Classé CT-SSP Surround Processor and CT-5300 Amplifier
Price: $18,000 At A Glance: Audio is smooth yet highly detailed • Amp has power to drive cattle • Great ergonomics • Spartan video
HT editor Shane Buettner laughed at me when I told him I spent two months strength training before the Revel Salon2 speakers arrived at my home last year.
“They’re almost 200 pounds apiece,” I said in defense of the improbable truth. Now a year later, running has consumed my life and strength training has fallen to the wayside. It was time to start using Planet Fitness as something other than a place to shower after a run. The five-times 300-watt-per-channel, Classé CT-5300 was coming—all 113 pounds of it, and I had to get in shape.
In a world that’s content with mediocrity (cue the movie trailer voiceover guy), Canadian manufacturer Classé is to be admired for proving once again that high-end is the only way it rolls. The CT-SSP surround processor isn’t some hussied-up audiophile rig designed by engineers that don’t even own HDTVs. Instead, the CT-SSP is equipped with the latest in surround processing and video switching. With four HDMI inputs and two concurrent HDMI outputs, the CT-SSP made short work of hooking up both my Pioneer Elite KURO 60-inch plasma and my JVC DLA-HD1 projector. How do you like me now?
Classé’s CT, or Custom Theater, series are no-compromise additions to the company’s highly regarded electronics. Currently the only processor in the CT line, the CT-SSP is internally identical to Classé’s flagship SSP-800 surround processor, albeit in more rack-friendly garb intended primarily for dealer installation. The irony is that, with the exception of its room equalization, the CT-SSP is even easier to set up and install than some budget AVRs.
In support of its customers and dealers, Classé also offers the ICTunnel cooling system. It’s expressly designed with temperature sensors, quiet fans, and extensive aluminum heat sinks to deal with the thermal challenge that pairing high-powered amplification and CPU-intensive processing can present. Since it has remote IR sensors, you can put the Classé gear in a closet, an adjacent room, or even the lonely basement. Now the heat, noise, and unavoidable drool hazards associated with letting your friends see such high-end equipment in your home theater are a thing of the past.
Like all flagship surround processors and AVRs, the CT-SSP decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio if you send them in native bitstream form from your BD player. The CT-SSP’s front panel will clearly indicate when it’s receiving a TrueHD or DTS-HD MA signal, so long as another postprocessing mode is not also engaged. For instance, if you’re playing a 5.1-channel DTS-HD MA or TrueHD track but also usingDolby Pro Logix IIx to expand that to 7.1 channels, the front panel will indicate Dolby PLIIx Movie. In that case, pressing Menu, and then Status on the remote would show the incoming native autio stream format.
Classé offers periodic updates for the CT-SSP operating system on its Website. You or your dealer can download these and install them via a laptop and a USB cable. It isn’t quite as simple as starting your Sony PS3 and get-ting updated auto-magically, nor is it anything like the you-bought-it-you-own-it technology of just a few years ago. Still, it’s technology, and no technology is futureproof. Even this flagship 64-bit processor is already two fractional HDMI generations behind, so if you have your heart set on 3DTV, which requires HDMI 1.4a, the 1.3b CT-SSP won’t do for you. Keep in mind that while switching 3D video is out, you could use this surround processor with a dual-HDMI-output Blu-ray 3D player and run one output directly to a 3D display while running the audio output to the CT-SSP. You’d lose some switching convenience, but you’d still have Blu-ray 3D and full-resolution lossless audio. In addition, Classé has a planned video board update coming later this year that will enable 3D switching over HDMI. The CT-SSP’s price will increase when this new board is implemented, and existing CT-SSP owners will be offered the new board as an upgrade (exact pricing wasn’t available at press time).
Special mention goes to the CT-SSP’s GUI, which works correctly with HDMI sources and displays. When HDMI was in its infancy, I reviewed an AVR that blacked out the video and muted the audio when I attempted to engage the GUI. The Classé brings up appropriate indicators on your display when you change the volume level or surround mode, using nice large fonts that you can read from 50 paces. The same thing happens when you make changes to the system configuration, but of course, these screens are even larger. I appreciated the very easy-on-the-eyes approach that Classé has taken compared with something like Sony’s XrossMediaBar (XMB), which simultaneously confuses and gives you vertigo.
You Can Touch This
Besides acting as the go-to menu when your display device is off, the small touchscreen LCD on the CT-SSP’s front panel also displays the contents of the video source that’s currently selected. It works flawlessly. In fact, it’s easier and quicker to use than the remote, which requires you to up-down-left-right your way to the desired option before you can click it.