The CH Precision L1 pre-amp and A1.5 stereo power amplifier

When it comes to the vocabulary that litters reviews, there are any number of words you can use to describe the character of equipment, but a lot of them depend on there being a degree of character to describe. So: ‘warm’, ‘sweet’, ‘bouncy’, ‘solid’, ‘dry’, and so on; or, if you’re unlucky: ‘dull’, ‘acid’, ‘shrill’, ‘aggressive’, and more. Pick your chosen metaphor and run with it. In the case of the CH Precision kit, these and all the other adjectives only really apply to the extent that they describe the character of the equipment upstream and downstream of the amplifier. The ones we’re left with are essentially synonyms for ‘transparent’. Except that that’s not really the case. Yes, the amplifier is transparent, phenomenally so, and my thesaurus now falls open at that page all by itself, but the word I’d like you to take away from this review, dear reader, is ‘poise’.

A physiotherapist friend gave me probably the pithiest description: core strength. If you have a strong body core you will have good posture, and that means you will have more control of your balance, and your movement. And I think that’s what’s going on here. Most of us know how to walk, but if you watch the way a dancer walks, all of a sudden, in comparison we non-dancers are like creatures that have barely crept out of the swamp. There’s an exactness, precision and poise to every movement, right down to the twitch of a fingertip, or the arch of an eyebrow and you just know that it comes from an absolutely inviolable core of steel. Ballet dancers may be slender and even slight, but like top level gymnasts and athletes, strong in a very understated way. And that strength, that core, that internal integrity anchors them in a way that permits their every movement to be so much more controlled and expressive, without apparent effort.

And that’s what’s happening here; there’s an inelasticity to the amplifier’s output. An instantaneous translation of input to output: internal integrity; no sensation that the amplifier bends or stretches while doing its stuff. No sense of strain or effort, or delay, no hint of approaching the edge of the amps’ comfort zone. And it’s not mere grunt, excessive reserves of power delivered with a clumsy bluntness: the way the power is deployed, with finesse and an understated effortlessness, is indicative of the core strength which is the source of that poise I mentioned.

Bill Evans and Jim Hall ‘My Funny Valentine’ from Undercurrent (Blue Note) is a perennial favourite, partly for the music, but mostly for the uncanny way the duo seem to read each other’s minds. Such sympathetic interplay only emerges when the system times ‘just so’ and when it does, it’s mesmerising. But here, the CH Precision amps found a further dimension. The leading edges of the notes, crucial for timing cues, were rendered so cleanly, crisply and instantaneously that the timing was effortless, the telepathy between the players all the more apparent but also it was easy to hear past the mere timing and deep into Evans’ technique. It’s a rhythmically complex piece, toe-tapping presents its own challenges, but now it’s trivially easy to get drawn deep into the web the musicians weave before us.

The attractions of musical ‘leverage’…

Think of an amplifier as a lever system. A short lever on the ‘input’ side of the fulcrum, with a longer lever on the ‘output’ side. Ideally, you make a movement on the input side, and the output side moves accordingly, instantaneously, and exactly in proportion to the relative lengths of the levers. Of course, all real-world levers flex a little, bend a bit under a load, and bend a bit more under a larger load. The ideal is an infinitely stiff, non-compressible lever. Push at one end and it translates directly and unvaryingly into a proportionate push at the other. This CH amplifier tracks the signal like no other I have heard, and there’s no sense of delay, or hysteresis, or non-linearity that traditionally adds up to ‘character’. Not surprisingly, with speed and clarity like this, timing is a given.