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Newport 2014: Channel Island, switching and saving

DSC_0372 hiresnewportlogoforwebDusty Vawter of Channel Islands Audio may often be a friendly guy, but he's always a no-nonsense guy. Both of those personal qualities are famously echoed in his products. That's never been more clearly on display than in this year's exhibit room at the Hilton. This show was the coming out party for Channel Islands' new amplifier, the E-200S. It's the first stereo amplifier from Channel Islands, it delivers 200 watts per channel, and it costs $2500. This is a big deal. Getting 200 watts per channel from one of Dusty's amps used to mean spending $4000 on the CIAudio D-200 monoblocks. The cost difference comes from sharing the chassis between the two channels and, in another first for Channel Islands, using a switching power supply. The new power supply also meant that the UcD modules inside the amp needed a new input stage with better noise rejection if they were going to meet Dusty's performance goals.

Dusty claims that he’s not worried that the new amp will cannibalize the sales of its bigger brothers. The monoblocks are a tetch quieter, and their power supplies will make them more sympatico with loads that dip too far below 4ohms for any length of time. On most speakers, though, the new amp will sound at least as good.

“And $2500 is a better number than $4000,” says Dusty.

His minimalist’s dream system seemed to support that thesis.

A MacBook Pro fed the CI Transient MKII USB Converter and Dac ($699), volume was controlled by the CI PLC-1 Remote Passive Line Controller ($899), and the E-200S was plugged into a pair of Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MKII monitors ($8000), whose price dwarfed the rest of the combined system.

This system was so simple, so good-looking, and so unobtrusive that I almost didn’t care that it sounded good. The VSA Unifields were transparent enough to reveal a bit of Class D harshness — less than expected at this price point — while also making me wonder how much money you’d need to spend on a speaker that would need the big monoblocks.

Channel Islands Audio may be on to something.

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