I’ve been wanting to get a hold of CAAS kit for a good while now as the company are based in Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, and being a Yorkshireman born and bred myself my interest was piqued, so when Bill at Auden Distribution in the UK got in touch and offered them for review I jumped at the chance. The pairing of preamplifier and power amps is £18 000 with the pre costing £8000 and the amps £5000 per box.

BUILD AND FEATURES

Elysian EPre II Pre-amplifier

The packaging is good and solid and the pre comes packed in its own white cotton sack – a nice touch. There’s also a very, very nice matching remote milled from a solid chunk of Aluminium. The preamp itself is also machined out of a solid piece of Aluminium and to coin a well-known Yorkshire phrase, is built like a brick outhouse, weighing in at a not inconsiderable 8.6kg. Aesthetically it’s a beautifully understated design with elegant angles on the front and a single volume knob, a standby/on button, another button for cycling through inputs. It is available in silver or black and comes with a three-year guarantee.

The volume control itself uses a 128 step, silver contact relay switched fixed resistor type which uses a system of switching relays that CAAS say outperform standard potentiometer-based volume controls. It operates from -64dB to 0dB in 0.5dB increments. It feels lovely to use.

For the techy amongst you, the pre’s analogue signal sections are DC coupled from the input to the output and CAAS have kept signal paths as short as possible. CAAS tell us that ultra-low frequency servo circuitry (NIDS) is utilised to keep DC operating levels as low as possible.

The EPre II has twelve discrete power supplies for both left and right analogue sections and seven for the digital sections. CAAS say that they believe power supply is a key part of getting maximum performance from the EPre II and it is fitted with a high-spec mains filter and three power transformers, two for the analogue (one left channel, one right), it’s dual mono in a single chassis and the other transformer is for the digital.

This preamplifier uses three separate Class A, zero feedback and zero switching DC-coupled amplifier modules per channel which CAAS say is a unique topology allowing for the pre to configure the most direct signal path for any input/output combination, with them adding that the purest are going to be when the pre is connected to amps using RCA to RCA or XLR to XLR where only the volume control and BJT buffer amplifier are in the signal path.

Round the back you have a very well labelled set of inputs and outputs consisting of three pairs of balanced XLR inputs, two pairs of RCA inputs and a pair of both XLR and RCA outputs. Other than the IEC and master power switch that’s your lot. There is also what CAAS call CAAS Link for when using their own power amps, which we are doing so here, and enables the amps to be automatically powered up when the pre is powered up.

Elysian 100 Power Amplifiers

The front panel of the power amps obviously matches the look of the preamplifier, though they are higher but narrower with vents on top and huge heat dissipation fins down either side.

The amps operate in Class A and have zero local and zero global feedback. CAAS tell us that the Elysian 100 uses their proprietary short signal path, minimal component, two-stage, DC-coupled voltage gain topology they call Coupled Symmetric Drive with the amps using a fully symmetric DC-coupled design from input to output.

The amps voltage amp’s input stage uses a fully balanced symmetrical differential stage that has a small voltage gain using complementary resistor pairs, operating in Class A and with zero feedback other than emitter degeneration. This then drives the balanced symmetrical push-pull voltage amp stage which also runs in Class A with, again, no feedback and with this having moderate gain. The input stage current sources are coupled to CAAS’s non-intrusive DC servo circuit which they say constantly monitors and fine-tunes current sources to keep a very low DC output level.

Its output stage has what CAAS call Voltage amplifier Perfect Isolating (VPI) driver stage that drives five pairs of transistors biased heavily to Class A and running open loop and with no feedback. So, with an 8 ohm load, you get around 20 Watts of Class A power which switches thereafter to Class A/B and delivers, as you would expect 100 Watts into 8 ohms with it doubling into 4.

As with the preamp, power supplies are seen as vitally important and each channel has six independent discrete regulated, high speed, low noise, high current delivery power supplies with four being for the voltage amp and two for the current amp output stage.

Round the back you have a mains power switch, RCA input, XLR input, a toggle switch to select XLR or RCA operation, speaker binding posts, a CAAS link input, a power switch and the IEC input.

The power amps come with a three-year guarantee.

OK, so regular readers will know I’m not the most technical of people but the above will give more technically minded readers an idea of what CAAS’s design philosophy is all about.

SET UP AND IN USE

All as usual with the exception of using the minijack to minijack cables for connecting the amps to the pre to use the CAAS Link feature and the toggle switch to decide between XLR and RCA. We’re all balanced from the LampizatOr Big 7 DAC onwards so there was no decision to be made with regards what was used. I powered the units up and left them to warm up before any serious listening was done.

The whole worked as expected with the amps firing up as promise when the pre was turned from standby to on and whilst the three units sport blue power LEDs they’re not of the eye-piercing intensity I’ve witnessed previously.

The remote is an absolute joy to use having just volume up and down, input (it cycles through them as with the button on the pre itself) and mute. I moan about some remotes sometimes feeling like an afterthought, but this one really does feel nice with a proper weight to it. That said it’s almost a shame not to use the onboard volume knob as that really is very cool. The mute function came in very handy on a few occasions when we had deliveries. My only comment with regards to the remote is that I would have loved to have seen a power on/off for the pre on there, that way you could press that and have the pre and amps power up and turn off from the comfort of your armchair. I spoke to Carl at CAAS with regards to this and it is something they have looked at but because of the topology of the layout in the pre this is just not possible at the moment.

SOUND QUALITY

We’ve had the Audiovector R3 Arete here now for a week or so and we’ve given them a thorough and extended listen so I wanted to couple the CAAS kit up to them for the initial listening sessions. First off, it’s clear that the CAAS trio are a very, very good combination with the Audiovectors, playing to their open and revealing top and mid-band. The amps, like the recently reviewed Merrill Element 114 power amp are fast and grippy with an ever so slightly warmer presentation than the 114 and yet more composure than the reference Thors – yes, these are a better combination than our reference amps through the Audiovectors, which is a shame for us but great news for anyone in the market for a new pre/power combination in this price bracket, which even as I write I’m not exactly sure, though I’m guessing we are in similar territory to the standalone Merrill at around £15-£20K (I wasn’t far wrong at £18K).

What I’m drawn to in particular is detail and things in the music like the sound of plectrum moving over steel strings, very much as I was with the Merrill as it happens. They are a seductive listen and that slight warmth, I’m not talking anything woolly here, just a nice feeling that nothing is straining too hard and I suppose what I’m getting at is they are a very natural sounding pre/power combo, but then when you turn them up loud they don’t lose their composure and there’s a sense that they are very much in control of what the speakers are putting out into the room without adding too much of their own character to the overall picture. I’m particularly drawn to listening to piano and strings on this combo. Female vocals too have a wonderful appeal with everything sounding just right – you know that indefinable thing you get when something just gels and sounds right. The amps really did help that airiness of the Audiovectors fully come through.

Popping our Xavian Perlas on the end of the CAAS amps confirms everything I heard with the admittedly relatively new Audiovectors, these amps are in control but not in such a way that you feel they are somehow taking over and exerting themselves and their character into the mix. No, what you have again is that sense of rightness, speed and dynamic ability with them dealing with dynamics in a pleasing and exciting way. Not the exciting edge of your seat, leaning forward into the mix I got with the 114, but a more relaxed excitement of listening to my tunes over and over, hearing little bits of records presented in what I want to say a proper way. That speed thing is fabulous with techno by the way with snappy drum beats and a great sense of oomph in the bass department.

Switching to the Avantgarde Duo XDs and it’s the mids I’m listening to and sensing that when compared to our Thor references there is a little more detail and a little more of a human feel to vocals in particular. I know that last sentence is about as useful a description as something that isn’t but it as if the CAAS combo is presenting the vocals in a way that gets you ever so slightly closer to the feel of the singer and what emotion they are expressing. On instrumental horns, there is slightly more rasp and bite than I am used to with our reference and a more realistic edge.

Soundstaging on all the speakers we used with the CAAS pre/amps was thoroughly rock solid with instruments and sounds laid out in front of me front to back, side to side and top to bottom and instruments staying where they were placed on mixdown. I’ve said this before with very good kit, and it’s perhaps one of the characteristics I look for when reviewing, but soundstaging is vitally important to give the listener a true feel that they are engaged with and within the music and I loved what the CAAS combo brought to the party.

Talking about partying, these amps can really bring it when you want them to. Crank them up and they lose none of their composure and never feel they are getting all in a flap and still have an air of composure. I mentioned the detail earlier, and whilst some amps can feel like they are getting uncomfortable and getting into shouty PA type territory, you get none of this with the CAAS combo with them still having the same feel and detail just with more volume…surely this is a sign of a very good amplifier too. I’m guessing that in reality I never really got them much over the 20 Watts of Class A but if I did I certainly didn’t notice the switch into Class A/B.

CONCLUSION

I liked these a lot. The combination is well thought out and the engineering, though I confess to understanding pretty much none of it, obviously works to give a final product that is fast, accurate and with a slight, ever so slight, warmth to its character. Being able to sit for hours on end and just get on with the love of my tunes is a wonderful thing and happens in reviews fairly infrequently, but with the CAAS pre and power amps that is exactly what happened. They have just the right amount of detail to feel you are not been bombarded and overloaded. Thinking about it that last statement is a little unfair on CAAS because there is a whole load of detail being thrown at you, it’s just done in such a wonderfully musical and gentle way that you can just lose yourself, relax and not feel that you have to try to over-listen or be over-analytical to get the whole musical picture.

Even at very high volumes and with “abrasive” music (I quite like loud and abrasive) there is no fatigue or the feeling of shrillness coming through.

Fit and finish, particularly on the preamplifier is beautiful and I especially liked the remote. The CAAS Link is a nice touch too and worked flawlessly.

Now, £18 000 is a lot of money, but then high-end audio is not a cheap addiction and if you want quality then you have to pay for it. The price of entry may well be fairly high, but in terms of comparisons to others in this price range, the CAAS combo seems to offer, not so much value, but a level of performance that is commensurate with their price…if that makes sense. Put it this way, If I had eighteen grand lying about and now knowing that the Audiovectors are to become a permanent feature in our system, I’d be on the phone to CAAS without hesitation. They really are a beautiful match with these speakers, though they worked fantastically well with everything we put them through.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Beautiful, particularly on the pre. They are not full width, or as deep as some kit and I kind of liked that on the rack. The fins on the power amps were a little sharp would be my only comment.

Sound Quality: Detailed, fast and with a touch of warmth that allows you to listen for hours on end.

Value For Money: They do not represent a bargain, but I think they are pitched around the right price considering build and sound quality. Had these been a total of £15K they would undoubtedly have received our Outstanding Product award.

Pros: Lovely looking. Nice build. Great remote. Detailed and yet unfatiguing. Fast. Plenty of inputs, both XLR and RCA.

Cons: I think you need a revealing speaker to get the best out of these. Personally, I think the Audiovectors represent a perfect match for them but they performed brilliantly with all the speakers we used them with. No on/off on the remote.

Price:

Elysian EPre II Pre-amplifier – £8000

Elysian 100 Power Amplifiers – £5000 per amplifier

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

Review Equipment: Melco Library, Lampizator Bi7 DAC, Chord and Tellurium Q speaker cables, Tellurium Q interconnects, Atlas power cables and distribution block. DIY balanced mains unit. Avantgarde Duo XD, Xavian Perla and Audiovector R3 Arreté loudspeakers.

You must be logged in to leave a reply.

Real Time Web Analytics
error: Naughty, Naughty. Content is protected !!