Copland is one of those audio companies that never shouts about its products. Their marketing is, in the UK at least, decidedly low-key. As a result, Copland’s products might even slip below the radar of most audio enthusiasts. Thinking about it and considering the amount of amplifiers that have passed through my hands over the years, I cannot recall ever having heard one let alone having one at home for any sort of listening but I had always thought of them as tube amplifier builders. But I was wrong, as the CSA-150 leads the line of three new models that are hybrid designs. These use a tube input stage and solid state MOSFET power sections with the obvious intent of utilising the best of both technologies to achieve a specific sonic balance. When implemented successfully this can be interesting audio chemistry.
I have obviously heard other hybrid designs over the years, some more rewarding than others. They are often designs that bring mixed musical blessings. The tonal richness and ease of the tubes alongside the drive, grip and transient power of solid-state is a difficult balance to master. All of my previous experiences have left me with the conclusion that, sitting the amplifier on a performance peak and extracting the best from both technologies often results in a design that, while generally sounding sweet, often come across as a bit soft and certainly a touch conflicted where tempo and drive are concerned. A classic curate’s egg. But the Copland is an object lesson in how it should be done.
Copland amplifiers are designed and built in Denmark. The company was founded some 30 years ago by designer Ole Møller. The CSA-150 is the most powerful of the three amplifiers in the CSA series, the CSA‑70 and the CSA-100 being the others. Power output seems to be the most obvious difference between them. The 150 certainly has features aplenty and truly is a one-stop integrated as it comes with an excellent onboard quad mono DAC with good connectivity and even the option of a fitted Bluetooth aptX module which I found very useful. There is also an onboard phono stage RIAA configured for MM cartridges and an impressive DAC. This is based on a Sabre ES 9018 Reference module from ESS Technology. It will deal with PCM and DSD, up to 128, and has several digital inputs. A small front panel window might have been handy here to show the resolution. There is however a small LED that glows whenever a DSD encoded signal is detected. Connectivity to the DAC is made through a couple of optical Toslinks, an S/PDIF or there is a USB.
The front panel design is excellent and very clean with an intuitive layout. A rotary input selector guides you through the three RCA or single balanced XLR line inputs while selecting the digital input option brings into play the small sub-source selector that gives access to the rear inputs. The USB has an effective power supply of its own and can work at 32-bit with a frequency of 384 kHz. Mac OS or Linux computers will work without drivers and for Windows users Copland provide links for a suitable driver, with instructions, in the accompanying handbook.
There is also a headphone socket, a decent remote control and you can also separate the pre and power sections should you want to. Push the power button and the amplifier goes through a 30-second boot up procedure and then you are ready with 145 watts per channel (8 ohms) at your disposal. I wondered how, with the double triode gain stage (6922) the Copland would behave so soon after switch-on but I needn’t have worried. From cold the amplifier lets you know its character and although it certainly improves as the hours pass, it is a rather gentle upward curve and gives the music slightly better top to bottom coherence perhaps rather than offering anything more drastic. In short, the Copland starts singing from the opening bars of music and has a certain clarity of musical purpose that, against the truly silent backgrounds it always produces, makes listening a relaxed pleasure. It won’t take long before you pick up on the space and general dimension of the sound that the Copland always seems to produce.