The Unicorn that is Crayon's CIA-IT amp.


New Wammer
Sep 5, 2021
First time poster here. :)

Nice to read some chatter about Crayon amps. I've a had the basic CIA-1 for a year now, and haven't had the urge to update anymore, somewhat of an anomaly in this hobby I guess (well, maybe the T-model one day).

Haven't heard the CIA-1T, but have to say the reviews I've read about the lowly CIA-1 sans T, are pretty spot on. A refined sound, with a touch of warmth, and a great sense of flow, without being sluggish. Had a couple of amps for comparison (one almost double the price), and the CIA took the cake over them with my speakers and taste (Aurelia Cerica XO).

As a caveat; I almost felt like returning it after the first couple of days, as it didn't sound quite right straight out the box. The sound was closed in and diffuse, and felt quite subdued. After a week or so playing music through it in the background and then returning to it, it had opened up and the aforementioned qualities were nowhere to be found. I keep it on 24/7, as I feel it takes sometime to get back into song after being off.

An unabashed Crayon fanboy here for sure, hoping they'll stick around, and more people would give them a chance. :)


Food and coffee and rock n roll
Wammer Plus
Jul 23, 2019
Village near Nottingham.
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
I had a Crayon CFA-1. Happily it was among the 50% that weren't faulty!

Yes, very nice amp.... Once it had warmed up. Minimum 2 hours, better after 2 days. Still improving after 2 weeks, I suspect. Which is ridiculous.
That's the aspect I didn't like about the amp, I don't like leaving things on 24/7.
I've never had another amp that did anything close to that warm up.

It sounded flat and boring cold.
I remember my very first listening session.... hugely disappointed. I started reading a book.... then suddenly, after about 2 hours my head literally snapped up. A sudden and massive increase in sound quality. The sound had suddenly come alive. And it continued to improve from there. Very strange.
I found the same with a Naim streamer. Transformed when on for more than a day. Weird.
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Food and coffee and rock n roll
Wammer Plus
Jul 23, 2019
Village near Nottingham.
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
I swapped, a month or so back, my Leben 600 cs valve amp, for a Crayon CIA-1T, and if that has got you (as it did me) asking 'que?', then read on.

Crayon are a small Austrian company largely run by two men, Roland Krammer, who, they write…

He thinks in circuits, his constant questioning of traditional structures, his constant search for new components, manufacturing techniques and other scientific findings are what make him unique as a developer. The premise that there exists an optimum at every point within the circuit leads him to develop from the input socket selection step by step.
To give an example: Each active component has its own power supply and Roland is sometimes tinkering within the pico-ampere range, since all components have a certain range of fluctuation in their parameters. Even under the worst conditions, an ideal amount of power must still be supplied and therefore a transistor of appropriate (often larger) size must be used. If larger transistors are used, it is still necessary to ensure the shortest possible paths and to work with the limited space of the print.
The positioning of the components is essential: Due to the 6 to 10-fold multilayer boards, there are separate, continuous plains (layers) in the print for different voltages. Each component fetches its current from its layer by way of a through-hole plating. It is important that these currents flow in an orderly way within the plains, since currents cause heat, thereby changing the parameters of the components. The placement of all the components on the print has to be well ordered, not only to look nice, but also to distribute power and heat in an optimized way.
This concept is not only applied to the inner life of all Crayon amplifiers, but also to the housing, which is supposed to have optimized heat distribution and be beautiful and valuable at the same time. Another interesting detail in this context is the power amplifier section, which has been simulated up to 1 MegaHz for the CIA-1T and minimizes the feedback of the speakers to the amplifier with its Current Feedback System.
Therefore, each amplifier is a complete package full of extraordinary solutions.

And Dr Johann Pfennich…
My passion started with developing loudspeakers. Before the foundation of Crayon Audio, I already offered different speaker models under the company LSP (Lautsprecher Systeme Pfennich), which could be adapted by the surface to the set-up place (veneer), considered the existing amplifier in the crossover tuning and furthermore the preferred music direction (an essential point, which is unfortunately often paid too little attention to).
Studying the work of Thiele and Small, two Australian developers who raised loudspeaker design to a scientific level, showed that the amplifier with its broadband and the cable as well as the speakers form a single unit. Therefore, it was obvious that amplifier and cable had to be developed – the logical consequence was Crayon Audio.
I have been working on cable development for over 30 years now, with a special focus on the skin effect and the proximity effect. Both effects are based on eddy currents, which increase the resistance with increasing frequency and affect the broadband. To overcome these effects, we use eddy current-free Nextgen products by WBT. Another important consideration is the microphony itself. As cables are exposed to both airborne and structure-borne noise, they can generate errors, which must be avoided at all costs. This can be easily tested: If you step on an RCA cable, a loud squeak is generated, because movement turns the passive part cable into a signal generator.

I include the above for the context of an approach and design that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. They say this of the design:

Dear Music Lover,
The CIA-1T. is an integrated amplifier developed after many many years of study and research. Our précis was simple; Create an integrated amplifier that within it’s power rating, establishes itself by having a unique relationship to music and sound reproduction among today’s components...And while maintaining said sonic excellence that we might through diligent effort, engineering expertise, and perhaps a small measure of technical finesse, make operation simple and lifelong enjoyment plausible.
As such, we have implemented a case that is precision machined from solid aircraft grade aluminium. Careful laser cutting and assembly lead to a beautifully finished component that’s beauty is more than skin deep. Each design cue of the CIA-1T has not only form but function, and contributes to the purity of sound, and life-like quality one can obtain from Crayon. The case, rugged yet elegant, serves to stabilize the internal electronics while acting as a very effective heat sink to keep unwanted temperatures away from any signal carrying circuit.
All internal tracing and signal runs are kept as minute as possible as to not corrupt the music in any fashion. Using the newest technologies, in this case, a PCB design called Broadband Dirks’ Decoupling (named for Professor Dirks) decouples the power supply up to t GHz to provide extreme electrical stability, and the lowest possibility of any electromagnetic interference.
Further care is taken by using cross regulators to stabilize the power supply of the preamplifier in the often disturbed region of 1Hz to 10MHz, thereby applying balanced current regardless of operating conditions.
The Crayon CIA-1’s output stage contains current feedback, (not signal feedback), which is a new method used in output stages that we feel makes the CIA-1T all the more celebratory.
Despite common parlance, A Swiss made Switching Power Supply, and German designed controls round out what is currently our finest effort in the vast world of integrated amplifiers. We have developed this product without compromise, and feel certain that our efforts will lead you to experience your music with a viscerally present and lifelike portrayal that will be new in your experience.

Having understood none of that I switched on. For about 8 seconds, a row of LED’s flash and tiny quiet switching noises are heard, then one steady LED remains and we are away.
Input is selected from the left push button, volume on the right and that’s it.

(HiFispeak adjective warning in what follows :) )

This is Bauhaus minimalist design. The sound has me a bit flumoxed. At first the obvious change from any previous amp is the clarity of the details. Each sound is floating in it’s own silent space. Sound staging is huge, especially vertically, which catches me out. Standing up and walking towards the speakers is like actually walking further into, somehow inside, the sound field. Weird and impressive at the same time. Speed is the next obvious characteristic. All sense of note blurring has gone. It’s so absent that I can’t get used to it at first; so clean and fast are the overriding impression from listening session one.

Later when I return I start to listen for flaws. Does clean and fast mean cold and analytical then? No. 'Antiphone Blues', a recording made live in a church with sax and organ, simple mics and valve amps, sounds so much like a sax…all the timbre and 'metalness' of the instrument is there, and all the minute details of the sound also present and still it sounds 'lovely'. Lovely in the way that the Leben made things lovely. NOT quite as (what’s the right word? Euphonic?) As huge valved SET amps can sound, because, of distortion, I can hear none at all. But lovely as that saxaphone must have sounded in that church? Yes. Like that.

I’m a bit amazed at this point. I seem to have found the solid state equivalent of the best push pull valve amps, with more speed, definition, silence and power. It’s rated at 90 wpc, and there’s no lack of punch. Operation is simplicity itself, it has a quirky remote that rocks on it’s base (like those fat policemen toys that you just can’t push over), the casework is quality, it doesn’t get hot, the phono stage is about the equivalent of my Avid £1000 job, and ??

Oh. The Tannoys LOVE it.

There is only one review in English that I could find (by 6 loons sadly, positive but uniformed and apparently much inspired by a German review I have yet to translate), and everyone I talk to here has never heard of Crayon amps, though I see Elite audio now distributes them.

They are here:

So if you are looking for that fictional beast, 'the SS amp that sounds a bit valvey’,
well yes, that’s still hunting for Unicorns, but honestly.
Hear a Crayon if you can. It’s not a Unicorn but it does seem to be working some kind of magic in my system.

Against Luxman’s L505 class AB? Faster, cleaner and more valvey sounding.
Against Leben’s 600? Less 'glowing and warm' but still with a reality of instrument and voice emotion and timbre that is just somehow more real.
Against my memory of my class D Bel Canto? Some good similarities there. Sharing the clean sound but where the B C felt a bit sterile, the Crayon does not. Fast yes, but more organic.

I have a lot more listening to do. Hearing something this different is odd but, day by day, making me wonder exactly what is going on here and why no-one else is looking at and making these designs.
It’s expensive, at £6700, but its baby brother is half that.

If you waded through to this far, I’d love to hear from anyone else who has heard one and, in particular anyone who can de-mystify me regarding the innards. I have NO idea what is going on inside the casing and really do want to understand the circuit, the lack of huge transformers and etc… in layman’s term please :)

Great write up and I found a very similar presentation to what you describe when I bought an Audio Research DSI200. I have never heard a Crayon amp and have no idea if these two amps sound similar but like you I was dumbfounded how my DSI200 (passive Lee and class D power) sounded so good - even when directly compared to my valve ARC gear.

Please keep us posted.
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Jul 24, 2005
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
To carry on esp regardingf the warm up. After a month, I have heard no change in it's behaoviour regarding improvements after some time. I don't leave it on, but it does need about 15/20 mins to be on song from cold. It may be that after another half hour it gains another 5% or so, or I might just be listening out for this stuff, who knows. So I treat it like a valve amp, turning it on early and playing some nonsense whilst i make my tea etc and then go listen. It's not an amp for the impatient I agree since the first 10 mins are 'uninspiring'. But it is worth the wait. Once on song it is still an amp I feel that has a mix of abilities that is outstanding. I'm sure there are others out there as good, but I haven't heard them. Most importantly, the Tannoys love it and it, them. So. That's it then :)


Well-Known Wammer
Dec 10, 2018
North Somerset UK
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
As I mentioned a couple of times I had one of these mythical beasties on order I thought it only right that I add a few lines about my experiences with this amp so far.

Its a very lovely thing indeed, very well made and beautiful it’s own slightly quirky and minimalist way, personally I love the triangular volume control which really sets it apart from other similar designs, and the fit and finish are first class. I like the fact it’s “just” an amp – no DAC, no phono stage (at least on my basic model), no screens, tone controls or streaming capability. It will however transform itself into a power amp at the flick of a switch if one wanted to experiment with other pre-amps.

Firstly the treble is smooth and extended but never bright – at least in my system. Bass goes very deep, I have had to dial back my subwoofer as at first it was generating too much bass for my room and I still need to do some fine tuning in this department but it’s certainly not bass shy and seems to go very deep which I would probably appreciate more with bigger speakers instead of my small monitors.

But for me the magic of this amp is in the midrange, it’s very detailed, and the soundstage and the separation between instruments is phenomenal at times – with the right recordings of course. It really allows you to see in to the mix and hear individual instruments with a kind of space around them, however the presentation is never analytical or clinical, quite the opposite in fact, its’ very fluid and musical and has a real delicacy at times that I really enjoy and appreciate . I have been amazed by the resolution and detail with some recordings but it’s easy to just relax and let the music flow if you don’t want to analyze the recording. There’s warmth where warmth should be but never at the expense of detail or clarity, it’s clean and fast and has great rhythmic abilities without the leanness that can sometimes come with these attributes. As this is now the most expensive item in my system I can’t imagine I would need to upgrade again, I expect it would shine even brighter as I upgrade other components in the system when the time comes . I am planning on keeping this amp for the long haul. I like the fact it isn’t too massive or heavy, doesn’t use huge amount of power and hopefully should be maintenance free for years to come. These amps aren’t cheap, but they look great, are well built and offer brilliant performance, some may prefer class A, valves or meters, or more in the way of features but for a more traditional straight up and unadulterated integrated amp it’s a great and attractive option. Long live the unicorn!
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