From the very beginning of my tenure with HomeTheaterReview.com, I've been very interested in setting up a review of one of the amplifiers from Sacramento-based Coda Technologies for three reasons. First, every time I've had the opportunity to hear one of their products, they always sounded terrific and were simply gorgeous. Secondly, I knew that the owners of the company were part of Nelson Pass' old Threshold crew, who developed the legendary Stasis amplifiers. I was a proud owner of a pair of Threshold SA-1 mono-blocks for over 20 years. Thirdly, throughout Coda Technologies' 30-year history they have always stuck with designs that offer some of the highest loadings of current capability, which equates into total control of virtually any transducer, regardless of how difficult a load that speaker presents to the amplifier. The Continuum No. 8 amplifier, for example, which is the subject of this review, retails for $6,200 and can deliver 150 amperes on dynamic peaks. This is one of the highest ratings of any amplifier on the market today.
But why are you just hearing about Coda (assuming you are)? Simply put, the brand is very under-the-radar. Much of Coda's enterprise revolves around being an OEM for many highly respected companies throughout the world, including the U.S. These companies put their name on the products that Coda Technologies designs and builds for them. Coda's own offerings receive very few reviews in the press, and the company does very little advertising, but it has a loyal group of customers in the European and Asian markets.
Also unlike many electronics manufacturers, Coda doesn't operate on the principal of making one-off creations that disappear after a brief run. According to Coda Technologies president Doug Dale, the company operates more like car manufacturers in that it has several different platforms or chassis that are regularly updated when relevant new circuit topologies or components that can improve the performance are developed. Sometimes the changes are subtle, Dale tells me, and sometimes they can be dramatic.
The Coda Technologies Continuum No. 8 amplifier sent for review represents one such revision. Due to a subtle component change, it has a significant increase in signal-to-noise ratio over its predecessor, and is the first Coda amp to feature a pair of power meters. My review sample was black, with the aforementioned twin power meters backlit in a soothing blue light.
The No. 8 weighs 62 pounds and stands 5.5 inches high by 17 inches wide by 14 inches deep. Underneath the meters are brass push buttons that change the sensitivity of their readouts (LEDs that glow either orange/green also show what level has been selected). Between the power meters is an engraved Coda emblem that also is brass in color. Right in the top center is the brass on/off button. The top plate has a larger version of the Coda emblem engraved into it, and the numerous heat fins are polished off so that there are no nasty sharp edges to be concerned with.
In the middle of the back plate is where a set of XLR and RCA inputs are located, along with the IEC input and master on/off switch. Flanking the inputs are double speaker wire terminals, for bi-wiring if desired, that are very high quality and insure a secure connection with either banana plugs or spade-ended wires. Visually, the No. 8 is an extremely attractive looking piece with its beautiful looking blue-lit twin meters and very handsome engraved chassis work. It delivers 150 watts into 8 ohms and 300 watts into 4 ohms. The first 18 watts of power is pure Class A. Internally, it has 20 individual output transistors per channel, with a combined power capability of 3,600 watts and 75 amps with a bandwidth of 10 MHz.
The power supply takes a very direct approach to high performance. A top quality 3000VA toroidal transformer with independent rectifiers and about 80,000 uF of total capacitance with very low ESR and inductance are used. The current stage is capable of producing currents in excess of 100 peak amperes with a degree of linearity and speed that is not matched by other designs that produce only a fraction of this current. With such linearity and bandwidth, no overall feedback correction is used.
The Continuum No. 8 arrived in a very thick double carton with internal foam inserts that insured the amp would be in pristine condition, regardless of what the shipping company put it through. I placed the No. 8 in my large reference system let it warm up for over 70 hours before the serious listening/reviewing process took place. The rest of my current system components are Linear Tube Audio's MicroZOTL preamplifier, Jay's Audio CDT2 MkII CD transport, Lab 12 DAC1 SE, Running Springs Dmitri power conditioner, MG Cable reference silver IC's and copper speaker wire, and Audio Archon power cords, all placed on a Tomo rack designed by Krolo Design, with Tekton Design Ulfberht loudspeakers mounted on Sistrum Apprentice Platforms.
I decided to start the reviewing process with Amendola Vs. Blades' Greatest Hits album (SAZI records) because the music, only Hammond B-3 organ and drums/cymbals, was recorded with total fidelity to the massive dynamics and numerous exploding crescendos as these two masters of their instruments play a combination/fusion of be-bop jazz, blues, and rock. Regardless of the volume levels at which I dared to play this music, the No. 8 amplifier effortlessly released those powerful lower bass and subsonic frequencies through the twin 12-inch woofers of the Tekton Ulfberht speakers and pressurized my room to a degree that no other amplifier had done before in my system. When drummer Scott Amendola would go into one of his intense controlled solos centering on quick slashes on cymbals and beating his bass drum, the No. 8 amplifier was spot-on for reproducing the speed/power of his drumming with all the smallest details intact.
This is one fast and powerful amplifier, which I attribute to its unbelievable amount of current that it can quickly deliver on any transient to control the speaker and re-create the dynamics/power of live music. Even at dB levels that could be harmful to one's hearing, the No. 8 amplifier never left its pure class A rating based on the output meters' peak ratings.
My next selection was one of the most famous RCA Living Stereo classical recordings by Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Vienna (RCA Red Seal), which is a collection of the Strauss family's collected works. The magic of this recording, besides the wonderful music, is that engineer Lewis Layton captured the beautiful timbres and tonality of the individual instruments of the orchestra. He also captured the height, width, and depth of the venue in a holographic fashion, and the placement of each section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is impeccable. If an amplifier is up to the task, along with the rest of the system, you can actually experience the illusion that you are there in the audience.
The Continuum No. 8's presentation of the spatial dimensions of this recording was remarkable, in that my listening space was replaced with the hall. My assumption is that it was able to deliver this musical experience regarding micro-details and spatial cues because of how quiet its noise floor sounded to my ears compared to many other amplifiers that I have had in my system. The specification cited by Coda is: More than-110 dB referenced to rated output. My ears tell me that this might be the quietest amplifier I have ever had in my system. Because of this level of transparency, the smallest micro-details emerge, yet the overall mosaic of the music does not get deconstructed to the point where you lose the overall sense that the music is of one piece. I have had this experience when listening to some of the very costly mega-dollar amps from Swiss and German companies that are extremely transparent and are very hyper-detailed but sound like the music is under a microscope. With the Continuum No. 8, you hear everything, but unlike the aforementioned amplifiers, the Coda sounds more musical and presents no analytical characteristics to interfere with the flow of the music.
My last selection was John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's eponymous album (Impulse!), which I selected to give me a take on how the amplifier could handle the timbres and tonality of the greatest instrument of them all, the human voice. If you have read any of my past reviews, you would already be aware how high a priority this is for me. If the tone and color are not right, I find it difficult enjoy the music. The overall signature of the Continuum No. 8 amplifier is silky smooth, with a total absence of grain that allows a pristine presentation of the different harmonics of instruments and voices. It rendered the deep warm tonality of Mr. Hartman's voice in a beautiful natural manner, along with a precise three-dimensional image of him singing with his bandmates in the studio.
With the Coda Continuum No. 8 amplifier's impeccable performance, build quality, innovative design, relatively small size/weight, and handsome physical appearance, I would be hard pressed to come up with any massive shortcomings. It's a rock solid power amp.
My main concern would be that, for people considering investing in a Coda Continuum No. 8 power amp, you should make sure your upstream components are up to the test. You would prefer to have a balanced system in a perfect world, but we, of course, have logistic, budgetary, and other related concerns. The Coda No. 8 is so revealing that it will highlight any of the potential flaws of your equipment, regardless if it's your source components or preamp.
Also, because of Coda's under-the-radar approach to marketing and limited distribution, their business model is direct sales with a few retailers in the United States, which puts them at a resale disadvantage compared to the better known and better distributed high-end electronic companies such as Mark Levinson, Krell, Audio Research, Pass Labs, McIntosh, and Classé, which do not use a direct sales approach. Perhaps you might not sell your Coda amp, but for most audiophiles, gear swapping is part of the hobby, so it's something to consider.
Competition and Comparison
Based on price and having listening experience with both of them, the two amplifiers that would be natural competitors with the No. 8 amplifier are the Parasound Halo JC 5 amplifier, which retails for $5,995, and the Bryston 3B amplifier, which retails for $5,495. Both are high powered single chassis designs. For my tastes, both of these amplifiers are bested by the No. 8 amplifier in three key areas. The Parasound Halo JC 5 and the Bryston 3B both sound grainy and dry compared to the more smooth and pristine presentation of the Coda amplifier. Both the Parasound Halo JC 5 and Bryston 3B do not create the life-sized soundstaging and space provided by the No. 8. Finally, even though both the Parasound Halo JC 5 and Bryston 3B have higher wattage ratings than the No. 8 amplifier at 4 ohms, neither have the iron-fist control of the bottom end frequencies or the explosive macro-dynamics of the Coda Continuum No. 8.
The ties to Threshold from the audiophile past make a comparison to Pass Labs to be pretty obvious. Priced at $4,900, the somewhat-no-frills (or just without a fancy meter) Pass Labs XA-25 is a good comparison in that it is mostly a Class A power amp and stays Class A for more watts before switching over to Class AB. The Pass Lab sound is slightly warm and velvety while the Coda is smooth and silky in its overall presentation. Both are great. Which one you would like better would boil down to personal taste and system synergy. Both amps offer a liquidity and grainlessness that normally is only associated with tube-based amplification. The Coda is very musical yet very detailed in ways that make me think that a fairer comparison would be my Pass Labs XA-60.8 monoblocks, which is a significant accolade for the Coda No. 8, as the Pass 60.8s are mean competitors costing far more money.
For many years I was very curious to hear my own system with an amplifier from Coda Technologies because of their superlative underground reputation. Sometimes waiting for a long period of time with great expectations can be anticlimactic. Dramatically, it was not this time.
The Coda Continuum No. 8 amplifier turned out to be a very special piece and one of the finest amplifiers that I have ever had in my system. It provides world class performance in such areas as thunderous macro-dynamics, total control over bass frequencies, and a non-existent noise floor, which combined allow the smallest details in the music to be heard clearly and easily.
However the amp never becomes analytical or mechanical sounding. It provides an overall beautiful and silky-smooth musical sound as well as an effortless presentation no matter how complex or dynamic the music that you are playing. For what the amplifier brings to the table, I believe that the asking price of $6,200 is a pretty fantastic bargain in high-end audio world today. The Coda amplifier will be joining my stable of amplifiers to drive my reference systems. Consider the check written.