Bel Canto eVo 200.2 power amplifier Followup December 2002
I had reviewed the original Bel Canto eVo 200.2 quite favorably in the March 2001 Stereophile (Vol.24 No.3), but was somewhat surprised by John Atkinson's decision to put it in Class A of "Recommended Components." It was a breakthrough for high-end amps in terms of technology and efficiency, but it was less than the state of the art in transparency and lack of grain. Moreover, JA and I had problems getting it to put out full rated output because of its built-in protective current limiters. Snipping out the limiting resistors solved some of the power problem, but the HF dimness remained. The amp did sound better as a monoblock pair, especially at high levels.
The eVo2 offers Bel Canto's resolution of those issues. In addition to a welcome and successful facelift, the new amp has a transformer and power supply twice the capacity of the original and similar to what was in the older, four-channel 200.4 (now replaced by a new eVo4, I understand). With the full deletion of restricting power-supply limitations, one eVo2 now has the practical oomph of a pair of 200.2s. Although the upgrade is primarily that, the eVo2 lacks the eVo 200.2's slight HF veil, which had made me question including it in Class A. The eVo2 is clearly better; the only reason to use a monoblock pair is to satisfy truly monstrous power demands or megalomania.
The demonstrated sensitivity of the eVo2's performance to the influence of power-supply modifications made it unsurprising that the eVo2 benefited from use of a high-end AC cable in place of the standard IEC cord. Both the PS Audio Lab Cable 2 and the JPS Aluminata worked well. However, the Aluminata seemed a particularly good match for the eVo (and for the Sonic Frontiers Power-3), subjectively reducing and softening background noise. It seems a bit crazy to consider such an expensive accessory for such a moderately priced amp, but the combination sounded quite lovely.
So with the PS Audio HCA-2, I now had two really superb class-D (switching) amps side by side. Both had no problem driving the Revel Ultima Studios at any listening level. At low levels, they were quiet but still dynamic enough to be musical and uncompressed. At higher levels, each created an imposing and spacious sound that I found utterly convincing.
They were not, however, at all identical. Specifically, they differed in proximity of soundstage (HCA-2: nearer), midbass weight (eVo: richer, firmer) and macrodynamic range (HCA-2: wider). Of these, the last is most problematic, since, with small ensembles and recording venues, the amps were comparable. As recorded objects grew larger, they grew more with the HCA-2 than the eVo2, but I can't decide if the HCA-2 tended to magnify or the eVo2 tended to minimize.
Listening via the HCA-2 to Dominic Argento's wonderful Te Deum (Salmunovich, Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra, RCM 12002), I had the chorale in my living room, and the orchestra was almost squeezed in as well. Sure, there were yards of depth, too, but the proximity of the voices was most imposing. The rendition via the eVo2 was a bit richer and less intense. There was also a more natural distance from the voices to the listener. Make no mistake—the eVo2 offered a front-row seat. But the HCA-2 was more like a seat on the stage itself.
With Colin Davis' latest recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (LSO Live LSO007), the tables were turned. The eVo2 offered a decent mid-hall seat, placing the players well out front. The HCA-2 was closer and more exciting, creating a multichannel ambience that transported me. Both amps made thunderbolts of the bass drum in the "March to the Scaffold."
Solo voices and small ensembles were well within the ambit of either amp. Alison Krauss's delightful "Forget About It," from the SACD of the same title (Rounder SACD 11661-0456-6), got lots of comparative play, so revealing was it. I couldn't fault the reproduction of her voice with either amp, but Krauss was just in front of the Revel Studios with the HCA-2, and just at the speaker plane with the eVo2. The supporting ensemble, however, was lighter and more ethereal with the HCA-2. Nonetheless, I liked the eVo2's rendition more as I readily traded the delicacy for a bit more heft.
Choose between them? I don't have to, lucky me—I generally keep several amps on hand for comparison purposes. But I don't think that purchasers should have that difficult a time. The Bel Canto eVo2 is clearly more mellow and intimate, even though there's no compromise in power or soundstage size when required. The HCA-2 is cooler and assertive, even though there's no glare, and it's capable of excellent low-level performance. The choice hinges on the associated equipment and room. If one of these amps matches your setup and preferences, the other probably won't.—Kalman Rubinson