- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 21 February 2011
For the listening tests, I used a McIntosh MCD-500 SACD player, OPPO BDP-93NE universal player, OPPO BDP-95 universal player, VPI HR-X turntable with Sumiko Blackbird MC cartridge, Manley Steelhead phono preamplifier, Lamm LL1 preamplifier, Balanced Audio Technology preamplifier, Carver Mark IV ribbon speakers, and Thiel CS3.7 speakers. Cables were Emotiva, Marc Audio, and Legenburg.
Wow, this amp is a smooth talker. All the detail was there, but it wasn't in my face like some amplifiers are. I cranked it up with some albums, and I turned it down low with others (room lighting adjusted accordingly), and at one point, as Stan Laurel said in one of their Laurel and Hardy short films, "I woke up and found myself asleep."
The CA-M600 is as comfortable with classical jazz, thunderous symphonies, or candlelight and chocolate covered strawberries easy listening music.
This power amplifier was a great combination with my vinyl setup, and I noticed that the ride cymbals, which can often sound gritty with amplifiers that have significant IM distortion, sounded perfect with the Classé.
Of course, I tried out my amp-buster, Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" on Telarc, but the Classé didn't flinch with room filling volume and teeth rattling bass.
Although this Buddy Rich recording is old (Pacific Jazz/Blue Note), it was still perfectly clear that he knew how to shred. Impeccable music should be played on equipment built to that same standard. I heard Buddy Rich live in Seattle the year I graduated from the University of Washington. I just chanced on a sign downtown on the door of a bar saying that his orchestra would be there that evening. So, my fianceè Susan and I got a table 10 feet away from his drums, and I will never forget what I heard. The CA-M600 sure brought back some fond memories in a terrific way.
I am not only a big fan of classic jazz drummers like Rich, Louis Bellson, and others, but have a passion for cymbals. I collect them, and rotate them through my drum setup every few months or so. Cymbals are difficult to reproduce. The attack of the ping on a ride cymbal, or the complex sound of a cymbal crash, will not sound clean if the amplifier has much harmonic distortion. Rich's cymbals on this album, and all the others that I have in my music collection, were reproduced as clearly as I have ever heard.
Ravel's Bolero is an excellent piece to judge how an amplifier responds to slowly increasing demands as the music builds. The finale, of course, is every instrument playing full throttle, but the CA-M600 handled it with ease. I really never encountered the harsh reality of audible distortion with this amplifier.
Comparing the BAT VK-5i preamp with the Lamm LL1 preamp, connected to the Classé CA-M600's, the Lamm provided a bit more lushness to the overall sound that was quite nice. The Lamm has significant amounts of second order harmonics. However, because the Lamm is single-ended, there was a bit more background noise (balanced circuits have common mode rejection of noise inside the preamplifier and also in the cable connecting the preamplifier to a balanced power amplifier).
If you are wondering which album was playing when I fell asleep, this is not the one. Telarc does not compress its music, and Erich Kunzel doesn't hold back the orchestra when ffff is required. Neither does the CA-M600. Pairing the CA-M600's with the Carver speakers resulted in a slightly more laid back sound than with the Thiel CS3.7's. If you like your sound up front, the CA-M600 - Thiel CS3.7 combination would be a killer.
I really have nothing negative to say about the Classé CA-M600 monoblock. The sound was always satiny smooth, detailed without being too up front, never harsh, no midrange mushiness. Nothing but marvelous sound. It's one of the best amplifiers I have ever heard in any system.