Copland CSA 70 Integrated Amplifier Review
- Sounds sensational
- Comprehensive specification
- Looks lovely and is well made
- No remote selection of digital inputs
- Slightly crude phono ground
Introduction - What Is the Copland CSA 70?
The Copland Audio CSA 70 is a stereo integrated amplifier that features a selection of analogue and digital inputs. Although we haven’t tested as many of these in 2021 as we did in 2020, it’s still now the type standard for this sort of device and, based on a calm appraisal of the specification, nothing about it stands out as terribly unusual. For all that though, it’s notable in a few ways.
First of all Copland is a company I have a great deal of time for. Since their inception in 1984, they’ve built a relatively small number of products that cover both source equipment and amplifiers. What’s notable is that the ‘hit rate’ of those products is incredibly high. Copland has turned out some outstanding devices over the years. One of them, the dearly departed CTA 405 integrated valve amp, is one of my favourite products, completely regardless of price, of all time. As such, new Copland devices don’t turn up terribly often but when they do, they’re worth paying attention to.
Something else about the CSA 70 specifically is notable too. The existing range of Copland amps comprise one all valve model and two ‘hybrid’ designs that combine a valve based preamp with a solid state power amp. The CSA 70 on the other hand is completely solid state. It isn’t the first Copland product to be so but it is the first amplifier of theirs that I’ve tested in this configuration. Is this elegant but unassuming integrated another Danish dynamo or a rare miss? We had best get cracking.
Specification and Design
As noted, there’s not a great deal in the quoted spec of the CSA 70 that marks it out as anything truly unusual. The name is a clue to the power output which is quoted as 70 watts into eight ohms. No figure is given for four ohm operation but Copland states that the CSA 70 is stable into a two ohm load. The nature of how this amp is designed and built speaks to the priorities that Copland feels are important in what they do. The first aspect of this is that the entire amplifier is built on a single board. Copland prioritises short signal paths in its designs and this process means that the entire amp section of the CSA 70 is as compact as possible.
This methodology also plays into the feedback process which is designed to be as fast as possible; something that applies to its other amplifiers too. By shrinking the circuit, Copland also says that the CSA 70 is more resistant to external interference as well. It would be wrong to say that Copland actively seeks to make things as simple as possible but it does undoubtedly attempt to avoid introducing unnecessary complexity. The volume control in the preamp is a motorised pot rather than an increasingly fashionable rotary encoder because Copland doesn’t want the additional circuitry that comes with it. Where it sees a benefit though, such as with an active protection circuit, it is fitted. The nuts and bolts of what results, is an amplifier that is silent at idle and entirely tractable in use.
The connectivity of the Copland is flexible but in keeping with the sort of specification we’re seeing with integrated amps at the moment. You get three line inputs and a moving magnet phono stage; something that Copland has historically been very good at. As well as a single set of speaker terminals and a 6.35mm headphone output, the Copland has both an RCA pre-out and line out so most connectivity requirements are catered for. There is then a digital board that supports a USB, two optical and a single coaxial input. The Copland uses an Amenero USB module as they do in their other devices but eschews the ESS DAC used in other products for a Wolfson WM8740 with a regulated PSU for the board. An optional Bluetooth module is available too for £198.
The sample rate handling of this board is fairly prosaic as the WM8740 is a fairly… mature… design (it does by the by, put more clear air between the CSA 70 and more expensive CSA100 too). PCM is supported to 24/192kHz and that’s your lot; no 768kHz, no DSD. As with the Arcam ST60, I am compelled to point out that however ‘old hat’ this might feel, it still covers off the vast majority of recorded music. If you were hell bent on pushing further, there are still those three RCA inputs to which something could be connected up to. The Copland is a fine example of the sort of amp that would benefit from the iFi Zen Stream as a partnering device, allowing it to operate as a self-contained setup.
The manner of how this digital section is integrated on the amp is one of my only real operational criticisms of the Copland. The amp has a (very pleasant) remote handset that allows you to put it in and out of standby, adjust the volume and switch between the analogue inputs. The digital inputs are on a sort of ‘sub preamp’ though, where they are selected by a small rotary control. This is not supported by the remote handset so all you can do is select the ‘digital’ input access point which then accesses the input last selected on the front panel. This does mean that if, for the sake of argument, you are using the USB input and one of the optical connections for a TV, you will need to switch between them on the front panel.
This sounds a touch onerous… but the chances are you won’t mind interacting with the Copland. Something that the company has done consistently brilliantly over the time it has been in business is making products that are elegant, attractive and pleasant to use. In microcosm, the CSA 70 embodies everything they do so well. The front panel is completely logical. Two large controls; input and volume, flank a central indicator that shows selected input and protection warnings. The small digital input selector is over on the left together with lock and sample rate indicator lights. It is utterly free of adornment and largely intuitive.
It’s the details that make the difference though. Scandinavian audio manufacturers are keen advocates of a good control knob but I’m going to call it here and now; Copland’s are the best of the bunch. Yes, even better than Primare. The volume control of the CSA 70 is joyously pleasant to use because it combines a great shape with perfect weighting - it all but implores you to put the remote down and adjust it in person. The two input selectors are barely less pleasant too. I do think it looks better in the silver rather than the black of the review sample but this is something you’d be happy to have out on display.
It’s also superbly made in a no nonsense sort of way. This is not about concealed screw fittings or the like, it’s about good materials being used to execute something that feels like it’ll still be running happily years from now. Literally the only thing I can find to critique in terms of build is that the phono ground connector is a little crude; unless care is taken unscrewing it, it tends to rotate around its fixing on the rear panel. Everything else though is finished to a superbly high standard.
Scandinavian audio manufacturers are keen advocates of a good control knob but I’m going to call it here and now; Copland’s are the best of the bunch
How was the CSA 70 tested?
The Copland has been connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner and tested with a Roon Nucleus over USB, a Chord Electronics Hugo2 and 2Go module over RCA and the phono stage has been tested via AVID Ingenium Twin, SME M2-9 and Vertere Sabre moving magnet cartridge. The speaker used has been the Focal Kanta No1 with some headphone testing via the Focal Clear MG. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, Tidal, Qobuz and some vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
So far, we’ve established that the Copland is a combination of a decent if not world beating specification and some great knobs but I can assure you there’s a little more going on here too. After ten minutes listening to the Copland, you’ll be impressed. After an hour, you’ll be delighted and after a day, you’ll likely be considering how you lived without it.
At the core of this ability is a quality that, in many ways, matches the aesthetic. Initially listening via the Hugo2 and 2Go to get a handle on the amp section itself, the Copland isn’t something that steams out of the blocks with any one aspect of the sonic balance that stands out. It is even handed, refined and usefully forgiving in a way that allows those of us with musical collections that disappear off in various directions to enjoy all of it. Even with the Kanta No1 as its partner, a speaker that can still demonstrate an ‘edge’ with the wrong partner, the Copland is controlled and composed. In fact ‘composed’ comes up time and time again in my listening notes.
Where the CSA 70 starts to shine though is that, the longer you listen, the more it becomes clear that there’s an underlying grip to what this amp does that is carefully but consistently delivered. This doesn’t manifest itself in big slabs of bass or indeed big slabs of anything. Instead, if you listen to Otis Taylor’s 500 Roses; an absolutely type standard example of the extraordinary, intense blues sound that Taylor has been delivering for over thirty years, the CSA 70 is effortlessly tight and driven. The guitar and bass move with the urgency they need to and it gets your head nodding in a manner you can’t fight. This is a different sort of engagement to something like the Cyrus i7 XR which has more overt speed and snap to it. Here, the effect is more fluid and perhaps more natural but it’s still tight as a drum.
And what this does is underpin a performance that is even handed, accurate and spacious but joyous with it. The live version of San Jacinto (well, live… ish) on Peter Gabriel’s Plays Live is everything you could want in terms of the space and three dimensionality of the performance. Gabriel is a tangible presence in the middle of the stage, surrounded by those delicate keyboard tones that decay away beautifully. As the track builds and the bass starts, it’s not seismically deep but it hits hard enough while integrating superbly with the upper registers. And then… when the chorus finally begins, there’s a euphoria to it that somehow never impinges on the accuracy.
Rather impressively, if you run the same track via the USB input, the differences between it and the Chord are not night and day. There’s fractionally less fine detail and three dimensionality but the bass response might actually be fractionally deeper via the on board DAC. There’s some of the same character of how the amp itself operates to the digital board too. It never once feels like anything is being forced or pushed beyond the boundaries of realism but it’s still enormously engaging. The tremendous Three Dots and a Dash by the Punch Brothers is something that transcends simple, measured reproduction and goes into something altogether more emotionally compelling. Could I live with converting DSD to PCM to play on the CSA 70? Based on what it does with PCM, yes I could and I wouldn’t have to stop to think it about it.
Amazingly, it isn’t even the star input. The phono stage of the CSA 70 is a device you would actually seek out as a standalone if Copland decided to make such a thing. The recent rise of high quality, relatively high end moving magnet carts such as the £845 (and phenomenal) Vertere Sabre mean that amps not having moving coil support (and most of the amps we’ve looked at in this price bracket don’t) are at less of a disadvantage than they might once have been. Enjoying Fink’s It Isn’t Until it Is on the Copland is a sublime experience. Everything that the amplifier section does so well is complemented by a phono stage that is able to inject that fraction of sweetness and liquidity into the mix without tipping over into being soft or bloomy. It then balances this with next to no unwanted noise and plenty of gain. If you are a keen turntable user, this one needs to go right to the top of the list.
Then, just to round off a crushingly competent performance, the headphone amp puts in a solid showing too. The CSA 70 has to concede absolute capability to the Rega Aethos which has a tremendous headphone amp at its disposal but even using the Copland with the Clear MG, a headphone fully half the price of the amp itself, the same positive qualities are present and noise levels are low enough to make listening to vinyl on headphones - something I usually avoid - a practical and enjoyable experience.
Could I live with converting DSD to PCM to play on the CSA 70? Based on what it does with PCM, yes I could and I wouldn’t have to stop to think it about it
Copland CSA 70 Integrated Amplifier Review
Let’s cut to the chase. There are any number of great amplifiers we’ve looked at in the price segment where the CSA 70 pitches in and some of them do more extensive and remarkable things in specification terms than this subtle, almost unassuming Dane. None of them balance functionality, build and performance in the manner that this one does though. The Copland is perhaps the most effortlessly capable device I’ve looked at this year. Beyond the specification is a sheer strength in depth that has you falling for it in a big way. This is a truly magnificent amplifier and the current Best in Class.
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