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Classe SSP-800 Design Overview

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The SSP-800 arrived for the review packaged in a white corrugated plastic box, rather than corrugated paper, otherwise known as cardboard, with the Classe logo and other printed text in black.  This construction should make the container somewhat more impervious to the crushing and tearing that can happen during shipping with lesser packaging.

Inside, the SSP-800 was securely seated in thick low-density foam top and bottom liners.  The top liner also held all of the included accessories within a box, further prevention against accidental shipping damage from within the container.  As the final line of protection, the SSP-800 was wrapped in a fitted black cloth.

Of course, for a product of this caliber, one would expect superior packaging, especially considering the replacement costs involved.

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Classe SSP-800 Packing

As befits a company that has roots in high-end audio, the SSP-800 features a minimalist, but distinctive, appearance along with a more minimalist feature set than your average A/V gear.

The face and sides of the SSP-800 are formed from a single piece of curved silver aluminum with black top and bottom covers nestled inside of the curve.  Keeping with the minimalist tradition, rather than buttons everywhere, the front panel is simply adorned with an on/standby button with an indicator LED, a menu button, an LCD touch screen, a mute button, an IR sensor, and a volume knob.  The silver face is accented with black aluminum piece where the touch screen is mounted along with the large volume knob, which is also black, and crossed with a horizontal black stripe aligned with the buttons.  I will also note that there are no front panel A/V connections on the SSP-800, as is common with more mainstream audio gear.

There are actually two versions of the unit available from Classe: the standard configuration Delta chassis SSP-800 and the rack mount Custom Theater chassis CT-SSP that eliminates the curved front/side bezel and provides mounting hardware and attachment points.  Other than the differences to the chassis to facilitate rack mounting, the two units appear to be identical, internally and functionally.

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The back panel of the SSP-800 is laid out with a three-tier logic to the video and audio connections.  The top row consists of all of the video inputs and outputs.  From left to right, they are analog in, digital in, digital out, and analog out.  The middle row consists of all of the digital audio inputs and output to the left, analog audio inputs at the middle, and with various control ports to the right.  The bottom row consists of all of the analog outputs with the power cord, fuse, and main power switch at the bottom left corner.

The array of analog video connections provided with the SSP-800 includes two of each type: composite video, and component video with a single component video connection out.  Digital video is comprised of five HDMI inputs and two outputs that support a full implementation of HDMI v1.4 including all current HD audio codecs, uncompressed LPCM audio, 1080p 3D video, audio return channel (ARC), Ethernet over HDMI (HEC), 36 bit Deep Color, and x.v.Color (xvYCC).  The SSP-800 supports transcoding of composite video to component and HDMI and component to HDMI.  While the SSP-800 supports 2D and 3D video signals up to 1080p at 24, 50, and 60 Hz, there does not appear to be any scaling functionality beyond that required for transcoding to different formats.

Depending on your point of view, the lack of video up scaling to HD resolutions by the SSP-800 may or may not be of any importance.  At this point, almost all other modern source and display gear has the ability to take care of up scaling.  One could argue that a piece like the SSP-800 should provide the best video processing available to make up for inferiority of any other accompanying components, but the reality is that it is highly unlikely that those who are in the market for a unit like SSP-800 will own any such inferior gear to face this issue.

Traditional digital audio inputs are plentiful with four each of coaxial and TOS link connection types and one of each is provided for output from the SSP-800.  The SSP-800’s digital audio connections will accept signals up to 24 bits of depth at a frequency up to 192 kHz, but the documentation points out that TOS link may have trouble at that frequency and recommends using 96 kHz with this connection type.  Both digital audio outputs support 24 bit at 96 kHz.  Analog audio inputs on the SSP-800 consist of a single 7.1 analog RCA input channel, two pairs of RCA input channels, and a single XLR stereo input.  The SSP-800 has 20 programmable source settings that can be configured with any of the available inputs.

The SSP-800 supports 10 analog audio output channels available as either balanced XLR connections or single ended RCA connections.  Eight of the outputs provide 7.1 channel connectivity to a power amplifier and a powered subwoofer.  The two additional channels are configurable either for bi-amplifying the main L/R channels, for additional mono/stereo subwoofer channels, to an additional listening area sharing the primary source, but not as a truly independent zone as is common with many receivers and pre/pros.

The control ports provided on the SSP-800 include an IR in and out, two 12v trigger out, a USB port, an RS-232 port, and a Classe CAN-Bus in and out connections.  The IR in can be connected to an IR repeater for installations where the SSP-800 is out of sight and the IR out is capable of forwarding commands through to other connected components connected further down the line.  In addition, the IR sensor on the SSP-800 can transmit IR commands to third party learning remotes using the Teach IR command found in the menu tree.  The two 12V can be set to operate independently for greater flexibility to operate other equipment.  The provided USB port is for firmware updates from Classe, without any other functionality.  The bi-directional RS-232 port provides connection for external automation such as AMX or Creston based systems.  Note that the RS-232 port becomes inactive when the USB port is in use, but it can also be used for firmware updates for the SSP-800.

Back panel screws on the SSP-800 are plentiful, securely attaching various analog and digital connection points to the chassis of the unit.  RCA connectors in groups have at least one fastener at every other pair of connections and many have one per connection point while XLR connectors are fastened twice per connection point.  This is very much unlike cheaper gear where people complain about tight RCA cable connectors prying on the back panel connections when it really is the other way around with cheap gear not having secure enough attachment of the I/O to the chassis.  Ironically, the same people would likely also complain if cables were loose, regardless of connection quality.

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The otherwise high quality construction of the SSP-800 chassis did make a single slight apparent imperfection in the construction apparent.  While not particularly visible, the top and bottom plate form a slight raised seam with the wrap around aluminum bezel along the straight segments but that fits flush at the curve.  Running one’s hand along the seam, the slight offset can be felt.  There is also a slight and uneven horizontal gap between both the top and bottom cover plates and the front bezel.  The gap is widest at the left end of the black faceplate insert, where the touch screen is mounted, that is closest to the curve in the front bezel.

I am inclined to not think of these issues as flaws at this price range, but perhaps a tolerance limit of the of the forming/bending procedure used to make the front bezel.  Perhaps this could be better, but this is unusual construction, so it is hard to say if such is the case or not.

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Classe SSP-800 Top View - no cover

On the inside, the design of the SSP-800 shows its audiophile roots.  The power supply consists of two independent sources: a traditional linear toroidal transformer for the analog audio circuitry and a high current, dual output switching power supply for the digital and control circuitry.  Additionally, the audio circuits are isolated from the video and control circuits by optical couplers and low voltage differential signal (LVDS) pathways and all digital and analog signal paths and grounds are isolated from each other between and on the circuit boards.  Throughout the documentation for the SSP-800, Classe takes great pains to describe the care spent in laying out the circuit pathways to minimize trace length and avoid potential noise-inducing issues as well as selecting the electrical components to go into those pathways to maintain purity of the signals passing through the unit.  Such care is, of course, expected in the price realm audio gear such as the SSP-800 occupies.

The innards of the SSP-800 are kept safe from any electrical harm with over/under voltage protection circuitry.  The protection circuit will kick in when either an over voltage exceeding +10% or an under voltage of –15% occurs.  The unsafe over voltage condition will trigger a shut down to avoid damage to the SSP-800 while an under voltage state will trigger a warning indicator to let you know that the processor is having its performance pinched by too little juice.

The SSP-800 provides digital audio processing capabilities and bass management for all two-channel analog and digital signal inputs with the option to bypass processing to retain the unadulterated analog signal for purists.  The 7.1 channel inputs only function in bypass mode, assuming that the source component not only does decoding, but handles any other post processing including speaker delays, speaker levels, and room correction, which is not available on the SSP-800 with bypassed processing.  It is not uncommon for these types of features to be available on source components, but they are often more rudimentary with more clunky implementation than what is often available on sophisticated Pre/Pros.

Classe’s literature on the SSP-800 does not go into specifics about most of the processors driving the digital functionality in the pre/pro.  Digital video processing functionality, such as up scaling, goes unmentioned in the marketing literature and the D/A audio converters are unnamed, but we are assured by Classe that they are high quality, custom configured parts, which is very likely true but cannot be verified.  The only partially named part is the DSP, which is handled by dual TI chips said to operate at 64 bit double precision for floating point calculations.  The marketing literature goes on about how this is done to ensure the most accurate signal processing, suggesting perhaps other products do not go to this extent and that it is significant.

Editorial Note about Floating Point DSP:

Classe marketing materials makes a comment about floating-point based calculations used to ensure accuracy in the DSP:

Audio Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is handled by a Texas Instruments-based platform which operates in 64-bit double precision. It uses floating point arithmetic for all audio signal calculations to ensure the most accurate results possible.

This is not necessarily true and doing so represents a technical tradeoff that should only be made if it is necessary.  Machines can represent real numbers, with either a fixed decimal point or a floating decimal point.  Either way, the range of numbers that can be represented is finite, so both are a trade off in data storage size, processing speed, and accuracy for a given numerical range.  Fixed point numebers are an exact representation and are preferable if the numerical range necessary for calculations fit within the data size.  Fixed-point numbers become inaccurate if calculations exceed the size limit because the numbers cannot be defined, leading to overflow errors.  Overflow either truncates the result or reports the result as the largest number that can be defined, creating error in the calculations.  Floating-point numbers allow a greater range of values for a given data size but works by automatically scaling numbers by shifting the decimal point, effectively rounding off the rest of the number below a certain number of places.  Error is minimized by using 64 bit double precision with 16 stored digits rather than 24 bit single precision that only maintains 8 digits.  Incidentally, none of this has anything to do with processors having different bit depths, such as 64 versus 32 bit.

The moral of the story is that gross generalizations that either fixed point or floating point numerical representations are inherently more accurate can be untrue and are highly dependent on the range of numbers and types of operations that are required to be carried out in performing calculations.  Classe does not provide any basis for the need to use floating point numbers for audio computations, but simply implies that other manufacturers perhaps accept overflow errors when it is unclear if such would even occur in the necessary calculations.

Editorial Note about MIPS:

Ironically, the marketing material then cites the MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second) performance of the DSP, which is considered more appropriate for fixed point calculations, as opposed to citing FLOPS (Floating Point Operations Per Second) performance.  Performance rated in MIPS is dependent on the processor architecture/instruction set and programming language, so actual real world computational performance varies for different processors rated at the same MIPS performance.  FLOPS, on the other hand, measures performance of mathematical operations so rated performance does not vary with how many instructions are needed to complete the operations.  One example would be the case discussed above with 64 bit double precisions data being processed on a 32 bit CPU, which would require greater MIPS performance for the same mathematical performance.  The use of MIPS rather than FLOPS is not incorrect, it is just the marketing department conflating technical terms and making a big deal about nothing particularly unusual, and the consumer should be made aware of this fact.  All of it is more or less irrelevant, but I find it entertaining, nonetheless.  All that is required is that the processor handle the throughput required of it because additional capacity does not make anything sound better although it does allow for greater future upgradability through firmware updates.

Classe points out that the DSP module in the SSP-800 is designed to be replaceable, allowing for future upgrades.  My understanding is that Classe has provided upgraded DSP boards for original customers of the earlier versions at no cost and for $995 to those who bought the SSP-800 second hand.  Classe has also made upgraded HDMI boards switching between S-Video and 4 HDMI 1.3 inputs to 5 HDMI 1.4 inputs for $1500 for customers of earlier models.  While not a cheap upgrade, it is far cheaper than replacing an entire older unit and it is consistent with the point that Classe makes about being comfortable with investing in high quality without worry about obsolescence.

Classe includes an independent five band parametric equalizer for each of the 10 output channels of the SSP-800 to provide for room acoustics correction.  The equalizer is manual, requiring proper measurement tools and a working knowledge of room acoustics, or as Classe suggests, the hiring of an acoustician.  Classe claims that the equalization is manual because the automatic routines do not work, providing unsatisfactory results, but my opinion would be that a better option would be to provide an automatic correction algorithm with manual override functionality to get the benefits of both options.  The SSP-800 allows independent equalizer settings for each channel, including the LFE channel, except for the auxiliary channels when they are used for either bi-amping the main L/R channels or for a down mixed monitor channel, which can be used to provide a psuedo secondary zone.

The occasional audiophile trope does make its way into the SSP-800 literature, such as a 300 hour break-in period before the pre/pro will sound its best, which if it were true, would never allow the processor to be heard under the best conditions within the time frame of a typical product review.  Classe also has a section about choosing the appropriate cables, but avoids going too far into that miasma and sticks to speaking about the virtues of balanced XLR versus single ended RCA cables and recommends consulting about cables with your dealer who is, of course, unbiased without a conflict of interest in profit motives.

Editorial Note about Break-In:

Break-in, conceptually, suggests that over a period of usage, something physically changes in the system.  In mechanical systems, such as loudspeakers, it might suggest some minor amount of damage to the material where it loses some of its original stiffness and settles into a stable long-term state without additional damage within normal usage.  These changes happen quickly, as soon as the speaker is driven, such as with brittle lacquers used on linen speaker spiders cracking.  Long-term changes would suggest a load and time dependent phenomenon such as creep, which requires sustained loads applied over a long period of time, but this is not consistent with audio signals that are constantly alternating between positive and negative amplitudes.  In electronics, as an analogy, this would mean that the electrical components would have to break down at the molecular level due to a sustained electrical charge, biased constantly positive or negative.  Such a signal is otherwise known as DC, and it is not much to listen to and it can be very damaging audio gear without much time passing.  No one espousing substantial break in requirements ever seems to explain what physical process is going on that changes the sound, just that it must be happening because a change, real or imagined, is perceived to be occurring.  More so than with loudspeakers, long-term break in of electronics really has more to do with the listener becoming accustomed to slight variations in the sound of the new equipment rather than any significant physical changes to the system occurring over time.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

surveyor posts on August 24, 2013 06:10
And you can obtain this for just $327.59 a pound!
surveyor, post: 983921
Classe- waste of money, IMO!
surveyor posts on August 22, 2013 12:25
3db, post: 983902
Nice shiny box….

Classe- waste of money, IMO!
3db posts on August 22, 2013 10:46
Nice shiny box….
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