So, not exactly your average starter pre-power pairing, though that’s what the L1/A1.5 represents in the CH range; notwithstanding their ‘elevated’ pricing (that’s reviewer-speak for ‘unattainable’), this is the on-ramp, rather than a destination product. Albeit as we will see, there is absolutely nothing ‘starter’ about any of this.
You can change the input gain of both pre- and power- sections, allowing you to play with the system’s overall gain structure. You can vary the global feedback on the power amp – thus changing its damping factor. That means you can adjust the amplifier’s approach to suit your speakers and room or ancillaries like cabling. You can adjust the gain for each individual input, to compensate for sources with lower, or higher output levels. Those gain settings are adjustable in 0.5dB steps, as is volume, and the calibration seems spot on. If you raise the pre and power amp gain by 3dB each, and reduce the output volume level by 6dB, the loudness stays the same – which isn’t always the case. There’s a choice of input impedance levels, again selectable for each input. Oh, and you can choose your own colour balance for the OLED display, and the default brightness levels. If you can think of something to adjust, chances are the CH Precision guys thought of it first and provided it.
It’s all about control. In this case, control over the signal path and its operating conditions. Despite first impressions of possibly horrendous complexity, the CH amplifiers employ ultra short, ultra simple, fully differential signal paths. Then they wrap them in a ton of software-controlled housekeeping, designed to create and maintain absolute stability, monitoring everything from DC leakage to operating temperature. Once you’ve got all that software control, it allows you to also do a load of other stuff, hence the range of operational options. It probably stops just the right side of the “Just because they could…” point, but don’t be fooled by the configurable displays, input naming and colour choices. There are serious practical benefits too.
What it boils down to is that, even with just the one stereo power amp and one stereo preamp, system compatibility should be much less of an issue. You’ve got a far better chance of getting it right. CH are probably far too polite to point this out, but less chance of getting it wrong also means fewer reasons not to choose this amplifier, even – or especially – if the rest of your system is a little off-beat or demanding. Essentially the CH amps will deliver their magic, irrespective of the context; you might need to tweak things to get everything just so, but then those adjustments have never been so easy.
So this is the first of the ‘value’ things that set these amps apart. Not only are they more willing, able and likely to deliver their potential performance, they’ll do it in a wider range of system circumstances. This ability to adapt to different situations and partnering equipment removes a whole slew of risk in making changes to your system. Suddenly, changing your speakers becomes a case of adjusting rather than replacing your amp. That’s a route that offers more (choice) for less (cost) – not something we see every day round these parts.