Best of the Best 2005: Audio
With so many products catering to compressed music playback on portable players, it is refreshing to find a company that dedicates a product to the opposite end of the spectrum. Although high-quality two-channel music reproduction may be considered a dying technological art form, a handful of manufacturers continue to provide outstanding equipment. Classé Audio’s CAP-2100 integrated amplifier is a two-channel component born of the company’s CP-500 two-channel preamplifier and its CA-2100 power amplifier. The single chassis eliminates redundant components while isolating circuits and power supplies dedicated to the control and high- and low-level signal functions of each device. This design simplifies the system without sacrificing quality.
Notable performance features can be found throughout the product. Take the amplifier stage, which draws from massive toroidal transformers and capacitor filter arrays. These reserves of electrical power preserve the amplifier’s ability to deliver strong and clear music, regardless of how much volume the listener demands. In addition, single-ended outputs can drive an external amplifier or subwoofer as a substitute for, or simultaneously with, the CAP-2100’s outputs. Also, the chassis absorbs external vibrations that might otherwise transfer to the internal circuits and degrade performance.
A front-panel touchscreen is one of the more convenient features and is sure to be imitated by Classé’s competitors. The touchscreen can be customized for your particular system, enabling you to eliminate unnecessary buttons and label others specifically for the components in your system. The touchpanel even reduces display-related noise in the musical signal path, thus contributing to some of the best two-channel sound you have ever heard. —Mike Wood
Classé Audio, 514.636.6384, www.classeaudio.com
Turning the Table
Some people regard record players as ridiculously archaic, but then again, the same people might cast a similar aspersion on mechanical watches. Even in this digital age, many of music’s most passionate aficionados still feel that vinyl records embody the highest fidelity available. One of the most contemporary takes on this antiquated technology comes from British stereo specialist Musical Fidelity. Through the use of a modern material—machined acrylic—the Musical Fidelity M1 turntable delivers a fresh visual aesthetic as well as outstanding performance. The heavy, inert acrylic provides a vibration-free platform for your treasured vinyl, and a separate power supply keeps high-voltage electricity far from the delicate signals that emerge from the M1’s needle.
Musical Fidelity, 704.391.9337, www.musicalfidelity.com
Beryllium is one the lightest and stiffest materials in the known universe, which would seem to make it the perfect material for a speaker cone. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most brittle materials, so manufacturing with it is costly and results in numerous rejects. One of the few to tackle the task is JMlab, which added a beryllium tweeter to its excellent Grand Utopia superspeaker to create the stunning JMlab Grand Utopia Be. The Grand Utopia Be brings out the live quality in music recordings like no other speaker we have heard. If you crave this speaker’s soulful sound but cannot accommodate its massive cabinet, JMlab offers the smaller Nova, Alto, and Diva versions, all of which use the same incredible tweeter. —Brent Butterworth
Those seeking a source component that is as dedicated to two-channel performance as Classé’s CAP-2100 integrated amplifier should consider the Ayre C-5xe, a two-channel universal disc player. Dubbed the “U2,” it is designed to extract every bit of musical performance from high-resolution DVD-Audio, Super Audio Compact Discs (SACDs), and standard CDs. Its elegant but simple stainless steel appearance indicates the player’s dedication to its task. Unlike other universal players, this one does not waste resources on either video or multichannel playback. Its focus, as yours will be, is strictly on the music. —Mike Wood
Ayre Acoustics, 303.442.7300, www.ayre.com
Scraping the Bottom
The subwoofer—a specialized speaker dedicated to bass—seems an unlikely candidate for exhaustive research, but speaker guru Jim Thiel has devoted himself to the subject since the turn of the millennium. His four-year effort produced two U.S. patents and four subwoofer models, our favorite of which is the Thiel SmartSub SS2. Thiel’s technology includes circuitry that lets your audio installer fine-tune the SS2 to suit the acoustics of your room. A separate sound processor, the SC1 Integrator, ensures that the SS2 blends perfectly with your other speakers. The SS2’s muscular 1,000-watt internal amplifier and its two aluminum-coned woofers give this relatively small subwoofer enough power to fill a 4,000-cubic-foot room. —Brent Butterworth
Thiel Audio, 859.254.9427, www.thielaudio.com