StevenZ's Elsdon Wonfor Audio Claymore Retro Review

StevenZ

Active Member
Recently I purged all of my separates in search for a path with less variables and increased simplicity. As some of you may know, my only stereo is the one I use in the office since my home stereo had been dismantled years ago due to kids and space concerns. Just as I sold my gear I saw a listing here from a fellow member who goes by the name of @ColinWonfor I took Colin up on one of his demo units as I had read nothing but great things about his products for the many years he's been designing. His shipping was fast and the integrated amp arrived safely and well packaged. Colin has requested that I write as honest and open about this amp as I can. So here goes, warts and all.

Truth be told I've been quite reluctant to write this "review" mainly because it's not actually a review that I like to read in the magazine and online publications. It won't be dotted with a thousand adjectives the describe the sound I'm hearing or overly gushy. I'm writing what I've experienced with Colin, the amp, and the sound I'm hearing. That's all.

To start things off, Colin was fast to reply to my emails and overall assured me that the amp I was getting had less than 20hrs of use on it and was built to such high standards that it should be reliable for many many years to come. This was music to my ears as I like to hear any burn/break-in of gear and my focus when selling the separates was to find something with massively high reliability so I just don't have to worry about things. I've got enough on my plate with newborn twins at the house, home remodeling and a 3yr old. So I took the bait and paid the guy. I think with Colin having to order the proper transformer and shipping I received the amp in about 2 weeks.

Upon receiving the package I opened it up and found that Colin had shipped the amp wrapped in bubble wrap and other filler. It arrived safely but I was disappointed I didn't get any sort of official retail box or any documentation. (told you I was going to be honest). It would have been a nice touch to get it in the original box with packing material and paperwork, but I know it's a demo and original packaging isn't always included. There's now a document uploaded to the ElsdonWonforAudio.com page that has the specifications of the amp listed.

At first blush I was pretty floored with the sound. As it warmed up it really opened up nicely and gave me the impressions that this amp was just ready to have fun. It's character in stock form (more on this in a minute) was playful, fast, energetic and a bit light footed. Almost TOO ready to jump. It's hard to describe but the sound is very similar to the Stephen Sank modified Nakamichi TA-3A I had for a while. Both of these amps seem to have the ability to really startle you with FAST transients. I recall the Nak settled down after a couple hundred hours of break in due to the new caps. However the Claymore kept that playful character until I decided to do some tinkering. Before I opened up the hood I had put probably 100hrs on it or so. So while if Colin was truthful about having such low hours, I'm probably still within the break in period as of this writing assuming 250-500hrs which I've found to be optimal.

So there I was, enjoying a perfectly good amp when the urge came over me to take a peek inside. The amp is pretty easy to open up, just a couple screws and the entire chassis just falls apart. It's an interesting construction the way these parts fit together but probably not the way I would have done it. However, I know Colin was trying to stay truthful to the footprint and style of the original Claymore so I'm sure that was a consideration when producing these. So which a couple turns of a #2 Phillips head screwdriver the faceplate and rear plate come right off, the side panels come apart and the top plate comes right out. It's a bit tricky to get these all lined up and reassembled, so if any of you try this, it takes a little bit of effort.

It seems the MOSFETs are mounted to the bottom plate, which is a little concerning as the plate is maybe 1/8" thick and doesn't directly connect to the side plates of the chassis. I'm not sure if heat dissipation will ever be an issue with this amp as it's rated quite heftily at 70WPC @ 8ohm and 140wpc @ 4ohm. Colin knows his stuff, has vast experience and if he designed it this way, then I'm sure he's taken heat dissipation into consideration and aside from my own concerns I'm pretty sure there's nothing to worry about.
 

StevenZ

Active Member
Anyway, the amp is packed full of decent quality looking components. Everything sits perfectly, unlike some Chinese brands where caps are leaning, leads are left unprotected and various other scary stuff. Power supply caps are Nover which is a UK brand. Not sure how they stack up to Nichicon or Elna or anything of the sorts. Each channel gets 10,000uf. The preamp section seemed to be separated by a good distance from the amp section and I noticed a socketed opamp. I've never rolled opamps but I've heard from others that this can be quite an upgrade as long as the preamp section is reactive to the change and not a "buffered" type. The stock opamp is a DUAL DIP by Burr Brown, OPA2134PA. These retail for about $4.75 each. Off I went to PartsConnexion.com and threw the best opamp I could find in my cart, the highly regarded (DEXA) New Class D DUAL DIP Ultimate Edition. But I didn't check out as I had to order another part as well. See below.

One of my biggest gripes with having gear here at the office is that due to my close proximity to the speakers, volume controls have to be dead nuts perfect regarding channel balance at low volumes. The stock Claymore uses a cheap Alps Mini potentiometer rated at 100k. Now these aren't exactly BAD potentiometers. A few of the Chinese class D amps I've had used them and I've never had an issue. However the one Colin used in my amp just didn't work well for me. In any other room or listening situation I'm sure it would have been fine, but for me this was a real booger. I reached out to Colin as I had seen on various other forums that he's been offering upgrades for older models of the Claymore, which to me look like they all use the exact same mini alps pot. These upgrades include a few power transistors and... a full sized Alps blue velvet. Colin confirmed that the Alps Blue was an optional upgrade and something he does routinely. It would have been nice to know this when I was ordering as I would have opted to have it done while over there. He also informed me that 50K is what he suggests to use when swapping the potentiometer.

I added the alps to my PartsConnexion order and away it went. I took a while for the parts to come in, and in fact they shipped in two separate orders which I kind of appreciated since I was able to put the new opamp in about a week before the potentiometer came in. By the way, the New Class D opamp really increased the performance of this amp. However, it didn't exactly change the sonic signature like I was expecting. What it did was highlight the amazing qualities that this amp already had and really pushed them forward. Along with the gilding of the positives, came a pretty significant increase to soundstage width and depth as well as a little smoothing of the notes. Instruments seemed to get a bit more body, a bit more realism and a more defined 3-dimensional shape in the soundstage. Background noise was still completely silent which I would compare to any Class D amps I've had. It's really a marvelous thing he's achieved with the self noise thing. Well done, Colin. If someone buys this amp, roll opamps, it's a must. #opampsmatter

The potentiometer came a bit later than I expected but as I said, it gave me ample time to hear what the opamp was doing. When it arrived I asked a good friend, @opa1 to help. He did a great job and got the amp up and running in no time. Thank you, Mark!

Now, the amp has perfect channel balance at extreme low levels and the new pot, even though a different value, seems to have better control over the volume levels. I do wish that Colin would make the Alps Blue a stock potentiometer in these amps as what I heard from the change from alps mini to alps blue was pretty significant. The ol' dirty window now clean thing applies. Just another layer of film taken off the music and an increase of what I really like about this amp.


I'm not sure if by now you guys realize just how much I like the amp. But to say I'm over the moon would be an understatement. With the new opamp and the fixed potentiometer I feel this amp is as good as anything I've had. It doesn't have the euphonic soundstage of the KingKo amp I had prior, but man it's pretty damn close. The little Claymore at first I thought was a little bass light, but now, be it break in, pot change, opamp, what have you, the bass seems just right. Not bloated, but fast, full, dynamic... MAN this amp is fast. It has the ability to really scare you with going from dead black background to WAKE UP, especially with classical music. I've found the Claymore to be open, resolving and having a quite rare "raw" signature to it. Not raw in the sense where things are ragged, but raw in the sense that it's really giving you what music is all about, it's letting you hear the signal in it's true form. It really is MY perfect amp. I would buy it a hundred times over and had I known about it (it wasn't available at this time) years ago I could have saved myself a lot of money and a lot of searching because the Claymore seems to take all of the best attributes of the gear I've had and really compiles them into one sleek and nicely put together package.

Should you drop all your gear and go buy one? I'm not sure. I'm not even sure if I'd consider this a reference level product, only because it's a bit hard to explain. It doesn't do some of the "HiFi" things that others want, but what it does is play music and most importantly it sounds right. Yeah, it sounds right. Nothing pops out in a negative light and the highs don't extend to 15ghz. Everything is well composed and exactly how I'd imagine them to be. I do however think this should be a one stop shop for someone not only entering the hobby, but possibly already entrenched in the world of HiFi who is looking for a way out of the weeds without compromising on build and sound quality. The Claymore Retro gets two giant thumbs up and will be sticking around for a long long time. Well done @ColinWonfor , the amp is a real winner.


Best,
Steven Z.
 

Prime Minister

Site Owner
Staff member
Excellent, Steven. Modern SS has come so incredibly far. You give up nothing and gain so much. I looked at that amp too, but I'd already gone the Exposure route, which by your description, seems to have a similar sonic signature.
 

ColinWonfor

Junior Member
Hi Steven, thank you for you honest words, I took note of you remark on the e-mail we had , and I have a iss2 PCB that will now be fitted with Blue Alps pots. I am not sure if I like the sound of the D Class OP amp, on my system it is to hard. So I will keep the socket on the PCB for people to tinker with.
FET's in the output, NO this is wrong what I have used is a RCA designed transistor with a massive Si die. Rated at 10Amp but with 80 Amp peaks for 10ms, and a saturation voltage of only 200mV at 10Amps. I also match them and there high speed drivers, which are rated at 2A, the Hfe are all about 100@1A. And the Ft is 100MHz ok we never get that high.
The Nover cap are high ripple type and low ESR, I am trying a new value out with very little price change at 22.000uF this will give me a much high peak current for those snap attacks.

Thank you again Steven

Best Col
 

StevenZ

Active Member
Thanks for the info, Colin. So you bought the New Class D Ultimate just like mine? I am going to try a few others eventually such as the new Burson V6 and the SI.

I'm glad you're upping the power supply capacity and adding the Alps as stock. Unfortunately there's no way to up my current amps capacitance, right?
 

StevenZ

Active Member
Well, I think break in is now complete on the amp, the new volume pot and the new opamp. Everything is jiving VERY well and I am just still so damn happy with this amp. It sounds great with everything I throw at it. I'm excited to get the new caps when Colin gets them in stock and I've been thinking about rolling in another opamp to play with. This time going with Sonic Imagery ( Model 994Enh Discrete OpAmp ) I'm not expecting big improvements, or any really. But possibly just another flavor I get to roll in. Who knows, it MAY be better, but we'll see when I order it in a few weeks.

As for the review above, I feel I must correct something that's been bothering me, and that's the line where I say that I'm not even sure if this amp is reference level. That's because the entire time I've had this amp I've been trying to understand what I'm hearing, where my priorities lay, and really, what "reference" is. To be frank I believe now that "reference level/grade" is a fluid term. One that doesn't fit within any set boundaries that are common to multiple people. Instead, I think each individual has their own "reference" of how things SHOULD sound and within their expectations that's what they seek out in this hobby. The Claymore has fully redefined what I've come to expect from sound reproduction and has shown me that it isn't down to just gut-wrenching clarity and frequency extremes. MY reference is a focus on how the associated gear connects me to music, how it evokes emotion and I can say without hesitation that the Claymore is my new reference. It does everything right for me and I honestly couldn't ask for more. @ColinWonfor I'm massively impressed every single time I listen to this amplifier and I'm thanking God I took the chance to buy one from you. If in the future I can afford to buy your cables (I need a 1m pair of your LS-25 speaker cables) and maybe even some of your top of the line gear I'm absolutely going to go for it. You've earned yourself a fan for life and that's the highest endorsement I can give you.


Cheers,
Steven

P.S. - I just saw on the EWA site that pricing has been reduced for the Claymore. Even at it's original retail I consider it a bargain, now with the reduced pricing I consider it a steal.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I've followed this thread with great interest. Great writeup and fair account, and great service from EWA. I'd love one of these amps someday, maybe it'll happen eventually as I'm currently downsizing, or trying to.
 
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