Roksan may not be the best known name in audio here in the United States, but most folk in Europe know it well. Roksan is a British high-end audio company who became famous for making one of the first turntables to seriously contend with the Linn Sondek table. The name comes from the name of the wife of Alexander the Great, Roxana. Their products are named after cities, places, and people of Persia. The Caspians were a pre-Iranian people who lived in the area of the Caspian Sea, but for our purpose in this review, Caspian is the top line in the Roksan family of equipment lines.
This review is of the Roksan Caspian M Series-1 integrated amplifier. I can tell you right off the bat: This integrated amp somehow has managed to be kept quite a secret considering its very musical sound. It is so good that it and my $30,000 Wavac EC300B have been the two amps I have used to listen to each of the mini-monitors coming through here for Dagogo’s “Flight of the Mini-Monitor” series. No, the Caspian integrated is not in the class with the Wavac, but you can enjoy music on it even when it replaces the Wavac in the system.
Most of the equipment I get in for review doesn’t even have a remote, so I was blown away by all the features of the Caspian integrated amp. It has a full-function remote control that could run an entire Roksan system, as well as five line inputs plus a tape input and output. I particularly liked that the INPUT SELECTOR could be accessed from the remote or the faceplate. The motorized VOLUME CONTROL with LED position indicator was easy to use and see. It also worked easily from the remote or the faceplate. The two pre-amplifier and one tape outputs are quite useful. It also has short circuit protection, power supply failure detection, as well as a pre power-up diagnostic check.
The Caspian M Series-1 looks great in a simple, uncluttered way. The brushed silver faceplate has a rich finish and is thick enough to hold it’s own in the “looks” department with much more expensive high-end gear. On the faceplate, you find two round, medium size knobs, two easy to use buttons, a nice oval opening that displays a row of round LED’s to indicate input connections. All of this combines to make a great first impression of the Caspian M Series-1 integrated amp being well-built and beautiful.
The rear of the unit is clearly labeled for normal and upside-down reading. The unit has two pre-amplifier and one tape outputs, which is very useful. Loudspeaker are connected with red and gold plated binding post that handle bare wire, normal sized spades, and banana plugs. So clearly marked and easy to get to are all the connections on the back.
The remote control that I mentioned above is a nice-looking, curved silver remote that has a nice size and feel that fits the hand nicely. This comfortable remote moves the motorized right-hand volume knob. When you raise or lower the volume, it is easy to see the lighted silver knob rotates up or down.
Just good looks and ease of use isn’t all it offers, though, the Caspian M Series-1 also has good bandwidth, good dynamics, tight powerful bass, a very transparent midrange, plenty of power, a very good soundstage presentation, and best all, doesn’t sound much like a sand amp at all. All of this good sound comes from good, simple design. Both the preamp stages and the amplifier stages are dual-mono designs, and the company separated the microprocessor and logic controls away from the amplification sections. They used a standard, removable IEC power cord that allows the owners to upgrade if they so desired.
I don’t think I have ever reviewed a piece of equipment that I used with so many different pieces of equipment, and in so many different ways. Let me just list the speakers I have used the Roksan Caspian M-1 with: B&W 805S; Genesis 7.1P; GamuT’s L3; Teresonic’s Magus and Integrum, WGA’s Ikonoklast model 3; and Lowther of America’s Aleron. I used it with both red book, SACD, DVD, and Blu Ray digital sources. These were from Audio Note, Oppo, Slim Devices, and Sony. I listen to it in three different rooms, in both music-only systems and for my video system. I have used it for a long enough time and with enough different equipment that I honestly think I have a real feel for what it sounds like.
How does it sound?
Compared to my reference amp and preamp that sell for $31,000, the Roksan Caspian M-1 falls short. Now, how many of you find that a big surprise? It’s not easy to say where it falls short though. The Roksan Caspian M-1 has more bloom then I thought was possible for a sand amp. It also is unbelievably transparent for anything at this price point. No, it doesn’t fall short by sounding transitory, two-dimensional, or any of the things I had expected from a sub-$3,000 integrated. It does all the things I did expect from a British integrated, better than I expected. You know things like pace, drive, and flow. No, where it fall short is by just not sounding quite as much like real music as the Shindo/Wavac combination.
The Bass goes down really deep and, to my surprise, it was full of breath and air. I found the bass very musical, and still it had real slam and impact. Yes, it might be lacking in the last word in scale and grandeur, but not compared to others costing even three times more. The bass never drew attention to itself by being too much or too little, and it was always incredibly tuneful and fun. It isn’t quite as revealing, nor does it let you hear the same nuances as my WAVAC/Shindo combo does, but it is quite pleasing even after just listening to the ten-times-as-expensive combination.
I felt the Roksan Caspian M-1 was powerful enough to be able to control the bass of the Genesis and B&W minimonitors, and produced enough bloom to allow the Lowther-based speakers to sound alive in the bass, but not at all thin. I found both bowed and plucked basses to sound really good with the Roksan Caspian M-1. Again, by comparison to one of the best ‘single-ended tube’ amps, it did not have the same degree of decay or the ability to unravel complicated bass lines, but on the whole I found very little to criticize with this nice integrated amp’s bass.
The Midrange of the Roksan Caspian M-1 will never be confused with great SET’s. As I just mentioned with the bass, it just can’t unravel really complicated passages of music, nor does tit allow you to hear all the layers and nuances of the music. Yet at the same time, I found the Roksan Caspian M-1 very emotionally involving, and more resolving than most anything I have heard in this price range. Like I said above, it has a natural bloom in the midrange that gives music life; something I did not expect from a transistor integrated, not even one from England. The music never sounded analytical with the Roksan Caspian M-1, and again I was blown away that a transistor amp at this price point could allow the timbre and natural warmth of instruments to be experienced so well.
The Roksan Caspian M-1’s micro-dynamics are world-class for amplifiers of any price range. The truth is; it’s only in the unfair comparison to the WAVAC/Shindo combo that I hear anything missing in the midrange, and then its sins are of omission, not commission. Again, I find it hard to criticize the specifics that make it fall short of my reference system, but it’s more a matter of those subtle parts of the music that don’t quite come together to fool you into thinking its the real thing, as often as the Shindo/Wavac system does.
“… the Roksan Caspian M-1 has that rare ability to sound fast, quick and nimble, yet relaxed at the same time.”
The top-end is well-extended and never sounds the least bit rolled-off. It also never sounded overly etched, bright or transitory, thank goodness. No, on the contrary, the Roksan Caspian M-1 has that rare ability to sound fast, quick and nimble, yet relaxed at the same time. I listen to it a lot in the upstairs system and it never produces listener fatigue. It also never leaves me wanting more sparkle and shimmer, although its sparkle and shimmer is not quite as sweet and airy as my reference system. Likewise, strings aren’t quite as sweet as the reference system, but they aren’t stringent or bright either. The top-end is very extended, and thus is a very good match for the better SACD’s.
To go on and on talking about the bass, the midrange, the top-end, etc. of the Roksan Caspian M-1 is to miss one of the main points about this great little integrated amp. That is, its tonality; along with its pace, rhythm, and timing that makes the Roksan Caspian M-1 so satisfying to listen to music through. It has a very organic and alive sound for a transistor integrated amp. It may not fool you into thinking the performance is really alive like my Shindo/WAVAC combo can on rare occasions, but it does let you enjoy music in the same way. It may not have the incredible bass of the Shindo Cortese, but the Roksan Caspian M-1 does have enough drive in the bass to give music a very lifelike flow and quality.
Soundstage and Imaging was very good with a very stable center image. Width and depth were exceptional, and it allows you to experience an exceptional vertical soundstage; especially considering its price. As I have said often before, one of my pet peeves is that most popular transistor integrated amps make instruments and people sound like they are just hanging in the air without body or breadth. The Roksan does not do this, I am thankful to say. It gives instruments and people a very believable space that seems occupied by something with mass. It is amazing to me the Roksan Caspian M-1can do this so well, considering it has no tubes and comes at such a reasonable price.
Let me share my reaction to three albums that I have often used in my reviews to try to let you, the reader, understand just a little better how a given amp, preamp, or in this case an integrated amp sounds.
King of the Cellist, Starker plays Kodaly. This may be the best SACD I have ever heard, so I always use it to evaluate equipment. Not only is it a great SACD, it is also one of the most beautiful recordings of a cello I have ever heard. It can be very insightful to listen to the cuts of the cello and the violin to help you get a grip on how an amp sounds. With the Roksan Caspian M-1, you hear this performance with all of its emotions. The cello was warm, beautiful, and quick and had very good impact. It does have a sense of breadth and space around the instrument, but not quite in the league with great SET’s. The violin was sweet, and extended easily into its upper registries without ever seeming bright or strident. All in all, I found this passage beautiful and involving with the Roksan Caspian M-1.
Ella and Louis is another SACD I use to evaluate equipment. I use it to listen for the quality of human voices. It is here that for me that nothing else has had the magic of a Wavac SET with Western Electric 300B’s. Having admitted that, I need to say that I really enjoyed this great SACD with the Roksan Caspian M-1 integrated, and did not find myself wanting to switch to another amp.
Elvis is Back has Elvis’ version of ‘Fever’ on it. This is the cut I use to tell if a system is all about slam and tightness, or if it’s about emotion, music, and feeling what the musicians and singer are trying to convey. The M-1 produced very realistic slam with very tight bass. Even so, I felt the emotion of his voice coming through in a very involving way.
In conclusion, there are just a few things to wrap up. I noticed that I forgot to mention the Roksan Caspian M-1 integrated amp seemed more powerful than I had expected from a small English integrated amp. It needs to be said on last time that this is a very musical-sounding integrated amp. It is very capable of being the centerpiece of a very emotionally satisfying high-end system.
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