But what does this 30W/channel introduction to tube glory cost you inc VAT? Believe it or not, we're talking 459. And it sounds and behaves like double that. No kidding.
Sanity gripped me, so I started out with sensible partnering gear. LS3/5As, a 400 CD player, AR M1 speakers, the Oracle Paris with the Blue Point Special cartridge, TDL 0.5s. Nothing taxed the CVT 3030. The sadist in me took over, berating me for giving this controversial, possibly-a-milestone product a too-easy ride. So I sandwiched it into a set-up costing 20,000, the CAL Tempest II SE CD player in front and the Wilson WATT IIIs/Puppy IIs behind, with lord knows how much ART cable connecting it all together.
It was like seeing The Circus of Dr Lao when I was a kid: pure magic.
Before you start imagining that this is a giant killer, let me tell you that Audio Research and Krell and Cello and Gryphon and Mark Levinson and the rest can sleep easy tonight. The CVT lacks the utter finesse and unlimited dynamic capabilities of the big guns which cost as much as two trans-Atlantic returns on Concorde. Stay within the bounds of a sane system, and the CVT 3030 is unlikely to be stretched to the limits. Apogee Stages and beyond will drive it into gentle clipping. But back to the Wilsons.
The WATT/Pup setup is sensitive enough to be treated like a 300 speaker and is driven easily by the CVT 3030 with its volume control reading 11 o'clock in my listening room. At 12 o'clock, it was loud enough to still any conversations without showing any signs of stress. What I heard with the dial backed down to Spinal Tap's favourite number was a simply delicious stew of vintage midband, digital-era precision and the feel of classic tube masterpieces. All it lacked (remember that I'm talking here about using the CVT 3030 well within its power range) was the aforementioned finesse. While it's far quieter than most vintage tube products and a match in that area for current solid-state products if sited properly and resting under three Flux Dumpers, the CVT lacks the absolute transparency which is de riguer among the four-figure-plus offerings. What you lose is a tiny amount of detail, subtleties which wouldn't pass through most sub- 300 speakers or budget cables, let alone escape from a 249 CD player.
But who gives a toss? The midband is luscious, with vocals (especially through bi-wired LS3/5As) so real that you want to smack Ella right on the lips. Okay, so you can't hear every trickle of saliva splashing against King Curtis' reeds, but I'm not about to complain when the price is the same as a basic ink-jet printer. Which don't sound half as nice.
The phono section is no mere afterthought, but it really doesn't justify high-end moving coils. A high-output, sub- 100 Audio-Technica or Ortofon offering will suffice, the combination being musical if not 'definitive'. But the line stages are just clean enough to warrant a bit more on a CD player than you'd expect to mate with a 459 amplifier.
Perhaps the best sonic feature of this amplifier, the aspect which makes it stand out above the crowd even more than its seductive if slutty midband, is its spatial competence. Whatever the speakers, the sound through the CVT 3030 was wide and tall and deep, so consistently and so convincingly that it played a major part in suggesting that you might be hearing something costing a whole heckuva lot more than it does.
Still, some of you won't be able to absorb the importance of this product. Maybe it's because you crave separates. Fret not as AMC's next product (after the matching CD player) is a separated pre/power version of the CVT 3030, giving you your bonus power supply and added credibility. Maybe you can't cope with tubes, even thought the only practical difference between this and all of those lame budget integrateds is that you can't stack anything on top of it. Maybe you're worried about tubes on reliability grounds, despite me telling you that this has classy glass, good for 3000-5000 hours and featuring tube replacement simple enough for any retailer to handle in minutes.
Or maybe you can't believe that something this inexpensive can sound so-o-o delightful.
Don't expect a stiffie just because somebody switched on a CVT 3030. It has to be matched to components with the same care used in setting up high-performance, leading edge, terminal psychoses gear. It's fussy, as was the NAD 3020, but not as forgiving. You have to treat this as you would 'proper' high end gear.
So take a tip from old KK, especially if you're after a CD-only high-end surrogate that won't cost you more than 1000. Strap a pair of Tannoy 603s to the CVT 3030, shove in the best 249 CD player you can find, drop 75 on good stands and the balance on cables. Can you go up to 1500? Good. Add in bi-wired LS3/5As, three Flux Dumpers and a better CD player.
And you will probably want to add the names Peter Bath and Malcolm Blockley to your Christmas list.