There's a big change in the Bel Canto line, folks. It even comes with a new logo and website, belcantoblack.com. As for the sound, listening to an Elvis Presley outtake of "Peace in the Valley" on a 45rpm pressing from, I believe, Direct Grace, I loved the wonderfully clear and uncolored sound, as well as the natural "you are there" detail. To be honest, I drank it up.
Bel Canto's designer, John Stronczer, proudly showed off the the Minnesotan company's e.One s300 integrated amplifier ($2495), that was recently reviewed by Wes Phillips. A dual-mono design with a class-D output stage, it outputs 300Wpc into 4 ohms and 150Wpc into 8 ohms, the diminutive integrated amp features Bel Canto's single button control for inputs and volume, as well as a remote control.
As expected, Bel Canto Design's complement of components fully lived up to their reputation for affordable excellence. The top-of-the-line e.One CD2 CD transport/player ($2995), prototype DAC 3.5 (price not yet set), two REF500M Balanced mono amplifiers ($1995/each), REF VBS1 Virtual Battery Supply, which can power up to three front-end products ($1495), USB Link 24/96 USB to /SPDIF link ($495), and new USB Lightlink High Speed Optical ST glass-fiber link (price not supplied) were fed by an Airport Express-equipped computer server. As Bel Canto President Michael McCormick explained, "The DAC 3.5's excellent jitter rejection is at the center of the system." A Running Springs Power Conditioner completed the chain… except for one major component, the speakers.
The pairing of Benchmark Audio and Studio Electric Loudspeakers had a new face, the Studio Electric Monitor ($2295/pair, or $2450/pair with handsome retro custom grill). With a frequency response of 44Hz22kHz (±4 dB), the 6 ohm impedance two-way offers 87dB sensitivity. The sound was impressive and musical, inviting extended listening.
Distributed for the first time in the US by Robert Kelly of Kelly Audio Technologies in San Diego, the unusually designed Bertram cable comes in copper, silver, and gold configurations. Pictured is Proxima 2 balanced silver interconnect ($8000/1.5m pair).
Designed by Soren Bertram of Denmark, Proxima 2’s silver ribbon wire is flattened and twisted into what looks like a braid. Boasting an air dielectric and laser-welded terminations, it is third down from Bertram’s top-of-the-line. Also available are the Proxima 2 silver speaker cable ($25,000/2m pair), signal cables, and power cords.
Some readers may recognize Kelly as the former speaker designer for EgglestonWorks and Cello. Out of the business for a number of years, he has returned with an intriguing portfolio of Scandinavian-sourced products.
Did Koetsu USA's room have the best sound at the show? It's hard to tell. Since my goal was to cover every single room at Axpona without playing slam, bam, thank you ma'am, I intentionally skipped set-ups John intended to cover. Those included some of the big players: YG Acoustics/Krell, Acapella/Einstein, the huge Legacy speakers, Belles/Advanced, and Mark Waldrep's huge, powerful AIX surround set-up with its five Thiel CS3.7s, two Thiel subs, four or more Boulder amps, DH Labs cabling, and Oppo player. Unfortunately, I also skipped the Ayon Audio exhibit, which I thought John was covering because it shared a room with Legacy.
After a short visit to the Daedalus room, during which time Peigen changed speakers and cables, I returned to hear the F200's big daddy, the F300 ($14,900/pair). This is a 3-way, 4-driver vented box, with a rear-firing supertweeter, Air Motion Transformer tweeter, and copper shorting ring on the woofer to facilitate tighter bass. Frequency range is 24Hz40kHz, sensitivity 89dB, and weight 158 lbs each. The speaker comes in two parts, so that the mid-and high-range unit can be used separately as a center channel with an impressive frequency range of 40Hz40kHz. Associated components were the same as with the F200.
Legacy Audio's imposing system, made even more imposing by the photo of the entire line that dominated the wall to the left of the system, included both the 63" high, 235 lb. Whisper XD loudspeaker ($20,995$23,5000/pair, depending upon finish) and, to the inside, the smaller 56" high, 184 lb. Focus SE ($9200$10,500/pair, depending upon finish). That's a helluva lota real estate for the money.
Santy Oropel of Twin Audio Video Inc. of Loma Linda, CA was producing some very nice sound with Triode Corporation’s TRV-A88SE, a KT88-based, 12Wpc, single-ended integrated amplifier ($1800) and TRV-4SE Limited Special Edition tube preamplifier ($2750). Everything save the faceplate and casing is made in Japan.
Don't let appearances fool you. Those pipes you see in the photo are actually Bigston single-driver loudspeakers with built-in amplifiers. Designed in Japan and manufactured in Elk Grove Village, IL, the Bigston speaker systems have been designed to give an accurate representation of a soundfield as recorded at a live performance. The smallest of the lot, the Light ($300/pair with 3Wpc amplification), is designed specifically for use with laptops etc., and comes complete with a travel case.