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With the CFA-1 permanently bridged and hot on both +/- terminals, the semi-active AcousticPlan open-baffle Veena speaker was safe because its transformer-coupled inputs omit a ground reference and the impedance converter for the series/parallel bass array is a Circlotron amp with floating power supplies.

The CFA-1 proved dead quiet and eminently suitable for 1-watt-or-less usage just like a low-power SET (not a given by a long shot). Once again, it elbowed its way into the far lateral hollows of the soundstage where sounds usually peter out. This exceptionally broad staging with true substance along the outer edges thus transferred from the Tangos to the Veenas intact. It suggested being not an arbitrary amp/speaker interaction but a core trait of the CFA-1. Soundstage freaks should be in seventh heaven. The Crayon is spectacular in that regard.

While Red Wine Audio's RWA 30.2 had been returned to its maker by then, one reader inquired as to similarities between it and the CFA-1. Living in Europe, pricing for either would be quite comparable, hence he had both under consideration. Having lived with the RWA gear for long enough to know it well, I told the gentleman that without doubt, the Crayon was more illuminated and informative in the treble and more highly resolved overall. 

How would the CFA-1 behave into the 82.5dB/4-ohm load of my Mark & Daniel Ruby monitors? The company's newer models have eased their load burden but my Ruby is still of the first generation, hence more demanding. To use her for testing amplifier drive is in fact one of the reasons I bought her. I also find M&D's air-motion transformer critical of amplifier refinement. It exhibits a propensity to otherwise be 'intense' in a fatiguing way. The Ruby further isn't tweaked for whisper levels. She prefers to run at good levels to fully blossom. To get the very best from her in subdued mood wants something of high power. Though plainly in the wrong price bracket to ever make a sane match, Hegel's massive H-10 did that superbly. Not surprisingly, the CFA-1 was no match in that regard.

Were the Crayon's 40-or-so watts into the Ruby impedance sufficient however to play her well at regular room volumes where she excels? If so, would Ruby's upper midrange and treble remain well behaved? How about her size-defying bass? Even in a long space like mine, no subwoofer is required for bass happiness if the amp can fully tap the goods. It doesn't seem right on paper or even staring at the small woofers but it is one of designer Daniel Lee's trump cards.

+/- 60 on the CFA-1's dial provided the desired volumes without issue. Check one. Sonics were as already described with the Tangos, i.e. first rate. Check two. Bass extension was everything one could wish for but the port lift action wasn't as well damped as ultimately desirable. Hence 40-ish bass was a bit ringier and thus looser than a colossal muscle amp like Hegel's can get from this speaker. Check two-and-a-half. I'm leery to invoke damping factor. Contrary to popular opinion, an amplifier's output impedance alone is no reliable predictor of woofer damping. Without assigning an obvious reason but guessing at lack of raw grunt, the Crayon's design brief as a low-power amplifier acquitted itself very admirably on the Ruby load but did not surprise by invoking the remaining criticism. Personally more important was how its well-informed treble behavior did not clash with the AMT's buxom power response.

On the AudioExotics forum in Hong Kong, poster alecy, in the context of a cable thread, joked that "in 2008, people would laugh if solid state + ceramic driver can deliver this kind of serenity. In 2009, the world is going crazy as HSBC is plunging towards $40." He simply confessed how his results defied both personal expectations and widely held assumptions. Crayon Audio's CFA-1 is another of those defiant products. For those who relate to low-power triode amps first on gestalt or feel and only second on sound, this transistor amp is a fantastic stand-in. To the extent it fulfills that role, it's a first in my experience. Sonically, it's more resolved, with apparently faster rise times for phenomenally articulated string attacks and superb harmonic finesse embedded in a wide-open, utterly benign treble range. It's also not as harmonically padded.

Again conforming to SET precedents however, the CFA-1 is perfect for high-efficiency speakers. It comes on song at very low output voltages and is dead quiet. Perhaps because of its DC coupling which avoids signal-path capacitors, this amp is also very SET-ish on immediacy. Yet it successfully avoids the starkness which such directness can assume when the inter-note stuff gets stripped away. The Crayon integrated soundstages like a demon where it reminds me of a breast-stroke swimmer who reaches his arms as far sideways as possible before pulling back. How the far corners of the broad virtual stage get filled up with musical presence is truly a thing of beauty. The upshot is a NuForce-style near hyper realism in how foreground and background focus are equally sharp and thus, coincident rather than layered.

Diehard triode fanciers will still prefer tubes for how they handle vocal intimacy though even that the CFA-1 can clone. But then it requires a valve preamp of ModWright DM 36.5 caliber which of course counters its integrated concept and one-box appeal. Bass control is superior to the single-ended triodes I know but texture and feel are surprisingly similar into speakers such tube amps would be happy with. Naturally, the Crayon's range of copasetic mates is rather broader to make speaker matching less fussy than it needs to be with SETs to get best results. Once we add the phono stage, full-function remote, adjustable features and stare at the €3,240 sticker, the only proper response is an award. While I know nothing of the company and the future of fine hifi is uncertain during times when luxuries become irrelevant for many, what reviewers judge (build, features, sound, competitive value and such) all checks out with a vengeance. It makes you wonder what Crayon Audio's design team has up their sleeve next. Okay, an SACD player and the CFA-2 integrated are announced. €34,000/pr monos are out already. Speakers are coming. Still, given this precedent, that alone tells nothing about what to really expect. Prolonged exposure to our hobby is supposed to make one jaded and cynical but the CFA-1 defies that too by leaving me seriously impressed. Given the market, Peter Steinfadt has his work cut out of course. But boy did the man ever bag a winner. If he were a wine connoisseur, what a nose he should have...
Quality of packing: Very stout.
Reusability of packing: Multiple times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Power cord, owner's manual, remote.
Quality of owner's manual: Exceptionally good.
Website comments: Stylish but a little short on substance.
Human interactions: Prompt and forthcoming with the German/global distributor.
Pricing: For a made-in-the-EU product, shockingly competitive.
Final comments & suggestions: Brilliant implementation of transistors, software-driven functions and a switch-mode power supply. Coming from such a hi-tech background, it's surprising indeed how the sonic gestalt can so closely meet the lo-tech approach of single-ended tube circuits. Many roads lead to Rome.
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