Copland CSA70 Integrated Amplifier Review
James Michael Hughes says this affordable audiophile amplifier is a great Danish design…
CSA70 Integrated Amplifier
AUD $4,900 RRP
Copland’s new CSA70 is a solid-state amplifier delivering a claimed 70W per channel into 8 ohms and 130W into 4 ohms. It sports three unbalanced analogue line inputs, MM phono stage, coaxial, optical, and USB digital inputs via a built-in DAC, plus a headphone socket. Unlike the company’s other integrated amps, the entry-level CSA70 is not a tube/transistor hybrid. If you want a valve line stage, you’ll need to look at the pricier 100W CSA100 or 150W CSA150 models.
Under the hood, this Copland employs an Amenero USB interface, and an optional Bluetooth module is also available. Interestingly, the higher-spec ESS DAC (used in the CSA100 and CSA150 models) is replaced by the older Wolfson WM8740 in the CSA70, which is already behind the curve, being ‘just’ 24/192 PCM with no facility to handle DSD. However, this is still sufficient to work with the vast majority of music files currently out there and will be for a while, I reckon.
In the flesh, the CSA70 is a handsome, regular-sized integrated amplifier that measures 435x150x370mm and weighs around 12kg. I like its beautifully finished 10mm thick brushed aluminium fascia plate (available in silver or black), which gives the amp a classy, understated look. Two large rotary knobs on the front protrude by about 35mm; the left knob is the input selector, while the right knob controls volume. The shape of the knobs and the engravings make this amp look like a piece of lab gear, and I rather like it. On the left is a much smaller knob that selects between the various digital options (coaxial, USB, etc.) when the main selector is set to D. The amp runs very cool and during use at average volume levels, puts out hardly any heat.
I auditioned the Copland driving a pair of Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers using various sources. These are highly efficient, so they don’t need much driving, and are also very dynamic, quite revealing, and work especially well with tube amps. Prior to getting the CSA70 in for review, I had been driving the Cornwalls with a Consonance MS100S Plus integrated amp that employs four 300B output tubes to deliver 22W output. This amp gives a smooth, open, liquid sort of sound that’s impressively detailed and three dimensional.
In view of this, I anticipated the need for a period of adjustment or acclimatisation, but actually, it wasn’t necessary. The Copland matched the sonic performance of the Consonance surprisingly well. It was open and neutral, clean and refined, yet full-bodied and powerful. Okay, maybe the last nth degree of effortless liquidity was missing. Still, overall the sonic difference between an exceptionally capable tube amp and what is, after all, an ‘entry-level’ transistor design was much smaller than expected!
Compared to the warm and rich Consonance, the Copland sounded slightly drier and less sweet. It was taut and firm, with imposing authority and grip. Although the extra mellifluousness of the MS100S Plus was attractive, the CSA70’s way of doing things was equally impressive and convincing. Playing a recording of Kurt Weil’s acerbic violin concerto with Christian Tetzlaff on the Virgin label, I liked the crisp and decisive way the Copland reproduced the music. Clarity was excellent, with everything cleanly focused and sharply delineated. Solo piano is always a good test. Playing the first of Beethoven’s Op 10 sonatas with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on Chandos, the sound was impressively bright, incisive and immediate, with snappy-attack and excellent dynamics.
I initially listened to my digital discs via a Marantz SACD 30n. I then installed the Amenero app on my Windows laptop (no need for this with a Mac) to listen to CDs I’d ripped into iTunes. These sounded excellent; slightly better than the same CDs played through the SACD 30n! I put on Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and ended up listening to the whole album, so involving was the end result. While the technical quality of individual tracks varied, the Copland made it sound all-of-a-piece. Some tracks sounded surprisingly holographic, too.
There was a solid cohesiveness in the way the CSA70 reproduced music. It delivers a very integrated, homogenous sound and isn’t easily fazed by demanding material. With its clean top and complete bottom end, it sounds good on most music, from rock to classical.
Despite the Wolfson WM8740 chip being somewhat mature in terms of design, it delivers very good results sonically. Using the Marantz SACD 30n, I compared sounds via the player’s analogue outputs to the result obtained with the DAC in the CSA70. It was quite difficult to detect any significant difference between the two. The Marantz seemed a fraction more incisive, but otherwise, the two were close. As the Marantz has a newer and technically superior DAC, it should sound better, but the differences seemed fairly subtle in reality. CSA70 owners could use the DAC in their CD player, or the one in the amp. Older CD players should definitely benefit from the high quality of the Copland’s DAC, and using it will also deliver a shorter, cleaner analogue signal path.
Using a laptop connected to the CSA70, I played God Bless the Child from the ECM album Standards, featuring Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack de Johnette,derived from a CD ripped to iTunes. It sounded really good – full-bodied and powerful, with excellent clarity and detail. If you’ve heard this track, you’ll know that Jarrett scat-sings part of the time in a hoarse squeaky voice. Having played this track many times, I was surprised to hear something I’d never noticed before; what sounds like him clearing his throat at 4m 22s, 4m 25s, and 4m 31s! The fact that you can this sort of detail is a measure of working dynamic range, which defines how quiet something can be in an otherwise loud, busy mix and still be heard.
Comparing Copland’s CSA70 to Marantz’s slightly cheaper Model 30 integrated amp proved interesting. The Marantz amp sounded smooth, but just a bit soft in terms of midband clarity and dynamics. There was less presence and projection.
Returning to the Kurt Weil violin concerto, the orchestra (winds and brass) often accompanies in middle and low registers – presumably to let the solo violin (playing in its high register) cut through more easily. However, this can lead to the violin becoming over prominent. The Marantz sounded good, and its refined smoothness was attractive, but the Copland made more of the music, rendering the orchestral brass and wind instruments with increased presence. I could discern everything in the score with greater ease.
For vinyl users, the CSA70 features a built-in moving magnet phono stage of surprisingly high quality. Although a phono stage offering moving coil as well would have been useful, there are now quite a few decent MM cartridges on the market at reasonable cost. It has a good headphone amp too!
The Copland was very quiet mechanically and electrically. There’s no mains transformer buzz audible; even when putting my ear right close to the case, there was nothing to be heard. The amp remembers the input previously selected when you switch it on from standby, which is a nice touch.
Criticisms? While you can switch between analogue sources using the remote control, you can only select the digital options via the switch on the front panel – which is a little odd compared to most other such integrated amps. Also, the motorised volume moves a bit too much, even with a light press, so making small level changes around the -45dB point is tricky.
Overall though, the Copland CSA70 is an outstandingly good amplifier at the price – one that delivers a sense of high-end refinement and detail without completely breaking the bank. While it’s very good in all the various hi-fi aspects like clarity, detail, control and dynamics, it plays music superbly well. Sonically, it is keen and assertive yet smooth and fluid, and never draws attention to itself. The amplifier is ruggedly constructed and designed to deal with awkward dynamic loads that certain loudspeakers may present. All this contributes to the CSA70’s excellent transient handling capability and long term reliability.
Copland’s new CSA70 came as something of a nice surprise to me. It’s an ‘entry level high end’ product from a highly regarded company but not well known for affordable audiophile designs at this price. I found it to be a gorgeous little integrated that sounds every bit as good as it looks. For those wanting a stripped minimalist design, this offers just about everything you need, and nothing you don’t. I predict it’s set to make many friends for Copland; it could be a very happy new year for this Danish company.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION
Want to share your opinion or get advice from other enthusiasts? Then head into the Message Forums where thousands of other enthusiasts are communicating on a daily basis.
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MEMBERSHIP