Classé Audio’s new Delta Series might have been just another exceptionally pretty face if it weren’t so seriously good. Bringing much of Classe’s flagship Omega Series technology and topology to the table, these new Delta components offer a wider-ranging lineup, a bit less power, and a significantly lower pricetag. To traditional high-enders, however, the integration of cutting-edge command and control in Delta’s two-channel gear may prove controversial. What will diehard audiophiles make of the large, touchscreen TFT displays on the CP-500 linestage and CDP-100 CD player? And what about user-friendly items (heaven forbid!) like DC triggers and bi-directional RS232 ports for software updates? These features are more a part of the modern hometheater scene than the classic high end. But audio traditionalists needn’t worry—the Delta electronics will touch their musical souls.
I have one word to describe Delta styling: gorgeous. Authored by Morten Warren’s Native Design group, a London-based leader in industrial design, the CP-500 preamplifier and CA-2200 power amp feature a thick, continuous, aluminum wrap-around exterior panel. The lack of sharp edges and corners imparts a sensuous but purposeful feel. So strong is the styling statement that it encourages buyers to collect the whole Delta family like a handful of baseball cards—a shrewd marketing move since the “family” also includes a CD player (see sidebar), universal player, integrated amp, A/V controller, and three- and five-channel amplifiers. Construction tolerances appear mil-spec tight.
Except for a few small hard buttons and a volume knob on the preamp, the front panel is an open field. The LCD touchscreen displays, however, facilitate a remarkable amount of user optimization. On the CP-500 preamp, inputs can be renamed, and there are language options for those motivated to practice their Italian or French. When equipped with the optional CPM (Classé phono module, $500), gain can be adjusted and triggers programmed. There are even individual compensatory adjustments for balance and offset for each input. Display brightness can be regulated, as can a “time-out” feature, which switches off the display at any selected point from seconds to hours. The coolest feature is the rotary adjustment for volume, which includes responsiveness controls (at low and medium volume levels) and a “speed limit” that establishes a maximum rotary turning speed to protect against the mad rotary spinner. (There’s one in every family.)
Interestingly, Dave Nauber, Executive VP of Brand Development, admits that, having evolved from the Omega, the Delta Series is actually “out in front of Omega in terms of ultimate sophistication” and that Delta circuit topology represents the direction Classé will take with new Omega designs.
The first thing I encountered when I cued up Norah Jones’ “Cold, Cold Heart” [Come Away With Me, Blue Note] was what wasn’t there. How dark and still the soundstage seemed. The introductory fleshy bass vamp was closely followed by the piano, each surrounded by studio silence. The Delta gear never added a hint of noise, electronic hash, or veiling to the personality of the notes. Join to that a chocolate-like midbass, an articulate upper bass, and a treble that was almost moist with air, and I knew right away this was going to be a relaxing ride. Occasionally there was a slightly laid-back quality to the presentation that made me yearn for a tad more rhythmic energy, more propulsive “go” in the transient-attack department. But these were subtle subtractions at best. More importantly, there was little or no vestigial solid-state stringiness or constriction in the highest frequencies. Given its warmth and presence in the midrange, there were moments when the equipment’s character was reminiscent of good tubes. This may account for why the Deltas were so highly flattering to SACD source material. In my mind, the format’s extended treble, harmonics, and wider dynamic potential don’t cotton to amplification that is anything less than monastically quiet and distortionfree. Such distortions piggyback onto and deform the music. A flat dimensionless recording on the PCM layer of Warren Bernhardt’s cover of “Somewhere” [So Real, DMP Records] blooms with space and depth in SACD. On the brushed snare and piano the Delta electronics removed the treble leanness from the recording, which suddenly seemed to expand outward, growing more relaxed as the sense of harmonic complexity increased.
Perhaps the principal virtues of the Classé preamp/amp combination were the subtle ways it isolated delicate inner voices and resolved low-level detail. There were passages in Glinka’s The Lark [RCA] where Evgeny Kissin touched piano keys as if he were playing a keyboard made of rose petals. Larger symphonic works exhibited a similar delicacy— each instrument seemed specific and defined, as if cushioned in its own space within the proscenium. It was almost as if the ease and clarity with which we visually identify instrumentalists at a concert had been accurately translated for my ear. Maybe this was attributable to the exceptional isolation of the circuit elements in the CP-500 and CA-2200, or to a general freedom from extraneous noise and a low, low noise floor, but I was never more aware of microdynamics spread throughout the sections on the orchestral stage.