Classe, like Krell, Mark Levinson, Pass Labs and McIntosh, is a brand that needs no introduction for if you fancy yourself an audiophile at all, then you no doubt are aware of the Canadian manufacturer. Since 1980, Classé has been making some of the finest two-channel and home theater electronics the industry has ever known and in the last few years they've stepped up their efforts; producing components that can only be described as beautiful - both sonically and visually. Don't get me wrong - Classé has always been about sound quality but their newest offerings, such as the Delta Series CA-2300 reviewed here, are simply in a league all their own.
Retailing for $7,000, the CA-2300 is one of the most visually striking amplifiers I've ever seen. Clad in white aluminum complete with rounded edges and a black air intake, the CA-2300 has a decidedly tailored look that, when combined with other Classé products, specifically other Delta Series electronics, makes for a stunning visual statement. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to Google an image of the Delta Series products rack mounted with custom faceplates in a Middle Atlantic Rack - it's gorgeous. The CA-2300's visual appearance goes a long way in disguising its actual girth, for the CA-2300 measures in at 17.5 inches wide by 19 inches deep and just under nine inches tall, which coupled with its 88 pound net weight makes it a heavyweight, albeit a nicely dressed one. The front fascia features only a standby button, which glows red when in standby mode (drawing less than a single Watt thanks to its new power supply) and blue when operational.
Around back the white aluminum is lost though the CA-2300's attention to detail is not. There are two sets of five-way binding posts per channel (to facilitate bi-wiring) surrounding the CA-2300's large air vent. Below each pair of binding posts you'll find both single ended and balanced analog inputs. All of the inputs are neatly spaced and clearly labeled, making the CA-2300 supremely easy to integrate into an existing system. There is an AC mains input to the left of the binding posts and running along the far left side of the CA-2300's back panel are inputs for Classé's own CAN Bus (Controller Area Network) as well as a RS-232, USB Control Port, 12-volt triggers and a IR input and output.
Twice I've mentioned the CA-2300's unique venting system and for good reason for the CA-2300 employs the same ICTunnel cooling system found in Classé's CT series of components, allowing the CA-2300 to perform at its peak while remaining largely cool to the touch. Another nicety about the ICTunnel is the fact that it's internal, drawing cool air in through the front while expelling warm air out the back and thus eliminating the need for traditional heat sinks that are unsightly as well as dangerous in some cases.
Beyond its microprocessor controlled, wiz-bang cooling system the CA-2300 boasts some pretty impressive specs. The CA-2300 has a stated power output of 300-Watts per channel into eight Ohms and doubling down to 600-Watts per channel into four Ohms. The CA-2300's frequency response is 1Hz-80kHz, -3dB and it has a reported harmonic distortion of less than .002 percent via a balanced connection and .004 percent through a single ended one. As I stated earlier the CA-2300's idle power draw is less than a single Watt though its operational power draw can reach upwards of 420-Watts.
Integrating a two-channel power amp into one's system is hardly complicated and the CA-2300 is no different. Unboxing the CA-2300 is simple enough thanks to Classé's ingenious box design, which quite literally falls away from the CA-2300 once the packing straps have been cut and top has been lifted off. Moving the CA-2300 from his foam throne to your rack is a job more easily tackled with two people but not impossible if you're flying solo. I placed the CA-2300 on the bottom shelf of my Omni+ Vent Home Theater Cabinet.
I connected the CA-2300 to my reference preamp, Classé's own Omega Preamplifier, via one meter runs of Transparent Reference interconnects with the rest of the system comprised of a Sony ES Blu-ray player, Apple TV and Cambridge Audio DACMagic. I let the CA-2300 play for a good week before sitting down for any critical listening, which according to Classé wasn't really necessary for the CA-2300 is ready to perform after only 15 minutes of warm up, thanks again to its unique construction and cooling system.
Starting with two-channel music I cued up Moby's Play on my Apple TV, which I imported, uncompressed, from the CD (V2). Track 14, "Everloving", is a track that I am intimately familiar with and I thought it would be a good jumping off point for which to acquaint myself with the CA-2300. The opening guitar, which is almost monaural coming from the left speaker, was very articulate but possessed a subtle delicacy that bordered on haunting. The transition between monaural and stereo, half way into the opening guitar solo, was seamless and smooth, a feat few amps get right, instead presenting the listener with a hop, skip and a jump transition.
Once the song picks up the CA-2300 was able to flex a bit though it never lost it's delicate touch, exhibiting great poise and control and in some instances restraint where other amps would've gone for broke. The CA-2300's way with "Everloving" made for a far more textural and nuanced performance that was more indicative, at times, of my single ended triode system than a mega-Watt solid state rig.
Dynamically, I wouldn't categorize the CA-2300 as explosive but instead I would say it was appropriate, possessing a bit more urgency and snap than say, the recently reviewed Mark Levinson No 533H but lacking the sheer attack I found in the Krell 402e. The CA-2300's soundstage was very nice, extending well beyond the outer edges of my Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds with excellent spatial detail and air ensuring that none of the instruments impeded upon one another. While the soundstage did recede back several feet, it never encroached upon my listening space the way some more forward sounding amplifiers often do.
Read more about the performance of the Delta Series CA-2300 on Page 2.
For something completely different I cued up Lady GaGa's single "Alejandro" from her album The Fame Monster (Interscope). Reminiscent of some of Michael Jackson and Madonna's more operatic or theatrical sounding work, "Alejandro" features solo strings set against marching footsteps and atmospheric cues that give way to a techno-orgy of sorts complete with auto-tune vocals by GaGa herself.
The opening violin against the impeding storm was beautifully rendered, hanging effortlessly in space between my 800 Diamonds. The driving bass line of the song, albeit completely synthesized, was deep, taking my 800 Diamond's woofers to their limits without allowing them to become overwhelmed or worse, bloated. The CA-2300's bass prowess was taut and exhibited excellent control without coming across as iron fisted or constrained, which is a very interesting experience when you first hear it for it makes other amps in its class sound slow, though unlike amps that combat this phenomenon by being a touch anemic, the CA-2300 feels essentially right.
GaGa's vocals were up front and center and stood in stark contrast to the surrounding elements, of which there were many. Overall the midrange proved to be the CA-2300's party piece possessing a hint (emphasis on hint) of warmth with an overall demeanor that on its first impression seems to err on the side of being smooth and a bit romanticized but after a short courtship you realize it's far more accurate and natural in its presentation. It just doesn't come out and exclaim it. The CA-2300, even with a pop track as obnoxious as "Alejandro" has a, dare I say, maturity about its sound that is almost maddening at times because as a reviewer I want the CA-2300 to "show" me what it's made of and make my job easier, when it reality the CA-2300's only concern is the music I've chosen to listen to.
Wanting to see if I could crack the CA-2300's composure I went with Nickelback's "Animals" from the album All the Right Reasons (Roadrunner Records). With my Classé Omega preamp set to stun I unleashed the onslaught of power chords, kick drums and raspy vocals that is every Nickelback song. As much as I was expecting the CA-2300 to gloss over the edges and put a damper on the proceedings it did not. The opening guitar/drum duel was energetic and explosive enough to be satisfying but not so much that things begin to go off the rails. The cymbal hits throughout the opening and the rest of the song itself were rendered in stark contrast to the roaring guitars and ham-fisted kick drums and possessed beautiful air and decay that remained audible within the soundstage even when being stepped on by everything else around it. Kroeger's vocals were also rendered faithfully with zero restraint or editorializing with solid presence (again not projecting) and lifelike scale.
Dynamically, I got the CA-2300 to let its hair down when compared to my earlier tests, meaning I was able to get it to act the fool a little bit, which I appreciated for songs like "Animal" are meant to be fun. The soundstage was a bit more compressed, more front to back versus side to side, which I feel had more to do with the recording than the CA-2300, for few modern rock albums are mixed for the audiophile crowd.
Overall, regardless of the source material (or source for that matter), the CA-2300 proved to be a very evenhanded performer treating each track with the respect it deserved - even if I thought it shouldn't. It always presented a rich, fulfilling and wholly enjoyable experience.
While I primarily focused my attention on the CA-2300's two-channel performance I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see what it could do in a home theater setting. Beginning with Buried (Lionsgate) on Blu-ray starring Ryan Reynolds as a civilian contractor buried alive somewhere in the desert of Iraq, the CA-2300's ability to resolve the minutest of details and spatial cues was in full effect. While the whole film takes place inside a wooden coffin you wouldn't know it by how expansive the sonic landscape is, courtesy of the CA-2300. Reynold's dialog was crisp and had an immediacy to it that frankly I wasn't expecting for I didn't fully hear it in my earlier tests. The creaking wood and kicks by Reynolds were rather explosive thanks in part to the beautifully produced DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack, which proved to be the rocket fuel needed to take the CA-2300 over the top in my book. For those of you still hanging onto your copy of U-571 for its "Depth Charge" scene, you owe it to yourself to check out Buried for it provides the same low-end thrills and surround sound goodness but in a far more sophisticated way.
I ended my evaluation of the CA-2300 with Unstoppable starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine on Blu-ray (20th Century Fox). There isn't much to the film other than a lot of metal on metal screeching and the constant barrage of roaring helicopters, two elements that through lesser systems and amps become grating and frankly annoying - not so with the CA-2300. Dialog wasn't as focused as it was with Buried but then again, Washington and Pine aren't lumbering along in a box either. Dynamically the CA-2300 was most impressive, especially during the derailer sequence, which was such a cornucopia of metallic hits, breaking glass, small scale explosions and helicopter blades that it made me flinch and duck while seated on my sofa. While the CA-2300 may be a fine audiophile amp it's a hell of a home theater amp too, which is why it is identical (internally) to the CT-2300 from Classé's own home theater aimed amplifier line.
It's hard to fault the Classé CA-2300, for the level of performance it affords you at its sub $7,000 asking price is rather astonishing. The issues I noted with the CA-2300 had little to do with its sonic performance and more to do with its rear panel layout, which thanks to the positioning of its four pairs of binding posts made connecting heavier gauge cable, such as my Transparent Reference speaker cables, a bit of a chore.
Also, I didn't like that the binding posts were positioned above the balanced and unbalanced inputs, which made it difficult to route my reference interconnects if I'm honest. Purists out there are going to have a hissy fit at the notion that there is virtually no way to keep one's cables from crossing, touching and/or putting undue strain upon one another thanks to the rear panel layout of the CA-2300. While I didn't notice any sonic degradation when any of my cables touched, it did make for one hell of a rat's nest.
Next, the bottoms of the CA-2300's feet have zero cushioning and/or protection (at least on my unit), causing it to scratch the hell out of my rack when I was installing it. Granted, if I could've fit a second person behind my rack to help guide the CA-2300 into position it may not have been as bad, but still the edges are sharp and that sucker is heavy, so take every precaution.
My last criticism of the CA-2300 is the fact that it is identical to Classé's own CT-2300 home theater amplifier, which happens to retail for $6,500 or $500 less than the CA-2300. Granted the CT-2300 doesn't share the same, come-hither looks as the CA-2300, it's hardly what I'd call ugly. Furthermore, those with racks from the likes of Middle Atlantic will be better served with a CT-2300 versus CA-2300. While I prefer the look of the CA-2300 to the CT-2300, knowing that I could save $500 and get the exact same amp doesn't necessarily make the CA-2300 the best value.
Comparisons and Competition
You can't discuss the Classé CA-2300 with its 300-Watts per channel and modern design without also mentioning Mark Levinson's new No 500H series amplifiers, specifically the No 532H amplifier that boasts similar specs into eight Ohms but does not double down into four like the Classé CA-2300 does. Also, the No 532H lacks the industrial design flare of the CA-2300, not to mention it costs $1,000 more ($8,000).
Krell makes a two-channel amp in the Evolution 2250e, which is derived from the highly successful Evolution 402e amplifier. The 2250e has nearly the same power output as the CA-2300 and also costs just a little more at $8,000.
Lastly, one can't forget the Anthem Statement P2 amplifier, which at $3,299, is less than half the cost of the CA-2300 and for that you get 50 extra Watts of power. However, the Anthem lacks the looks and a bit of the soulfulness and poise of the CA-2300, though it's still a fine amp and a hell of a bargain if you find the CA-2300's asking price to be just out of reach.
Of course those looking for more power and finesse can step up in the Classé Delta line and get a pair of CA-M300's or CA-M600's, which are the Delta equivalent of the CT-M600's that Home Theater Review publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, uses in his reference theater.
For $7,000 the Classé Delta CA-2300 amplifier is a stunning achievement and more than just a taste of the high-end pie - in fact you'd have to spend upwards of double its asking price to better it and even then the improvements would be subtle.
The CA-2300's midrange is seductive with an open top end that is almost perfect in my book possessing both air and extension without ever seeming harsh or brittle. The CA-2300's bass is agile and taut though, and like the CA-2300's midrange and treble performance, it isn't aggressive or exaggerated - it's just right. That really is the best way to sum up the CA-2300: it's not the most electrifying amplifier you'll ever hear in that it doesn't immediately grab you and make you pay attention, but I wouldn't call it vague, dark or romanticized either; it's just right.
The CA-2300 is right for a lot of musical tastes and genres, it's right for a wide variety of loudspeakers and it's right for the money. To say that I enjoyed my time with the CA-2300 would be an understatement, for I found the CA-2300 to be one of the best high-end sounding amplifiers under $10,000 that I've ever heard.