Roksan Five Channel Amp Reviewed
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Ever since Roksan launched the Caspian line, I've been a fan. Nearly 75 percent of my weekly listening time involves a Caspian integrated amp and CD player, employed for almost all of my software reviewing, and I even feed my computer soundcard into it. Let's just say that its sound is not unfamiliar. So it was with much enthusiasm that I greeted the Roksan AV Five-Channel Amplifier, the first Caspian model with deliberate home theatre aspirations.
Roksan has attacked the A/V issue with total commitment, betraying none of the half-hearted nonsense which the wavering, under-pressure-from-the-market two-channel wussies exhibit. The company has already issued this amplifier and a complement of A/V-dedicated speakers (see sidebar). To follow in due course are two units seen in prototype form - a sub-woofer and an A/V surround pre-amp with Dolby Digital circuitry - which I suspect will be in the shops by Christmas, if not, then just in time for the Winter CES. So are we being a bit premature in reviewing only part of the package? Perhaps, but it did make it easier for me to assess the five-channel power map on its own: I merely slotted it into my reference system of Pioneer DV-414 and DVL-919 DVD players, Lexicon MC-1 pre-amp processor and Apogee LCR/Ribbon Monitor loudspeakers. What the Roksan replaced was an Acurus amp with 3x200W and a Marantz with 5x50W.
Bearing the family look of natural metal fascia with chamfered corners and an elongated oval window, the AV Five-Channel Amplifier measures 432x430x85mm (WDH), making it the same width as its Caspian brethren but taller and deeper. Like the CD player, of which I could never understand why it sports two play/pause buttons, the display on the AV5 (as I'll call it for brevity) has an on/off button at either end of the display. Maybe the Roksan boys are ambidextrous. Whatever, the buttons take the AV5 out of standby mode or put it back; primary on/off is a rocker switch at the back.
AV5's array of icons in the window tell you when the unit is in power on mode (the first icon on the left glows green for on or red for off), while the remaining icons indicate overload. As I never activated them, even when using
Roksan sells this beauty for a meagre £995 - a genuine bargain - but I gather that the chassis will be available in three- and four-channel form for a slight savings: £795 for three, £895 for four. With the lid removed, you can see that each channel is a self contained module, powered off a massive toroidal transformer power supply in the front-centre. Given that this will appeal to Caspian integrated owners moving from two- to five-channel systems, the option is considerate, and you need never feel locked into a three- or four-channel version because the factory will retrofit the extra channel or two needed for a full five-channel array. As for matching, the AV5's 80W/channel is so close to the Caspian integrated's 70W/ch that there's little likelihood of a mismatch. Worried? Then use the integrated's two channels to drive the rear speakers. (Note that the Caspian integrated, from Day One, has offered pre-our/amp-in sockets so you can use it just as a pre-amp or stereo power amp.)
After letting the AV-5 idle for 30 minutes, I blasted through the usual challenges -
What did it sound like? A Caspian integrated with multiple personalities, pentaphenia as it were. Assessed first using just the two main channels and with the Linn Genki CD player as source, driven by the Caspian integrated as a pre-amp, I could detect minor improvements over the now two-year-old integrated, mainly in the area of dynamics. I don't want to attribute this to an extra 10W, but the AV5 certainly seemed better able to deal with fast and/or extreme swings from soft to loud, exhibiting no break-up at levels which would start to worry the integrated. In real terms, this manifests itself as a punchier sound.
Conversely, with levels matched precisely, it would be impossible to mistake the AV5 for anything other than the product of the same stable as the Caspian integrated. To further assess the relationship, I also used three channels of the AV5 and the two of the integrated amp, all driven by the Lexicon, and could barely detect a difference worth noting with tonal sweeps. In other words, if you already own a Caspian integrated, three channels worth of AV5 are all you need to go Rialto.
With a delightful show of consistency, the AV5 confirmed the description I made of the integrated: 'A neutral midband, leaning toward the dry. Precise treble, with no excesses - neither bright nor dull, but fast and crisp enough to suggest the former. Extended bass that makes up for a slight but audible lack of control and damping... consistent speed and effortless dynamics'. What's changed, and what probably