Channel Islands D-100 Monoblock Power Amplifiers
I've heard it said that good things come in small packages. If we look around at the world we attend each day, we see that the average retail consumer likes things big, bigger, and biggest. When I was offered the opportunity to review Dusty Vawter's Channel Island's 100 watt Class-D monoblock amplifiers I was very interested because I was previously able to listen to his dedicated headphone amp and upgraded power supply combo at an electronics meet and at a Home Entertainment show in NYC. I came away impressed with the sound and build quality.
Channel Islands Audio is an American company based in Port Hueneme, California. They proudly state that they are "Handcrafted in the USA". They have 2 different monoblock amplifiers in their lineup that also includes a 200 watt version. In addition there is a passive controller, a 24 bit digital to analog converter, and a phono stage for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges.
I initially received a single box from Dusty that wasn't very big and not at all heavy, so I figured I'd wait one more day before I checked with FedEx about not getting the second amp. In the mean time I opened the single container and to my surprise both amplifiers were inside!
Each amp was individually boxed inside the outer box and came with a stock IEC power cord in each box. The size of each module is 5 inches high, 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep. They weigh 15 lbs. each and come with a one-year warranty.
Each amp has its own push button on/off switch that when in the off position allows the amp to stay in a standby mode so the amps are always ready and warmed up when you turn them on.
The D-100's are each equipped with a high quality Neutrik single ended rca jack or a XLR connector for balanced applications and also have two gain options (26dB for active or 32 dB for passive preamps) when ordering. That's a nice feature you don't often find even at higher price points. The manufacturers' rated output is 100 watts into 8 ohms and 175 watts into 4 ohms.
Another unusual feature is that there are no vents or large heat dissipating fins to be found. There's a good reason for this which we'll get to in a moment.
Upon removing the cover, I spied in the middle section an 8-pack of capacitors that plug into the power supply mounted to the rear wall of the chassis. (These have since been upgraded. They now use two large
> 10,000uF capacitors instead of multiple smaller ones - Ed.) There is a huge torroidal transformer mounted to the 3/16" thick front panel which takes up a good portion of the inner workings. The rear panel appears to be made with the same specs. The binding posts are gold plated. One small issue is that my spade terminated Cardas Neutral Reference speaker cables didn't have enough room to fit on the bottom of the posts, so I had to use the top. Banana plugs may suit you better if you use high-end cables.
The amps are rated to handle a frequency range of 10-20 Khz. (Dusty claims the D-100's bandwidth is DC(0 hz) - 50khz +0/-3dB - Ed.)
Sounds of the Islands
I let these guys burn in for 4 days before I sat in my sweet spot and started to work.
One thing that amazed me was that even after 4 days of continuous play these puppies did not get warm. Not even a little. And that's with the lack of vents and fins I noted earlier.
I decided I would use my digital players first before subjecting the amps to some serious vinyl recordings. I loaded a great SACD by David Sanborn "Timeagain" in an Emm Labs CDSD transport and Dac6 E. As Sanborn's saxophone started making sweet, sultry sounds, I was amazed at the sound quality that those little boxes were putting out. Clean, spacious, powerful and silky smooth.
I then moved to Keiko Matsui's "Dreamwalk" which is a creative, feathery transition of melodies that take the listener into a realm of relaxation and fantasy. I felt as if I were listening to the music rather than the amps, which is what we are all pursuing, isn't it? These amps helped me through the complex transitions without impeding my travels. Channel separation, a main advantage of employing monoblocs, was exemplary.
Next up was my VPI HRX vinyl setup where I put on Ray Brown andLaurindo Almedia's "Moonlight Serenade", which, in track one, has Ray bowing his double bass rather than the normal plucking technique azz bassists normally employ. Twice he bows a low E pitch which is the lower limit of the instrument at 41.2 Hz. The D-100's rendered the bowing with both power and finesse, creating a visceral effect I could feel in my teeth.
The Meitner gear (Emm Labs) was then removed in favor of my Meridian G08 which is a very neutral, non aggressive Redbook CD player that adds very little color to it's interpretation. Here the D-100's stayed true to the recording with only a slight feeling of thinness in Warren Haynes' "Gov't Mule" which is a hard driving rock and southern blues recording. The touch of thinness was apparent when Warren started his trademark wailing guitar solos. Please note that this slight thinness is in no way a fatal flaw. Some listener's ears may even interpret it as an advantage. It is still above and beyond what an amp in this price range should be able to do. These amps outperform their price range by a significant margin.
As the CD moved from track to track one thing that really stuck out was the amp's incredible soundstage. Side to side the width was something for which I was not prepared. I found on well recorded albums that the sound wrapped around me in a Carnegie Hall fashion. One thing that I found that was lacking was the very center of the soundstage. The layers that usually form in the middle on my reference system weren't as 3D. The staging wasn't too far forward, it was where I feel it is supposed to be, it just didn't go quite deep enough into the end zone.
I tried different perspectives including moving up into a near field listening point in my room which yielded a slight improvement, but I felt silly sitting on my coffee table so I went back to my sweet spot. It's important to realize that a sweet spot for one setup and room can change drastically in another. Your experience may vary.
I decided to change speaker cables to a pair that a friend of mine sent me built by a designer named Mark Reid (the company's name is Susnick Audio) made from OFC (oxygen free copper) that is braided in an unusual manner which is claimed to have a very high bandwidth of 350 MHz which should allow for lots of headroom. The braid is arranged to allow the cable to better guard against interference and reject noise so they say.
Switching to these cables not only changed the signature of the sound but also reinforced the fact that audio components are truly system dependent. The identity and depth of the instruments opened slightly and the soundstage shifted. The center staging was still a little two dimensional but there was more information coming from my imaginary center channel and the side sound staging went from the felling one gets from a nice spring day to a really nice spring day - open and airy. The air was a little fresher and the sky was a little clearer.
I changed from the stock power cables to two Virtual Dynamics Power 3 power cords which are a steal for the money ($200 compared to their higher end $1500 cords) and the bass that was already deep and clean from the D-100's improved significantly. These amps produce a very clean, taut bass. I found the highs to be pleasant, without any sharpness but with a tiny bit off treble roll off at the top end The speaker cable and power cord swap outs helped improve the midrange and bass frequencies but pretty much left the treble alone. I played a good amount of my reference CD's from Redbook to SACD to DVD-Audio and was quite pleased with most of what I heard. I would have liked to have given their D- 200's a spin to see if they would have provided my home system with some more meat and potatoes.
The Channel Island D-100 Monoblocks are an incredible deal at $1599. Even more unusual is that Dusty includes the price of shipping to the continental US. At that bargain price, they give you a very potent taste of what hi-end audio is all about. With some decent interconnects, speaker wire and power cords, the flavor index increases even more.
Dusty Vawter's Channel Island D-100 Monoblocs are recommended to all audiophiles looking to upgrade from a lesser mid-fi receiver or integrated amp or even a similarly priced separates system. Their small size, 100wpc and lack of heat emission is ideal for smaller rooms and apartments. Their relatively low price and high level of performance make them more than just an attractive value, they are an outright steal.
If you also need a preamp to go with these monoblocs, Dusty now makes a passive line controller dubbed the PLC-1. (review upcoming – Ed) We applaud the fact that Dusty offers a 30 day in-home trial for his products.
Preamp - McIntosh C45 Control Center
Sources - Meridian G08 CDP
Emm Labs CDSD Transport and DAC6 e digital to analog converter
VPI HRX Turntable w/ JMW 12.5 Tone arm and Lyra Titan MC Cartridge
Speakers - Vienna Acoustics Strauss
(Speaker)- Cardas Neutral Reference, Susnick Audio (Mark Reid)
(Interconnects)- Audience AU 24, Nordost Red Dawn, Cardas Golden Reference
(Powercords) - CI Audio OEM, Virtual Dynamics Power Three, PS Audio Statement
David Sanborn - "Timeagain" SACD
Keiko Matsui - "Dreamwalk" CD
Ray Brown and Laurindo Almedia - "Moonlight Serenade" Direct to Disk 180 gram LP
Gov't Mule (Warren Haynes) - "Gov't Mule"
Power Output: 100 watts @ 8 ohms/175 watts @ 4 ohms
Frequency Response: 10Hz - 20kHz, +0dB/-0.5dB
Damping Factor: >1000
Input Impedance: 100k ohms
Gain: 32db (for use with VPC•2 or other passive preamplifiers) or 26db (for use with active preamplifiers)
Dimensions: 6.25"w x 5.5"h x 8.0"d
Weight: 15 lbs (each)
Warranty: 1 Year Parts & Labor
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