||Rock with Roksan
British maker Roksan launches its attack on the multi-channel market with the beefy AV Five- Channel Amplifier
by KEN KESSLER
Ever since Roksan launched the Caspian line, I've been a fan. Nearly 75% of my weekly listening time involves a Caspian integrated amp and CD player, employed for almost all of my software reviewing, and I even feed my computer soundcard into it. Let's just say that its sound is not unfamiliar. So it was with much enthusiasm that I greeted the Roksan AV Five-Channel Amplifier, the first Caspian model with deliberate home theatre aspirations.
Roksan has attacked the A/V issue with total commitment, betraying none of the half-hearted nonsense which the wavering, under-pressure-from-the-market, two-channel wussies exhibit. The company has already issued this amplifier and a complement of A/V-dedicated speakers [see box].
To follow in due course are two units seen in prototype form - a sub-woofer and an A/V surround pre-amp with Dolby Digital circuitry - which I suspect will be in the shops by Christmas, if not, then just in time for the Winter CES. So are we being a bit premature in reviewing only part of the package? Perhaps, but it did make it easier for me to assess the five-channel power amp on its own: I merely slotted it into my reference system of Pioneer DV414 and DVL-919 DVD players. Lexicon MC-1 pre-amp processor and Apogee LCR/Ribbon Monitor loudspeakers. What the Roksan replaced was an Acurus amp with 3x200W and a Marantz with 5x5OW.
Bearing the family look of natural metal fascia with chamfered corners and an elongated oval window, the AV Five-Channel Amplifier measures 432x430x85mm (wdh), making it brethren but taller and deeper. Like the CD player where I could never understand why it sports two play/pause buttons,the display on the AV5 (as I'll call it for brevity) has an on/off button at either end of the display. Maybe the Roksan boys are ambidextrous. Whatever, the buttons take the AV5 out of standby mode or put it back; primary on/off is a rocker switch at the back.
AV5's array of icons in the window tells you when the unit is in power-on mode (the first icon on the left glows green for on/red for off), while the remaining icons indicate overload. As I never activated them, even when using Starship Troopers at the max, I can't tell you what the light show looks like naughty-boy periods. Suffice to say, the AV5's 80Wx5 proved more than adequate for either a quintet of Apogees or Roksans. The only other externals which concern us are the substantial connections at the back, where Roksan fits sturdy binding posts for five speakers, five beefy, gilded phono sockets for front L/R, rear L/R and centre, and a second set of phonos for signal throughput in case you're bi-amping, running two systems or whatever other combinations the future holds. A nice touch is that the legends are printed right-side up and upside down, so you can read them while leaning over the unit- By the way, it runs warm...
Roksan sells this beauty for a meagre £995 - a genuine bargain - but 1 gather that the chassis will be available in three- and fourchannel form for a slight saving: £795 for three, £895 for four.
With the lid removed, you can see that each channel is a selfcontained module, powered from a massive toroidal transformer power supply front-centre. Given that this will appeal to Caspian integrated owners moving from two- to five-channel systems, the option is considerate, and you need never feel locked into a three- or four-channel version, because the factory will retrofit the extra channel or two needed for a full five-channel array.
As for matching, the AV5's 8OW/channel is so close to the Caspian integrated's 70W/ch that there's little likelihood of a mismatch. Worried? Then use the integrated's two channels to drive the rear speakers. (Note that the Caspian integrated, from Day One, has offered pre-out/amp-in sockets so you can use it just as a pre-amp or stereo power amp.)
After letting the AV5 idle for 30 minutes, I blasted through the usual challenges - Starship Troopers, Dune, Vampires, et al - but tested its subtlety with Big Night, a film in which the dialogue is absolutely crucial, as opposed to others where the weapons do all the talking. How clean was it? Good enough to hear cooking sounds, sotto voce whisperings, the smacking of lips. And just in time for the listening sessions, the remastered, 5. 1 channel version of Yellow Submarine hit the shops. To my everlasting delight, Sam, the heir to my record collection, fell in love with it, the Beatles' 31-year old epic cartoon appealing to a circa 1999 nine-year-old more normally amused by Cow & Chicken or Johnny Bravo*. (He watched it twice in succession, and now goes around singing the title song... that's my boy. Sigh.) And the Roksan showed me that the remastering was not mere hype: details aplenty flowed through, even on songs I've heard a thousand times.
What did it sound like? A Caspian integrated with multiple personalities, pentaphenia as it were. Assessed first using just the two main channels and with the Lion Genki CD player as source, driven by the Caspian integrated as a pre-amp, I could detect minor improvements over the now two year-old integrated, mainly in the area of dynamics. I don't want to attribute this to an extra 1OW, but the AV5 certainly seemed better able to deal with fast and/or extreme swings from soft to loud, exhibiting no break-up at levels which would start to worry the integrated. In real terms, this manifests itself as a punchier sound.
Conversely, with levels matched precisely, it would be impossible to mistake the AV5 for anything other than the product of the same stable as the Caspian integrated. To further assess the relationship, I also used three channels of the AVS and the two of the integrated amp, all driven by the Lexicon, and could barely detect a difference worth noting with tonal sweeps. In other words, if you already own a Caspian integrated, three channels worth of AVS are all you need to go Rialto.
With a delightful show of consistency, the AV5 confirmed the description I made of the integrated: 'A neutral midband, leaning toward the dry. Precise treble, with no excesses - neither bright nor dull, but fast and crisp enough to suggest the former. Extended bass that makes up for a slight but audible lack of control and damping... consistent speed and effortless dynamics'. What's changed, and what probably can be attributed to the extra wattage, is an absence of the reticence often exhibited by the rather refined integrated older brother. This is no shy, too-polite amplifier but a platform for cinematic mayhem. And the AV5 absolutely lacks the integrated amp's facility for being overdriven during severe head-banging sessions. Again, I never tripped the protection circuitry, nor caused the warning lights to glow. Not with the thumper in Dune, not with the explosions in Starship Troopers, not with the gunplay in Bullitt.
Quite clearly, Roksan's first A/V product is a smash hit. For a British amp, it brazenly, defiantly embraces the home cinema ethos by offering guts, set-and-forget dependability (or protection circuitry peace-of-mind), ease-of-use, dynamic prowess worthy of an effects-laden blockbuster, and for the times when the TV monitor is off - enough finesse to do justice to the Beatles. Admittedly, it was the first time I'd heard 'All You Need Is Love' and 'Nowhere Man' as five-channel creations., but I'm sold: the system sounded just as good when 1 fed it the remastered, two-channel-only CD.
We can only wait to see if Roksan has given us a complete package. The speakers work beautifully, the AV5 amp is a delight. So, roll on, subwoofer and processor/pre-amp. But please don't take as long as George Lucas.
*Note: this cartoon is justification enough for subscribing to Sky. Johnny Bravo's voice is the finest impression of Elvis Presley I've ever heard, and his every move is in EIvis's Las Vegas/karate style. Or, to use his parlance, 'Oh, Mumma!'
||Extracted from Hi-Fi News & Record Review December 1999
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