You might well think we’re getting pretty good at this hi-fi thing. After all, we’ve been at it a while and, reading the press, you could easily conclude that, as the parade of ‘latest, greatest’ products continues to pass, we must be on an inexorable upward trajectory. Surely perfection awaits – just beyond the next rise. Yet perfection – just like tomorrow – seems to be always a day away. With pages to fill and audible differences to report, the distinction between different and better all too often gets blurred. But occasionally – just occasionally – a product arrives that resets your expectations, redefines possibilities and represents a fundamental step-change in performance, that forces a reassessment of our capability and the status quo. You can wait years for such a product: On average I reckon to hear two or three a decade. But then, like London buses used to, you’ll have three roll up at once.
In the last year I’ve been fortunate enough to live with and review the Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC and the PureLow LO sub-woofer, which have completely redefined expectations at opposite ends of the system. Now the CH 10 Series amplification has arrived – and it is everything I hoped and more. If the Wadax and the PureLow have substantially extended my expectations, these new flagship electronics from CH Precision have forced me to completely revise my approach to reviewing, reconsider my methodology and reach for an entirely new descriptive lexicon. They deliver an entirely new level of access and connection to familiar recordings. But beyond their impressive fit and finish, their physical and musical presence and authority, for all their remarkable sonic abilities and musical attributes, what they really provide is just more: more music, more of the time; more involvement across a wider expressive range; more of what hi-fi is supposed to be about. Sometimes products really are simply better – a lot better. This is one of those times.
You could also be forgiven – at least at first glance – for wondering what all the fuss is about. Despite coming in above the established 1 Series and at significantly higher prices, the new amps don’t look that different and, thanks to the modular, multi-configurable, multi-box approach that defines CH’s existing product line, you’re probably used to seeing stacks of near identical boxes in that particular shade of blue-grey. The company has chosen to retain the essential footprint, finish and layout of their existing products – a move that will certainly endear them to 1 Series owners looking to upgrade. If the straight bevel that cuts across the fascia in place of the previous, characteristic curve is enough to differentiate the 10 Series from the existing products, at least for those in the know, the addition of both darker, graphite grey and champagne gold finishes definitely break the mould. Owners even have the ability to mix and match the finishes within a single unit – allowing you to mix a gold front-panel with a graphite chassis. This is hardly an aesthetic free-for-all or the dazzling range of options offered by some manufacturers, but for a company that has spent 10-years relentlessly getting to a point where everything it makes is exactly the same colour, this is definitely letting their hair down! Operationally too, this is a story of evolution rather than revolution. When your existing products already set the standard for user configurable versatility, why change a winning formula? Instead, CH has refined those facilities still further, not in operational terms, but adding significantly to the user’s ability to tune performance to their system and their musical preferences.
Both the L10 and the M10 use essentially the same topology as the equivalent 1 Series units, but circuit boards have been relayed to reduce interference and induced noise, with every component in their fully discrete, balanced and complementary circuit paths re-examined and, wherever possible, upgraded. The L10 (£65,000) is now a two-box design, with a massive, dedicated power supply, stuffed with those proprietary red caps and optimized specifically for its functionality and circuit topology. The same dual-concentric control drives operations, but users now get to select whether the unit operates with or without global feedback – a decision that is both programme and system dependent. The M10 (£83,600) is also a two-box design. That’s right – those two boxes make up a single stereo amp – albeit one that can be reconfigured for various bi-amp or mono output topologies. The separate power supply weighs in at 78kg. Lift the lid and it looks like something out of Chernobyl – although thankfully it’s considerably more stable! The amplifier adds another 53kg (hence the practical necessity to split the boxes), an entirely new input topology and half as much power again as the M1.1 to go with the twice the capacity power supply.
Underlining the evolutionary nature of the 10 Series’ development, the user selectable feedback ratio in the M10 is available in 1% as opposed to the previous 10% steps, a change that offers a really significant increase in the ability to match amp-to-speaker-to-room in any given situation. In the same vein, the unit’s coupling/stacking system has also evolved. Beautifully executed, the new system really works, delivering the expected drop in noise floor with its attendant increases in dynamic range, focus and instrumental colour and harmonics that come with any effective coupling system. But the best thing about both products, at least from this reviewer’s point of view, is that the substantial invoice that arrived with the products didn’t have to be paid! There’s expensive, seriously expensive and then you reach eye-wateringly, pip-squeezingly unaffordable – at least for most of us. Safe in the knowledge that if you can contemplate one M10, then the second probably isn’t that great a stretch, CH even took the opportunity to underline the product’s versatility by including a second amp.