Monday, April 20, 2015


Classe Sigma SSP Screen
I’ll never forget the first time I laid hands on a Classé surround sound processor. It was 2005. The release of the first iPhone was still two years in the future. Touchscreens, at least those that consumers had access to, were generally only found in luxury home automation projects costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. So the LCD touchpanel built into the front of the Classé SSP-600 seemed like some magical contrivance straight out of a  And yet, I found myself so enraptured by the sound pouring out of this stunning piece of engineering that I almost forgot about that little screen when it came time to review the SSP-600.
   We live in the future now. Touchscreens are everywhere. Heck, I have three within an arm’s length of me right now (iPhone, iPad, Kindle Paperwhite). And yet, that beautiful blue touchscreen at the heart of Classé’s products hasn’t lost a bit of its appeal. Maybe it’s the way it results in a clean, uncluttered appearance for the company’s preamps. Maybe there’s something simply Pavlovian about the design. For whatever reason, I’m happy to see that Classé hasn’t dropped that gorgeous screen from its new, more affordable Sigma Series lineup, which debuted at this year’s CEDIA Expo.
Classe Sigma stack
   Don’t assume that “more affordable” means “compromised performance,” though. “High-end is about passion, discovery, experience and technical exploration. It’s not just who can make the most expensive things.” said Dave Nauber, President of Classé, about the new line. “Making more affordable products that are truly high-end is a greater challenge, which is why there is a gap in the market between offerings from the mass-market CE companies and the high-end brands. We chose to exploit our cost advantage as part of the B&W Group to fill this void with some exceptional new products.”
   The new Sigma Series consists for now of a new stereo/surround sound preamp and two new amplifiers. The 7.1-channel Sigma SSP was optimized for stereo performance, but also promises to deliver and incredible surround sound experience (including video switching and bass management). It features USB and Ethernet inputs for streaming music, and is AirPlay ready. That’s in addition to its seven HDMI inputs, along with the expected coaxial and optical digital audio ins. It also features balanced XLR and single-ended RCA analog audio inputs, as well as an optional phono preamp stage.
Classe Sigma AMP5 back
   Classé has also introduced a pair of amplifiers to round out the Sigma Series lineup. The two-channel AMP2 delivers 200 watts per channel into 8Ω, while the AMP5 features the same per-channel output, but with five total channels.
   Both amplifiers are based on the same Class D amplifier topology that’s employed in Classé’s Delta Series CA-D200, which overcomes the past limitations of Class D amp design by reducing the dead-band time—the time when the amplifiers is completely off—to a mere three nanoseconds. The result is an amp with exceedingly low harmonic distortion, yet one that retains all the benefits of Class D design: namely the exceptional efficiency and lack of heat. Plus, in my experience, Class D amps tend to be incredibly dynamic.
Classe Sigma SSP back
   “Our goals in designing the Sigma series were to deliver true, high performance for the audiophile, offer versatile connectivity to accommodate a wide range of sources, bundle it with a host of performance-oriented features and package it in a compact and affordable chassis.” said Nauber. “We have done all that and more. With their efficient use of power, the Sigma series designs generate less heat and are more eco-friendly than other conventional designs.”
   The new Sigma Series lineup will be available starting in October, with manufacture suggested retail pricing of $5000 each for the Sigma SSP and AMP5, and $3500 for the AMP2.