Creek 5350SE integrated amplifier Page 3

Every once in a great while I find a recording of a particular piece of music that moves me in a special way when played through a certain piece of equipment. With the Creek, it was the Adagio of Beethoven's Piano Sonata 3, as performed by Robert Silverman in his recent 10-CD boxed set of the complete Sonatas (Orpheum Masters KSP830, engineered by John Atkinson). In the right hands, this deceptively simple, almost minimalist Haydnesque work is open to a broad range of interpretation, despite the fact that it probably requires the least amount of technical prowess of any Beethoven composition for solo piano. JA has captured the intimacy and drama of the huge Bösendorfer Reproducing Piano while simultaneously avoiding the "mikes hung on strings" perspective as well as the "distant chamber" perspective all too common in solo-piano recordings.

It was during the forte-fortissimo section of this Adagio that the Creek got a chance to strut its stuff. The crashing, explosive dynamic contrasts of the lower bass passages thundered through my listening room, while the upper harmonic overtones of the Bösendorfer's lower bass strings rang out with precise richness and extension. The instrument's pedigree was clear, instantly reminding me of the last time I heard composer La Monte Young perform live on one of these beasts—Bösendorfers have a unique character, especially if one is used to listening to Yamahas or Hamburg and New York Steinways. For nearly a week after listening to this CD through the Creek, the Adagio of Sonata 3 replayed itself in my head. I couldn't shut it off. That hasn't happened to me in over a decade.

Whenever I'd pulled out the stops on high-level dynamic passages with Creeks of Christmases past, I could always hear when the amp was working hard—a labor that was always accompanied by a notable increase in chassis temperature. But I never once felt during my listening sessions that the 5350SE broke a sweat, and it always remained cool to the touch.

By this point in my reviewing, I had found nothing to criticize in the Creek's sonic performance, so I decided to try something naughty. In the past, when reviewing affordable but high-powered basic amplifiers such as the NAD 218 THX and the Rotel 991, I've given them the acid test by pairing them with my reference loudspeakers, the revealing Alón Circes. This usually uncovers any amplifier shortcomings right away, but I always note in my reviews that the typical buyer of affordable amps might not notice such weaknesses when using such an amp with more typical, less revealing, less expensive speakers. So, even though Alón recommends driving the Circes with a minimum of 100Wpc tube or 200Wpc solid-state, I decided to give the Creek a spin with the Circes driven by my VPI TNT IV/Immedia/Koetsu Urushi/Vendetta Research SCP-2D analog front-end.

To my surprise, the Creek 5350SE exhibited the same strengths and sonic characteristics with the Alón Circe as with the budget-priced speakers used for the bulk of my reviewing. Moreover, while I'd expected the Circes to reveal a flood of shortcomings and idiosyncrasies, the waters never rose. On Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (Analogue Productions APP 027), "Some People's Lives" portrayed the naturalness and intimacy of Ian's voice and piano without coloration or strain. On more difficult and demanding material—such as "Walking On Sacred Ground" from the same Ian recording, and Messiaen's Turangalïla Symphony (Andre Previn, EMI 163-02 974)—bass drums, bass guitars, and crashing orchestral tuttis remained coherent, intact, and uncolored.

Of course, the Creek didn't come close to the same high-level dynamic realism or the bass definition in the 25-35Hz range that I'm used to when I drive the Circes with the Audible Illusions Modulus L1/Audio Research VT100 Mk.II combination. That much more expensive tubed electronic combination was also a layer or two more transparent, revealing much more inner detail, ambience, and low-level transient articulation. Nevertheless, I was impressed; I expected the Creek to crap out with the Circes, or at least reveal some other shortcomings. It did neither.

Although I conducted most of my listening tests using CDs, I did spend quite a bit of time listening to the 5350SE's optional Special Edition moving-magnet phono stage, using my Rega/Syrinx/Clearaudio front-end. Whether I listened to the coherent integration of trumpet, clarinet, and rhythm section on Louis Armstrong's Satchmo Plays King Oliver (Audio Fidelity/Classic ST 91058), or bad boy Jimmy Page's cranked Telecaster on Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic/Classic SD 82631), it was clear that the SE MM stage was cut from the same sonic cloth as the rest of the 5350SE. The phono stage added no colorations or artifacts of its own to the 5350SE's performance.

(About midway during the reviewing process, with the Creek opened up to full volume, I heard some background hiss in one channel that was noticeably louder than the other. A five-minute replacement of the plug-in phono board supplied by Creek eliminated the problem.)

US distributor: Music Hall
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
(516) 487-3663