Copland 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.
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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But there's always a clincher, a single recording that gives you the full measure of a component during your initial listening sessions. This time, it was Sundazed's sublime reissue of The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo (Sundazed/Columbia LP5215). Sundazed has a knack for reproducing the originals to perfection, and it sailed past the test of my pristine first pressing, purchased on the day it was released. The clarity of the pedal steel, the stringfest that is "Pretty Boy Floyd," the nasality of both McGuinn's and Parson's voices, the tinkling, tacky honky-tonk piano of "You're Still On My Mind" - the Copland understands proportion, relative levels, transient decay and everything else that this listener holds dear.
If you've reached the stage where you understand, Zen-like, that less is more, then maybe you're ready for this no-nonsense approach to audiophile needs. Copland's CTA405 is one of those rare products that addresses and satisfies two usually-opposing motives: what you need vs. what you want. Buy with confidence. And then try not to twiddle those sensuously tactile knobs just for the sheer hell of it.
Copland's CTA405 exhibits all the virtues that make fools of its rivals: superb build quality, user-friendly ergonomics, a lack of stupid frills, styling befitting products 10 times its price and sound quality that encourages marathon listening sessions. If you have a smallish room, not-too-hungry speakers and a disdain for bullshit, the CTA405 has your name on it.
Hot Stuff From the Frozen North
If there's a Scandinavian stereotype worth perpetuating (and I don't mean gorgeous blondes with long legs), it has to be that Ikea ethos of lean styling and stupendous value for money. For as long as Copland has been around, it has stuck to its Nordic guns, offering hybrid and non-hybrid components that, from the get-go, have benefited from styling unmistakably reminiscent of Cello, one of the most desirable brands of the last 30 years. That's not to diminish Copland's worth, because it's more than just a pretty fascia. But if your VW were mistaken for a Porsche, would you grumble? Looks aside, Copland ticks all the right boxes for both audiophiles and those who prefer not to live masochistically.