The CA-M400 is primarily about control, something it exerts in a remarkably calm yet revealing fashion. Some will feel that this sounds like a lack of dynamics but in truth it means that the amp can deliver all the required power without having to resort to the distress that can make a system sound exciting but which is in fact a mild form of clipping. There is an awful lot of headroom on offer, which means that it can produce high levels with a degree of ease that’s not available with lower power designs. You may have seen a power requirement calculator produced by Musical Fidelity last year which allows the dialling in of your speaker’s sensitivity and your amplifier’s power giving a result that says how well matched they are. It seemed a little crude to me but is essentially correct because its indication is that we need more power to drive our systems without pushing them into the red than most of us would imagine.
The CA-M400 are also extremely transparent and have an uncanny ability to peel apart the elements in a recording to reveal precisely what each one contributes, without making the sound seem analytical. These amps are in fact extremely strong on detail but it presents the finest nuances in such an effortless fashion that your attention is never distracted from the music and its underlying message.
Inevitably the power on tap makes itself apparent in the bass. At this all important end of the spectrum the CA-M400s deliver low frequencies that surprise with their weight. There’s no suggestion of emphasis, it’s not particularly speedy or hard edged, nothing about this amp is, but it is realistically strong and purposeful. Having used a 200 watt Gamut D200 for many years it was quite surprising to find that the Classé clearly outguns it with the doubling in power. There was a time not so long ago when 200 watts was considered overkill, yet if you want to get the low frequencies from a B&W 802D to imitate a big active loudspeaker it would seem that there’s no substitute for wattage.
To put things into perspective I happened to have a pair of Bryston’s even more powerful 28B SST monoblocs at the same time that the Classé were in the house. The 28B is a 1000 Watt amp, with each channel costing over two grand more than a CA-M400 so the fact that it resolved more of the space in a recording and more substance in voices came as no great surprise. The difference was not enormous, but the bigger amp does produce extra grip and has more overall transparency, suggesting that the Classé is a little soft through the mid-band. Just don’t forget that price differential. The usual competition at the CA-M400’s price includes the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson and home grown brands such as Chord Electronics, most of which tend to be a bit more emphatic in terms of character. The Classé system does not make a big thing about grip, speed or slam. Instead it goes about its business in a remarkably neutral and unprepossessing way. This means that the music has a better chance than usual of doing precisely what the artist, producer and mastering engineer had in mind. It also means that differences between musicians, instruments, recordings et al are very clear. As previously mentioned the smoothness on offer can give the impression that clarity is not as great as it might be, yet when you turn up the wick the presentation remains precisely the same, there is no sense of edginess or strain and as a result high level listening is far more comfortable than usual.
Classé has produced an excellent blend of power, resolution and musicality at what is a competitive price for the build quality on offer. You might not think that you need 400 watts but if a reasonably realistic facsimile of anything bigger than a chamber orchestra is what you are after at home you are probably wrong – especially when it is delivered with this much class.