Power is nothing without (self)control!
By Steve Dickinson
Have you ever had one of those moments when, at the end of a film in the cinema as the end credits roll – nobody gets up? Everybody remains seated, not wanting to break the spell. I just had something similar, at the end of a piece of music. Not unlike like that momentary pause at the end of the performance, before the applause starts, and you’re quietly hoping nobody will be so crass as to actually start the clapping. The track was ‘Stimela’ from Hugh Masekela’s album Hope (Analogue Productions, SACD). It’s a track that captivated me the first time I heard it and, despite being a staple at hi-fi shows, despite the familiarity, despite the hundreds of times I’ve heard it on many, many different systems, I still love it. I’ve played it scores of times, over the years. And it just captivated me all over again. It’s the last track on the album and when it ended, I just sat there, savouring the experience.
So, spoiler alert: The CH Precision L1 / A1.5 combination is, by some margin, the best-sounding amplifier I’ve had in my system, and one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. So, you’ve got your answer and those of you with busy lives can go off and do busy things now, if you need to. Or you can stick around and find out what it is about these products that I think is so special. To be fair, this CH Precision kit is, also by some margin, the most expensive amplifier I’ve ever had in my system so this should really go with the territory. And RG isn’t just trying to turn my head, the point here is to understand what’s possible, the better to judge how more modest products approach their task. In my experience the correlation between a hi-fi’s cost and its performance is, shall we say, somewhat less linear than it could (or should?) be. And when we’re breathing in the rarefied air of the truly high end, can the question of ‘value’ ever be properly meaningful anyway? I’m going to take a stab at that one, too, because there are aspects of the CH Precision approach, in these products and elsewhere, which add an interesting extra dimension to the whole value equation.
It all starts with performance; without that, the rest is irrelevant. And to some extent, that performance rests on the numbers, though they are by no means the whole story. The power amp is generously endowed, though not outrageously so: 2×150 Watts into 8Ω, 275 Watts into 4Ω or 450 Watts into a 2Ω load means headroom should be sufficient for even fairly ‘difficult’ loudspeakers. If you’ve the funds, you can double up with a second stereo power amp and configure them as a pair of high-current mono-blocs, or high-power, bridged mono-blocs, or in bi-amped mode (which will save you the price of a set of cables); then outputs like 550W into 8Ω (bridged) or 700W into 1Ω (high current mono) are yours for the asking.
The dual-mono pre-amp can be used as a stereo chassis with the default two input cards, one per channel as I used it for this review. It can be used in ‘true mono’ mode (two L1 chassis, each with only one input card so the power supply is dedicated to one channel). You can even specify ‘true-mono, extended’ where each mono chassis has two input cards installed, the second card doubling up the inputs for each channel. That would be eight balanced inputs, four single-ended inputs and four of those weird 50Ω inputs that the Swiss seem to like – per channel!