Bel Canto eVo 200.2 power amplifier Followup
How do you know when your system is really loud? If you don't have a sound-level meter, you can wait for your neighbors to complain or for your ears to bleed. But long before that point, a system will begin to give telltale signs—like dynamic compression and increased distortion, which are often misinterpreted as meaning "loud" rather than "distorted."
Well, I don't generally get to that point with my regular equipment and musical preferences, and when I auditioned the $2395 Bel Canto eVo 200.2 power amplifier for the March 2001 Stereophile, I found nothing lacking in its ability to drive my speakers as loud as necessary. I was shocked when John Atkinson's test results showed that our review sample could not output its rated power because, according to Bel Canto's "Manufacturer's Comment," the set-point of the protection circuitry was too conservative.
Before I learned any of this, I had already requested another eVo 200.2—not because I felt I needed more power, but to set up the pair of them as bridged monoblocks. The amp's design invites bridging because the two channels in each eVo are connected to the power supply in opposite polarity. Feed in one signal, push a button, and bridged output is available without having to add any signal-inversion circuitry. It was no surprise that, in view of JA's results, Bel Canto sent me two spanking-new 200.2s, which I promptly bridged and biwired to my Revel Ultima Studio loudspeakers. I waited until no one was around, put on Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops' recording of the Polka and Fugue from Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper (Telarc CD-80115), and let 'er rip.
All went gloriously well until the end, when, with the orchestral forces already in full cry, Telarc's infamous bass drum and a pipe organ pile on. Burp! The protection relays in the left-channel eVo clicked on and off, totally destroying the musical continuity. I reversed channels and, lo and behold, now the eVo on the right choked. Sure, the system had been turned up to 11—something I almost never do—but the problem was clearly related to the musical power demands of the left-channel signal. But with an estimated 800Wpc on tap, this should not have been happening.
Both EVos recovered from the ordeal just fine, and as I pondered whether to chalk up their burping to excessive expectations or to ask Bel Canto to take them back, the phone rang—Bel Canto's Mike McCormick wanted to know how it was going. Before I could tell him the bad news, he volunteered that these amps, too, had had their protection cutoffs set too low. The fix was simple: Just open the amps and snip out one resistor from each. The entire process took less than five minutes; the hardest part was finding the right-size hex key for the chassis screws.
After I'd snipped out the resistors, the EVos were unflappable. But without that suggestion from Bel Canto, there's no way to know from the outside what's going on inside the 200.2. If your experience of the amp has been anything like mine, give Bel Canto a call.
The bridged-and-snipped eVo was a bear of an amp. With the aforementioned Weinberger re-heated, the drum and organ bellowed forth on top of the orchestra, and nothing faltered. Except, perhaps, my resolve to do it again—neighbors I'd never before spoken with complimented me on the music. Because no additional circuitry is required to bridge the 200.2, it was no surprise that, used as a monoblock, the eVo sounded much like one of its own stereo channels, but with seemingly limitless power. The midrange dryness and slightly analytic HF character that I'd noted in my original review with a single stereo 2000.2 were much reduced, but that perception is possibly related to my long use of and adaptation to them.
On the other hand, with continued exposure, a device with a characteristic flavor is just as likely to become annoying. But the eVo reminded me of Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat: The longer I listened, the more my concerns faded, until only my smile remained. I'll underscore this by saying that I wrote my effusive encomia (Stereophile, September 2001) about the sound quality made possible by the TacT RCS 2.0 room equalizer while the monoblock eVo 200.2s were doing the heavy lifting.
The monoblock EVo, however, was just as picky as the stereo eVo about getting the level just right for each recording. Finding this level became a regular but unstrenuous ritual for classical music—a single tweak at the beginning usually served for the rest of the disc. With pop and jazz discs, whose miking and performers can change from track to track, a bit more involvement and work was required. The remote control of my Sonic Frontiers Line-3 preamplifier made this easier; the results were their own reward.
However much I loved the eVo 200.2s, they exist in a complex context. Bel Canto has recently introduced eVo amplifiers with 3-, 4-, 5-, or 6 amplifier modules. I don't think you can go wrong with any of these options, as they all seem to be based on the same "Tripath" amp module. With the resistor snipped, the unleashed stereo 200.2 was even better than the original I auditioned, and had quite enough power for all but headbangers, or those with very inefficient speakers.
When a single 200.2 will do, of course, there's no need for two. However, the multichannel EVos are blessed with a 1500VA power transformer rather than the 538VA transformer in the 200.2. And for those who need the muscle, a four-channel 200.4 is less expensive and less bulky than a pair of two-channel 200.2s. To use bridged EVos for each of my two stereo channels, I'd have to decide if the potential value of the 1500VA transformer in a 200.4 outweighed the advantage of using very short but very excellent speaker cables with a pair of 200.2s. While I lean toward the latter, what really intrigues me is a lateral move to a 200.5 for my multichannel system.
Yeah, that's the ticket—EVos all around!—Kalman Rubinson