Impressions Channel Islands Audio D-100 monoblocks

Category: Amplifiers

As stated, this is going to be just a few observations and a side by side comparison with a very popular amp of the new "CIA" D-100 monoblock 100w into 8 ohm 175w into 4 ohm amplifiers.
A brief intro:
I've known Dusty at CIA for almost a decade and there are very few people as kind, capable and truly gifted at the Art/Science balancing act of creating electronics in the high end audio world.
Cutting to the quick...
Frankly speaking his first monoblock amplifier of a couple of years ago was a good sounding amplifier @ only 40 watts but was a little soft on top for me and although it had tremendous lateral staging and very solid image focus the overall sound field was more upfront but very respectable for a 1 kilo buck amp. Wanting a deeper soundstage and needing more power it didn't quite fill the bill for me.

Jumping to this weekend:

After receiving a pair of D-100's from Dusty to audition for the weekend I drove up to a friends house who purchased the DK Design at my suggestion a few months ago.
The comparison between the two goes like this.
They were powering a pair of $3200 (model 2268) loudspeakers from SourceTechnology. An 8 ohm speaker that sounds excellent. With only a total of twenty or so hours on the D-100's they had an inner detail and clarity along with a lateral soundstage that went way beyond what the DK amp was doing. In fact the DK sounded fogging in comparison. I was amazed because with my prior listening of DK only a slight softening/euphony were noticeable. Now it seemed down-right merky. They did not extend the sound field much beyond the speakers laterally and by comparison the D-100 sound field didn't seem to start or stop at the boxes at all. This type of portrayal of actual atmospheric density/reality with air, air, air is really surprising to ever hear and especially from a $1600 amp. Bass impact and control are above average at this price point and the uneditorialized, detailed midrange without any irritation is to me a feat equal to climbing Everest. My friend and I were noticing far more subtleties and nuances that were completely absent with the DK. I have actually been a big fan of the DK Designs VK-150 mark III in my brief experience with it, 3 or 4 months. But the transparency, authority, ease, refinement, detail, harmonic density, control, aliveness, clarity, dynamics and serious depth and extension just literally left the DK in the dust.
The DK has its own magic and still sounds special but it has become apparent next to D-100's that this is more of a very good balancing act between a slightly colored tube stage for "presence" and a very capable ss powerhouse. A side note, my friend has used several different tube options in the DK and it’s clear that they designed it around the cheap tube that it comes with. Tube changes have not proven to be very satisfactory. And he has tried ALL the recommended choices and some very expensive choices of his own.
I cannot state here the other amps that the D-100'2 monoblocks have bettered but I can tell that one very well known speaker company who have used the Spectron amp for there reference have unequivocally chosen these over the latest version. That is an absolute fact! And now I understand why.
These amps still have some breaking in to do but if this was it I'd say Dusty Has done something extremely remarkable sonically and positively frightening for the $.
I'd hate to be making an 8 thousand dollar amp right now with these things on the horizon.

Happy listening!
Great news, I'm looking to buy a pair too.
There's another thread on these # 1113365529 on 04-13-05.
To answer an e-mail question I recieved there is no perceived shortcomings whatsoever with this amp... including the bass response. I've heard slightly more powerful bass but still it's among the very best I've ever heard from a hundred watts. Also, the preamp we used was Dusty's new headphone amp with an adapter. It also sounded at least as excellent using the perfectly matched passive preamp that we had on hand, that is a CIA product also. I can tell that another level of magic happened when we teamed the D-100's up with a modified Quicksilver tube pre-amp... Slightly bigger presentation and slightly more powerful. Still without any hint of irritation and no percieved softening. Very "alive" and just as articulate.
I did want to mention there is another amp that might be competition to these monos but it is substantially more money @ $3k. It's only been out since January. Its called the Luminance audio amp. VERY special.
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Yes, these are my new amps. Part of the reason for the audition(s)is that there are others in my circle who are always interested in the sound of new amps. The owner of the DK amp is ordering a pair of the D-100's today. I'll be hosting a half dozen other auditions with friends this week who have heard from us regarding our observations last wknd. I preferred the sound of the D-100's to the Reference Line amp at $7k which I once owned that was lean by comparison. The Ice digital amp which has the B&O designed class-D switching power supply wasn't even close. There are plenty of amps out there that I'll never hear but I know "extremely special" when I hear it. And this IS the amp of the hour for me. The DK is a great amp by any measure and the D-100's simply let more music through...effortlessly and with less of its own "sound" than I've ever heard in listening environments that I'm familiar with. Some other comparisons for the week include some Unison Research gear.
Take care.
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1) You *are* correct about the D100, UcD class-d amps sound magnificent.

2) You *are* aware that the D100 is based on Hypex UcD180 modules, that can be bought for 100 euro's/piece ??? - just add power supply...

3) D-200 same story, based on UcD400 by Hypex.
D-100 also now uses a custom version of UcD400 (not UcD180). D-100 and D-200 do not use standard "off the shelf" Hypex modules. These amplifiers have been engineered from the ground up with over a year of R&D. The UcD technology is great to design an amplifier around, but you can't toss a Hypex module and power supply in a box and have something equal to D-100/D-200.

I'm not by any means implying that you use off the shelf Hypex modules, just pointing the people where to get a alike-sounding amplifier at a fraction of the cost.

No offense meant!
No offense taken, just wanted to clarify the points of your post.

Yes, you can build a pair of Hypex mono's for about half our retail price (that's a big fraction)...this is true of any amplifier. You'd still have to buy chassis, switches, jacks, binding posts, etc., and build them and hope they work. With the standard Hypex parts (transformers, power supply boards, etc.), you'll get about 100w out of UcD400, but it still won't sound like a D-100.
This seems like as good a time as any to throw in my quick impressions of the D-100s, which I purchased some time ago now. I'm using the amps in a less-than-high-end set up, using a Marantz SR9300 receiver as a preamp and a modified (Audiocom Superclock II, Bybee Silver Slipstream Quantum Purifier) Marantz SA8400/Bel Canto DACII combo as the cd source, as well as a Marantz DV8400 dvd player in a combined hi-fi/home theatre setup. I have Elac 207.2 floorstanders up front.

My experience wasn't entirely trouble free, with my initial impressions marred by a loud thumping noise whenever I changed inputs on the receiver, changed chapters on a dvd, or changed tv channels. Armed with advice from Dusty at CIAudio (who was extremely helpful) a local audio technician (here in Australia) fixed the problem for about $50 (I'm not very technically minded and forget the details!). To be fair, I would guess the problem was caused by a design flaw in the Marantz, or a simple incompatability, rather than a problem with the D-100s themselves.

With that fixed, my system just sings. I can't believe how much better these amps are than those in the Marantz receiver (and compared as well to the amps in an Arcam AVR300, bi-amped, which I also auditioned in my system). It may not be that surprising to many of you, and I was certainly expecting an improvement, but the extent of the improvement over the Marantz is overwhelming. I actually thought the Marantz sounded reasonable, but I now just can't listen to its internal amps.

The D-100s are just so smooth and liquid. Before buying them (being in Australia, I purchased without audition) I was a little concerned that they may sound a bit bright. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are very neutral and as I say very smooth. In my setup, in my room, I really can't fault them. I have heard the suggestion, from people really looking hard for a comment to make, that the D-100s don't go as low as some other, more expensive, amps. That may be true, but the bass in my system is now much tighter and controlled than before and goes plenty deep enough for me (to the extent that I feel no need for a subwoofer for movie watching).

I am very happy with the amps and, for the money, can give just about anyone a taste of the high end. Highly recommended.