Copland CSA150

Hardware Review

Copland CSA150
Thursday, July 22, 2021
integrated amplifier and DAC
Chris Kelly

Given that it is the hottest day of the year as I write this, and that I am inclined to laziness, the easiest thing for me to do would be to refer you to my review of the Copland CSA150’s less powerful sibling the CSA100 , and simply add the words ‘and more so, with bells on’. However my esteemed editor might take a dim view of such behaviour so I shall press on.

There is no denying that the CSA150 bears a strong family resemblance to the CSA100, as you would expect. If you liked the look of the CSA100, then you will like the CSA150 just as much. I think Copland have struck a perfect balance between form and function. On the fascia, from the left, we have a small digital input selector, which allows the user to switch between two optical, one coaxial, one Bluetooth and one USB input. There are two LEDs associated with this switch, one blue and one orange. The blue indicates that the DAC is active and the orange confirms that a signal has been locked onto. Next comes the large rotary dial that switches between inputs. A small button comes next marked ‘tape’ with a red LED above it which will illuminate when the circuit is engaged. In the centre is a circular display that indicates which input is active; the choices are P, for the inbuilt (MM) phono stage, B for the balanced XLR input, 1 and 2 for the RCA inputs and D for the digital input. Next comes the standby button, which allows the user to switch between ‘on’ and ‘standby’, both of which have an LED on the central circular display. To the right of that is the rotary volume control which sits in front of an Alps Blue Velvet pot. Last but not least there is a full size headphone jack. 

The simplicity and symmetry of this front panel is a delight to behold. On the rear panel there are of course input sockets to match the options already described, along with an attachment point for a Bluetooth antenna, plus a pair of pre out RCAs for attaching a subwoofer or even a power amplifier and an IEC power inlet with a rocker switch above it. Mounted centrally on the top half are outputs for a pair of speakers and finally a grounding terminal for a turntable.

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In terms of its technical specification, the CSA150 offers 150 watts into an 8 Ohm load, and 230 watts into 4 Ohms. As with the CSA100, this hybrid system has a 6922 vacuum tube in the double triode pre-amplifier stage. This is coupled to MOSFET output transistors in the power amplifier, and the combination works brilliantly. Phase is inverted at the speaker terminals which the manual explains is due to the electrical design of the tube line stage in the amplifier. It is therefore necessary to plug loudspeaker cables the wrong way round, with black to red and vice versa. A couple of my audio friends tell me this puts them off the Copland, but it caused me no angst and the subsequent sound more than justifies the unusual connection procedure.

We asked Ole Möller from Copland about this and he said: “The phase inversion is due to the electrical design of the tube line stage in the amplifier. It is easy to get the signal to the speaker in phase. Just connect the speaker wires opposite to the colour indication, so that red speaker wire goes to black amplifier connector and black to red amplifier connector. You may ask why we did not make the internal wiring of the amplifier so that the colours of the output connectors are corresponding to the speaker cables. It is because the black terminal of the amplifier should be recognised as the terminal connected to ground. Wrong colour indication of the grounded amplifier terminals may cause breakdown of the amplifier or the measuring equipment if service on the unit is needed. Using an active subwoofer connected to the CSA150 pre-out terminals. The subwoofer phase selector should be set in the 180 degrees position as first choice.”

Loudspeakers used during the review period were my own Harbeth C7ES3XDs, a front ported stand mount rated at 6 Ohms, and a pair of PMC Twenty5.23i floor standers rated at 8 Ohms. The latter will be subject to a review in The Ear in due course. The CSA150’s quoted frequency response is 10Hz – 150kHz, which is unusually wide. The remote control supplied with the CSA150 is identical to that which came with the CSA100. It is lozenge shaped and metal, with a rubber bumper around its midriff. The buttons are a decent size even for my stubby digits, with a power standby by button, source selection and volume up and down being the ones that I used all the time. It is one of my favourite remote controls.

For the purpose of this review I attached a Goldring 1042 MM cartridge to my Linn Ittok to try out the phono stage, and connected a McIntosh MCD85 SACD/CD player via the balanced XLR inputs. I connected our television to one of the optical inputs. Later in the review period I reinstalled my regular Dynavector XX2 cartridge and reconnected my Linn Sondek LP12 to my Gold Note PH10 phono stage. I also used the coaxial input on the DAC to use my Lyngdorf CD2 as a CD transport.

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Sound Quality
I started my listening this time around with vinyl, using the built in phono stage. Recently I have been exploring the world of jazz far more than I did in my younger years, thanks in part to the remastering and repressing of some fantastic recordings on the Blue Note and Impulse labels. For the first play on the CSA150 I listened to the 2021 rerelease of Dexter Gordon’s One Flight Up (Blue Note ST-84176). This album was recorded on 2 June 1964 at the CBS studios in Paris with five stellar players joining forces to create a magnificent album. Side one is just one song, Tanya. The piano bass and drums get it going and the trumpet and tenor sax join in, creating a hypnotic and immersive musical experience. The Copland’s phono stage conveyed all the drama, the light and shade, the rhythmic pulse with aplomb. This was a bewitching experience. Album followed album for the next two days. Live ’71 on Repertoire Records (V321), a 2020 release of recordings made on Colosseum’s tour in the titular year, captures the sound of a jazz rock band at the height of its powers. I was lucky enough to see that tour in February 1971 and the recording brought those happy memories back, the music flooding out of the Harbeths with all its energy and vibrancy intact. I won’t bore you with my playlist but it included blues, rock, more jazz, some Shpongle and, inevitably, Pink Floyd and Love. The CSA150 just seems to be an amplifier which does everything right, at least to my ears. The bass is fast and tuneful but does not overwhelm the upper registers, the soundstage created is high wide and handsome.

For comparison I then switched cartridges and plugged in my own phono stage via RCA. Playing through the same list of albums I had used with the MM option, I did hear slightly fuller sound with this arrangement, but it was not a night and day difference. If you enjoy vinyl from time to time rather than as your main source, the CSA150’s phono stage will serve you very well. 

Listening to content from the television via the optical input was always a pleasure. Human voices sounded incredibly realistic, and every micro detail is audible. Action movie soundtracks came across really well. The long opening scene of ‘Saving Private Ryan’, among the most visceral ever shot, was simply astonishing, especially given that this is a two channel system. Bullets ricocheting off beach obstacles had me ducking involuntarily and the whole aural experience was both impressive and exhausting. 

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Switching to silver disc replay from the McIntosh MCD85, the CSA150 continued to impress. This is a full sounding replay system. The analogue output from the player into the XLRs on the Copland clearly works supremely well. I played a series of SACDs including Love’s Forever Changes and its predecessor Da Capo, both on Mobile Fidelity, and the resolution of detail without any sacrifice of rhythmic drive or musicality made for a very engaging listening experience. Switching to classical, I thoroughly enjoyed Mozart’s Requiem by the Dunedin Concert directed by John Butt on the Linn label. From the same stable the Bach Violin Concertos, with Cecilia Bernardini on violin were absolutely engrossing.

Regular compact discs also sounded excellent. I played a lot of music, from the Allman Brothers band to ZZ Top and it was always as good as the original recording would allow it to be. CD has been written off by many as a format and it has indeed had a long life (nearly 40 years now) but if you own a lot of these little music carriers the CSA150 and a decent player will still give you many years of musical enjoyment.

I also tried the headphone amplifier, with both my Audioquest Nighthawks and some slightly older PSB M4U2s. You will not be surprised to hear that the headphone amplifier is no slouch either. I rarely use headphones but through the CSA150 they gave me a really involving listening experience.

Conclusion
By now you will have gathered that I was deeply impressed with the CSA150. I loved its smaller sibling but this extra headroom takes it to another level. Visually it is extremely appealing, at least to me and others who have seen it in my system. The matte silver finish seems very durable and does not mark with finger prints. A matte black option is also available.

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It has other capabilities which I was not equipped to explore. The USB input will work happily with Mac and Windows front ends, although only the latter requires a driver to be installed on the PC, a Mac will recognise the Copland without the need to add additional software. I did not use the Bluetooth facility either, but given how well the rest of the amplifier works I have no doubt that if Bluetooth is your preferred vehicle for getting music, it will work well. If it was me, I would add a top notch streamer as a source – there are a lot to choose from these days.

What about longevity? Copland quote a lifetime of at least 4,000 hours for the single vacuum tube, assuming the unit is switched on and off twice a day. I obviously haven’t been able to test this but I have no reason to doubt it. That is a lot of listening hours, but if the tube should fail it is dealer replaceable. Otherwise it exudes an aura of quality and invincibility that few can match.

This is an amplifier that does everything that is asked of it. It has a wonderful blend of musicality, pace and timing. It is even handed across its frequency range, at least that part of its frequency range that my system could resolve. It is not fatiguing to listen to for hours on end and if coupled with suitably capable sources and loudspeakers it should be the final stop in many an audio lover’s quest for the ideal amplifier.

The CSA100 was awarded our coveted Editor’s Choice award in September 2020, and was a shoo-in for one of my product of the year nominations. Although we are only in July I am pretty confident that the CSA150 will be on my list this year, and I leave it to our editor to make his decision separately. For me, this is the perfect blend of cool Scandinavian styling and first class engineering.

Specifications: 

Type: Integrated hybrid stereo amplifier & DAC
Analogue inputs: 3x RCA, XLR
Phono input: moving magnet
Digital inputs: coaxial, 2x optical, USB 
Analogue outputs: tape out RCA, pre-out RCA 
Bluetooth: optional aptX HD
Headphone output: 6.3mm jack
Speaker outputs: 5-way binding posts
Power Output: 150W into 8 ohms; 230W into 4 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 165 x 435 x 370mm
Weight: 15kg
Warranty: 3 years (valves 90 days)

Price: 
£4,988
Manufacturer Details: 
Distributor Details: 

Absolute Sounds
T +44 (0)20 89713909
www.absolutesounds.com