The D-200s’ midbass is pleasingly warm and weighty, with a good measure of transient snap that helps make basses (acoustic, electric, and human) and low percussion instruments sound articulate and expressive. Listeners will particularly appreciate these qualities on recordings such as bassist Charlie Haden’s Nocturnes [Verve], where the ever-tasteful Haden makes his musical points not through flashy pyrotechnics, but through delicate variations in the attack, sustain, and voicing of his well-chosen notes. Overall, I found the D-200s offered midbass clarity on a par with that of the considerably more powerful and expensive Audio Research 300.2 power amplifier and Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated that I had on hand for comparison. Alongside the NuForce Reference 9s, the D-200s delivered slightly warmer and more prominent midbass, while the Reference 9s offered more potent and extended low bass and an even greater degree of overall bass control and definition.
Finally, the D-200s sound unfailingly smooth, even on complicated, densely layered material such as
Respighi’s Pina di Roma [Deutsche Grammophon, LP], which can make some components sound frazzled or distressed. Provided you don’t crank the D- 200s to levels where they start to run out of power (something I’d not recommend with this or any amplifier), they’ll sound graceful and self-assured. But this selfassurance carries, I think, a small but audible sonic price, namely, a tendency toward sonic “politeness” that—in a very subtle way—softens the vividness and liveliness of reproduced music. It’s not that the Channel Islands amplifiers sound dull or compressed; they don’t. In fact, the D-200s sound very expressive in comparison to well-regarded traditional linear amplifiers such as the current generation McCormacks. It’s just that there is an elusive layer of dynamic accuracy, or intensity if you will, that the D-200s can’t quite reach. After you play a selection of reference recordings on the D-200s, the first word that would come to mind might be “smooth.” After you hear the same selection on the NuForce Reference 9s, the one-word description might change to “alive.”
The Channel Islands Audio D-200s are very good amplifiers, and they show every sign of being a polished, thoroughly tested, trouble-free design (would that every high-end manufacturer took product reliability and testing as seriously as Channel Island does). The CIAudios earn high marks sonically, as well, sounding noticeably better than many old-school linear amplifiers and offering sound that is on a par with that of contemporary Class D amps such as the Audio Research 300.2. But the D- 200s’ most direct competitors are the NuForce Reference 9s, and a comparison forces the issue. The fact is that the D- 200s sound very good and have no vices whatsoever, while the slightly more costly Reference 9s offer elements of true sonic greatness, but at the expense of some annoying quirks and foibles. The sonic differences between the amplifiers are such that I could imagine listeners choosing one or the other purely as a matter of taste, and both offer exceptional value for money. If you like amplifiers that combine detail, smoothness, warmth, and clarity, then the D-200s could be perfect for you; but for greater overall transparency and three-dimensionality, and more lifelike dynamics, the Reference 9 would get my nod.