Dan Worth revisits the Roksan Caspian M2 Integrated amplifier that Jerry reviewed quite some time ago.
As previously mentioned in the earlier Darius S1 review, I always really enjoyed the first Caspian Integrated Amplifier and asked to try the M2 when I had the pleasure of having the S1’s in for review. Subsequently after using the Caspian with the Darius’ I asked if I could hang on to it for a little longer to try in place of the Emille in my main system.
I wanted to hear if the musical magic I once enjoyed with the first Caspian was still apparent years on.
The M2 is now equipped with a set of XLR inputs (a flick of a switch on cd input) which was a surprise and also a very welcome addition over the two previous models and these aren’t just a pair of sockets either, they are fully balanced.
Along with the XLRs are a plethora of RCA inputs and outputs – no less than 5 pairs of inputs and two pairs of pre outs for running upto a quad set of monos for bi-amping, or two separate power amplifiers and due to the Caspian having a separate 60VA high quality stage for the preamp section a good clean signal can be utilised from the integrated.
The power amplifier stage of the M2 dishes out 85wpc into 8 ohms and 125wpc into 4 ohm loads. Coupled with a low noise high quality 350va transformer the M2 is on paper ready to be able to competently kick out some tunes!
Looking at the specifications after admiring the industrial-chicesqe main chassis of the M2 with its generous amounts of ventilation slots, I saw that the heatsinks in the unit were fan assisted. Well that was a surprise because at no point in time did I notice any fan noise emanating from the unit – it is thermally controlled so to be honest if your rocking it out then any fan noise would be completely drowned out.
I gave this a good test by playing some loud tunes for a prolonged period of time in order to warm the unit through nicely, then turn down to Sunday Service listening levels and ascertain if this would leave any perceivable noise from the fan before the amp cooled again. I can report I heard no fan noise just a little bit of transformer hum when poking my ear into the shelf, nothing much though.
So looks wise, what did I personally think of it? Yeah, I like it! The front panel is solid, has nice style and shape and as mentioned in the last paragraph, I did like the stainless steel main chassis to the amp as it gives a feel of a substantially made purposeful design. It kind of relates to the substance behind the facade, visually adding the feeling of industrial strength to the prettier forefront – imagine a nice foyer with a pretty receptionist against the hard working powerplant worker. Yes it could have been fitted with dirty great heatsinks down the sides and a larger chassis, but remember this is an integrated costing under £2000.
If I had one complaint with the newer Roksan amps is that I feel the knobs on the front are too shallow, not to shallow for use but I like to have a good sized selector and volume dial to turn. I feel this is down to the aesthetics/style of the dials as they are at their centre point deep enough, it’s just their rounded edges that allow for that shallow feeling to the touch. Yes, Roksan do provide a remote, a full system remote actually, allowing for the control of all of Roksan’s accompanying equipment, so yes you could argue that what does it matter, stop complaining! But it’s my review and I’ll cry if I want to!
The remote is bit of a treat for me to be honest as usually I have the pleasure of turning two volume pots on the Emille, counting the clicks on each to reach the left/right balance, a royal pain when there’s a passage on a track that you quickly want to add some volume to, then subsequently turn back down before the neighbours from four doors away begin to complain.
Channel balance on an amp is something which, since having the Emille, has become a more prominent area and one I listen to carefully. I have had amps in the past, monoblocks, which I could swear had an imbalance in output or I felt the timing was off quite badly. After having the manufacturer come around for a listen and a couple friends too, they all told me that I needed to get my ears cleaned, but I was adamant and pulled out a multimeter and yes, I was correct, the amps were 9mv out from each other.
The Caspain M2 caused me think about this event, not because I heard an imbalance, quite the opposite in fact. During listening I remarked to myself at how well timed I felt the presentation to be. I don’t get a huge sweet spot in my listening room due to its modest size, it’s ample don’t get me wrong, but I’ve heard better in larger rooms. The M2 gave me a great centre focus and sound staging was very accurate, wide and full.
Depth to the centre stage was really pretty good with the Ayons and the Darius’. Listening to ‘Latch’ from Disclosure and Sam Smith highlighted what I consider to be a strong attribute of the M2’s performance – whilst there is great dispersion into the room the Caspian has an extremely strong and solid spread to the front of the soundstage, conveying rich bass, strongly projected mids and that finely tuned treble which I enjoyed so much in the Darius.
I have always considered the older Caspian to be a non-offensive amp which has sat well in many combinations of system electronics and transducers in the past for me and I have had systems in the past where the Caspian was by far the cheapest product on the rack, even the cabling costing many times more, which was a testament to it.
The M2 like the Darius’ have a unique voicing to the upper frequencies. They aren’t attenuated in any way but they have a clever response which for me allows them to be more forgiving to nasties and grain reproduced by lesser recordings.
Not as transparent or revealing? I wouldn’t say so, I never felt during my listening tests that I lost any of that timbre or shine on brass instruments, the echoing effect of higher guitar notes in smaller acoustic spaces or a sense of atmosphere, there was just a sweeter representation of higher frequencies which was more palatable.
Musicality has always been an overwhelming aspect of Roksan gear and the better models of electronics and newer versions seem to have retained this, along with more refinement and detail retrieval but without losing soul and the essence of a performance.
I’ve had and reviewed the new Kandy K2 BT and where it is a strong performer in dance and rock music I never felt it was particularly strong across a very wide range of genres, the Caspian is more than capable of dealing with many different genres effortlessly from electronica to acoustic.
Damien Rice’s ‘Older Chests’ begins with a few bars of delicate acoustic guitar before Rice’s vocal joins in. His vocal was represented very well, I could here the breaking of his voice and the emotional quality was conveyed as it should be. There’s also smaller sounds of children playing in a park to the left of the soundstage. The trick with this track is the ability to convey to the listener that Damien is sat on a small stage slightly off centre to the right and the children are actually outdoors in open space with associated background noise. You could imagine the scene with him sitting in his living room with patio doors open on the left. The Caspian really portrayed this picture and in fact nailed it.
On Rice’s ‘Cheers Darlin” from the album ‘O’ a fluidity was expressed through the sound expressing fantastic soundstage detailing front to back with great spacious rolling soft bass notes and violin which washed through the soundstage. The track is a very spacious affair when reproduced well and the Caspian added body and a touch of warmth to the overall take on the sound.
Reading back through this review I haven’t touched really on the dynamics in bass slam or dashing transient shifts. I can only put this down to the fact that the amp got me completely engrossed into my acoustical tastes and I listened to a few more albums of this type and stopped writing for a while.
I’m not going to go into too much detail regarding these aspects I’m afraid as I am still sat here enjoying some music, but I did have the chance to listen to some music which has great dynamic qualities (subtle transients and some larger passages with good slam) and my take was that the Caspian M2 can hit slam with ease and body. The amp isn’t smooth, it’s rich sounding and this richness adds a fantastic weight and fullness to large fast notes. There’s nothing worse in my book than an overly clean, dynamic amp and the Caspian couldn’t be further than that – it’s full bodied with overtones of clarity.
The Roksan Caspian M2 for me has retained and further improved the characterisation of what I loved so much about the very first model of this amplifier. The M1 got a little way there but the M2 has nailed the essence of what (for me) a £2000 price tag should buy you.
The musicality and ability to strongly reproduce music of the most delicate tones, yet have enough pace and rhythm to excite must make this amp one of the very best in its class at the moment.
I think Roksan are at a point after hearing the Caspian and the Darius’ where they have such an impressive technique when voicing products that just makes for such an engrossing listen and leave me for one in anticipation of what they have up their sleeves for the future.
Build quality – 8/10
Sound Quality – 8.5/10
Value For Money – 8.5/10
Overall – 8.3/10
Price at time of review – £1995
Recommended – For pure musicality, involvement and entertainment across the board.