, stretching to well outside my speakers and far beyond my listening room's front wall. But the real magic was again in the details—the low-level ambience cues that locate and describe a hall's boundaries and fill the spaces between performers. The ambient details on the Marriner/Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields recording of Vivaldi's L'estro Armonico (Argo ZRG 733-4) were a great example. Argo recordings of Marriner and the Academy typically have a very distinct, very characteristic ambience that often persists regardless of the recording specifics, but that's very "broad-brush" in its very dense and liquid portrayal. With the Omegas, the performers, the stage, the space, the ambience—all were quite distinct. The individual instruments were much more finely drawn than I was used to hearing. What's more, I was able to dissect the dense ambient environment, to hear the miking patterns and the effective ambient spaces around each of the instruments, as well as the boundaries where the spaces overlapped.

But it was in their portrayal of individual images that the Classés were most extraordinary, again revealing layers of detail and nuance that I'd not previously heard. Those first few notes of the Liszt Rhapsody? Part of their arresting magic was a dimensionality that was noticeably beyond what I'd been hearing with my other amps. This was most obvious with solo lines set against a large stage, such as the woodwind lines in the Rhapsody—the rear halves of the Omegas' images were much better illuminated. This startling effect made the images tangible to a degree that left other amps sounding a bit bas-relief in comparison, as if only the front half of the image protruded from a planar surface.

With solo performers, however, such as cellist Franz Helmerson playing J.S. Bach's Suite No.2 for Solo Cello (LP, BIS LP-65), the added dimensionality was also quite obvious as a solidity and stability of the focus. Subtle details of pitch variation and bowing texture were more apparent and less ephemeral than I was used to hearing—more inherent components of the image itself than a feeling around its edges.

Similarly, vocals were distinctly more three-dimensional than with other amps, but just as distinctly—if less overtly—more concrete in their shadings and low-level details. When I cued up "Tom's Diner," from Suzanne Vega's Solitude Standing (LP, A&M SP-5136), I was startled—first by the immediacy and solidity of the image, then by the complexity of Vega's voice. It was as if I was hearing it live for the first time, after a lifelong dose of two-dimensional recordings.

The Omega's magic persisted throughout its range, from top to bottom and from the softest pppp to the most thunderous ffff blasts. While the Omega's bass didn't seem to have the ultimate power or warm bounciness of the biggest VTL amps I've used, it wasn't otherwise lacking. On the Hungarian Rhapsody I noted that the orchestra was most definitely solidly and darkly anchored, the double basses having a weight that seemed to perfectly balance the rest of the orchestra. Bottom-end articulation and precision were excellent as well, better even than that of the big VTLs. When the double basses echo the cellos through a series of runs a few minutes into the Rhapsody, it was not only easy to keep the sections and individual cellos sorted out, but the individual double basses as well.

The Omega's top end was the best of any amplifier I've heard, reminding me a bit of Magnepan's ribbon tweeter in its sweetness and extension. During the furious, racing triangle passages early on in the Rhapsody—the ones that morph hauntingly into downward-funneling woodwind lines—the triangle not only cut cleanly through above the orchestra, it was also dead-simple to follow the striker's triangular path around the inside of the instrument. And the cymbals on Pure Audiophile's sensational reissue of Karrin Allyson's Ballads (LP, Concord/Pure Audiophile PA-001) were the best I've ever heard. Not only did they have the perfect mix of bell-like core and expanding, shimmering waves of overtones, it seemed as if I could hear the vibrations in the cymbal itself, emanating from the point where the stick or brush made contact.

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