Copland CTA405 Integrated Amplifier Reviewed

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copland_amplifier_cta405.gifCopland products are easy to love. Especially if you've had it up to your eyebrows with poorly-made components, absurd ergonomics and a sense that your pocket has been picked. But Copland rests in an arena of its own, for their products send out very mixed signals. Metaphorically, that is. Sonically, they've never been less than delightful.

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What's so odd about Copland is its profile. Are these products, by virtue of performance and price, midrange between starter kit and crazy high-end? Or are they entry-level high-end because they sound so good and exceed the £1500/$3000 barrier? Are they aimed at non-audiophiles because they eschew tweaky codswallop? Or are they strictly for audiophiles because the bulk of them contain tubes?

Suffice to say, the CTA405 integrated amplifier couldn't be more user-friendly and less troublesome if it were valve-free. This unit, straight out of the box - even after having been through the hands of a reviewer known for damaging/soiling all he touches - was up and running in five minutes. On one end are Quad's 99CDP II and Marantz CD-12/DA-12 CD players, the Kenwood L-07D turntable with Air-Tight m-c cartridge and V.Y.G.E.R. Baltic M/SME 312/Transfiguration Orpheus. On the other are Sonus faber Guarneri or LS3/5As. In between are Yter cables.

Simplicity extends from the system remote, which also operates the company's CD players, to clearly-labeled socketry on the back (including - hurrah! - old-style multi-way speaker terminals). The front couldn't be more straightforward, with only two rotaries for input select and volume, two buttons for tape and standby, and a circular panel in the middle with LEDs to indicate source. For that, there are plenty, including a phono stage beefy enough to accept mid-to-high output moving coils, four line level components and tape in both directions. A socket for a 12-volt trigger is also fitted. Primary on/off is via a rocker on the back, while in normal use, the remote or the standby button will turn on the power.

Copland under-drives its products, anticipating a long and trouble-free life. The current capacity of the CTA405's power supply and output transformers could deal with 100 watts per channel output, but this amp is specified conservatively, using very little feedback, at 50 watts per channel. (It does, however, run very hot, so plan on ventilation above the unit.) Even with the hungry Sonus fabers, though, it was more than enough to rock me in my 12 by 18-foot listening room.

And rock I most certainly did, with the latest offerings from the Kings of Leon, Chuck E. Weiss and others who love their lower registers. However deceptive the compact Guarneris remain after a decade-plus, they deliver bottom octaves that belie their size. But to do so, they need something driving them hard. While the Copland would not deliver levels that threatened their or my health, at no point were the dynamics compressed nor the bottom octaves starved.

This is not to say that the CTA405 is primarily a rocker's amplifier, though that is an easy conclusion to reach. It conveyed perfectly the energy and feel of the Kings of Leon's swampy, post-Allman rock and the grinding rhythm section on Weiss' 23rd & Stout (Cooking Vinyl CKV-CD-4783), from the opening notes of the roiling "Prince Minsky's Lament," with its Tom Waitsian darkness. But the sheer detail tells you that you must use this tool for more than its Wall of Sound potential: the openness and mix of voices on the a cappella "Man Tan" will take your breath away.

Weiss' voice is one of those that suggests way too many late nights, perfect for the film noir vibe he set out to create on 23rd & Stout, and the Copland has a field day with his vocal textures. But where it really shines is with the flowing rhythms of his backing band, reminiscent of early Little Feat. If I were one of those truly misguided souls who believe that the music's pace, rhythm and timing were in the playback system and not the recording, I'd nominate the 405 as that philosophy's poster child. Listen to the flow of "Sho Is Cold" or "Fake Dance" and marvel at the way the Copland keeps up with the rhythm patterns, despite the demands - in my system - of the Guarneris.

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