Like the CS2, the CD player, and DAC before it, there’s actually not much you need say about the sonic performance of the CS3. And what you do say, is often just a reflection of the weaker aspects of other products in its price class. In other words, “X isn’t as detailed as the CS3” or especially “Y isn’t as dynamic as the CS3”. But, even pulling out these aspects is doing the B.M.C. Audio something of a disservice, because it implies individuated aspects of a performance, where the CS3 –like its predecessor shines in delivering the whole package.
You don’t focus on the ephemera here. You aren’t listening for the detail or defining the soundstage. You are listening to music, as a complete and contiguous whole. It’s like it manages to combine the grace of a good valve amp with the power of good solid state. That combination of effortless power and a lot of respect for the music makes the CS3 the perfect foil for some of the larger, more demanding, and great sounding loudspeakers out there. And yet, used with more humble loudspeakers and you get a smaller, more taut sound. The CS3 is the combination of mail’d fist in velvet glove with a gentle soul at its base. It’s tempting to use this amplifier with difficult loudspeaker loads at high volumes, because the amp can take it and it’s fun, but this is also an amplifier for the long haul. It sounds good, honest, and accurate whatever you throw at it, or whatever you throw it at.
Having some water under the bridge between the CS2 and CS3 does make for some observations, that either I missed last time, or maybe have become more important to me over the last few years. The sound of the B.M.C. is very much in the big amp design, but in some respects its very much in the older big amp, er, camp. This is a surprisingly fast sounding amplifier all things considered, but it’s not the most rhythmically precise as I’ve heard of late. I do think I am becoming more aware of rhythmic properties of music recently, or more particularly, I’ve become less tolerant of their absence. I’ve still not quite reached that level of tunesmithery that means you can walk into a room, listen to someone count off a four-four beat, and then walk straight out saying “it doesn’t time”, but that temporal and rhythmic precision I once had from smaller Naim amps is calling again, and it’s somewhat found wanting here. This is an incredibly powerful amplifier that puts a smile on your face, makes music sound exciting and percussive when called for, but there’s just that niggling little need to tap your foot along with the beat, which this gets so close to fully achieving. For many, this is a non-issue, and the combination of dynamic range, excellent soundstaging, and almost perfect vocal articulation will outweigh any perceived pace issues. But I stuck on ‘Come Together’ from Abbey Road by The Beatles [Parlophone, CD] and Ringo Starr’s louche drum style was almost too correct.
Regardless, the CS3 presents the sound it’s fed honestly and accurately. It’s fundamentally neutral to the core, and that is what makes it so attractive to high-end loudspeakers. I’m finding it a little difficult to be entirely rational about this because of what it represents (high-end the way it always used to be) as much as how it sounds, but the fact is it sounds extremely good indeed.
We’ve lost our way a little, and the musical examples audio reviewers pull out of the hat can sometimes reflect this. It’s a function of preaching to the choir and not having enough new blood to be able to play a more diverse range of albums. But the CS3 needs none of that selective audiophile album nonsense. It’s just as comfortable playing Puscifer as it is being cerebral to a Mozart piano concerto. And while that doesn’t make for pulling out good musical examples to highlight performance aspects (just point the amp at your collection and you’ll find such examples) it does make for an amplifier that at once ticks the audiophile and the everyman boxes alike.
A brief word on cables. Don’t get too fussed by them. B.M.C. still makes its own monocrystal cable at a less heady price point than the usual suspects and that works extremely well. But, frankly, the CS3 is not a fussy amplifier in terms of cable demands. I found it worked extremely well with Cardas Clear interconnects and speaker cables, and I didn’t feel the need to push the envelope to something in the hyper-price league. The CS3 is best used in balanced operation if it is not to be in an all B.M.C. rig. Single-ended is pretty good, but not quite as essential as balanced and you would be strongly recommended to go for this connection if it were at all possible. But, more importantly, remember the ‘it’s not fussy’ line.
Having lived with the CS3, I am reminded of the CS2, and the question deserves repeating – Is it worth upgrading or changing from one to the other? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Not because the CS3 is worse than the CS2. It’s ever so slightly better, in fact. And that’s why I suggest holding off. If you have a CS2, you already have a great amp with years of life in it. If you haven’t, check out the CS3, because it does practically everything a classic Krell does, for less.