Creek Evolution 100A integrated amplifier Page 2

Through the new (made in Oxfordshire, UK) Falcon LS3/5A speakers (review to appear in August 2015), I was playing, fairly loudly, "Back in the U.S.S.R.," from the mono vinyl reissue of The Beatles. The woman with tattooed legs was singing along with "Those Ukraine girls really knock me out . . ." The girl with the suspenders raised her voice: "Did you buy this record when it first came out?"

Embarrassed to admit my age, I said, "Yes—but this is a reissue."

Her boyfriend grinned widely. "This sounds amazing! I'm gonna buy the whole set."

I asked if he had a turntable.

"Yup," he said proudly. "My dad gave me his old Linn Sondek." He inquired about the Creek 100A and I explained about British audio vs American audio, and how in the US we tend to value big bass, microscopic detail, heavy boxes, and useless meters, while the more working-class audiophiles in the UK prefer simpler, more practical systems that showcase pace and musicality. I told him about Mike Creek starting out in a shed behind his house in 1982, and the belief of Linn's founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, that the turntable is the heart of the system. We played a lot of Sergeant Lucy's Octopus that night, and the Creek, Falcons, and Beatles did their homeland very proud. (Fondly reminiscing, I wished I'd never sold my LP12.)

Coaxial digital
The next day, I used my UK-made Puresound A-8000 CD player as a transport to drive the Creek 100A's Ruby DAC. I played my newest love, Rachel Unthank & the Winterset's The Bairns (CD, Real World USCDR W158). Every song on this album owns me, but lately, I'm most taken by their cover of "Sea Song," by Soft Machine and Matching Mole genius Robert Wyatt. The 100A reproduced Becky Unthank's voice in full-on hi-fi-del-i-tie, with detailed bass, a rich midrange (it actually could have been a little richer), and clean, open, extended highs. The acoustic of the recording venue was rendered in such a realistically scaled way that I could feel the wooden floor and sense the microphones. The sound of the piano via the little Falcons was surprisingly full-bodied. But what the Creek 100A and Falcon LS3/5As really did was show me just how animistic, musically innovative, and touchingly human Wyatt and the Unthanks really are. The bitter beauty of Wyatt's lyrics—"I like you mostly late at night, you're quite alright/But I can't understand the different you in the morning"—was fully conveyed.


I played The Bairns again, this time with the 100A driving the new Morel Octave 6 speakers (review in the works), and all I can say is, Wow and dang! Playback went from Brit-folk ecstatic to pure pagan magicke. Becky and Rachael Unthank became Moon Goddesses dancing in white linen. Niopha Keegan's fiddle became disarmingly textured, and suddenly Belinda O'Hooley's piano was as big, solid, and richly conveyed as I could ever require. Instrumental tones and vocal colors were fleshed out completely. Earlier, the 100A had made the LS3/5As "disappear" while generating an enormous soundstage. Now it was the Creek making the Morels produce color and corporality by the shovelful. I stayed up late that night, playing record after record.

Creek's US distributor, Roy Hall, of Music Hall, quoted someone he knew: "Unlike analog, digital is never charming." This may be true, but for now, forget about charming—the Evolution 100A's Ruby DAC module ($500) allowed Becky Unthank's voice to convey the Beowulf-like bleakness of the Anglo-Saxon landscape. What more could I want? To my taste and somewhat limited experience, the Creek's DAC is the best I've found in an integrated amp.

Oops! I forgot—I don't believe in "best." I'll say just this: I liked the optional Ruby DAC enough that, every time I played a CD or a high-resolution file, I stopped and thought, "Damn. That is a good DAC!"

Sequel Mk.2 phono-stage module
Returning to America and the Evolution 100A's Sequel Mk.2 phono stage: I played a newly acquired copy of Pharaoh Sanders's Black Unity (LP, Impulse! AS-9219), and Billie Holiday's The First Verve Sessions (2 LPs, Verve VE-2-2503). For this listening session I used Magnepan's new .7 speakers (review to come), and the 100A drove them with apparent authority. With both records, the Creek showcased beautiful tone and a big soundstage. Lady Day's poetic charm was in my room. Detail was moderate but gently sufficient. But with every disc, there was an inescapable lack of openness and boogie. Was this the phono stage? Or was it the Creek struggling with the .7s' quasi-ribbon drivers?


Thinking that these deficiencies must be connected to driving the current-hungry Magnepans, I returned to the Falcons and played one of BBC DJ John Peel's favorites: from Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief (LP, A&M SP 4257), an arrangement of "Reynardine," a traditional Celtic ballad about a captivating Irish faery who could turn into a werefox and steal your girlfriend. Guess what? The Evolution 100A loved this British folk-rock group as much as I do—and it loved the 15-ohm, LS3/5As much more than the Maggies! Can an amp be xenophobic? With the Falcons, large amounts of openness and raw drive reappeared—enough that I could forget about critical listening and simply revel in Dave Swarbrick's guitar reverb and Sandy Denny's otherworldly voice.

As a test for xenophobia, I experimented with another of my old favorites, Falla's El Retablo de Maese Pedro, with Ernest Ansermet conducting the Suisse Romande Orchestra (LP, London STS 15014). The Sequel 2 played this, the National Orchestra of Spain, and dozens of other non-Anglo LPs, with amazing tone and vigor. The Falcons allowed me to more fully scrutinize the Sequel Mk.2 phono stage—it was good, but not up to the standard of the Ruby DAC.

So: If you're a serious aficionado of black discs, I suggest you skip the 100A's $200 Sequel Mk.2 phono option and save for the British-made, LFD Phono LE ($1200)—or go totally wild and spring for Creek's extraordinary, two-box Wyndsor phono stage ($2495).

Mike Creek says that the Evolution 100A's headphone output "is fed from a dedicated high-output current circuit, situated on the pre-amp circuit board. Creek does not step-down the power amp output, as that results in a substantially higher output impedance. In fact, we still insert a low value resistor in series with the output, to prevent accidental damage. This sets the [headphone] output impedance at <50 ohms, which is good for driving low impedance headphones correctly."

As you must know by now, I am falling quickly and deeply down the rabbit hole of headphones, and doing more and more of my primary in-house listening via these music-probing devices. Listening through high-quality headphones is like looking at music through a magnifying glass—more is always revealed. Continuing my quest under the Union Jack, I began my audition of the Creek Evolution 100A's headphone output with a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P5s. And yes: right away, I could make out more of the words Sandy Denny sings on Liege & Lief—which made me love her even more. The bass in The Bairns was enjoyably solid. Through the B&Ws, the 100A's headphone amp sounded open, very detailed, and grain free. In fact, it was the best these headphones have ever sounded. My Sony Pro 7520 headphones fared less well—these usually excellent studio-type 'phones sounded comparatively closed in and dynamically constrained. Then, like Goldilocks sampling bear beds and porridge, I plugged in my Audio-Technica MH50x headphones. The paradigm shifted. Spring arrived. And tomorrow, the baseball season would begin.


I put on Sasha Matson's Cooperstown: Jazz Opera in Nine Innings (2 CDs, Albany TROY1553/54). I needed to play it—what is more unBritish than baseball? With this beautifully recorded operetta, the MH50x 'phones played like Goldie's perfect porridge: just right! The 100A's dedicated "low impedance source" struck down xenophobia and drove these sealed 'phones with greater degrees of naturalness, detail, and transparent musical charm than any non-standalone headphone amp I've used.

While the Creek Evolution 100A didn't elevate my perceptions of the music to magicke level with every pair of speakers or headphones I tried, it always did everything that I need an integrated amp to do. It consistently reproduced the recordings I love in a straightforward, exciting, satisfying way that made their invention and humanity easily accessible. In fact, the 100A's greatest virtue was how consistently and vigorously it exposed the intentions of the artists behind the music. Like my venerable Creek 4330, the new Evolution 100A should enable any unpretentious audiophile to dance and sing and insightfully enjoy the musical arts for years—and decades—to come.

A Humble Postscript
I've been around some big, exotic, extremely expensive audio blocks. But at this point in my life, my audio beliefs and taste direct me toward simple, less expensive systems centered around my computer, a solid turntable, a quality integrated amp (like Creek's Evolution 100A), and small, classic speakers such as the Falcon LS3/5As mentioned above. I feel that anything larger or wilder would get in the way of my primary pleasure: studying and collecting recordings of music.

How do you feel? What do you believe?

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

Allen Fant's picture

Awesome! review- HR. These "little" integrated amps are something special indeed. A few years ago, I was struck by how well the 4330
made beautiful music w/ (my reference) Thiel CS 2.4 loudspeakers.

anthony.aaron47's picture

Like you, Herb, my taste used to be in expensive audio - high power amps, multi-driver speakers, etc.

A divorce - wherein my former wife got custody of that audio equipment - coupled with my changed financial situation forced me to re-examine my audio priorities.

I now use single-driver full-range speakers (Omega Super 3S) and a tube integrated amp (Dared 2A3C - 3.5 wpc) sourced by an old Nakamichi OMS-7 CD player.

I've had this system almost 2 years, and I wouldn't trade it for what I've ever had before. The sound is magical - and the whole system cost me less than $2500.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

For me, the music comes first. As for the rest of the stuff, I just want it to get out of the way of the music; as simply and affordably as possible. I don't care to impress anyone with audio jewelry. Same goes for the music; it's mostly between the artist and me. (There's an old saying in the tailor business: "Is the man wearing the suit, or is the suit wearing the man?") As a result, my gear is pretty basic, but my music collection is rather large. (The walls are lined with records, which provide great acoustic room treatment.)

I was pretty happy with my:

deplinthed Dual 701 TT
Shure M97xE cart
Jico SAS stylus
Sony PS One as CD player
Creek 4330 SE integrated
Paradigm Studio 20 V3 speakers
entry level Wireworld cables...

...until I heard someone's full range system. I realized how much low end info I wasn't hearing at home. Space did not allow for large speakers so I got a pair of REL T5 subs at a good price.

Although my gear isn't even close to that of many of your readers, it does what I want and can afford. Every album sounds different, which I suspect means my gear is getting out of the way of the music and allowing the production values to come through. As a result, I've culled my music collection over the years. (The only upgrade I'd consider at this point is a more efficient pair of small speakers. Something which allows the music to flow easier, as in a more realistic midrange.)

I suspect that if I started buying high end equipment, I'd start thinking about the gear more than the music; focusing on gear integration, etc. And, not being the manager of a hedge fund, I'd worry more about gear value vs price. I don't want to go there. I'd rather just enjoy my music.

Allen Fant's picture

Anthony & Rick-
both of you guys have great systems. And yes, it is all about the (reproduction of) MUSIC!

spacehound's picture

You knew who made it, had the specs and the 'philosophy' behind it before you reviewed it.

These things should really be reviewed BLIND so the reviewer doesn't have any preconceived ideas on what to expect. Which he then listens for, and of course, finds.

Manufacturers don't like blind testing of course. Simply because it might well find that their $10,000 amp sounds no better than someone else's $3,000 one. That's the REAL reason, not all this "Blind tests are unrealistic because of listening fatigue, unfamiliar music, environment, etc" garbage. And by yourself of course, none of this 'panel' or 'scoring' nonsense. It is YOU that is going to buy it, or not.

I experienced this myself recently. I have a bias towards a well-known UK manufacturer (I'm in the UK). The local dealer had the one I was biased towards but had two others as well, both lower cost. I could not see them. I chose (blind) one of the lower cost ones. Had I been able to see them I would undoubtedly have walked out with the one I was biased towards.

I can PROVE what I say -
"Beowulf-like bleakness of the Anglo-Saxon landscape". You've not been here, have you? Beowulf is (1) imaginary, (2) set in Scandinavia, not England, where Creek amps are made :) The landscape is exactly the same today, unchanged. Not "bleak" at all. The UK is a 'cosy', manicured place, like a rich man's garden, and by comparison with the USA, always has been. Your pre-conceived ideas are getting in the way :)

PS: It's a very good amp, though not the one I chose. You really DON'T need to spend any more on an amplifier, integrated or separates. HiFi means 'accuracy'. If it has a flat frequency response over a wide range things such as PRAT, slew rate, 'impact' etc. are all a result of that frequency response. Given sufficient power to drive the speakers of course. And this one has enough power. You might find a $200,000 KSL Kondo Ongaku (a real one, not the British copy) or one of these expensive D'Agostini amps sounds more to your preference, or 'magical', but if it sounds different from the Creek it ISN'T HiFi as it isn't accurate. (The more you pay the more amplfiers should sound the same. If they don't something is seriously wrong. 'Budget' amplifiers may have excuses for inaccuracy, costly ones have not. And there is only one accuracy - something is either accurate or it isn't. Huge bass? To quote 'Jud', an audio enthusiast and a wise man "No one ever came out of an opera or a classical concert saying 'Wasn't the bass good?'")

Surge's picture

You are totally wrong, my friend. Sounds like you're trying to rationalize that you made the best purchase.

Haven't had a good laugh all week, thanks!

(And btw, the Ongaku's retail price is about $90K and no one pays retail...)


You really DON'T need to spend any more on an amplifier, integrated or separates. HiFi means 'accuracy'. If it has a flat frequency response over a wide range things such as PRAT, slew rate, 'impact' etc. are all a result of that frequency response. Given sufficient power to drive the speakers of course. And this one has enough power. You might find a $200,000 KSL Kondo Ongaku (a real one, not the British copy) or one of these expensive D'Agostini amps sounds more to your preference, or 'magical', but if it sounds different from the Creek it ISN'T HiFi as it isn't accurate. (The more you pay the more amplfiers should sound the same. If they don't something is seriously wrong.

spacehound's picture

"High Fidelity" means "Accuracy" by definition. Look it up.

And obviously if a box does not have a FLAT freguency response over at least the AUDIBLE bandwidth it can't be accurate so isn't HiFi.

In fact you need more than the audible bandwidth to give a good rise time as rise time is a function of frequency response - read a school physics book. So called 'Pace, Rhythm, And Timing' will automatically follow - it CAN'T do anything else.

Offhand I would go for 50KHz minimum.

It's not meant to br 'nice' or 'what you like'. It's meant to be ACCURATE. If you don't like the music go buy a more accurate recording. All this 'subjective' garbage is just typical American nonsense marketing.

If you want it 'subjective' go buy a $500 WalMart complete stereo and be happy - you don't need to spend $100,000 plus if you want it inaccurate, do you?

Justify? No. Only stupid people buy something first and justify it afterwards. Sensible people like me do the justification first.