Copland CSA100 USB DAC/Integrated Amp Page 2

Speakers for the main assessment were Falcon Acoustics LS3/5As (circa £2400) [HFN Dec '18], along with the KEF LS50 [HFN Jul '12] as a variable. Headphone listening included the astounding Audeze LCD-1 headphones (£369) [HFN Mar '20] and Master & Dynamic's MH40 (£229). These partnering products adhere to the relative value of the CSA100, as I do not see someone with a system at this price point running headphones with a retail price higher than, say, that of the loudspeakers or amplifier.

Opening with a raucous rocker, as past experience has shown Copland products err toward the 'nice', I turned to Raspberries' sublime power pop epic, 'Go All The Way', the opener of their debut album, via CD from the box Raspberries Classic Album Set [Caroline CAROLR021CD]. This is one of those 'kitchen sink' releases with so much going on that it could cause a migraine in the meek, the mix so poor an attempt at emulating Phil Spector that it sounds like mono most of the time – until the atmospherics hit you.

920copland.remWhat the CSA100 achieved wasn't quite a miracle, but it made the harshness less intrusive and was a boon for hearing the superlative harmonies. For such an astounding milestone in pop, this 1972 release is a truly dire recording, bordering on the sadistic, and it needs all the help it can get if you want to appreciate it outside of the AM radio, 2in speaker playback for which it must have been intended. The CSA100 cut through the mire without compromising the sheer majesty that inexplicably survives the mix.

'Light Bulb' Moment
Turning to the last CD in the box, you get to hear why Raspberries' harmonies are up there with The Hollies' vocals. 'Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)' makes you wish that the same care had been applied to their first album – and they share the same producer! Whatever, this track sparkles through the CSA100, and that is what all power ballads should do. But whether listening to the opener of their first album or their last, the grandeur of their oeuvre is undeniable. This is wall-to-wall sound and the CSA100 can handle it, even through small monitors.

Worrying about my disdain for the sound of 'Go All The Way,' and wanting to test the phono stage, I put on Raspberries' Best [Mobile Fidelity MOFI 1-032], wondering if what has to be the finest pressing of a Raspberries LP would prove any better. Nope: it was the same insulting pile of sonic guano, emphasised by the other tracks exhibiting sonic worth diametrically opposed for sheer clarity. This proved a 'light bulb' moment because I was able to switch from LP to CD to determine the nature of the CSA100, and sure enough, the DAC section had a similar sonic signature to the phono stage's.

Feel The Force
Clearly, whoever voiced this at Copland used the same criteria for digital and analogue, and this will be greatly appreciated by fastidious users of both, especially those who are critical of one format or the other. Funnily enough, I found the digital playback just as enticing as the analogue, with surprises galore when I listened to Earth Wind & Fire's Spirit/That's The Way Of The World [Vocalion CDSML 8574].


This mid-1970s, world-class funk-disco was recorded with punch, power and detail, and I was even captivated by the synth-y opening to 'Biyo', a sound-effects moment for which there is no 'real' reference. When 'Shining Star' hit, a familiar track to anyone who was sentient 45 years ago, I started to appreciate why so may listeners – not necessarily indecisive – turn to hybrid amplifiers. It had all the kick, crispness and force associated with hefty solid-state amplification, while the presence of a lone valve (and this might be a stretch, or a display of my bias, to some of you) kept the treble from turning edgy.

Disco was always characterised by a tech-y feel, maybe even exaggerated sonic properties, but the CSA100 delivered the shake-your-booty excitement without ever resorting to aggression. It's an area where Copland has always excelled and which it hasn't abandoned, its hybrid sounding as ear-friendly as its all-valve designs. I hope I am getting across to you all that this amp seems incapable of causing listener fatigue.

As a farewell to the CSA100, I put on Howard Tate [Analogue Productions APO 009], a live mini-LP that Chad Kassem's crew produced a decade ago, featuring my all-time favourite R&B singer. With a crack band and a guitarist whose notes soared, the ageing singer brushed away the years to deliver heartfelt renditions of a couple of his classics and gems like B B King's 'Sweet Sixteen'. The intimacy was tangible, the space enveloping. The CSA100 did all of which it was asked.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Maybe I'm getting soft in my dotage but I prefer to think it's the hardware getting better: I utterly loved the Copland CSA100, the review system playing Cupid. I listened for hours on end, flitting from source to source, even over-indulging in headphones. The 'why' is simple: the CSA100's sound is so 'more-ish' you won't want to leave it alone. The value and the plethora of features are mere bonuses.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
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