Hercules and Ion trapped many of us audio enthusiasts indoors for most of the
early New Year and hopefully some of you had a new toy under the tree to get to
know with the extra time around the house. Luckily after what started out as a
bit of a bumpy road (more about that later) I finally was able to sit down and
get to know the Clayton Audio S-100 stereo 100 Watt Class A amplifier from
Clayton Audio. I had heard a lot about this company manufacturer in my own back
yard of St. Louis Missouri but had never actually had the opportunity to sit
down with one in my own listening room. What a perfect time for a Class A
amplifier with the blustering -10F degree weather outside the amp was able to
double as a space heater for my listening room (I kid, but as with most Class A
amps the heat sink does get quite warm during operation).
The Clayton Audio S-100 is quite a large amplifier with an ominous blank looking black stare; there are only two lights on the front one to indicate that the power is on and one to indicate when the bias switch is flipped to high. All of the switches are hidden underneath the unit but are easily found by touch (a larger switch for power on and a smaller one to control bias.) There is no gain or volume control on the amp so it is purely a stereo amplifier. For this review, to take any bias out if from integrating a pre amp, which can drastically change the sound, I connected the S-100 directly to my DAC (Eastern Electric Mini Max) and controlled the volume via software. The amp sounds very good in either high or low bias settings with subtle differences with my speakers (Vapor Audio's wonderful Cirrus) although due to the nature of the bias switch I would imagine it would have very different effects on the sound based on the load the crossover is putting on the amplifier, but for the purpose of simplicity I set the amp in the low bias setting for all of my listening impressions.
Ripe & Ruin: for those who enjoy male acappella
this is a unique harmony for a modern album and shows the how capable the
amplifier is in the male vocal range, very sharp and responsive.
Taro: I find the amp getting out the way and generally letting the track do the talking. This is what I would describe as musical there are certainly subtle strengths and weakness but I think all of this is to design a certain flavor into the amp. This amp is best described as organic sounding nothing has harshness hiss or buzz even the most digital sources can sound almost analog with great dynamics and space. This would amp would be great for a tube aficionado who maybe fell in love with a set of speakers that requires just a bit more juice than their tubes can provide.
Feist – Let it Die – Tout Doucement: The S-100
had an open spacious presentation, with plenty of power in reserve to dig to the
very low bass rhythm throughout the song, very low noise floor to easily place
the piano at various volume levels to the back of stage right.
Lonely Lonely: This track at its best sounds delicate and musical, this recording can sound very forward and sometimes sibilant on lower quality components at high volumes, there was none of this with the playback being powered by the S-100. Again the sound was very open spacious and organic, awesome affect of the ringing strings of the steel guitar strings present themselves throughout the whole soundstage. Possibly a little recessed in the high end, not the shimmering high end I am used to with the Cirrus on cymbals and tambourines. Hauntingly quiet soundstage.
When I Was A Young Girl: On this track along with many of Feists tracks the bass digs deep, with nice tonality on the bongos and clear separation with the bongos placed slightly right of center and the synth bass and effect dispersed throughout the stage. The S100 present a balance a bit warm of neutral for some, but for those that enjoy the sound of tubes this a fine amp with less to worry about and much higher power output for more demanding speakers and a far quieter soundstage. The Clayton Audio can produce the great dynamics of this record, almost to the point of making sound like a live show with a good system.
Portugal The Man – Church Mouth : Church Mouth
is some old school Alaskan rock (because everyone has heard Alaskan rockers
right?), Pretty reasonably recorded for the genre but a very fun band and just
something to rock out to, test the dynamic range, and try and push the S100 to
clipping. Listening at the edge of where I really felt comfortable there is
really not even a sign of break up or anything getting sloppy or out control.
Soundstage was rock solid; bass was tactile and still retained all the details
and decay you would hope for in a rock recording. My best tube rig (which only
pushes 38 Watts mind you) would have been crushing the dynamic range and running
out of power at this point. This was really Clayton Audio's sweet spot,
delivering effortless musicality and a "tube like" presentation, without
skimping on power (Clayton makes a 300W monaural iteration of the S100 called
the M300 that produces, you guessed it 300 Watts per channel into an 8 Ohm
load.) Soundstage was still rock solid, bass was tactile and still retained all
the details and decay you would hope for in a rock recording.
Bellies Are Full: What a ballad with some wicked southern style lap guitar. The album is recorded in the same style as most White Stripes albums with that sort of sepia filter on the sound making it sound a bit like you would imagine an old-timey photo would sound. The effect is intentional and was executed very well. With rock at these volumes the soundstage sometimes got a little bit forward but never fatiguing, to the edge, just like rock should be.