Crimson Elektrik 1200 series Pre/Power Amplifiers Page 2

Being a design from the pre-CD era it is not surprising to find that the CS-1200M's inputs are a little too sensitive for a player with a standard 2V output, making the volume control abrupt in use. The non-loop tape input has a useful built-in attenuator though, which solves the problem neatly, provided you have just one high-level source to connect. The balance control too has an odd action. Rather than progressively mute the unwanted channel, as is normal when a modern split-track potentiometer is used, it makes the preferred channel rise in level while the gain of the other remains largely unaltered.

The power amp has standard 4mm sockets to connect loudspeakers, but bear in mind there is little in the way of protection circuitry or fuses in this design so a fault in the output stage could destroy your woofers. I prefer to use expensive speakers only with amplifiers with comprehensive protection circuits and relays. That being said, the CS-1204 does at least switch on and off without the cone-shredding bangs, pops and howls of some of its competitors (naming no names), which is commendable at least.

sqnote Tim Listens
The Crimson pairing has a similar sound to many of the specialist British amplifiers of its era, giving a clean and explicit midrange which can reveal otherwise obscured layers of detail in well made recordings. However, this comes at the expense of an audible curtailing of the duo's bass response.


If the pressed and folded steel chassis of the CS-1200 amplifiers was too industrial, Crimson offered decorative wooden sleeves to soften their edges

This makes an amount of sense in a purely vinyl-based system, where there is little subsonic information to be recovered other than arm resonances and record warps. In the CD and digital audio world, though, we are used to ruler-flat response down to 20Hz and so the sound of the Crimson can come across as dry and processed to a degree.

The treble allowance is more generous, high-frequency sounds being fully extended and not bandwidth limited, although the presentation lacks the ultimate 'sparkle' of best-in-class performance. For such a complex design I was surprise to find that noise levels were as low as they were too. Using the line-level input there was no audible hiss from the listening position at any setting of the volume control, not always something to be taken for granted with older equipment. I'd also expected to hear some mechanical buzz too from the big transformers inside the slim and pretty tinny steel cabinets (secured with only two screws in each), but these too were silent.


An external ±15V DC supply was fed via a 240V AC mains loop in and out of the preamp [far left]. MM and MC ins were included, plus three line, a tape loop and preamp outputs

On The Attack
The CS-1204 power amplifier does a good job though, sounding muscular at all listening levels. Transient sounds, such as percussion, are rendered with a good sense of attack which helps to keep the pace of the music going. This isn't a design to be relegated to background listening duties. Imaging too is correctly done, with the impression of plenty of space around whatever performance is being played.

With loudspeakers of average sensitivity the amplifier will play loudly with ease, but the absence of any really deep bass in some ways reduces the pleasure to be had from doing so. Listened at high levels, the Crimson combo sounds strident and hard, although it should be noted that the detail content of the music remains largely intact until the onset of obviously audible clipping. Careful system matching and considered speaker placement would go a long way to restoring the lost bass – choosing large loudspeakers which favour room corner placement may be a good place to start.

Clannad's Magical Ring [RCA ND71473] proved to be a satisfying listen – pounding basslines are not required for all musical styles after all. It was the sense of atmosphere in tracks such as 'Newgrange' that the duo seemed best able to preserve. This atmosphere may be artificial in that it was created with generous helpings of studio reverb, but this combo's ability to keep the various instrumental sounds separate from the vocals – and to retain the detail in the latter – is what made the performance stand out from that of contemporaneous amps I've heard.

Similar virtues were noted in larger scale orchestral pieces, but the lack of warmth and weight could at times make the Crimson amplifiers sound more 'hi-fi' than 'real'. This was my conclusion after listening to a superb digital recording of the allegro of Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in E flat [Philips 426 689-2]. I was left in no doubt as to the virtuosity of the performer and the excellence of the recording technique, but all the same I failed to be transported from the listening room to the concert hall in the way that some equipment can achieve.


Simple as... just a pair of input RCAs [left] and speaker outputs on case-mounted 4mm sockets. The IEC mains inlet and on/off toggle [right] complete the set

Still, as a first product from a small company it is difficult not to be impressed by the way this combination sounds. As a practical synthesis of the 'British sound' of the era it works as well as any – provided you are prepared to overlook a few (physical) rough edges!

Buying Secondhand
There are so few of these amplifiers in circulation that no distinctive fault patterns have ever emerged. Complex and largely undocumented circuitry does mean that any repairs beyond the most simplistic are likely to be protracted (and therefore expensive). The fact that the fibreglass PCBs are populated with quality components inspires confidence however, though the wiring used around these is unlikely to be as consistent.


The Crimson Elektrik brand became synonymous with these tubular-style amplifiers [600 series pictured]

Our example, which was original and largely untouched, contained a missing connection (presumably from new) which to begin with made it needlessly noisy and incapable of proper stereo reproduction. So it pays to check everything carefully.

Finally a basic test of electrical safety should be considered essential before putting one of these amplifiers back into use since some were built at home from kits.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
For those who like their equipment to be both British and obscure this early Crimson amplifier has a lot going for it. Hair-shirt ergonomics coupled with a dry but detailed sound are what is on offer, so if you can do without slabs of brushed alloy, ranks of knobs and buttons and a full measure of the lowest octave then this could be just the thing. Be warned though, there aren't many of them about.