Copland CTA 401 Integrated Amplifier Reviewed

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Copland CTA 401 Integrated Amplifier Reviewed

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Prejudices have conspired to force upon this review a 'foregone conclusion'. My valve lust is well-known. My admiration for the look of Cello products is no secret. I've got a fetish about all things Scandinavian. And the girl who haunted my dreams during my teen years was named Copland. So I now have to spend a page and a half justifying my bias.

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But it'll be easy. Even if I suffered from none of the above 'influences', the Copland CTA 401 integrated amplifier would win me over for the right reasons. It's a delicious, more-ish seductress which grabs the listener the way Lindt manipulates chocaholics. (Including Editor Harris, who for years has been on the choc-wagon.) And the main reason it succeeds in surprising the unwary is its near-anonymity.

Copland has been around for years, making little noise here because the operation was (1) low key and (2) handled by a so-so distributor. Now a part of the Absolute Sounds empire, it'll get the exposure it needs. Oh, and the special attention, because this product will not be an 'easy sell'.

The Danish-designed, Swedish-built Copland gives one helluva first impression because it manages to combine no-nonsense functionality with Bauhaus chic, all the while conveying big bucks build quality. The only other sub-#1500 product I can name which offers a similar mix of 'perceived value' considerations is the Einstein integrated from Germany. So Cello-like is its appearance that I approached the first tactile encounter anticipating a let-down. But this wasn't the case because the feel of the controls is Leica-like.

Svelte though the Copland may be in its 430x175x375mm (WHD) case, it's carrying around a lot of weight. The hefty transformers and solid chassis add to the 23kg, and the strain induced by schlepping it about adds to the sense of security: this thing gives an impression that it's built to last. And the longevity is reinforced by the one aspect which will limit its appeal...

The appeal limiter is the '401's output, a meagre, weedy, Casper Milquetoast 26W/channel. The upside is that the two EL34 valves per channel -- capable of 48W each -- are asked to deliver a mere 13W apiece. And all of the valves within the amp are the highly regarded Shuguang Golden Dragons distributed by PM Components. For the time being, though, let's leave the downside and start with the outside.

That lovely fascia sports rotary controls including a five-source selector (with phono!!!!), a tape monitor switch, a balance control (unfortunately lacking centre-detent), the volume control and the on/off switch. Why Copland placed the volume control 'one from the right' I don't know; the number of times I accidentally turned off the amplifier during a fortnight's usage is well into double figures. But I suppose you'd get used to it. That aside, the ergonomics reflect the sanity of all no-frills designs.

The back reveals the usual row of gold-plated phono sockets and an IEC three-pin mains receptacle. What's nice is that Copland offers not two but three binding posts per channel, allowing you to select four or eight ohm taps to match the amp to the speakers. And when you consider that this amplifier makes a Walkman seem like a Krell, you'll want to massage those precious watts on their way to your ears.

The case rests on tall feet and it's well-slotted to ensure cool running for the four EL34s and a clutch of E83CCs (phono section and line amp) and E82CCs driving the output valves. The amplifier runs cool enough to confuse those familiar with Class A solid-state designs or those more accustomed to valve amplifiers which think that they were waffle irons in a previous life.

The lebensraum schtick carries through to the innards, as per Brooklands -- 'The right crowd and no crowding'. The input supply travels through a custom-made, magnetically-screened 500W toroidal transformer feeding a 400mf capacitor reservoir. Two separate power supplies feed the heaters: the output pentodes with a high-current AC supply and the line level valves from a solid-state bridge rectifier. The transformers are situated across the back of the chassis, in an uncluttered row spaced sufficiently away from the single PCB which covers most of the bottom plate.

This board uses a 70 micron copper track layout, with relays mounted on the surface to provide reliable switching functions with a minimum of crosstalk. As is expected in this enlighted age, earthing is of the stellar variety, and there are no switches in the signal path. All capacitors are of either polyester or polypropylene and the resistors are metal film types. The board, too, is uncluttered, so any servicing needed through the years will be as painless for the doctor as it is for the patient.

Physical set-up is absolutely straightforward, with only one option to consider. As delivered, the CTA 401 is a Class A/B design. However, your dealer can tweak it to run in pure Class-A. The penalties? Hotter running and shorter valve life. The UK distributor feels that the stock set-up is ideal, so that's how I reviewed it.

Then you get to the system matching, which brings us back to the mere trickle of juice flowing from the terminals. And it's a real ball-buster. So transparent is the CTA 401 that I could identify with ease the line and phono sources used throughout the listening sessions; mismatches going into the Copland are rare if you avoid low-output m-c cartridges. But the speaker matching...this leads us to:

Read more about the CTA 401 on Page 2.

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