I started out by substituting the P1 for a Gamut D200 MkIII in a system with Bowers & Wilkins 802D speakers doing the transducing, and this revealed a matter of fact, no pussy footing character that is definite about what’s going on. It is also very solid and grounded so there is plenty of control and weight in the bottom end which provides a firm anchor with which to tether the soundstage in the room. You can hear the not insubstantial drop in price between the Gamut and the ATC, but the latter does little that gets in the way of the music. In fact, the quality of timing is so good that the musical flow is totally unhampered, free to go where it wants to with a strong sense of purpose.
In detail terms, the P1 is as refined as you’d expect at the price. It’s not unduly revealing, but neither does it veil details that are important when it comes to understanding how recordings have been put together. Despite having a slightly lower power rating than the Gamut, it has stronger bass. This underpins records like Antonio Forcione’s Tears of Joy to great effect, revealing more about the space he’s playing in than other amps if not elaborating on the more romantic aspects of his playing. The mid for instance is a little short on sparkle, but the overall result is very strong on musical engagement and that should be a fundamental goal for any audio component.
Using the CA2 preamp with a pair of ATC SCM150ASL Pro active speakers in place of an Audiozone Pre-1 TVC the result is once again strong on power. Kick drums have real energy and become more lifelike and visceral. Likewise, all electric instruments are far more real. It’s a bit of an apples and pears comparison though, the passive controller is cleaner but lacks dynamics which makes the powered nature of the CA2 more apparent. It in turn sounds distinctly electric by comparison, but does a rather better job at delivering the power of the music. In short, you either like Marmite or you don’t! I prefer listening to music. More useful perhaps is comparing the CA2 with another active preamp namely the ClassЋ CP-700, once again the result was a notable increase in bass weight alongside a tighter, snappier presentation that gives the music far more get up and go. The flipside of this is that it’s less relaxed and there is a shortfall in fine detail of the sort that reveals the tonal shading of each note and the decay that goes with it. But remember that the ClassЋ is also a rather more expensive beast and I would happily trade some of its finesse for a bit more zip.
Using both CA2 and P1 together through the 802Ds provided a full scale, full power experience that brings dynamic recordings to life. Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer is a high energy recording with some occasionally savage mic abuse, the ATCs let it deliver all of its energy thanks to the ability that these amps have to unleash controlled power just when it’s needed. Keith Jarrett’s Carnegie Hall performance is not short of meat on the bone either, the tempo is strong and the piano bodacious. This pairing concentrates on the fundamentals and gets them spot on, so the timing is locked down and the headroom allows the instrument’s dynamics to ebb and flow in realistic fashion.
There are lower powered amplifiers that can deliver more of the harmonics and tonal richness from a recording but they don’t usually back it up with the dynamics on offer here. At this price point there are always compromises to be made and ATC has focused on making an amplifier that delivers the core elements of the music in realistic and timely fashion. Leema’s Tucana II (Ј3,425) Integrated for instance has a more open midband in the context of a relaxed and revealing presentation, albeit one that can’t compete with the P1’s sheer grunt. Arcam’s A38 (Ј1,450) on the other hand is a bit more frenetic than the ATC pairing, which produced a more fleshed out sound that is itself relatively relaxed. I didn’t have anything more closely matched price wise but you can see that the ATCs fit into the scheme of things in terms of detail but rise above their station when it comes to power and timing.
ATC kindly supplied a second CA2 with a fully intact phono stage which gave me the opportunity to put this particular input through its paces. With an MM cartridge it did the same trick as the rest of the amplifier by beefing up the bottom end and this gives the sound a greater sense of solidity overall. More significant however is the way it can pull realistic sound out of a modest turntable, I had a Rega RP1 in for review and this sounded pretty crisp and timely with a Trichord Dino phono stage but going directly into the phono stage resulted in the nature of percussion instruments being made more clear at the cost of a reduction in zing from the acoustic steel string. The outboard stage was inevitably combined with an interconnect which is an extra barrier but this was nonetheless a good result for the preamp. Impressively it even worked well with a low output MC (van den Hul Colibri), in my experience few onboard MC stages to cope with such things very well.