Classé Omega power amplifier Page 2

The turn-on relays were the only pedestrian touch in an otherwise elegant and well-engineered package, and sounded like something out of a mass-market receiver. The Boulder 2050 monoblocks that I reviewed last September (Vol.21 No.9), in contrast, turn on with silky, expensive-sounding relays. The Boulders also cost $59,000/pair! I laughed in recognition when I first heard the relays clacking through their startup routine. Canadian through and through.

The Omega circuit is symmetrical from input to output. Each input is a matched pair of low-distortion, low-capacitance JFETs with MOSFET pre-drivers. There's also discrete, high-voltage/high-current voltage regulation on the pre-driver and input sections. A "special circuit" continuously monitors the output signal for overload, clipping, or DC. In addition, each channel has two front-end supply-voltage fuses on the voltage regulation board near the amp's top cover. There's a green LED for the negative voltage supply, a red for the positive side, both visible through the slatted top cover. The two line fuses are on the rear panel above the IEC receptacles. There aren't any LEDs on them, but you'll know it if you blow it.

No question that the sensual lead vocals of Skye Edwards, on Morcheeba's Big Calm (Sire/China 31020) (footnote 1), are ultrasexy—a certain quality in the midrange goes way beyond the ordinary, right out to the Deadly Attractive Zone. Textured and nuanced, the Omega's bloomy, colorful, yet delicate midband gave the music and her vocals a certain warmth, an inner light akin to what tubes generally do so well. There was a plushness, a roundness and richness in her vocals, that drew me in every time. I'd say that Edwards' voice, like all female vocals, was so well developed because of the way the Omega's lush, detailed, and well-populated midband graciously, sweepingly led to the upper midrange and highs—another deadly attractive element of this amp's presentation.

Wild for more feminine wiles, I spun Patricia Barber's "She's a Lady," from Modern Cool (Premonition PREM-741-2), and realized that the Omega set up a soundstage with good depth, but not so far back as some other amplifiers manage. Rather, I noted a musical depth, one born of beautifully developed fundamentals coupled with full, rich harmonics. "Ahh, the velvet," I seem to have scribbled late one night. Listening to this recording that I've come to know so well, I savored a sense of delicacy that's become very important to me. Even amid wall-of-sound spectaculars, does the component under scrutiny reveal the small and well formed? The Omega did so with great style, even while superbly controlling the speakers in its high-powered electronic grip.

Despite their huge power reserves, the Omegas' bass was a bit on the full side in comparison to that produced by some other superamps we've auditioned recently, especially the YBA Passions (Stereophile, January 1999). The French monoblocks are distinguished by an astonishing transparency in the midbass, better in that respect than any amp I've ever heard. (The comparison is fair: The YBAs weigh in at $16k/pair to the stereo Omega's $15k.) On the other hand, listening to Postmodern Blues' title track—my new theme song—I noted how the powerful, encompassing acoustic bass tailed off into the noise floor of an airy and ultra-organic soundstage. I was taken with the richness—the bass was like unto a chocolate truffle! The point is, while my attention was drawn to the bass, I wasn't distracted from the music itself because the bass was always so fully developed and interesting. [When I visited Jonathan last October and took a listen to the bridged Omegas driving the JMlab Utopias, I thought the bass quality was among the best I have ever heard.—Ed.]

And once again, that voice... For me, Patricia Barber is right up there with Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, and Marianne Faithfull. And that reminds me: Listening to Smith's "Spell: A Footnote to 'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg" from Peace and Noise (Arista 18986-2), and Faithfull's "Losing" on A Secret Life (Island 314-524 096-2), I noted that the Omegas lacked a frisson of energy at the very top of their treble range, sounding slightly quieted up there, and rather smooth and sweet—like a beautiful woman trying not to laugh directly into your eager, middle-aged face at a cocktail party.

Then, too, while the Omega presented the music with good pace, it wasn't exactly a marching band on steroids. The Omega proved more suave and passionate about the music—that little bump-back at the very top of the audible range made them more forgiving of a wider range of material than the Boulders, for example. Those mighty monoblocks sound flat, flat, flat, from DC to infrared! They're more Jesuitical—black robes, white collars, rulers at the ready to whack ill-intentioned knuckles.

Footnote 1: Purchase Guy Garcia's article, "Trip-Hop Reinvents Itself to Take On the World," online for $2.50 from New York Times, (search on "Trip-Hop"). Groups like Morcheeba and Massive Attack reflect the postmodern blues of our times. Warhol's multiples have spawned a vast, endlessly repetitive universe of online cyberlife where the urban pall and its relentless beat hold sway, and the anger and alienation on the street are palpable. I don't need the NYT's imprimatur to legitimize Trip-Hop, but it's good to see them coming around.
Classé Audio
5070 François-Cusson
Quebec H8T 1B3, Canada
(514) 636-6384