When I heard that Classé Audio was bringing out a new component in their Sigma range, my hope was that it would be an integrated amplifier. A smile broke out over my face when in May they released to the public that they would be launching a new highly intelligent integrated amplifier called the Sigma 2200i. As a huge fan of the entire Sigma range (and Delta range for the matter), especially the Sigma Amp2, I had high hopes for this new addition.
The Sigma 2200i is packed with everything a modern hi-fi enthusiast could ever ask for in an integrated amplifier. Though many of us would love to have a dedicated listening room, for most of us this just isn’t possible. So like myself, where my hi-fi also doubles up as my 2-channel “home cinema” the inclusion of a DAC in an integrated amplifier is exceptionally helpful and handy to have. This has to be one of the reasons why over the last three to five years we’ve seen an explosion of integrated amplifiers, from entry level to high-end, including some type of DAC. But where the Sigma 2200i pulls away from most integrated amplifiers, is the addition of the HDMI inputs/output – so no more of having to run the optical out of the television or digital box into an outboard DAC and then into your amplifier.
Classé made a wonderful decision for the DAC by using the same connectivity and circuit blocks used in their multi-award winning Delta CP-800. The 2200i accommodates every type of digital source one might have in their hi-fi kit; which includes optical, coaxial, HDMI, and USB types A and B. For those of you looking to get into streaming or for those of you who already stream music, the 2200i also supports AirPlay and DLNA streaming. The only streaming option you won’t find is Bluetooth.
For those of us out there that love their vinyl, but want to keep the boxes on our hi-fi racks to a minimum, the Sigma 2200i also has an optional upgrade for one of the analogue inputs to be turned into a phono stage input; which is the same phono stage board that can be an optional upgrade in the CP-800 and Sigma SSP. I’ve had a chance to test one that was installed in a CP-800 and I can say it is very good indeed.
So what does this very versatile integrated amplifier sound like?
Out of the box, you can immediately tell that this amplifier needs some bedding-in time. Everything sounds a bit compressed and mashed together. So I let it run for 50 hours straight, playing at low volume on a pair of B&W 804 D3 speakers, before I started any critical listening.
With a bit of time on it, everything about the presentation that I first heard out of the box is erased. This could have a lot to do with the choice Classé made in using their tried-and-tested switching amplification topology, which can be found in both the Sigma Amp2 and Delta CA-D200 power amplifiers. Classé has figured out a way to almost completely eliminate the inherent problems associated with switching amplification, in particular dead-band time (DBT). DBT has to be one of the biggest reasons why some amplifiers, that use switching topology, can sound distorted and harsh. To correct this the engineers at Classé chose not to use excessive amounts of negative feedback, which will inevitably reduce an amplifier’s dynamic range, generally rolling off the top end of the audio band. Instead, they developed technologies like controller circuitry that will analyse and adjust to minimise DBT; this, along with other highly sophisticated tech-tools, Classé is able to use the absolute least amount of negative feedback where their phase output filter is used to filter the 384kHz switching frequency, allowing this amplifier to have the largest dynamic range possible.
The sound opened up and allowed the B&W 804 D3 to create the beauty they present to the listener. The soundstage was very impressive and expansive. There wasn’t a false sense of space; rather it was accurate and I could clearly identify where the instruments/musicians were located during the time of recording. I didn’t hear any type of distortion during playback, indicating to me that the technologies they employed within the 2200i’s switching amplification work very well.
Feeding the 2200i a digital source (Naim NDX), I preferred the subtleties and nuances that the DAC within the Classé was able to pull out in comparison to the Naim’s own DAC. To be honest, there was something rather special about how the 2200i sounded via feeding it a digital signal – this could have a lot to do with the how digital signal processing works within it. The digital signal stays within the digital domain from the input stage all the way to the output stage – eliminating any unnecessary digital-to-analogue and/or analogue-to-digital conversions, which Classé believes help maintain the source’s signal purity. And to my ears, it seems their claims are spot-on.
What impressed me most about the 2200i was the power that this cool running integrated amplifier can produce when needed. I really wanted to see what it could do with a “challenging” speaker load, so I hooked a favourite of mine, the Harbeth M40.2 speakers. Now these speakers will work well with a high current 50watt amplifier, but to really get the best of them and to hear what they’re truly capable of, the use of a high current/high wattage amplifier is a must. I write this because in my experience with the M40.2 the low-end frequency response can be ever so sluggish if it doesn’t have a boat load of power driving them. So with this in mind, when I write the following words I mean it. The Sigma 2200i/Naim NDX/Harbeth M40.2 system was breathtakingly good. The Classé didn’t flinch a bit, it didn’t seem bothered to be driving the M40.2, it preformed brilliant. One of the best I’ve heard from any sub-£5,000 integrated amplifier.
The Classé Sigma 2200i is a solid performer and as versatile as they come. Even if you have an acoustically challenged listening room the 2200i has you covered with customisable tone controls, a 9-band parametric EQ (per channel), and bass management for those using a subwoofer. My only hang-up is the it doesn’t have preamplifier outputs – but then again, why would the average hi-fi enthusiast ever need more power than the 2200i already offers. I like that it has a fully functional app for both Android and Apple users.
If you are in the market for new amplification sub-£4,000, then this is a must audition. I have a feeling you’ll be very happy with how easy it is to have such wonderful music.
For further information about Classé click HERE
For availability of the Sigma 2200i click HERE
For our YouTube video about the Sigma 2200i click HERE