Subtle styling has ensured the Creek Evolution amplifier stands out from the crowd despite its carbon-copy basic description (thick alloy front panel, two rotary knobs, a couple of buttons and a digital display, plus entirely typical dimensions), while the highly professional finish and presentation ensure it's not the poor man's anything, though the price is far from frightening thanks to the use of Chinese contract manufacturing.

Simple build

Interestingly, Creek has eschewed modern miniature surface-mount components in favour of good old through-hole parts.

There are various trade-offs for a manufacturer to consider in this area, as surface-mounting enables smaller overall circuit dimensions, meaning there's less to worry about in terms of interference pick-up and signal loss within the unit.

On the other hand, physically small components are more prone to thermal modulation and 'flicker noise' and many designers believe that the typically much larger through-hole versions are preferable.

Creek uses quite large resistors and also capacitors of good quality, plus carefully selected active components culminating in a pair of bi-polar power transistors per channel. A good-size mains transformer caters for comfortable power delivery into awkward loads.

Facilities are simple, with five line inputs, a preamp output and a single speaker output, plus a headphone socket. An optional phono stage will add £50 (MM) or £60 (MC) and lose you one line input.

Punchy performance

Our listeners judged this amplifier a fair success, but didn't feel inclined to go overboard about it. Its opening salvo convinced two of the listeners that it was giving more attack and detail than the preceding amps, but prompted the third to question its dynamics.

That may sound perverse, but attack isn't quite the same thing as dynamics (in mastering-engineer-speak, it's got more to do with 'microdynamics') and it's possible for both viewpoints to be correct.

At any rate, some aspects of performance did unite opinion. The bass, for starters, was felt to be slightly limited in extension, but largely made up for this with its excellent precision and control. As a result, subtle deep bass can sometimes seem slightly lacking, but any sounds that rely on tight upper bass are full and vigorous.

And yes, in case you haven't just guessed, this also means that rhythm and timing are good. It's not an overtly rhythmic amplifier, but it does get the toes tapping and any style of dance music, from a Strauss waltz to modern disco, is infectious.

Interesting tone

Midrange and treble tonality seems to be an interesting area. Subsequent listening confirmed that the higher frequencies are a shade bright in simple music, but basically neutral in busy stuff, the reverse of the more common finding that some amplifiers become bright when the treble is busy.

On the whole, we'd find the Creek's opposite approach preferable, as it merely highlights treble a touch with such recordings as lone voice and guitar, while avoiding stridency in grandiose climaxes.

Detail is good, without being fussy or overemphasised and we also felt that the amp's overall presentation was conducive to long listening sessions. On the whole, it seems Creek has done a fair job of making an all-rounder of the Evolution amplifier and its competitive price merely adds to the appeal.