June 23, 2010

The Musical Coda. Coda CSI B Integrated Amp.

Coda CSI B integrated amplifier.

Coda Technologies is a company that's been around discreetly for a long time now. It's run by some of Nelson Pass ex-colleagues from the glorious Threshold days. Coda's presence on these shores have being spotty in the past and has recently made another attempt to re-establish a position in Malaysia's high end audio scene, made possible by Audio Impression.

The first product to arrive is the Coda CSI B(Balanced) Integrated amplifier. This hunk of an amp boast 330W output @ 8 ohms and 600W @ 4 ohms speaker load. If one has a pair of Magnaplanar 1.6 QR for speakers, which are notoriously difficult to drive, this could well be your ticket to audio bliss, based on what I heard in the Audio Impression showroom, where this amp is mated to a pair of Eminent Technologies LFT 8 panel/cone hybrid speaker is any thing to go by.
Again, the Coda sits nicely on my amp rack. Note the acoustically de-coupled feet for isolation purposes.

This amplifier is very well built, but without extravagant finishing. Everything is form follows function and sensibility of use. A few nice points to note on the external side of things is the acoustically de-coupling feet on each bottom corner. The WBT style speaker cable binding post offers excellent contacts, safety and ease of use. On the inside, the amplifier benefits from mill spec PCB boards, over sized 2KVA toroidal transformer and 80,000uF Black Gate storage/filter caps for power supply section. Audiophile grade resistors and capacitors are used thru out the audio signal path. A programmable remote control rounds up the convenience package, which was unfortunately, not supplied for this review.
The Coda allows individual input level adjust. I found that having the input levels set to full at 99 setting gave a slightly harsh sound. Setting the input levels to 90 will reward with balanced and dynamic sonics, which is what this review is based on. Your system may respond differently then mine. Do explore this setting with care.

I initially found the front panel navigation a little confusing, but a few referrals to the very clearly written manual and with added familiarity along the review period, I eventually got the hang of it. The main power ON/OFF switch is located in the back panel, and the amplifier is put in to "standby"mode once this is switched ON. Next, press the button labeled "power" on the front panel and the "bias on" LED lights up, indicating amplifier is now really ON and ready to sing. My Marantz CD 7 is the balanced source used, and the amplifier outputs it's juices via my resident PMC Fact 8 pair of speakers.
The rather busy back end. Note the excellent speaker cable terminals. Inputs on the right and pre outs on the left. Note this amp allows a pair of stereo sub woofer out, which the levels can be adjusted from the front panel. Cool feature for those who can't live without a sub woofer or two in his musical pleasures!

From the very first tune played, I found myself admiring this integrated amp's transparency factor. For a pre amp section design utilising the famous BB2310 volume control chip in balanced dual mono pair configuration, I must quantify that it is certainly the most transparent sounding implementation, compared to the utilization of the said BB chips in other pre amp designs, including one of my own DIY pre amp projects. However, when compared to other pre amp sections using methods of more sophisticated volume control, the Coda is still somewhat a little short, compared the very best high end examples that I've heard.

As with most current solid state high end class A/B biased design, the CSI B is incredibly quiet with virtually no noise, just dead silence. The tonal balance is well judged and strictly neutral, in keeping with today's high end amplifier design trend. The top end, is smooth, grain free and generally tidy if not the most extended. The mids are un coloured and will present vocals in a very clean and sibilant free manner. The bass is again not the most extended, but what ever low notes reproduced, is clean and free from note to note smearing. The Coda build quality, note the over sized 2 KVA toroidal transformer, top PCB(dark blue) is the pre amp section where a pair of BB2310 volume chip is mounted. Just below that is the power supply PCB(lighter blue colour), note the bridge rectifiers and the big bad Black Gate storage/filter caps mounted in reverse. Lastly, look at all those transistors attached to the heat sink on the side, that's the power amp section!

The sound stage reproduced as wide and as deep as my usual system will do, only with some what less hall ambient when playing "live" recordings. I did however felt that the Coda did anchor images within the sound stage more effectively than my usual Pass Labs pre/power combo. Unlike the Pass combo, the Coda does not introduce any sort of bloom, or colouration to enhance the musical interpretation, rather it allows the music speaks for it self. If I may further the theme a bit, I did felt like as if the Pass combo effectively make over the musical presentation for more perceived beauty, where else the Coda confidently allows the music's true self to show without make up, no matter how plain Jane it may appear to be.
The programmable remote, which was not supplied for the review.

In summary, I would put the Coda CSI B integrated amplifier as an over achiever within the context of it's price/product category. It's the sort of 80/20 philosophy product that so many companies touts, but never truly suceeds. Why would I say that? Here's why, retailing for RM$21K, this amp comes very close to offering nearly 80% the performance of some very much more expensive pre/power combos out there in the market(including those that we have wrote much about recently). So unless one is looking for the ultimate sound experience with no regard to cost, here's an alternative that offers so much sound performance in the package and convenience of an integrated amp.

If the price is no chump change, I think very few integrated or pre/power combo amplifiers would rival the sensible performance to value ratio offered by this Coda. This amp will drive most loud speakers loads in the market nicely, although I would hazard a guess that, it'll sonically mate superbly with warmer sounding speakers, like a pair of Sonus Faber Grand Piano, Vienna Acoustics Beethoven, ATC SCM 40 and perhaps even the earlier mentioned Magnaplanars or Eminent Technologies LFT-8B. Lastly, Coda offers 10 years product warranty which I believe, is the second longest effective period in the industry, after Bryston's 20 years warranty on their non digital products.

Coda Technologies product is sold by Audio Impression, contact Roy, tel: 012-3890333

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