Eastern Electric Minimax BBA Buffer amp (mullard valves)
Ovation High Fidelity 1501/1701
Ovation Model 1721 Power Amplifier
DEAL OF THE DAY
High Fidelity Cables 1.5m spk cables
Scratch Building a Fender 5F1 Champ from Scrap Parts.....Part 2
CAAS Audio – Digital Audio Server and Elysian Mono Blocks
Phono Stage: Puresound P10/T10 and Cordette Dual Phono.
There are a lot of start ups in the HiFi industry. It often amazes me that people have the courage, desire and sheer bloody mindedness to try and fight their way into this crowded market. But they do! Are they crazy, deluded or just passionate? Well of all the loons I’ve had email me with offers of kit for review, these guys came across as the latter, they are passionate. So, I took the time to see if that passion has translated into something worth hearing.
To get a foot hold in this slippery industry you can offer something of good quality at an affordable price – start low and creep your way in – and build a reputation as you go. The alternative is much higher risk, you go all out building the best quality pieces your start up budget allows then risk everything on some rave reviews. Get the reviews and you might just make some money, build on that with better kit, re-invest and push the limits and you could be the next Mark Levinson (like his kit or not, the boy done good). But if the first review is a pooper you better prepare for a crash.
CAAS Audio from Yorkshire have gone the second route. It’s a cock on the block approach, they’ve backed themselves and gone straight in with a pair of mono blocks at £4k each and a Digital Audio Streamer / Pre amp (DAS) unit at £2950.00. And so it is with some trepidation that I write the first review of their kit. I get to publicly judge their baby, knowing full well how much rides on it for them and being fully aware that the power amp review samples are somewhat pre-production.
The DAS has a Raspberry pi powered Digital streamer built into it. Don’t get hung up on the processor, there are no audio outs from the standard Pi, the unit is fitted with a custom 8 wire interface that takes the raw digital data from the Pi and buffers it. This is then re-clocked by an ultra low jitter clock module and fed to a parallel array of extremely hi-end R-2R ladder DACs. A similar system, spec and performance to the top of the range DCS and MSB DACs which are both over £20k. I am reviewing it here as part of the full system with the mono blocks – as they were designed to complement each other.
The DAS has an HDMI output which plugs into your TV and allows you to use the remote control to select music and create play lists from either a locally attached (via the USB port) HDD / Memory key or a UPnP device such as your existing PC or lap top.
The user interface is intuitive and really doesn’t require any great know how to get the system set up. It found my PC via UPnP and was able to list all of the albums, display album art and play the large majority of my files. Some were ripped in windows lossless and the Windows implementation of UPnP seems to struggle sharing these sometimes. FLAC and MP3 were no problem though.
There is also the ability to run an app on your iPad/Android device. The XBMC app seemed a little trickier to set up. However once running this became the quickest and simplest way to navigate my large music library.
There is a line level output, pre amp out and 2 line level inputs. Connectivity was not a problem, the lack of remote control for volume was a minor draw back for me, but the sound quality more than compensated. I’ll talk more about sound when dealing with the amps, but the quality of this pre-amp was evident even when using my Beard Power amp. The Beard is ultra sensitive to noise, and I could just detect the small computer at work at boot up. However, once music was playing the silences were just that, silent. The dynamic sound was still there, with more detail than I have experienced before.
The Elysian Power amps.
I tried the power amps with both the DAS reviewed above and my ModWright pre-amp. All of my observations below stand with either pre. The ModWright marginally brought out voices more successfully and the mid range a little better, the DAS offered more dynamism and of course the practicality of the streamer.
The Power amps are really successful in achieving the makers goal of building a truly worthwhile high end product at the first go. The chaps from CAAS were nervous that the insides were somewhat pre-production, but listening shows that they are more than ready for review.
The mono blocks are rather special and I’ve been really enjoying them for the past few weeks, I’ll miss them when they go back. And go back they will, as at £3950.00 each they are out of my league, in fact at the better part of £8k for a stereo pair, they are a few leagues above me. Perhaps not Champions league, but certainly in the premiership. So they better sound good right?
Looking back over previous reviews I have perhaps neglected the caveat “at this price point”, normally that has been somewhat implicit, however when discussing high ticket items like this I would like to make that point explicit. At this price point there are some pretty exotic options available, one could have a pair of Puresound 845 monos and £1,000 in change – and it is with kit of that quality in mind that I make my observations.
These amps have a lot to recommend them, Zero Feedback, with power in spades (100 Watts) and enough of that power available in Class A (The first 20Watts into 8ohms) as makes no difference, these do manage to stand up to their price point. The sound quality is very much in the high end. There’s little to fault here , the delivery is powerful – I would not call them a delicate little flower, more a towering power house, they don’t pretty it all up and nothing much is hidden, but they are not bright or overbearing either. There is a palpable intensity but they don’t hurt your ears, they are not fatiguing. They are exciting though. That’s what the Elysian 100’s do – they deliver detail, grip, power and an unusual intensity which worried me at first. We’ve all be bowled over by kit during a short listen only to find them really tiring on longer sessions. The Elysians stay just the right side of tiring. Like a hot curry that is fun, it doesn’t hurt, but you could never call it bland either.
I struggled to get a review of these together, there were problems with the set up of the speakers I was using which hampered me a little. However, with my own speakers in place the quality of this set up really shone through.
The sheer get up and go will appeal to a lot of listeners. Courtney Pine sounds really alive, the reed moves and you do too, it’s like being at Ronny Scott’s. Everything feels so real. Talking Head’s live album “stop making sense” made me laugh out loud at the visceral nature of it all. The drum kit was there, really right there, bass guitars twanged and banged, David Byrn’s shoulder pads were right in front of me. Astonishing.
Perhaps it was the sound-stage that really did it. I’d not experienced sound stage like it before in my room. And thinking back now (it’s been a glass of wine and another listen since I wrote the last paragraph) that is where the feeling of it all being “alive” comes from as much as the realism. That the snare drum sound is so real is one thing, that you can place it so clearly in the room makes it really feel “in the room”. Apologies for the cliché but it’s true. This system has really brought the value of a really believable soundstage into sharp focus for me. I realise now more than ever that it’s possibly a more important feature than any other sound quality.
If you want some top quality power amps, capable of delivering huge realism then these are for you, you should audition them.. Pipe and slippers? Er no! Fun and laughter, oh yes! That said Kate Bushes Ariel is sounding smooth treat right now, although I am still awake, with my Beard amp I would be dozing off (it’s Friday night, I’ve had a long week and a few glasses of wine). I am a happy listener here.
The system as a whole has really lifted what I expect from high end Hifi. There’s not much more to say, the soundstage was so believable and the sound so real that all I wanted to do was listen to more and more music. This is good kit. I also like the size, as you can see from my dusty TEAC VRDS, they are very room friendly. In fact the DAS is a little lost on my RJC Audio rack.
If you need the full tech spec to get your juices flowing, then here they are: http://caasaudio.co.uk/downloads/E100%20Specification.pdf
Contact CAAS Audio direct to arrange a demo.
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