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Classe SSP-800 Sound Quality Tests and Measurements

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The primary market for a pre/pro like the SSP-800 is for two channel aficionados who don’t want to compromise on a multi-channel preamp that cannot do good old analog stereo correctly.  To that end, listening tests of the SSP-800 were performed in two environments: my multi-channel theater setup and my dedicated two-channel rig.

In the theater setup, the SSP-800 was paired with a Sony BDP-S300 source, an Atlantic Technologies A-2000 seven-channel amplifier, and a cast of Infinity Beta speakers, wired with various Monster M series analog and Ultra series HDMI cables.

The stereo setup consisted of a California Audio Labs Delta transport/Wadia 12 D/A converter, a PS Audio 100-D dual mono power amplifier, and my reference Infinity Kappa 600 speakers wired with various Audioquest analog cables and Cardas digital cables.  Here, the SSP-800 sat in for my reference SimAudio Celeste P-4002 analog preamplifier.

Using the SSP-800 for multi-channel listening, I found it to be clean and dynamic without sounding overly analytical suggesting slight but unobtrusive warmth to what otherwise could sound sonically cold and calculating.  The pre/pro provided excellent detail and micro dynamics with clear output at high listening levels.  Throughout my time with the SSP-800, at no point was there indication of any sort of dynamic compression or homogenization of separate sounds being squashed into a sonic mush, regardless of the volume setting or the complexity of the music and sound effects being reproduced.

In a stereo setting, the SSP-800 was quite comparable with my reference preamplifier.  The sound of the SSP-800 was slightly leaner with a correspondingly slight increase to the perceived level of detail and a bit less forward.  The presentation of detail by the SSP-800 came across as natural, without the suggestion of using any sort of emphasis in the frequency response, which is sometimes used to fake the illusion of detail.  The SSP-800 clearly showed its ability to satisfy the discerning connoisseur of two-channel analog audio reproduction.

I have always found that the best audio gear produces sound that simply gets larger and more immersive to create a corporeal presence in the instruments and voices at volume rather than just sounding louder.  The SSP-800 excelled at filling up space and creating solidity to this illusion.

Blu-ray: Kingdom of Heaven, Directors Cut

Kingdom of Heaven_BD

From the theme music at the start screen of this film, the SSP-800 showed off its capabilities in spades.  The micro dynamics and inner musical detail revealed by the Classe while watching the film were impressive, producing a sound quality of notable smoothness across the full audio band.  Simultaneously occurring sound effects were rigorously propelled around the channels by the SSP-800 without any affect on the Classe’s ability to reproduce the coincident musical subtleties.

The opening theme, as the returning Crusaders ride into the French village, the SSP-800 revealed detailed micro dynamics in the percussion and strings.  Solo vocal and choral parts were delicate and airy using the per/pro, in particular the female vocal as Balian recalls his deceased wife, which was beautifully delicate and airy.  The richness of the low strings under the violins conveyed through the SSP-800 projected the depth of sorrow as Balian returns to his life while a delicate choral part surged up from underneath.  The substantial dynamic range the pre/pro is able to generate while maintaining subtleties were fully displayed on numerous occasions in the film.  From the swelling of chorus and strings as Balian arrives at Messina to the gloriously engulfing brass during the caravan attack lead by Guy de Lusignan, to the ominous undercurrent of low strings as the armies of Jerusalem and the Saracens march to confront each other before the gates of Kerak, at the return to Jerusalem, and to the soaring choral and strings at the death of the King Baldwin of Jerusalem, the SSP-800 made a fine showing in keeping the richness and detail of the score intact.

The Harry Gregson-Williams score makes considerable use of various Middle Eastern instruments that are woven, both subvertly and overtly, into the traditional Western instrumentation and choral arrangements.  Ethnic guitars and wind instruments were rendered with intricacies of timbre and expression fully intact, providing immediacy and solidity to the performances.  Notable examples were the Middle Eastern winds, strings, and percussion during arrival at Jerusalem and the ethnic guitars as water flows in Ibelin.

Dialog throughout the film was rendered as tangible, well founded by the SSP-800, with a very high level of clarity.  I found this to be true even under extreme circumstances such as before the gates of Kerak where the cries and utterances of the small group of knights from Ibelin as they charged into seemingly certain death before a vastly superior force were discernable through the thunder of hooves and the surging musical score.  The sound effects in the film were presented as imminently immersive by the SSP-800.  In particular, a convincing envelopment of the ocean storm and shipwreck at the crossing from Messina to Jerusalem was developed by the SSP-800 and the sound effects of the final battle were flung around the speakers with vigor and assurity by the Classe.

Blu-ray: Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)

The Raven that Refused to Sing

The recently released The Raven That Refused to Sing is a sonic feast of neo-progressive jazz-rock fusion.  After remastering King Crimson’s back catalog for Robert Fripp in multi-channel surround, Steven Wilson came to the realization that the jazz component prevalent in early progressive rock had been missing from current neo-progressive music.  To remedy this omission, Wilson has assembled a cast of fine instrumentalists to realize his musical vision including former Miles Davis keyboardist, Adam Holzman, saxophonist and flautist, Theo Travis, and guitarist Guthrie Govan.  To apply the icing, Wilson coaxed the legendary Alan Parsons out of semiretirement to engineer and produce the album.  The result is an album of progressive jazz-fusion that pays homage to likes of King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, and others, while remaining wholly distinct.

Throughout my listening, the SSP-800 produced a fully formed and coherent sound field with instruments entering from various directions with clarity and authority.  Vocals were, again, notably clear, and various instruments, particularly acoustic wind instruments, floated ethereally in space using this pre/pro.  The SSP-800 easily pulled apart the complex layers of sound and helped them all find their places in the space around me as I listened.

Luminol opens the album with a bass and drum groove that came through the SSP-800 tight and clean, carrying a solid weight.  The flute and the layered vocals simply hovered in the air while multiple layers of guitar were pealed apart cleanly.  The Rhodes was simply gorgeous and Steve’s vocals were rendered with an extremely natural sound quality by the SSP-800.  Towards the middle, in typical Steve Wilson fashion, the song pulls a 180 from the loud up-tempo grove to quietly strummed undistorted guitar while another guitar performs delicate jazz licks from various channels, all occurring in the SSP-800’s coherent and enveloping sound field.  The weight of the drums and bass were again apparent as the song picks back up, showing off the ability of the SSP-800 to handle micro and macro dynamic shifts at all volume levels without any sacrifice to clarity.

Drive Home again displayed the SSP-800’s ability to create an enveloping sound field.  The layers of vocals were very detailed and the upper end of the SSP-800’s treble performance was illustrated by the immediacy of the high hat cymbal and the clarity of the stick on metal.  Flute and soprano sax were well separated from underlying strings and jazz guitar parts.  The SSP-800 held the shifting sound field together from the front channels to the surround channels as the electric guitar gives way to a an acoustic guitar with pickups.  I found that all of the rhythmic transients to be well controlled by the Classe and in particular, a clarity and smoothness to the presentation of the drums and metals.

Vocals were again presented with a natural presence throughout the nearly 12 minute long The Watchmaker by the SSP-800.  The acoustic guitar came through airily and the flute part again floated.  As the song starts to pick up, metals were rendered by the Classe with exceptional detail, clearly revealing timbre.  The sound field the SSP-800 developed expanded and intensified as the music builds, and despite the intensity, everything from the electric guitars, flute, sax, and percussion came through with pristine clarity.  Returning to the verse, the SSP-800 conveyed the timbre of the piano well while shunting delicate cymbal work around all of the channels.  A bass guitar solo that appears out of nowhere was propelled into the room by the dynamic capabilities of the Classe with transients that moved through the room to interact with the bass drum, generating subsonic transients.  As the song moves to a conclusion, it becomes simultaneously beautiful and ugly as delicate and angry sounds are interchanged without the SSP-800 mashing the delicacy underneath the power.

CD: Peter Murphy: Secret Bees

The Secret Bees of Ninth_Peter Murphy

Secret Bees is a companion EP to the recently released Ninth, containing both additional tracks and extended versions of songs from the main album.  As often is Mr. Murphy’s musical disposition, the songs contain dark, dense ambient layers flavored with interesting harmonic complexities and a multitude of vocal layers at varying degrees of intensity.  The SSP-800 portrayed the album with a large, open sound field that was well imaged and smooth, particularly at the upper end of the frequency range with the metals.

Using the SSP-800, I found the opening track, Gaslit, to be detailed with an open treble and a midrange presentation that was at ease.  Transients and micro dynamics, particularly in the percussion were crisp and well realized by the pre/pro.  There was a clear ambience to the presentation of the vocals, which were well balanced and neutral on the Classe.

The acoustic guitar that pervades Rose Hunter was presented throughout with excellent timbral character by the SSP-800 in a large and very open sound stage.  The song has a cacophonic chorus that can easily descend into sonic mush with lesser audio gear, but was laid out cleanly before my ears with inner parts clearly discernable.

The chanting that opens Secret Silk Society came through the SSP-800 with a good deal of clarity.  Underneath the song, guttural layers of percussion and synthesizer noises were presented with spacious ambience by the Classe.  Throughout the song, I found that the harmonically dense layers of guitars, bass, synthesizers, and percussion were kept sonically open with inner detail of the instrumentation well separated.

Measurements and Analysis

Using an Audio Precision SYS2722 Audio Analyzer, the following measurements of the analog sections of the Classe SSP-800 were performed.

analog-freq

Classe SSP-800 Frequency Response

The Classe SSP-800 exhibits ruler flat frequency response to the test limits of the AP audio analyzer (10Hz to 200kHz). 

1khz_fft-4v

Classe SSP-800 FFT Distortion Analysis

 

At 1Vrms output, the SSP-800 exhibited virtually no harmonic residuals with the 2nd order harmonic being about 110dB below the fundamental.  With the output cranked to 4Vrms, we still see an almost sterilely pristine output.  The 3rd order harmonic dominates, but it’s about 110dB below the fundamental.  Excellent measurement!

 

xtalk

Classe SSP-800 Crosstalk

 

With one channel driven, the adjacent channel crosstalk was measured.  At least 60dB isolation at 10kHz is a good design goal.  The SSP-800 meets this with ease exhibited excellent crosstalk performance (-110dB at 10kHz and > -100dB at 20kHz).  Classe did their homework in making sure a clean layout was achieved for the analog sections of the preamp and it shows.

 

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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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