Blue Circle BC21 preamplifier & BC22 power amplifier Page 3

Lately, I've been enjoying David Johansen and the Harry Smiths (Chesky JD196). On each track, Johansen tones his voice to match the material, and the BD-21/22 revealed it all. In addition, the varied accompaniments on guitar, bass, and drums all had the requisite kick and impetus. And as good as the Blue Circle electronics were with the Revel Studios, my experience with the Paradigms suggests that there might be other, more apt matches for the Blue Circles—Revel's Performa F30 and the Soliloquy 5.3 speakers come immediately to mind. Boy, would I love to hear those with the Blue Circles!

Change Partners
Because the BC21 reinforced the BC22's bass, the obvious question was: Would the BC21 similarly complement other amps?

Indeed it did. Running the BC21 into the Sonic Frontiers Power-3 or the McCormack DNA-1 created a big, macho sound. With the appropriate source material, I was constantly aware of great power and depth in the sub-100Hz range that sounded as if someone had turned up the gain on a good subwoofer. The bass was noticeably tight, clean, and extended. Bass fiddle, bass guitar, and timpani sounded outstanding—until I directly compared the BC21 with the SF Line-3. Then I heard the right balance of low fundamentals with the string tones on the fiddle, the attack transients on the guitar, and the skin contact on the drum. Sure, there was less weight, but it seemed the right weight. A good illustration of this phenomenon was Cyrus Chestnut's Earth Stories (Atlantic Jazz 82876-2), which popped along great on the BC21, but with a pre-eminent bass fiddle that stole my attention from the piano line when it should have supported it.

Elsewhere in the spectrum, the BC21 was much like the BC22: an excellent and satisfying performer offering dynamics, clarity, and soundstaging far beyond my expectations. The BC21 did not stick out like a sore thumb when inserted into my reference system, and, except for its bass enhancement, was distinguishable from the Line-3 only with outstanding recordings.

On a whim, I paired the BC21 with the new Bel Canto Evo 200.2 digital amp—which, incidentally, costs the same as the BC22. What a gas! The BC21 told the amp to goose up the power and dynamics at the bottom, and the potent Bel Canto responded. The result was hyper-reality, with the percussion and pedals expounding the bass line with glorious gusto. Marc-André Hamelin certainly needs no help, but the BC21 pushed his recording of the Busoni Piano Concerto (Elder, Hyperion CDA67143) from a musical into a physical experience. While it was exciting with such classical fare, it was positively addictive with pop or rock. I'd thought that the opening cut on Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (Virgin 45384-2) was powerful and atmospheric, but the BC21 made it absolutely huge and granitic. I also savored the kick drums and bass on that old demo standby, "Bird on a Wire," from Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat (Rock The House RTHCD 5052). If your system needs a boot in the bottom, grab a BC21.

Conclusions
The Blue Circle BC22 is a no-nonsense, dynamic, sweet-sounding power amplifier that I recommend to anyone shopping in the $3000-and-under range. Although it's a solid-state, class-AB design, its sound is more like that of a tube amp, and it offers both single-ended and balanced inputs. On its own it lacked some wallop with the Revel Studios, but it was eminently enjoyable and definitely not outclassed! In fact, I can't imagine the BC22 sounding less than superb with the quality of speakers more appropriately priced for it.

The BC21 preamplifier is more distinctive. In almost every category it proved as good as the BC22, and as good as I've heard from a sub-$2000 line stage. Its excellent but robust low range is a two-edged sword: It complemented the BC22 amp perfectly and extended the low end of small speakers; but its performance with other amps and big speakers was bigger than life, even it sounded impressive. Try before buying, but definitely do try the BC21.

In the past, I've found components with small drawbacks that made them unacceptable, but the Blue Circle BC21 and BC22 triumphed over their flaws: their slight imbalances in the extreme bass did not detract from their wonderfully lively presentation of the rest of the musical spectrum. Moreover, the BC21/21 combination was complementary—each performed better together than either did with other gear. Though not cheap, the Blue Circles sounded better than their cost led me to expect. How can you not love components that give such musical satisfaction?

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