It's 5:30 a.m. and I'm a little peeved because I can't turn on the Crayon CFA 1.2 and the Dynaudio C1's that have been my companions this weekend. With Mr. Seeley, (a 19 year old male cat that I'm sure is smoking cigars and running numbers whenever I step out of the house) at my side, the last few days have been ear-openers. On the menu was the C1's (4 ohm 86db), Loth-X Monitors (8ohm 94 db), Plinius separates, or the venerable Atma-Sphere MA1 MK3.1's mono-blocks. In short, some lovely gear, each with it's own form of 'you are there'. Digitalis was provided by either the Ayre QB 9 or an iFi-Micro i-DAC. Sadly, I just missed having a Metrum HEX on hand which I know to be a match made in heaven with the CFA-1.2. My demo unit is in NY awaiting review by the golden-eared Michael Lavorgna of Audio Stream. There's no vinyl at Josh's. Too bad, as the CFA-1.2 has a stellar on board phono stage with very easily set gain. The Cat grumbled about it, but we were both aware of our ultimate good fortune. Wiring was either DNM speaker and i/c or ZU Ibis speaker cable and ZU Varial i/c...(the last available Varial, whichever that was)...Power cords were all Zu Mother with a Bybee Power conditioner half of the time.
Those of you with steel trap memories may recall the Crayon getting a Blue Moon Award on 6Moons back in 2009. This Crayon CFA-1.2 is different in 12 ways, (yes 12) not the least of which is more than doubling its power output. (63w into 8ohms and 90w into 4ohms, though mine measured 117 into 4ohms) Lets begin with this , I carry the CFA-1.2 and I only carry what I love. As I've stated in other blog posts, I'm a bloodless retailer. Don't expect then that you'll ever read a bad review in these pages. In fact, one should understand that the word 'review' is completely misapplied. Really these are listening notes from someone who types faster than he thinks. Regardless, I will, within my adoration of the gear and music, try to inform you of the character and picadillos encountered as I accompany each system on it's way to song.
Let's start with some some general truths: The CFA-1.2 was the quietest of the three amps followed by the Atma-Spheres and then the Plinius gear. The Plinius had the firmest bottom end. The Atma-Sphere fed by a Lightspeed attenuator tied the CFA-1.2 in the space race, while the most 'tube sounding' didn't exist. By that I mean I no longer believe in the phrase, 'tube sounding' where fine gear is concerned. The Atma-Sphere's (I'm a previous owner and fan of everything Karston*) are not euphonic but really do space and texture. That description is also an apt telling of the Crayon CFA-1.2...and they're both lit-up. Another immediate truth about the CFA-1.2, is that it gives you just that, the truth. It gives you staging that is on a level with just about anything, holography abounds. To that end, the OTLs and the CFA-1.2 are very much siblings. I believe Mr. Ebaen of 6Moons came to about that same end with the first version of the CFA-1. It also gives you texture. (you hear the wood of the instrument, not just the struck skin or the plucked string.) It differentiates what's before it with tremendous accuracy. For instance, going with reference cables will make a huge difference with this amp. So much so, that if I were strapped for cash and had 3 sources to plug in, I would buy one really great pair of i/c's and power down and switch the sources when necessary. Don't get me wrong, it always sounds excellent, but once you've tasted what it can do with reference cables before it, there's no going back. The DNM is to date my favorite affordable cable, but they don't have the exacting ability to resolve that the Zu Ibis and Varial reference cables possess, which is as it should be given the huge price disparity.
On the Loth-X monitors (8ohm 94db sens.) the Crayon pulled away from the other comers. I don't know why, it just did. All amps in the stable possess almost too much reserves for the Loth-X's, but for whatever reason the Crayon shown brightest. One obvious reason may be the easily adjustable gain at input. If I were to pick an amp for the Dynaudio's, I would lean toward the Atma-Sphere/Lightspeed combo, especially in a largish room or dedicated listening space, though the Crayon is very close. The primary difference being the power reserves of the big OTL's. Those little Dynaudio's dig their juice. However in a small to mid-sized room, bring on the Crayon. At 1/3 the price of the OTL's, being far more user (remote) and space friendly, containing a killer phono stage, and not needing another box or set of interconnects to pass go, it's an obvious choice. On the efficient speakers, the Crayon was the answer, period.
The Plinius gear was fun, and could rock, but didn't have the finesse of the other amps. Maybe there was a synergy issue. They did have audible hum at the speaker...so who knows. All I knew, was that me and the Man-Cat were on borrowed time, and wanted to listen to tunes, (Seeley digs cool jazz and phrenological manipulation, and he really got off on the the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from A-DAM)
The pics tell the story of the music, though there are large holes. It was a long weekend.
Mr. Seeley gets the last word. "Don't Stop"
*I'm not a photographer, nor do I think about taking pics when I'm relaxing listening to music, hence the Atma-Sphere and Crayon shots are not the actual units, and in the case of the OTL's, not even the correct body style. The MA1's in use were upgraded but had the old body style, as you may be able to make out in the background of one of the photos.