Creek EVO CD and Intergrated Amp ¦$1350 each ¦ ¦ www.synergyaudio.com
For: Tuneful, energetic and communicative.
Against: Slight lack of character.
Verdict: A decent pair that will please most.
Creek's reputation as a budget specialist is, we fear, not long for this world. It's not so much that these units aren't really at the budget end of things any more (although more of that later), it's just that they don't look the part. Creek started out making dinky little boxes with plain black paint, distinctive green legends and some distinctly ho-hum plastic push-buttons which fell off after a few years. Now compare that with the current offerings, heavyweight boxes smartly and fashionably decked out and featuring the kind of extra-thick front panel (12mm of solid aluminium) that traditionally graces expensive exotica. We like it!
The CD player starts dedicated CD-Audio transport which is controlled by an all-in-one chip from Philips. It's typical of the way Mike Creek designs, though, that the DAC part of this chip is neglected in favour of a higher quality specialised chip, one we've seen in a few products lately including multi-format disc players. In turn, its analogue output is fed to top quality audio op-amps, which perform filtering and buffering functions before a further pair of ‘Audio' capacitors isolate the output sockets from any residual DC voltage. Power is derived from an ‘R-core' mains transformer of moderate capacity and the whole assembly is very neatly laid out and assembled, as indeed is the amplifier.
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There is a family resemblance to the Creek's top Destiny range, that's mostly an external likeness though, for the circuits seem to have little in common. While the Destiny amplifier uses a cunning output configuration based on MOSFETs –which has become something of a Creek trademark – the EVO has an altogether simpler and more traditional bipolar transistor circuit.
‘Simpler' maybe, but there's plenty going on inside that amp. In the usual fashion, it has an internal heatsink carrying the output transistors, while a chunky toroidal transformer steps down the mains voltage. An unusually generous allocation of power supply capacitors filters the output from a pair of rectifiers, one for each channel and the large main circuit board is well filled with discrete transistors and a few good quality op-amps. Oh, and a ‘programmable gain amplifier', otherwise known as an electronic volume control, replaces the traditional mechanical potentiometer. This particular type is new to us but looks from its data sheet like a suitably high grade part. It has been configured by Creek to give 0.5dB steps over the top 15dB or so of its range, 3dB steps at the bottom and 1dB over the most-used part of the range in between. Input switching is carried out by relays. Components are all ‘through-hole' types rather than the more modern surface-mounted variants and there is a sprinkling of specialist ‘For Audio' capacitors at critical points. The amp can be supplied with phono replacing one of the five line inputs, too.
An EVO remote control is supplied, which operates both units. It looks reminiscent of the Destiny remote, but is not compatible.
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The thing we liked most about the Destiny amp was its sonic sophistication. Creek has sensibly avoided making EVO a pale imitation of Destiny and instead aimed at a more lively, energetic musical presentation.
Of the two EVO components, the CD player has less of an obvious character – if you prefer, it's more straightforward and honest. It is not boring and is an ideal match for the amp, but we think some may demand more than the EVO's ability to present the musical facts efficiently and without artifice. There are limits to its resolution and also to its low-level detail in the high treble (which tends to ‘dry out' subtle acoustics just a shade), but by the standards of $1350 CD players, it's a very fine machine with excellent bass, good imaging and neutral tonality.
Some may remember Creek amps started off as the ‘poor man's Naim' – or at least quite a few dealers seemed to present them as such. Naim is probably the first, name people think of when ‘lively and energetic' amps are mentioned, or certainly when ‘rhythmic' qualities are invoked in an amplifier. So has Creek come full circle and emulated the minimalists from Salisbury? Not consciously is our guess and indeed while there is something of the vintage Naim about the EVO amp, it is rather more general-purpose in the way it also makes the most of more laid-back tones.
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It's not quite as overtly rhythmic as older Naims tended to be, but it does seem to be biased ivan favour of the toe-tapping school of hi-fi. In addition though, it has a nice mellifluous touch, which means that in a way it presents the best of both worlds. Okay, a good bit of two possible worlds. There's no getting away from the fact that what we're really talking about here is sonic character, which is intrinsically at odds with ultimate accuracy. But, in this case the deviation from accuracy is very small and the gain in involvement and enjoyment is more than compensation.
Creek has produced an amplifier which gets on well with many recent recordings. Damien Rice was one such that we found, the relatively simple musical textures yet quite ‘heavy' recording benefiting from EVO's combination of drive and charm. Classic rock did well too, jazz only slightly less so and classical moderate to well depending on the forces involved: we particularly liked solo piano, but were less convinced about it handling a full orchestra.
Neither product will please everyone, but we feel both will find a lot of very happy fans. As a pair they work very well, offering a different ‘take' on sound from the average.