The Claymore Retro Integrated
The original Claymore is either a Scottish two-handed sword or a very handy weapon for audio. The naming for the integrated amplifier came from Roy Hall of Music Hall fame. In the mid-1980s when Colin Wonfor conceived the amplifier Roy Hall suggested the name - mind you it could also have reminded him of a whisky. The Claymore (the amplifier) was in those days part of the Inca Tech brand, it sold extremely well with over 27,000 units being purchased up to the end of the 1980s. It was a cult British amplifier.
I had no pre-conceptions for the modern Claymore Retro integrated amplifier, as I'd not even knowingly heard the original. Colin Wonfor produces The Claymore via his own company EWA – Elsdon Wonfor Audio; sales are handled by abcaudio. When speaking with Colin I found him very approachable, always willing to help and it's clear he's one of humanity's smarter designers with interests in many scientific areas. Colin has worked in defense and electronics across the US and UK in some esoteric technology areas.
Days Of Future Passed
The original Claymore concept is as it was in the 1980s, it's an integrated no-nonsense amplifier. It includes an MC / MM phono stage – true to its heritage – there's a proper preamp circuit rather than a simple passive potentiometer; the power amplifier section uses a single pair of output transistors per channel; this I find is usually a good thing for clean sonics. The amplifier produces 50 Watts @ 8 Ohms, 100W @ 4 Ohms, and 180W @ 2 Ohms.
There is a comfortably specified 300VA mains transformer coupled with 10,000µF of capacitance per rail. Shunt regulators are used for high performance as are high bandwidth components that were painstakingly chosen for critical parts of the circuit. It turns out the high bandwidth; high-performance components are the culprits as to why The Claymore Retro does not feature a remote control. The associated high-frequency aspects of remote control do not meld well with high bandwidth amplifier designs. The idea here is to extract the best sonic performance so if you want remote control you need to look elsewhere or use a long stick to move the volume control!
Don't mistakenly believe the design is barebones; the input circuitry is switched via silver-plated relays, again for performance reasons – i.e. not having long and unnecessary signal traces on the circuit board. The circuit board is worth a mention as its layout is superbly logical with well thought out routing from input to output. The output devices are bipolar 200W devices with each channel having a 30A rating. The original Claymore used MOSFETs so the design has certainly moved on. Whilst there is no remote control there a pair of large, easy to handle volume and input selection knobs, they are rather fine aluminum parts.
Future-Proof Or Vintage?
The primary music source would be an Asus Tinkerboard S-based streamer running Volumio for Qobuz and Spotify streaming plus files from SSD and others served via DLNA. The Asus and our Sony 65" TV connected to a Chord Qutest DAC. The DAC and streamer each were powered by individual Temple Audio Supercharger Power Supplies, these are super-capacitor based ultra-low noise, high current linear power supplies. I also brought a Lindemann Limretree Bridge into play at for both systems, again feeding the Chord Qutest DAC.
I'd heard a lot of praise for Colin Wonfor as a designer, even so, I wasn't sure whether The Claymore would be a curio from the past or an amplifier that had morphed via re-incarnation and would be very much up-to-date sounding.
Truth be told my first listening session with The Claymore Retro was a bit of a "mixed bag"; fortunately, this was just a passing phase. Hooked up to my highly sensitive open baffle speakers The Claymore was silent – that's a good thing! For a Class A/B amplifier to be this silent into such sensitive speakers suggests great attention to detail design & internal layout. It usually takes a Class D amplifier to be this quiet. I had been advised by Colin that the amplifier had been used for around 40 hours for playing CDs. There should be no burn-in required. My initial impression with a digital feed was of an amplifier with great speed, resolution, and astonishingly good soundstaging. So far so good.
Next, I hooked up my Trans-Fi Salvation record deck with its London Reference cartridge which operates at MM level being based on the original Decca design. I believe the original Claymore had a good reputation for its phono stage. Cue-up and record and away we go... two tracks later I was disappointed. The sound was over smooth and whilst very pleasant it wasn't a good match for the line inputs. I didn't persevere. I retired to lick my wounds, somewhat downhearted.
The next day I gave the amplifier another try with the London Reference. Within a side of an LP I was starting to experience excitement from the music I was playing. After a couple of records, I was hearing a performance which was a great match for the line inputs. I'm sure what happened wasn't down to dirty stylus, London / Decca cartridges need to be scrupulously clean and I have OCD about this so I'm sure it was clean also, dirt produces distortion, not a dull sound. My belief is the carefully chosen critical capacitors in the phono stage needed an hour or two of the signal being present to fully come on-song, simply being powered up when playing CDs for 40 hours wasn't enough.
Whatever transpired all was now good. I retell this in case someone else leaps to an initial judgment based on just a couple of tracks with a brand-new phono stage in The Claymore. I next proceeded to use the MC input with a Transfiguration cartridge and all was tickety-boo immediately. I very much enjoyed The Claymore with my open baffles but now I wanted to move onto a system where the amplifier was more likely to be in a habitat it was intended for.
The Claymore Retro Meets The Towers
The Towers I'm referring to are Markaudio-SOTA Viotti Tower floor standing speakers currently residing in my AV room which doubles as a great music-listening room too. I admit to being a bit of luddite as AV systems go. Conventional wisdom is that a center speaker is ideal for AV and that movies are mixed to cater for such a setup. It's more complex than I'm about to suggest but this isn't an AV review so I'll be brief and a little simplistic. A center speaker allows for viewers to sit well off-center and still hear voices as central. The way our room works out with a 65" TV is that viewing does take place off-center but not drastically so, it's rarely outside the outer edges of the TV. In my situation I find a 2.1 system works very well; voices are central. It turns into a music system without needing to switch anything, except perhaps for the subwoofer being redundant.
I'm loathed to apologize for discussing AV in stereo amplifier article; so many of us need to find ways for our music and AV to co-exist, maybe my way of achieving a harmonious balance will be of use for some.
The music aspect of this system runs from a streaming and files-based source alternating between a Lindemann Limetree Bridge and Asus Tinkerboard S feeding a Chord Qutest DAC with Temple Audio Supercapacitor power supplies for each of streamer and DAC. The TV has an optical connection to the DAC.
I have used the Viotti Towers with several Class D amplifiers as well as a few traditional Class A/B amplifiers. The speakers are wonderfully versatile in that they cope well with very varied mastering quality and yet delivering a sound with great presence and resolution when appropriate. The Claymore amplifier and Viotti Tower speakers are a superb match. I've not heard the excellent Towers sound this brilliant with the plethora of amplifiers I've used to with them so far, The Claymore takes them to a higher level of greatness.
It's not that the Viotti Towers are a difficult load, quite the reverse. Where The Claymore scores so very strongly is speed, resolution, and especially soundstaging. The amplifier does not impart a character of its own so I found I could easily discern the balance of the mastering behind the music I was playing. The effect did not make music grating to listen to but a rough recording was just that, and often all the more honest for it. When thunderous bass from the likes Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine was dictated by the recording, this was beautifully delivered by the amplifier and speaker combination – with the AV subwoofer turned off, I hasten to add.
The soundstaging is something else. I've rarely heard it so well portrayed. Every sound is in its own space and spread around in front of the listener. This is where AV will help me describe what I heard. Typically, voices are central to the TV screen. With The Claymore in charge and when there were multiple people with speaking parts it was very clear that voices were in the correct spatial location, conversations took on a dramatic new reality. The same effect was very apparent with all sounds. What I had already heard with music translated into AV in a way that very much increased the realism of movies.
Going back to traditional music listening... I found the bass on Steve Harley's version of "Hot Choclate's Emma" shockingly good. It's probably more impressively unctuous than say a well-judged and balanced string-wobbling but accurate double bass can be. If you want to impress someone give Emma a try.
There is such a degree of vividness and realism that I cannot recommend The Claymore as an amplifier for background listening. I tried reading whilst listening and completely failed, the music drew my attention, I call this "active listening". I defy you to make much progress reading a book with this amplifier.
Whatever I threw at the system I was greeted with a very truthful and realistic sound. Grover Washington Winelight was glorious. Steve Harley Emma exhibited a huge presence and that deeply impressive bass. Then I chucked some oldies at it – Donovan Hurdy Gurdy Man, Gene Pitney 24 Hours from Tulsa, and Richard Harris MacArthur Park – all were vibrant, if dated in production but they worked. Likewise, Sia Bird Set Free and then there was the thrilling Lynyrd Skynyrd Free Bird.
Dutch jazz band The Rosenberg Trio exhibited especially "plucky" strings on their album The Seresta. Great vibrancy and attack. Looking for a different vibe, I moved onto an old favorite St Germain Tourist, which gave that modern jazz bar feel to my room. The eponymous Secret Sky album produced an atmosphere in abundance – here are musicians who support Loreena McKennitt, they are well versed in atmosphere for sure.
I moved onto Barber's Adagio for Strings, I have a couple of versions. I tend to listen to the reproduction of the massed strings, these were very well presented, not busy sounding as can happen with some amplifiers.
A Classic Concept With Superb Charisma
The Claymore will match a great many speakers. If I have one piece of advice about the sound of speakers to match it with, it's that I would choose partner speakers that are neutral to slightly warm. Should you pair the amplifier with a lean sounding set of speakers you will get too much of a good thing – you would for my taste anyway.
If spatial staging, resolution, and speed are your thing, then The Claymore Retro integrated amplifier will surely appeal. This amplifier is not run-of-the-mill sounding. Is it neutral? Yes, I believe it is – does it sound like one of the many excellent Class D amplifiers? No, it does not. There's a different balance of virtues in play with The Claymore and I love the result. I'm sure there are many out there who will feel the same.