Crayon Audio CIA-1 integrated amplifier review


It seems Roland Krammer has been blessed by some high power creational force again. It`s been just a few months since his CFA-1.2 integrated amplifier has earned the Mono And Stereo Highly Recommended Product award and we are already enjoying another of his masterpieces: the Crayon Audio CIA-1 integrated amplifier.

The CIA does not have an LCD display (with menus) and comes fitted with a phono preamp (two versions) per additional charge only but in a line level configuration, this amplifier could be had for nearly half of the CFA-1.2 price. The power is slightly higher with CIA-1 but the difference should be negligible: 78 Watt/ 8, 105 Watt/ 4 Ohm (Peak 122 Watt in 4 Ohm) versus 2×64 Watt/ 8 Ohm, 2x 90 Watt/ 4 Ohm of CFA-1.2.

The description says:

“Puristic, clear, stripped to the essentials and featuring outstanding elegance, the CIA-1 NATURAL ALUMINIUM shines thanks to well rounded combination of high quality insides and beautiful appearance.



The CIA-1 NATURAL ALUMINIUM is a stereo amplifier with a high quality aluminium body, with a baseplate that doubles as a heatsink.


The CIA-1 NATURAL ALUMINIUM features LED indicators to display channels and MM/MC switching while completely renouncing display or menu. The chosen channels are indicated by illuminated LED´s, which also show the on/off sequences. The LED labeled MC indicates Moving Coil (LED on) or Moving Magnet (LED off) operation.


The interior of the CIA-1 NATURAL ALUMINIUM: complex and cunning.


The position of the potentiometer indicates the volume. Everything apart from volume and channel selection (and MC/MM switching) has been stripped. Channels can be selected using a touch key or the remote control. Volume is adjusted using a motor-potentiometer by ALPS, with 2 variations to choose: linear or logarithmic. Logarithmic potentiometers have the advantage of a more homogenic volume behavior across all volume levels. They are to be favored when using speakers with high efficiency (>92dB/W/m) since low volumes can be tricky to adjust using linear potentiometers in combination with loud speakers.


Channel switching is done using CMOS-switches featuring circuit design found in professional studio equipment and ensures great stopband attenuation. Simplicity in perfection: everything you need. It comes with an ergonomic, user friendly remote.


Since the CIA-1 NATURAL ALUMINIUM is designed using the newest standards, digital/analogue crosstalk is as low as physically possible and virtually non-existent.

All inputs feature current compensated inductors which dampen symmetric HF-signals ranging from 1MHz to >300MHz without influencing the input signal while decoupling the RCA-jacks ground-contacts.

The CIA-1 NATURAL ALUMINIUM: a converter within tonal worlds, full of warmth, precision and control.


A special feature is the chance to choose between four line inputs or three line inputs plus a phono preamp.

COLORS

Available in standard aluminum or timeless elegant black.

SPECIFICATION


General 
Dimensions 60 mm (H) x 438.8 mm (W) x 312 mm (D)
Weight 10.5 kg
Power Consumption ca.335 W
Fuse 2 x 230 V AC,T 10 A
Mains voltage area 115 V bis 230 V AC
Audio Input
Inputs:
Line (1, 3, 4): 2,451V, +10dBu
Line (2):  DIL SW 1&2 ON 2,451V, +10dBu
DIL SW 1&2 OFF 5,127V, +16dBu
Input Impedance (Line): 15k ohms
Phono at Input 1:  (optional)
Sensitivity Phono: 4mV (MM)/ 0.45mV (MC) for nom. Output
Gain Phono @ 1kHz: 41dB (MM)/ 55dB (MC)
RIAA curve accuracy +/-0.3dB 30Hz-20kHz
Audio Output
Unregulated Output:  +16dBu (max)
Regulated Output:  +16dBu (max)
Power Output: 78 watts in 8 Ohm, 105 watts in 4 Ohm (Peak 122 Watt in 4 Ohm)
Frequency Response: 25Hz to 80KHz +/- 0.5dB, 6Hz to 140KHz -3dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: >90dB Line In
Slew rate:  >25V/uS
High Quality Aluminium Casing
Speaker Output 78 Watt / 8 Ohms , 105 Watt / 4 Ohms (Peak 122 Watt / 4 Ohm)
4 Line Inputs or 3 Line Inputs plus 1 Phono Input
1 Record and 1 regulated Output
Ergonomic Remote Control,
Baseplate doubles as Heatsink
LED Indicators for On/Off Status, Volume, Channel, Standby Button, no Menu.”

If the looks of the bigger brother CFA-1.2 seems somewhat “specific” due to the top mounted feet (which hold together the whole enclosure and act as a heatsink), then the “Langley” model, the CIA-1, appears to be more “modest” but also more elegant in its appearance. Actually, now that I know its sonic abilities, I cannot stop marveling at the incredibly authoritative sound coming from this beautiful flat box.


Overall, I would rate the visual aesthetics and fit and finish - as truly excellent.

The CIA-1 comes fitted with somewhat less “fancy” speaker binding posts than its older sibling but they still enable tight grip of the speaker cables and should provide long term reliability. 

The review sample came fitted with a phono preamp which proved its qualities in a very convincing manner.


The CIA-1 uses the same idea as the CFA-1.2 which has become a hallmark of all Crayon Audio amps: the Crayon Audio Current Feedback topology which combines two transistors into one to achieve significantly higher gain but unlike with Darlington transistors, the resultant circuit doesn`t have the disadvantages of reduced bandwidth and slower response times. This circuit is incredibly linear and exhibits extremely low total harmonic distortion.


CIA-1: policy or performance?

So what can be expected from a tiny integrated amplifier which calls for attention carrying “that dreadful” name? Well, the Crayon Integrated Amp (CIA) needs no excuses for its price/performance ratio; actually, it doesn`t seem to lag behind its bigger brother at all - in sonic quality department and what's more, it seems like it is able to go even further, without a sweat but let`s make one step at a time...

The sound of CIA-1


I remember how amazed I was by the authoritative sound of the bigger CFA-1.2, well, the CIA-1 gives the same impression: dynamic, bold, authoritative, you name it. This characteristic comes quite unexpectedly because the amp itself doesn`t really “intimidate” anyone with its size. But there is a saying: strong poison is kept in small bottles...and indeed this was the case with the Crayon Audio CIA-1.


Like with the CFA-1.2, the situation with the smaller brother is more or less the same but let me repeat one more time: there are big amplifiers out there, in the high end audio jungle, of twice or thrice the size of the CIA-1 that don`t have even nearly the guts of this elegant, “elfin” powerhouse. 

If you think about it for a moment, this should be the first and most desirable trait because music without energy and control will always sound pale and uninspiring.

The Crayon CIA-1 exhibited a really good sense of body, not on the reference level but excellent by all means and this always enhances the overall sonic realism level. The bass was again simply phenomenal: deep, controlled, energized and punchy when asked for. In this regard it is at least as good as its bigger brother or maybe even a smidge better.


Higher up in frequency, the CIA-1 shows extraordinary qualities as well, not only in its price range but well above it. The vocal range is absolutely seductive: open and organic sounding. The presence range is highly informative but doesn`t sound hard or mechanical, just plain alive but also refined. The treble range is highly similar to the CFA-1.2, very transparent and with remarkable resolution capabilities.

When it comes to staging capabilities, the CIA-1 “agent” shines: holographic vividness is sharply defined but this doesn`t mean the size of instruments and voices is pathetically miniature; no, everything is shown in natural size, not overblown though. 

With classical orchestrations the CIA-1 exhibits perfect control and insight into the most complex passages and illuminates the layered depths of the original venue with the highest spatial precision. The width and height of the soundstage are one of the best experienced from any amp, regardless of price.


Like its bigger brother, the CIA-1 knows how to handle microdynamics, the music just sounds vibrant and alive, not lifeless like with a typical class-D amplifier. In this regard the CIA-1 will certainly pull your strings, provided you love live music performances.

The emotional involvement is elevated and keeps the listener enchanted at all times.

The macro dynamic expressiveness was breathtakingly good and the CIA-1 consistently gave an impression of a much more powerful pre&power amp combo. 


Audiophile zone: fed by the astonishing Totaldac d1-dual DAC, the Crayon Audio CIA-1 proved to be an excellent tool to discern differences among various interconnects, power cords and speaker cables. With it, you will be able to observe/hear differences very easily.


The phono section proved to work admirably well; it gave a very balanced sound with excellent see-through transparency and impeccable sense of rhythm. The harmonic richness was well preserved but this is of course dependent on the source; still, the phono preamp seems to be highly capable and maintained the rich, organic sound all the way. The flexibility of the cartridge input sensitivity adjustments is of course a big bonus that helps in achieving optimum sonic results.

The Music?


The Crayon CIA-1 reproduces music in a very refined way. A compact, energetic music machine would be a perfect description. It showed no preference for any particular genre and basically proved capable of handling all material, simple as well as highly complex - all this with aplomb.


As you have probably noticed Mono And Stereo editorship receives music recommendations all the time and this from music lovers/audiophiles and even manufacturers. Nearly all of them prove to be excellent and some of them are simply fabulous. For our mighty systems to not become meaningless, we need to be reminded of all great music out there, not just the most well known but hidden treasures as well - especially those.

Starting with female vocals, Leah Zeger and Monika Borzym proved to be real discoveries. 

Leah Zeger's musical success story has been anything but conventional. Her eclectic range and professional experience has literally included every musical style imaginable. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, violinist and vocalist Leah Zeger comes from a family of professional symphony musicians. Having played the violin since the age of six, she has won numerous awards and soloed with orchestras in and around Texas. 

From 2006-07, she performed as the lead singer/violinist/dancer with the international world-touring fiddle concert sensation Barrage across Europe, Asia, and North and South America. In 2007, she appeared as a soloist at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Blues Festival in Chicago alongside prominent artists such as Alison Krauss, John Mayer and Sheryl Crow.  

In 2010, her first year in LA, she performed as a member of Vitamin String Quartet and won positions as associate concertmaster of San Bernardino Symphony and first violinist in the Redlands Symphony while recording the music for a season of Warner Brother's tv show, Off the Map. During that year, Zeger was also offered a 3 year contract with Celine Dion in Vegas but turned it down in favor of various touring opportunities. 

Her second album, "Pour Moi"is highly recommended to all music lovers: 



To showcase her talents, see this - Leah Zeger plays "I Know You Know" by Esperanza Spaulding:



As you can hear, she is a fantastic singer and phenomenal violinist more than worthy of becoming familiar with.

Monika Borzym is a Polish jazz singer, currently living in Los Angeles where she studied at LA Music Academy. Her debut album Girl Talk, released in 2011, received critical acclaim from music critics and was certified Platinum in Poland. Probably my favorite track from the album:


The album features her vocal recorded on the left channel which gives a really immediate impression of her standing in the room.

On 15 October 2013, Monika Borzym released her sophomore album, My Place, consisting of original material and three covers. The album is promoted by the single "Off to Sea", a hauntingly beautiful piece. It was certified Gold in Poland a week after its premiere. 


My Place was produced by Matt Pierson, with whom Borzym has previously worked on her debut album, Girl Talk (2011). Borzym wrote most of the tracks with a friend, pianist Mariusz Obijalski. Borzym was joined in the studio by guitarist Larry Campbell (collaborator of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon), drummer Kenny Wollesen (John Zorn, Norah Jones), and bassist Tony Scherr (Norah Jones, Bill Frisell). The album also features guest appearances by guitarists John Scofield, Romero Lubambo and Steve Cardenas, saxophonist Chris Potter and trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Another gem, “Falling”, featuring the guitar work of John Scofield:


Fans of guitar pyrotechnics will love the Sylvain Luc & Biréli Lagrène “Duet” album, here the highly interesting rendition of “Blackbird”:


From Django Reinhardt Gypsyology to bop and pop themes, this album will keep you enchanted from the beginning and all the way to the last chord.

Through all these musical journeys the Crayon Audio CIA-1 integrated amplifier proved to be a fantastic partner that always enhanced the musical enjoyment in a most appreciative way, one that simply must be heard to be believed.

CONCLUSION




The Crayon Audio CFA-1.2 already showed its extraordinary capabilities at Mono And Stereo and now its smaller brother wants to prove equal sonic qualities - at a much lower price point. Lacking only in some unimportant features, the sound quality fully stands up to the very high standards set by its predecessor and even goes a bit further in terms of bass control and slam. Like his elder brother, the CIA-1 can form a basis of a simple but highly musical system that will make you forget about the hifi madness for years to come, instead allowing you to explore musical worlds and surrender yourself to the emotional content.
The visual aesthetics are top notch, the build quality is excellent, the reliability likewise and Roland`s original current feedback topology just ensures that you will own one of the fastest amps on the planet - AND also one that completely serves the music and not merely the “data”.

In my view the CIA-1 represents an even more remarkable achievement than the one achieved by its predecessor and hence the HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION from Mono And Stereo is the only possible outcome. Crayon Audio may well be on an excellent path to establish itself as one of the most original and capable players on the audio scene today.

Fantastic job, Roland!

Crayon Audio CIA-1  € 2.400

Phono modules:

CIA-PH V3.00    € 650
CIA-PH V4.00    € 880


Crayon Audio GmbH

Hauptstrasse 169 / Top16
8141 Unterpremstätten / Steiermark
Österreich


Tel: +43 (0)720 304748