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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio 2000p/5000s; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; AMR CD-77 [on loan]
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Cabernet Dual; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; ModWright SWL 9.0SE; ModWright LS 36.5; Wyetech Labs Jade; Almarro A318B [on review]

Amp: Bel Canto e.One S300; 2 AudioSector Patek SEs; 2 x First Watt F4 [on loan]; Yamamoto A-08S
Speakers: Mark & Daniel Ruby with OmniHarmonizer; Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor [on loan]; DeVore Fidelity Nines; WLM Grand Viola Signature Monitor with WLM Duo 12; Zu Audio Definition Pro; Rethm Saadhana; Eryk S Concept Ketsu S [on review]

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option for 110V line; Furutech RTP-6 for 220V line
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; Acoustic System resonators
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: 05X $5,500 | CX $10,000/pr | CSX $6,000 | CSi $5,800

When Coda Technologies inquired about a review on their new X Series, I hadn't kept up with developments in Sacramento since my review of their Unison integrated. They now had 450-watt CX monos, a matching CSX stereo version at 330wpc and the 220wpc CSi Limited integrated, all sharing the same VMosfet front end. The 'C' designation refers to Continuum, once a separate Coda brand, now an integrated entity. It's no secret that Coda built electronics for InnerSound and Legacy. Add that the company's formation goes back to the early Threshold days. To hear the latest iteration of upscale muscle amps from so long-lived an outfit was a rather attractive proposition.

With Coda's ramped-up EU distribution, dispatching loaners from French importer Kapra Audio to Cyprus would prove easy so I signed on.

Knowing of my diehard penchant for tubes, I doubted the gents in

California would ring my bell with an amplifier whose treble performance would bother a valve man. Even so, I was hazy on what, exactly, the CX monos were packing outside of a sliding bias that stays in class A for 50 watts (the stereo amp makes 25) before transitioning into class B. Coda of course had the answers: "Specifications are 450/900 watts into 8/4 ohms and the amps are stable into a 1-ohm load. Bandwidth is DC or -3dB at 5Hz to 100kHz depending on the chosen input. Distortion is < 0.03% from 10Hz to 20kHz, with both channels driven into 4 through 8 ohms. Gain is 26dB, current capability 150 amperes peak, slew rate 50 V/microsecond, input impedance 50Kohm and 1Kohm for RCA and XLR, output impedance 0.04 ohms from 20Hz to 20kHz and noise better than 110dB referenced to rated output." The following is for the drag strip fans amongst us: "The power supply uses a 3kVA toroidal transformer with independent rectifier and 80,000uF of capacitance." That's serious iron. "Weight is 62 lbs and dimensions are 17" x 6" x 14" WxHxD.

"In early 2004, development began on the long awaited successor to our Stage 3 amplifier. Goals were improvements in sonics and industrial design sufficient to raise this series up into the more prestigious and well-known Coda product line. At about the same time, another well-known audio manufacturer commissioned Coda to develop a cost-no-object reference monoblock amplifier and matching preamplifier. During this extensive 2-year development process, many new components and design enhancements were measured and subjectively evaluated on an exhaustive scale. It was during this process of experimentation that it became clear how judicious use of extremely high-quality component parts and techniques could extract even greater performance from our current circuit designs. The resultant design evolution brought a quantum improvement in timbre and resolution to the entire line. This was the genesis of the new Coda X series, the CX monos and the stereo CSX.

"X features a wide range of design topologies and components ported from both the broad lineage and the most recent advances in Coda products and design topologies. This include a high non-bridged current design; a new vertical Mosfet voltage gain stage; a true standby mode that turns output bias current on and off; parts upgrades by way of Mills custom copper-nickel alloy wire-wound emitter resistors, IXYS high-speed rectifiers, Black Gate and RelCap capacitors, Vishay resistors, WBT top line gold binding posts and WBT or Vampire OFC RCA connectors.

"The CX monoblock uses a similar output stage topology to that of the flagship Coda Amplifier System 200 whereby all output devices are paralleled rather than bridged to provide exceptional power and low-impedance drive capability. In addition, the classic bridged-design drawbacks of decreased load intolerance and redistribution of harmonics towards the unfavorable odd harmonics are avoided. Differential JFET inputs and a new vertical Mosfet voltage gain stage provide exceptional rejection of noise and contribute to the circuit's inherent DC stability. This allows direct-coupling at the balanced input without servo circuitry. The front end is designed to provide a slew rate of 50V/us without entering Class B operation as is common in many other designs. The amplifier's excellent high frequency design insures superlative linear operation. This latest-generation Coda output stage is capable of producing peak currents in excess of 125 amperes peak with unmatched linearity and speed. The bias section is designed to produce a precision transition with no abrupt changes in distortion or output impedance. This "Precision Bias" technique yields seamless performance regardless of the complexity of the load impedance. With such linearity and bandwidth, only 6dB of feedback are used to maintain damping factor while permitting the minimal-value custom emitter resistors to provide current limiting only under such extreme conditions that would exceed the output stage's high current capabilities. One advantage of this is a high degree of immunity from interactions with complex speaker loads or cables."

According to Coda, the CX monos are never-cry-Uncle monsters that take on all comers and get them to play nice. Low-power triode guys tend to reflex the old
'brawn over subtlety' nag whenever they are faced with high-power transistors. Learning what a modern variant by a proven maker would sound like (on speakers which absolutely need power and those that fare very happily on far less) was an opportunity to check preconceived notions at the door - and perhaps leave 'em there with the muddy shoes. My expectations were kindled further by André who would be providing the review loaners:

"My distribution has not officially started yet. I am currently awaiting delivery of the first distributor batch containing CX monoblocks and CSX stereo amps as well as the new and great 05X preamp and one CSi Limited Edition, the most recent integrated amp. They should be delivered very shortly. In my opinion the 330wpc CSX is a truly great amp but also an affordable compromise derived from the 450-watt CX monos. I would recommend the CX for review if an association with ultra high-end speakers is pursued (even if they are high-sensitivity speakers). Let me introduce myself and the reasons why my wife and I decided to distribute Coda in France.

"I studied the classical guitar intensively until I was 21, then restarted my scientific studies at 22. After 5 years at the engineering school with a post-graduate degree in microelectronics, two years as an engineer specialized in aerospace and military applications, then a position in the legal department of Thomson CSF (now Thales), I did legal courses at the Faculty of law of Strasbourg and sat in numerous exams until, at 37, I was able to create my own IP firm. I am now 45. My work keeps me very busy and I have unfortunately stopped playing guitar but my taste for music is intact. My study of classical guitar also changed my tastes and I became a classical music lover but I also play jazz and electric guitars. In addition, my ex-wife was teaching music and used to work at the Conservatoire of Geneva. She was a friend of the famous choir leader Michel Corboz and I was sometimes invited to attend rehearsals. It was a great experience.

"In 2006, I got in touch with Coda and ordered a few samples out of curiosity - I earn a good living and I am used to buying various components to satisfy my thirst for music. I fell in love with their CX monos, the first solid-state amps in my living room that were challenging my Western Electric triode ATM300 AirTight in tonal accuracy. In addition, thanks to Coda's high power, my 93dB JBL K2 9800 SEs behaved like the
105dB Loth X Polaris I previously owned - lively, imbued with freshness. They also revealed all their potential in terms of resolution and articulation -- the other key words to describe these amps -- and my most obscure CDs sounded as if they had been restored.

"After various in-house comparisons with well-known components thanks to the complicity of certain retailers, I enthusiastically decided to order at least 30 CXs and asked Mark Ward whether Coda could develop a more affordable stereo version of the CX. This became the $6,000 CSX. I also used -- and still do -- a pair of B&W 802Ds as complementary speakers to check or validate certain conclusions formed with my JBLs.

"These Coda components where further auditioned over various Dynaudio speakers at a retailer's store, a friend of mine who is just below my office. Needless to say that they were filled with enthusiasm by our combination of dynamics, transparency and power. Their Dynaudio speakers were transfigured. However, when they initially came to my location with their enormous top electronics (a package worth around €45,000), they felt victorious in advance, intending to show me what "true high-end" hifi was even though they had never actually heard my JBL K2s nor the CX monoblocks. The audition was carried out with my personal ARC Ref3 preamp and my usual Siltech G6 speaker and interconnect cables. When they left home after having unsuccessfully tried to unearth noticeable shortcomings in my CXs during the long A-B comparisons we conducted, I was told more humbly that my system was, actually, working truly well. The next day, the CXs were back in their shop for further private auditioning. I do love it when people face the facts and accept to abandon any biased attitudes driven by commercial interests. This is the magic of hifi or rather, music - this ability to draw people closer.
"The CX and CSX were also highly appreciated by a well-known manufacturer of valve amps and preamps in the South of France, Audiophile Technologie, who have won several awards in French publications and are also friends of mine. They are not fond of solid state in general but allowed that something unusual had happened during their Coda auditions. I believe that the relative simplicity of Coda's component architectures plays a role in this as it does with certain tube amps. Then add the high quality of the parts, the huge 3kVA transformer, the gold-plated boards etc. Other professionals as well as those from Audiophile Technologies who had a look inside the amps were filled with admiration. Using a good non-limiting power cleaner like the €9,000 Accuphase PS1210 allowed us to reach quite a sonic pinnacle. Some rare components with highly sophisticated power supplies like the big Halcro, in principle, do not need such power conditioners but their price of course also includes the price thereof.

"Compared to Coda's S5 model, I feel that the CX/CSX surpass it with a big step forward in liveliness, spontaneity and tonal accuracy. Also, microdynamics are stunning with the CX. I hear subtleties I never heard before, probably due to the high power. As far as preamps are concerned, I honestly said to Coda that while, after my first audition, I liked the ordered sample, it would be difficult to give up my Audio Research Reference 3 even in conjunction with their CX or CSX. The ARC Ref3 was one of those rare preamps I was really happy to use at the time. My obsession in hifi as a former musician is tonal accuracy, transparency and emotional content. Grainy sounding amps or preamps are immediately rejected by ear. Now, there was always a subtle loss when I switched from the ARC to other preamps. The beryllium drivers of the JBL K2 are cruel magnifying glasses.

"However, Coda took up the challenge -- a trait I love with Coda as someone who works on behalf of innovative companies which always need to surpass themselves -- and they sent me, in December 2006, the 05X, an improvement over the earlier 05e. Immediately I sensed that I finally had a great preamp on my hands, a preamp that sounded glorious and as capable to give me goose bumps with Mozart's music as my valve machine, a miracle for a solid-state preamp. I also knew that I would now be able -- and proud -- to propose to French audiophiles a preamp of the same level of performance as the CX/CSX. Of course, a solid-state preamp can hardly challenge a valve preamp like my ARC Ref3 in the midrange but the differences now were very subtle and acceptable even with speakers like the JBL K2. In addition, my Ref3 has its own shortcomings, in particular dynamics - and it does not extend as high as the 05X and its bass is slightly truncated. After having switched from the Ref3 to the 05X and back over a few weeks, I realized that I personally could do without the ARC but not without the 05X (at least in my present auditioning space which is far from perfect). Also, during intensive A-B comparisons, even my friends from Audiophile Technologies agreed that these two preamps were running shoulder to shoulder. David versus Goliath, a €5,500 small preamp versus a €12,000 big preamp. I now felt certain we had something worthwhile to offer!"

Western Electric 300Bs, Audio Research Reference 3, Loth X 105dB speakers. André was talking my kind of talk. That made his enthusiasm and his wife's considerable personal investment in Coda as their French importer even more remarkable. By now my curiosity was piqued and I signed on also for the new Coda 05X preamp. Would a non-tube line stage really hold its own as he claimed, against contenders like Supratek's Cabernet Dual, ModWright's LS 36.5 and Wyetech Labs' Jade? How about against Bel Canto Design's third-generation PRe3? André also suggested I spend time with the CSX amp to report on the performance delta between stereo and monophonic amps. By now, I was in all the way and merely had to reconvene with Mark Ward on the preamp's engineering details:

"Features include 1 balanced and 3 unbalanced inputs; tape and processor loops; balanced and unbalanced outputs; full remote control including mono, mute, learning and multi-device preprogammed functions; the latest digitally controlled attenuator utilizing the Burr-Brown PGA2320 SMT device; ultra-high class A biased JFET output stage with programmable gain on all inputs from unity to +18dB; shielded toroidal transformer and over 19,000uf of low-ESR capacitance utilizing top line BlackGate capacitors for maximum filtering for the multiple audio section analogue voltage regulator outputs. There are also carefully selected and evaluated audiophile-grade parts, rigorously tested using both objective and subjective techniques including PRP and Holco audio resistors; BlackGate, Nichicon and RelCap capacitors; Fairchild Stealth rectifiers and Vampire pure billet copper RCA connectors. The enhanced styling with graphite anodize and stainless steel accents matches that of the new Coda CSX and CX amplifiers.

"Specifications include a frequency response of -3dB at 5Hz and 200kHz; distortion of <.01 % from 10Hz to 40kHz at 5V peak into 600 ohms or higher shunted by 1000pF or less; independently variable gain on all inputs from unity to +18dB in 1dB steps; a maximum output of 10 volts peak; noise of >100dBA referenced to 1-volt output; 20K input impedance on RCA or XLR, output impedance of 50/100 ohms RCA/XLR; crosstalk of 70dB at 20kHz; power consumption of 10 watts; weight of 14 lbs; dimensions of 17" W x 9.75" D x1.75"H; and lastly, a warranty of 10 years."

André again: "Last week, I welcomed Patrick, the CEO of a well-established acoustic engineering company of the region to listen to the CXs and the 05X and also the JBL K2 he had never heard. Patrick has golden ears and is a music lover. In addition, he is a skilled person in audio engineering, especially signal processing. His company developed an expensive professional audio processor which opened markets against Lexicon.

Patrick and I carried out various A-B comparisons between the ARC3 and the 05X at first. Patrick's conclusions were more or less the same as those of all my other listeners (I left him alone in the listening room on several occasions so as not to influence him). He told me that both preamps sounded very close to each other, which depended on the piece of music he listened to. Sometimes the result was more pleasant with the ARC -- fair enough - sometimes the 05X won thanks to its indisputably higher precision. As to timbres, both were equal and this was probably the most surprising conclusion with regard to a solid-state preamp versus a tube preamp. We felt that my ARC3 slightly softened the high frequencies (usual with a valve preamp) and that this may ameliorate the sound with recordings that are a bit rough or grainy. The ARC3 also opened up the soundstage a bit more and added more air but the other side of the coin was less precision (the ARC has possibly been conceived for huge rooms and huge systems where the subjective appreciation of precision and localization of instruments is different). With certain excellent recordings, the precision of the 05X worked wonders. Be that as it may, this additional private review confirmed that the 05X is a bargain for those who cannot afford a €12,000 preamp."