"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Saturday 7 March 2015

Chester Acoustica Show March 2015: Classe and B&W

Next up was the Classe / B&W room, set up in their now traditional 2nd largest room over the corridor from The Statement room.  Here was an early outing of Classe's new "entry" level Sigma components - where "entry" is a purely relatively term.   Turns out that "set up" can also be a relative term too.

This year it was a combination of:

Apple Macbook
Classe Sigma SSP pre-amp DAC
Classe Sigma Amp 2 stereo power amp
B&W 803D speakers
Chord cables

We enter the room which has one punter and the room host - it's after 10:30 and the show has been on the go for over an hour (the point of saying this will soon become obvious).  There's a conversation under way and we wait patiently for a few minutes for some music.  First time for me with this new set of electronics and with these speakers.

As the music fires up, its a track I'm not familar with, so its a bit difficult to judge exactly what this system is doing, but there's soon certainty that something's not very good at all.  Bass? No.  Imaging?  All over the place.  Vocal expression?  Nah.  Integration between the drivers?  None at all - you could pretty much hear each instrument or voice tied to a specific speaker and specific drive unit.  We briefly debate leaving but decide to wait for second track, in the interest of fairness.

And that track was one of the ones that worked really well last year on the Classe CP / B&W 802D combination - Lou Reed's Walking On The Wild Side.  But this time it was a mess - no bass again, no drive to the bass guitar, insipid drums and Lou seemed to be singing through the wall on the left side of the room.  We decided that there was something wrong with the system, or there is no way that these speakers come close to being worth £1k, never mind their actual £7.5k.

I choose to wander around the back of the speakers to check out the cables - no problems, then to the back of the rack, where it is obvious that the right hand speaker cables were wired the wrong way around - red to black and black to red, but the left hand cables were connected in the more traditional way around. I've done this myself before, and its not a good thing. An explanation perhaps?  Quick chat with the room host and the connections were quickly sorted.  Apparently there hadn't been any time to listen to the system after set up.  How bizarre. Why would you do that?  I'm wondering where to send my audiophile consultancy invoice to, as I don't think there would've been anyone buying either of these products if the cables hadn't been sorted...

And now we have the family sound of this combination of products.  Nicely controlled and tight bass, decent image stability and very smooth, sweet top end.  Its not as inoffensive as older B&W combinations, but still has that slightly reserved sound.  Now they're working properly together this is an enjoyable system - Lou sounds much more his usual self with a well controlled bass guitar and sweet backing vocals.  Foot tapping too.

When the track ends we hope for some more, but the conversation fires up again - I think it was the same here last year - one track of music then 10 to 15 mins of chatter.

More music please Classe / B&W, your system deserves to be shown off.  Oh, and how about taking a duster to your speakers to make them look their best when on show?

B&W 803D, fortunately, installed the correct way up

Classe Sigma SSP and Amp 2.  On their shelves, and plugged in.
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