Copland CSA-150 Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

Integrated amplifiers
Copland CSA-150

Driving my Wilson Duette 2 speakers the CSA-150, like other quality integrated amplifiers before it, found willing partners in musical expression. Such an expensive speaker with a high performance plateau would seldom be used with the Copland but it is a useful microscope into its performance. The feeling of space and the lack of any sort of grain or edge was welcome in that it lends a feeling of confidence in the system. It treads the line between being incisive, fast and articulate and expansive subtlety and nuance extremely well. During one of my lengthy listening sessions where I was concentrating on listening to trios I stumbled across Garden Of Expression by Joe Lovano, a classic three piece of sax, drums and piano. This is a classic ECM recording through and through. Lots of space, inky black backgrounds and an uber-clean production approach allowing the musicians the space and resolution to move beyond the studio and into your listening room. These elements played right into what the Copland does so well. The playing is often very minimal, the melodies stripped of embellishment and a sense of atmosphere and an ethereal mood that few producers can summon. Manfred Eicher is a master of the genre and has been producing music flavoured like this for decades now. Within the framework of what seems like such a simple acoustic Eicher’s gift is that he creates space and within that is a placement and dimension that reveals unstated rhythms and moments of rare interplay that are most definitely not built around drum patterns. The players do not dance to the tempo of the bass drum but rather find their space and lean off each other. The superbly recorded cymbals seem almost part of the reverberation as they lay down glistening metallic textures and micro crescendos that the Copland floats across the room. What is so impressive is the way the CSA-150 finds form and shape in the music. Yes, the band is free but not quite freeform in any avant-garde kind of way. The piano always shapes the harmonic direction and the Copland has the control and the sense of width and depth to bring the atmosphere to you and fill the room with black space.

I love the way that the Copland sounds so clear, open and dynamically free. There’s no sense of over-damped electronics here. The rhythms flow with clarity and purpose. Listen to the quite amazing Andy McKee playing ‘When She Cries’ [Common Ground, Razor & Tie EP] to hear what I mean. I’ve owned an ex-McKee Michael Greenfield guitar and know that it is so, so sensitive that it can run away with you if you don’t have the chops to simply keep the thing under control. Tonally its possibilities seem close to miraculous. It’s the Formula 1 car of the custom acoustic guitar world and is, at the same time, among the most rewarding and dispiriting of any instrument I have ever played. I couldn’t ever really get the saddle on, let alone ride it. The sheer intensity and intricacies unfolding within the dynamic themes he can conjure on a solo steel-string guitar and the polyrhythms he creates can have many amplifiers wiping their foreheads while tripping over themselves to get it all out, but not here. Set within a super-focussed acoustic, he just lets rip and the notes are flying everywhere. There are bass lines, percussive elements and amazing melodies, all interweaving with machine-gun complexity. I’ve seldom heard this balance between control and free-flowing musical expression so eloquently expressed and with such comparative ease too. The Copland simply loves these challenges and somehow finds both the space and the temperament to bring them to a completely understandable whole. It’s that sense of dynamics within a broad space again. The pure dimension this amplifier operates within is just one of the things that make it different.

It also has an uncanny way with vocals, virtually any vocal too. It unsticks them from the backing track and projects them forward into a rock solid central image with real natural clarity and this is one of its most attractive attributes. If you like a sense of close intimacy from your system and through that, perhaps even a sense of involvement then give the Copland CSA series some consideration. Gillian Welch’s Boots No 2: The Lost Songs Vol.1 {Arcony], the MQA version streamed through Tidal Masters has an entrancing sense of calm and melody about it. The Copland puts it all together with considerable charm by capturing the atmosphere of the songs and the beautiful contrasts. Her voice is liquid and colourful and free of any sense of processing. Just a straight microphone technique aimed at giving her interpretation of the short songs a full colour rendition. The Copland is in its element here. Full of body and space, the acoustic relies on subtle contrasts as Gillian’s voice has that beautiful but essential loneliness and this is one of the things that defines the CSA-150. The way the vocal touches you emotionally is so typical of this amplifier.

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