Similarly, the Classés’ dynamic strengths played to the layered complexity of choral music such as Rutter’s Requiem [Reference Recordings]. At the beginning of each track there was profound silence—a lack of hash or gauziness that helped define venue depth and width. The full chorus could be perceived as inclined rows, the mass of voices creating a tremolo effect in the hall. During “Lux Aeterna,” the mezzosoprano seemed further upstage than I’ve typically experienced, yet her articulation and resonance seemed clearer and bolder. The strongest notes were pointed but not peaky. Transients and sibilants were presented with no significant artifacts: The diction of the choir was unhyped and articulate, and “ssss” sounds had the necessary speed that permitted clarity without electronic sizzle. In the jazz field, Pierre Sprey’s Mapleshade recordings are nothing if not fast—the very embodiment of the expression “whiplash transients.” Consequently, his recordings don’t like edgy electronics that add emphasis where none is needed. However, the Delta gear was heavenly with a disc like The Powers of Two [Mapleshade], where the speed and bloom of Larry Willis’ Steinway and Paul Murphy’s drum kit were enthralling.
Harder to quantify was the sensation of evenness across the frequency spectrum. On good recordings, there was never an octave or fraction of an octave that seemed out of place. Music flowed effortlessly across the frequency band, helping to create an impression of unbroken acoustic space. A terrific example of this phenomenon was demonstrated with Laurel Massé’s “I Am the Mountainy Singer” [Feather and Bone, Premonition], a song for voice and violin that begins at a good distance from the microphone and progressively grows closer as it continues. It was rewarding to hear the components resolve the subtle dynamic and acoustic changes as the ratio of direct-to-reverberant sound shifted over the course of the song, until, by the last verse, Massé reaches the microphone.
Image and soundstage presentation were also impressive strengths of the Delta Series. Instrumental voices did not meander randomly around the stage, and never sound crimped or blurred in relation to one another. The interplay between fiddle, cello, and bass on Yo-Yo Ma’s Appalachian Journey [Sony] is complex. One moment Ma acts as the “swing” player, weaving melodies near the range of Mark O’Connor’s fiddle, and then at another, he plunges into the lower-octave wheelhouse of Edgar Meyer’s bass. With such frenzied overlapping it’s difficult to get a reading on each player’s position, but the Classé gear fixed the trio members in space to a degree I’ve rarely experienced. In addition, I’ve seldom noticed such mid- and upper-bass richness, bloom, and clarity. Accuracy in this frequency region— where it’s easy to smear cello and bass voices—is one of the keys to this sense of imaging precision. Compared to my own bellwether references, with the Delta equipment the soundstage of nearly every acoustic recording seemed to inflate, as if re-oxygenated air was being blown in.
Harmonics, too, were more complex, and I could hear deeper into recordings. Details remained in clear view even at the lowest levels. The real delight was getting a greater sense of the playfulness embedded in recorded performances, and perceiving the giveand- take between musicians during moments when they might have locked eyes in appreciation of one another’s gifts.
Despite its 80-pound mass, the CA- 2200 is not a stump-puller when it comes to subterranean bass. Other 200-watters can best it on raw extension, but the CA- 2200’s strengths lie in its finesse and ability to control bass timbre and detail with the most difficult loads and at high levels. Listen to any good recording of a bass drum being doubled by an acoustic bass, and you’ll easily hear each instrument’s distinct signature rather than an energy muddle of low-frequency growls.
The Classé Delta electronics are a rarefied breed of audio components with excellence to spare. They combine the audiophile’s demands for superb performance with the aesthete’s sense of style and the techno-junkie’s obsession for a cutting-edge fix. For the bit of the sybarite in all of us, Classé has produced a series of components to indulge in.