REVIEW: CREEK AUDIO EVOLUTION 100A INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
Britain's Creek Audio has established a reputation for producing high-performance, value for money Hi-Fi components. We take a closer look at its state-of-the-art, modular design Evolution 100A integrated amplifier.
$2,965 RRP (Sequel Mk2 Phono Module - $265, Ruby 2 DAC Module - $825)
I listened to a Creek EVOLUTION 50A integrated amplifier a couple of years ago and enjoying it. For its reasonable cost, it's excellent value, but importantly it sounded great. I remember thinking at the time that Creek has always made equipment that sounds better than many of the mass-produced Asian brands out there for similar money.
I now have the pleasure of looking more closely at the 50A's big brother, the EVOLUTION 100A integrated amplifier hailing from the family-run British business that boasts over 36 years of audio history.
Integrated amplifiers seem to be one of the most popular segments in the market today and are now becoming preferred over separate components. They are a compact all-in-one package that offers less clutter and without the need for auxiliary cables.
The EVOLUTION 100A is the perfect example of a product fit for purpose and somewhat future proof.
I say that because the 100A is available as a $2,965 RRP two-channel integrated amplifier that has a modular chassis and is upgradable with additional input modules. You only need to pay for the features that you want.
The 100A amplifier is typically supplied with five analogue inputs. However, the 5th line input can be swapped with a RUBY 2 DAC module ($825), with digital inputs. There are two optical and two co-axial SPDIF inputs as well as a USB 2 connection. The RUBY 2 DAC module uses a Wolfson WM8742 DAC capable of 24 bit 192 kHz.
You also get the addition of an FM tuner and Bluetooth connectivity allowing smartphones or tablets to be synced directly to the amp with your favourite music streamed wirelessly. Nice!
The other option is the Sequel mk2 phono module ($265) available with three settings – 40dB MM, 48dB MC and 54dB MC. The review unit that I received had the phono module fitted as well as the RUBY 2 DAC module. Both are worthy inclusions, but then only if you need them. It's your call, and having the choice is excellent.
While the EVOLUTION 100A is a full-width component, it's very slim and only 60mm in height. It features a brushed aluminium front panel, with tasteful engraving and solid metal dials. The central display is a white OLED panel which has lovely clear resolution and can easily be read from across the room.
The amount of information that it displays is just right, and the menus are intuitive to use without the need to consult the user manual. There are four black buttons on each side of the display that light-up when used. The main volume control doubles as a mute switch when pushed in and the input selector also has a push to select function. A 6.3mm headphone socket completes the front panel.
The rear panel has two pairs of good quality speaker binding posts for A & B speaker outputs, which can be switched by using the remote control, or via the front panel. One set can be also be used to turn the output of the amplifier into a high-performance mono output with double the output current. It can be used in conjunction with a Creek EVOLUTION 100P Power Amplifier with bridged-mono output.
Depending on the modules fitted, there are up to five line-level inputs. There is the nice addition of input four having both balanced XLR connectivity as well as a standard unbalanced RCA connection. A set of preamp out RCA connectors also allow the amplifier to become a preamp only if so desired. Line three has an AV direct function which allows the input to bypass the preamp and volume circuitry, useful for a source with its own volume control, like the Creek EVOLUTION 100CD CD player.
Lastly, an optional infrared extender is supplied to enable the amplifier to be tucked up in a cupboard or around a corner, but still operable via remote control. Creek has put much thought into the design of its product line as it seems that virtually all scenarios are taken care of.
The EVOLUTION 100A weights about 9kg, but it feels like more. Most of the mass comes from a massive 360 Watt toroidal mains transformer, with multiple windings for high and low voltages and current to separate the power amp, preamp and digital circuitry.
The design also makes use of the multiple smaller capacitors in the power supply, connected in parallel rather than using a few larger ones. This is said to significantly improve filtering with the benefit of low inductance and ultra-low impedance. Creek certainly didn't skimp on the power supply.
Class G Amplifier
The other significant deviation from the norm is the choice to make the amplifier run in Class G. The amplifier is the single largest consumer of electricity in your audio system, by some margin, and engineers are continually looking for ways to add increased efficiency to their designs.
Creek tells us that after plenty of testing, David Gamble, Creek Audio's Senior Engineer, created a unique Class G circuit especially for the EVOLUTION 100A that provides high performance as well as high efficiency in the power amplifier.
David developed the circuit which runs normally like a Class A/B amp at a lower primary voltage for power levels up to 25 Watts (8 Ohms). However, when the amplifier is required to produce even more power, it automatically swings to a higher secondary voltage, increasing the output power capability to over 100 Watts.
Of course, the power consumption of a 25 Watt amplifier will be much lower than a 100 Watt amplifier, yet it has the reserve power of a larger amplifier for peaks in the music to avoid clipping. So this solution dramatically improves the amplifier's thermal efficiency and helps to keep it slim and attractive and without the need for large heatsinks.
You're probably wondering why all manufacturers don't use this good design, and the answer is simply the added complexity and cost. There are no free lunches.
I connected the Creek EVOLUTION 100A amplifier to my system, which included VAF Research DC-7 Mk3 loudspeakers, which turned out to be an excellent match.
Immediately apparent was just how compact and purposeful it is sitting within the cabinet. The white OLED display and backlit buttons are clear and legible and give just the right information, even from a distance.
Why don't all manufacturers use easy to read displays? The brightness can be dimmed or even switched off if unwanted. The feel and weight of the rotary input selector and volume control are smooth and a pleasure to use.
By pushing the volume dial inwards selects mute, and pushing it again or turning it clockwise will un-mute the volume. Simple but highly effective!
The remote control, although being plastic, doesn't feel cheap or mass-produced, but thoughtfully laid out and easy to use. My first impressions were favourable.
Initially, new out of the box and primarily through the digital input, I thought the amplifier sounded a touch harsh. Giving it an hour or so of run time, it started to sound more coherent and refined.
So I left it playing over the next couple of day and goodness me there was a significant change for the better. The Creek instruction manual suggests that “leaving it powered up continuously can improve the performance.” I can attest to that statement; it seems to make a significant difference to the sound quality. With only 20 Watts of power consumption when left on continuously, it's a no brainer, and it's not killing the planet.
With the EVOLUTION 100A run in, warm and ready to give me its best, I settled in to playing lots of familiar music and was not disappointed. This amplifier sounds great. The top to bottom balance is very good with clean extended highs, an open midrange and nicely extended bass. No region dominated, and everything is precisely where it should be. The soundstage was excellent, large with a nice amount of detail and certainly room-filling.
I'm enjoying listening to Billie Eilish at the moment. Her music is well recorded and interestingly different from most other teenagers. 'Lovely (with Khalid)' is a track with strings, piano and vocals. The strings are smooth and without etch or overly brittle, with the piano sounding convincing and the vocals exhibiting excellent separation and detail.
You can easily follow either singer during the duets as there is sufficient distinction between them; they don't just blend into one another. This quality in the midrange is vital to me as vocals are critical in making any track sound real and enjoyable.
Most of the music that I played was through the digital input of the optional RUBY2 DAC. If demonstrated seamless integration and excellent sound quality. Internally the RUBY 2 uses a single Wolfson WM8742 DAC chip, the same chip used in many other good sounding CD players and stand-alone DAC's, included the Rega DAC-R which I reviewed (and bought) a few years ago.
It didn't seem to matter what genre of music I chose as the EVOLUTION 100A played it all in a very realistic and compelling manner. It's what I call sounding musical, as opposed to sounding hi-fi, artificial or fake.
The integrated amplifier seemed to play everything right and ensure that listening to music is an enjoyable experience.
I tried the Bluetooth connection and was pleasantly surprised by how it sounded. Besides some roll-off at the top and bottom of the frequency extremes, it was beautiful to listen to.
The inbuilt FM tuner worked well, although I must admit to giving the radio minimal playing time. It's a useful addition to the arsenal of sources that the Creek amplifier has at its disposal.
Also included in that arsenal is the optional Sequel mk3 phono pre-amplifier that was fitted to my review unit. This plug-in card contains small switches that can be set to a wide range of phono cartridge settings so that the gain and capacitance are correct for the cartridge that you own. I had on hand the Yamaha MusicCast Vinyl 500 Turntable for review, so had plenty of time to hear its attributes through the Creek.
The Creek gets on with the business of making music and delivering clean sound, with quiet backgrounds and a fantastic three-dimensional soundstage that vinyl is famous for. Switching back to the internal phono stage on the Yamaha was a real backward step, with its soundstage noticeably smaller and flatter sounding. The Creek's phono input had far greater dynamics and drive, and fuller richer bass.
Next up I played '7 Rings' by Ariana Grande to try out the headphone output. I used Sony WH-1000XM Headphones as well as the excellent Telefunken Audion 110th Anniversary headphones. The track has superb reverb, plenty of spatial detail and deep bass that were all conveyed very nicely when played through the EVOLUTION 100A.
There was excellent control of the bass notes, not overly lean or woolly but just right in my opinion. It could be played loudly with lots of dynamics and slam, yet with control and finesse.
The Creek Audio EVOLUTION 100A integrated amplifier is an attractive piece of audio equipment with its simple, uncluttered design. It is compact enough to fit almost anywhere, yet powerful enough to shake the room if so required. The Class G circuitry allows a high output amplifier to occupy a smaller space, which incidentally never got hot while being energy efficient, even if left on all of the time, which I recommend.
Creek themselves state that “The EVOLUTION 100A is the most sophisticated and reasonably priced amplifier Creek has ever made” and that “it provides stunning audio performance”.
I believe that their statement is an excellent summary which I wholeheartedly agree with. The amplifier with its optional modules fitted was a pleasure to use and to listen to.
It represents excellent value for money, but more importantly, the Creek EVOLUTION 100A is capable of making music, real music, and that for the majority of us is all that we will ever need.
For more information or to find your nearest dealer visit Creek Audio.
- POWER OUTPUT: >110 Watts into 8 Ohms
- POWER OUTPUT: >170 Watts into 4 Ohms
- CONTINUOUS CURRENT: >8.5 Amps (sine wave)
- MAX CURRENT: +/- 26 Amps, current burst into 0.5 Ohms
- OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: <0.05 Ohms – 20Hz to 20KHz
- THD: < 0.002%
- SNR: >102dB – Line Input
- FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 10Hz – 100KHz +/- 2dB Line
- GAIN: 33.3dB (x46) via power amp input
- INPUT SENSITIVITY: 650mV
- CROSSTALK: -80dB at 1Khz
- DC OFFSET: < +/-10mV
- PRE-AMP INPUTS: 5x RCA unbalanced – 1x Balanced XLR
- POWER-AMP INPUTS: Input 3 & 4via RCA or XLR
- OPTIONAL TUNER: AMBIT FM/AM plug-in module
- OPTIONAL DAC: RUBY DAC – USB,SPDIF,Toslink, Bluetooth & FM Tuner
- OUTPUTS: 2 Pairs
- HEADPHONE OUTPUT: Dedicated low impedance amp (<50 Ohms)
- IR BUS: Powered output for IR repeater
- OPERATING VOLTAGES: 110V/230V Switchable
- CONSUMPTION (AT IDLE): <20 Watts (no standby)
- CONSUMPTION (AT FULL POWER): 500 Watts
- WEIGHT: 9Kgs
- DIMENSIONS: 430x60x280mm W/H/D
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.
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