Performance As is usually the case when reviewing audio gear, I didn't jump right in with anything that could be considered audiophile listening material. Instead, I sat down with tracks that I know backwards and forwards and have listened to uncountable times through my Triton One towers. As is also usually the case, there's a lot to be learned about the Classé Sigma 2200i's performance from less-than-perfect recordings.
"Wiser Time," from the Black Crowes' Amorica (American Recordings), proved to be one such recording. While it doesn't do everything it could to spotlight all of the things the 2200i does right, it definitely reveals so many of the things it could have gotten wrong but didn't, if that makes sense. I've heard so many stereo components, even high-priced ones, render the intertwining guitars in this track as a sort of jam-bandy chaotic mélange, especially once the vocals kick in at the 0:25 mark. Far too many amps simply don't allow the brighter percussion in the track to punch high enough above the background level for full effect. They don't give the doubled vocals in the verses room to breathe. It's one reason I never use this track in reviews. Otherwise-amazing gear just sounds okay with "Wiser Time," especially analog gear.
Through the 2200i, there was so much depth here. So much nuance. It was so much easier to dig in and explore the individual elements of the mix, trace the contours painted in the air by the separate guitar parts. Or back up and trace the complex patterns they create when taken as a whole. The razor-thin dynamic peaks leapt out with force and authority. Off the top of my head, I can only recall this track sounding so clear, so precise, so deliciously dynamic through one other piece of gear: Arcam's AVR750.
For something completely different, and with a bit more audiophile cred, I turned my attention to the 96/24 HDTracks download of "Gadamaylin" from I Ching's album Of the Marsh and the Moon (Chesky Records). Don't be too quick to write this one off because of its heavy electronic element; it's a fascinating study in textures and phase shifts. It's packed with tiny little pinprick details that simply sparkle via the 2200i, from the intertwining of ambient rainforest sounds, human chatter, and marketplace clattering in the intro to the interplay between synths and traditional Eastern instruments like the erhu throughout the track.
The mechanical and the organic come together so seamlessly here that it's impossible not to appreciate. The hard-hitting dynamic punch isn't really a great shock, given the Class D topology of the amp, but the silky smooth transparency of the acoustic elements and the dumbfounding sense of space are, whether they should be or not.
Next up: "Dance of the Tumblers" from The Snow Maiden by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, performed here by the Minnesota Orchestra, led by Eiji Oue (Reference Recordings), taken from the 96/24 download of the HDTracks 2013 Sampler. I gravitated toward this track, in particular, because it's one in which the slightest imprecision in timing makes all the difference between a thoroughly engaging, impactful listening experience and merely a nice-sounding one. Attack and decay here were simply beyond reproach from beginning to end, in both the percussion and stringed instruments. The depth of the soundstage wasn't really a factor with this mix, but its width was a factor, in an absolutely speaker-position-defying way.
I think what impresses me most is just how the 2200i handled all of the track's tonal and dynamic ups and down with equal impressiveness, from the quiet and delicate frolicking of some passages to the bombastic Bugs-Bunny-ness of others. There's no singular element of the mix that stands out as a particular strength of the 2200i's delivery, because it's all strong. It does what I feel an audio component should do: it gets out of the way of the music, imparting no distinctive coloration or character of its own. It lets the music be what it is with no enhancements and no constraints.
The Downside Remember that potentially troublesome omission I promised to touch on? It's the fact that, for all of the Sigma 2200i's incredible (and intuitive) configuration tools, it lacks a delay setting for its subwoofer output. If you're planning on running the integrated amp in pure stereo mode without a sub, that won't be an issue. If, like me, you have the luxury of locating your sub right next to a main speaker and tinkering with placement, it's also not a practical concern. If, on the other hand, you're running a 2.1 system with the sub located out of the way in your room, this could become an issue.
My other primary concerns are more universally applicable, but they're for you to prioritize. Firstly, the remote is seriously lacking, due not only to an overall lack of buttons but also to the fact that they're not terribly easy to press. That's more than made up for by the beyond-excellent Classé control app for mobile devices, which gives you access to all of the control (although not all of the configuration) tools you'd ever need for day-to-day operation.
Lastly, although the 2200i does feature a headphone output, the scarcity of text dedicated to it in the instruction manual tells you just about everything you need to know about it. For point of reference, the manual dedicates 135 words to describing the IR window on the front of the integrated amp, and it spends a mere 17 words discussing the headphone output. That's about half the text dedicated to the AC mains receptacle, to put things in perspective. To be blunt: the headphone output is serviceable at best...on par with the headphone amp found on most mass-market AV receivers. If you spend as much time as I do with headphones plugged into your two-channel system, this is disappointing for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the only audio output from the 2200i is its speaker binding posts, unless you count its HDMI and subwoofer outs. So there's no adding a headphone amplifier.
Comparison and Competition If you're looking for something a little more old-school but still in the same performance class as the Sigma 2200i, McIntosh's $7,000 MA7900, $6,500 MA6700, and $4,500 MA5200 integrated amplifiers are a good place to start. All provide USB connectivity with integrated DACs, supporting bit depths and resolutions up to 32-bit/192-kHz. All three also feature dedicated phono inputs (with support for both moving coil and moving magnet configurations in the MA6700 and MA7900), but of course they lack video connectivity altogether (which we'll just take as a given going forward).
One criticism that I imagine some will level at the Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier is that it's a little too integrated. You can't add an external amp (or even, as I mentioned above, a great headphone amp) because it offers no line-level or digital outputs (except, of course, for HDMI and the subwoofer out). If that's your grump, consider the Vinnie Rossi's LIO integrated amplifier (starting at $4,875, depending on your configuration). Its modular design allows for the addition of all sorts of goodies, from a phono stage to a DSD/PCM DAC module to a pretty beefy headphone amp with your choice of single-ended or balanced outs.
If you're digging the whole Class D thing that Classé has going but you're not quite ready to spring for its digital-from-top-to-bottom vibe, I would also recommend taking a look at Peachtree Audio's new Nova300 ($2,299), which can handle digital input up to 32-bit/384-kHz PCM and 5.6MHz DSD, and it also features a moving magnet phono input and home theater bypass functionality.
Conclusion This isn't the first time I've said this, and it won't be the last: my job as a reviewer isn't to tell you how to spend your hard-earned money. It's to help you make an informed decision about whether or not a product is right for you. I love the Classé Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier to itty-bitty little pieces. I want to hug it and pet it and squeeze it and name it George. But if you look at its $5,500 price tag and say, "For that much money, it better do X,Y, and Z," I hear you. The lack of a really great headphone amp section hurts my feelings. The complete inability to even add one positively skins my knee.
At the same time, I have to recognize the fact that headphones aren't a big deal for some people in the home environment. Heresy, right? While reviewing the 2200i, I called and asked publisher Jerry Del Colliano if he could plug a set of cans into his Sigma SSP AV preamp and give me a second opinion. His reply? "I think I would probably have to go buy a quarter-inch headphone adapter to even do that." Totally valid.
If you're the type of audio junky who's constantly searching for that next great system add-on to tweak your performance by two percent (also totally valid!), the Sigma 2200i doesn't leave you many options, aside from changing your speakers and replacing your speaker cables (or, for heaven's sake, upgrading the power cable if that's your bag). Otherwise, the buck literally stops here. Literally.
If, on the other hand, you're tired of chasing the next big tweak, if you want a world-class digital stereo system that also doubles as great two-channel home theater system, if you actually use your iPhone as a music source like a normal human being, if you're tired of buying a new outboard DAC every year just to shave three-sevenths of a picosecond off the theoretical jitter of your signal chain, then get thee to a Classé dealer to audition this integrated amp with your favorite reference tunes ASAP. Because once you're done setting it up, the Sigma 2200i isn't made for fiddling with. It's made for listening to.