Jeff Rowland Capri and Model 102
By Michael Wong
Jeff Rowland Design Group Capri preamplifier, $5500. Model 102 stereo power amplifier, $3999.
|Jeff Rowland Capri preamp and Model 102 power amp|
|Capri preamp (click for larger image)|
|Inside the Rowland Model 102 (click for larger image)|
For nearly thirty years, the Jeff Rowland Design Group has forged an enviable reputation with products that have come to define high end audio; exceptional performance and exquisite jewel-like build quality. However, such high standards do not come cheaply, leading to the popular misbelief that high end means high price, a belief fostered by ignorant marketing machines keen on exploiting a buzzword that rolls easily off the tongue and looks good in print.
Last year I reviewed the Concentra preamp and 201 monoblock power amp combination. While I found the Concentra to be a fine preamp, with an excellent (optional) phono stage, I was less enamoured with the Class D 201 monoblock power amps, which compromised the overall package.
Now the Jeff Rowland Design Group have released their most affordable pre/power combination yet, the new Capri preamplifier and Model 102 stereo power amplifier.
For potential buyers lower pricing does not mean a lower quality product. Both units are constructed in the time proven Rowland manner with the main casework carved from solid aluminium billet, finished with Rowland’s unique diamond cut wavy pattern on the cases and faceplates.
From the beginning
Looking at these amplifiers, the only indication that they are the company’s entry level offerings is that the usual blue volume display and indicator lights have been replaced by more common green displays. The review units were finished in a gorgeous satin black.
The Capri is a conventional preamplifier in a very compact package. The thick faceplate carries small touch buttons for source selection, bypass, phase, mute, volume display and the silkiest electronic volume control in the business. The same six-button handset, first seen with the Concentra integrated amplifier, handles remote operations. As with other Rowlands using this remote, control over left-right balance is only available through the remote control.
There are five inputs available; two balanced XLR, two unbalanced RCA and a single unbalanced RCA bypass (unity gain) input. One set of balanced XLRs and a set of unbalanced RCAs complete the output options. A grounding post for the optional phono stage and a standard IEC mains receptacle mark out the rear panel. Connectors are all high quality Neutrik items.
The 100wpc Model 102 amplifier is of similar size to the Capri and has a fascia unadorned except for the Jeff Rowland company logo and two small green status tell tales. It is balanced input only, with a pair of Neutrik RCA to XLR adaptors supplied to enable use of RCA terminated cables, more of those Cardas speaker posts (with an awkward vertical orientation), an input jack for remote 12V triggering and an IEC mains socket fills the rear panel.
Neither unit has any form of power on/off switch or standby mode, they are intended to be fully powered all the time, which shouldn’t be a problem given their low power consumption.
Sonically, the Capri/102 pairing shares a strong family resemblance to big brother Concerto/201. Taken individually, the preamp is once again the stronger partner; warm, lucid and inviting. The 102 echoes the 201’s slightly dark, softish reproduction.
But put these two together and the results are nothing short of magical. Quite a contrast to the Concentra/201.
The sound of the Capri/102 pairing is big and warm, very smooth and very listenable, with a large reduction in the rosy colouration that characterised earlier Rowland amplifiers.
Soundstaging is very good with good lateral spread, height and fairly good depth. Imaging is not razor sharp but nicely rounded with performers and their instruments have a palpable physical presence. There’s a little top end roll-off and lack of airiness. While the bass doesn’t plummet to Stygian depths, it is tuneful and well integrated. It all sounds cut from a single cloth. Throughout its operating range there is a noticeable lack of grain and total absence of electrical or mechanical noise.
Downsides are few; transparency is good but you won’t hear all the way back into the soundstage, nor will you get away from the slight lack of openness brought on by the darkish sounding high end and slightly curtailed dynamics.
Lack of interference
As with the best designs, the Capri/102 is so well balanced in it’s abilities that it’s relatively minor shortcomings are so well disguised that they do not interfere with one’s enjoyment of music.
For the first time in many months I had to force myself to resume taking notes, so beguiling was the Rowland’s musicality. Great sound, superb build quality and ease of use, means you have a winning combination that will be hard to beat for under $10,000.