Croft Chameleon Integrated Amp Reviewed

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It took only the briefest burst of the SACD of Alison Krauss' 'Now That I've Found You' to hear that the Croft can do 'sweet' and clear with the grace of a 300B-driven amp, without exhibiting any traces of saccharine or fat. If the foodiness of that sentence bugs you, think of the Croft as natural fruit sugars while SETs can veer toward the teeth-rotting. It's warm, it's lush, it embraces you, but it's never smothering or schmaltzy. There's plenty of air accompanied by a compelling sense of space; you'll find even greater pleasure in well-recorded live albums, where the engineer understood the need to capture the venue. Check out the Corrs Live In Dublin or, if you prefer something of an earlier vintage, Poco's Deliverin'. It's almost enough to let you continue believing that two channels really are enough.

Within the soundstage, the Croft has the ability to portray convincing performers, each with his or her space and with satisfyingly lifelike height and mass. The ever-dependable Persuasions demonstrated this to good effect, especially in the way their voices blended while remaining distinct. This quality also allows the listener to home in on specific instruments, regardless of the number in the ensemble, such that the 'duelling' guitars in the Allman Brothers' earliest works and or the elements of the often-overwhelming wall of sound that is Wheatus' 'Teenage Dirtbag' can be savoured in isolation with even less work than it takes to focus on one of those '3D' optical illusions.

Just as computers find their own 'killer ap', so do hi-fi systems come alive with some musical touchstone. The track which smacked me upside the head, the single song which delivered even more of itself though I'd heard it a thousand times, was Squeeze's masterpiece, 'Tempted', which I was listening to again thanks to the new 2CD 'best of'. It's not even an overcrowded work, yet I swear the Croft unveiled minuscule details almost as a matter of fact rather than through artificial highlighting. And still it was more of a natural whole, less of a an-assembled-in-the-studio creation. Which is probably a roundabout way of saying that it sounded less like the mastertape and more like music. For some, that is heresy. For ye of limited funds, it's an invitation to the high end without the need of a second mortgage.

If you can afford a gilded lily, Croft will sell you a tweaked and tarted-up version with a luscious 12mm 'Baux' front panel, a stainless steel lid, paper-in-oil capacitors and other refinements for a still sane 1425. On the other hand, the beauty under review is yours for a positively embarrassing 875. And that's outrageously good value for an all-tube amp with the Croft pedigree. But the Croft doesn't have it all its own way.

Its main rival has to be Unison Research's astonishing Unico valve-hybrid integrated amplifier, which offers far more real power, better build quality, looks which won't have you grovelling for apologies and - for sofa-bound tubers - remote control. The Unison is the unit I'd recommend to ANYONE after an integrated for under a grand; it's a no-brainer choice. But if you're the sort who'd buy a Morgan instead of a Porsche just to be ornery, drink absinthe instead of scotch, holiday in Turkey rather than Spain, then the Croft is just that little bit more 'different'. Whatever way you cut it, the Chameleon is high-end sound with a mid-fi sticker. And you'll suffer absolutely no guilt about selling out to convenience.

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HTR Product Rating for Croft Chameleon Integrated Amp

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3

Overall

3

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