Bel Canto eVo 200.2 power amplifier Page 2

Switch the amp on from the rear, wait a few seconds for the relay to click gently, and there's music. The simple and clear manual was hardly needed except to confirm that the amp is intended to remain powered up. With any of the inputs and any of the speakers I tried, the case of the eVo remained cool to the touch.

I inserted the eVo in my main system in place of the resident McCormack DNA-1 (Rev.A mod) and listened. Ho-hum. The eVo sounded kinda flat in perspective, and thin—not bad, but it seemed in great need of run-in before facing judgment (Bel Canto suggests at least 40 hours). Backlogged anyway with other obligations, I relegated the eVo to several weekends of less stringent duty at my weekend home in Connecticut.

As I listened to the eVo through the Paradigm Reference Studio/60s with CDs, digital cable radio, and DVDs during this period, I grew quite comfortable with its relaxed tonal balance and natural soundstaging. (Was the eVo breaking in or were my ears adapting?) My impression was that the eVo was unimpressive in the best possible way: It did not call attention to itself, and did not color the harmonics or dynamics of the music. Little seemed out of place, even in my very live Connecticut listening room.

Notably, the EVo's bass was full and tight on the Studio/60s, especially when compared to the Blue Circle BC22, and it was fully the equal of the Bryston 9B-ST in that regard. Where the eVo offered something distinctive was in its modestly laid-back midrange to treble. This resulted in a less than lively presentation with some program material. This fault, however, is a known feature of the room (and the program material), and the eVo merely made it more apparent.

eVo Redux
Back in the Big Apple, I teamed up the eVo with the Blue Circle BC21 preamp and, as I reported last month, the combination was remarkably potent. Rest assured that what I described was indeed the BC21's tonal balance; with all combinations of preamp and amp, the BC21's character remained constant. The EVo, however, was neutral, generously lending its muscle to support the BC21's bottom-up world view.

The BC21/EVo combination provided much guilty pleasure for me, as it endowed the music with exceptional power and weight. Not real? When recordings rarely make any reference to a real acoustic anyway, who cares! Besides, with electric bass, synthesizer, or otherwise, how can I know if the musicians intended it turned up to 11 or not? So rather than take the EVo/BC21 combination to task for eschewing chaste accuracy, I preferred to revel in the kick and slam and not fuss about absolute truth. [That's one slippery slope!—Ed.]

When the Blue Circle preamp was replaced by my reference Sonic Frontiers Line-3 and connected via JPS Superconductor-II balanced cables, the details of truth and beauty began to emerge. The eVo had been afforded all the break-in any amp was entitled to, and it showed. Digital, switching, or no, the eVo proved to be an absolutely first-class amp with some remarkable talents.

Without question, the EVo's bass reproduction was, within its generous power rating, as good as anything I have heard. It had the depth and definition of the best monster amps, but without any proclivity for overhang or boom. Glen Moore's string bass on "Man in the Oven" (King on the Road, Cardas) was powerful yet crisp, and as palpable as if I was hearing it from a front table in a small club. And while the eVo could be all bang and boogie with the BC21, it could also, when paired with the Line-3, deliver accurate and shuddering organ-pedal tones while retaining the distinctive character of each pipe.

The EVo's neutrality extended through the midbass and into the midrange. It did not emphasize any tonal band, and, if anything, seemed ever so slightly reticent from the presence range up. The amp was neither cold nor gray but, within the compass of neutrality, shaded away from warm. In the upper treble (above 3kHz), the eVo could sound a bit bright at extremely high levels. This might have been merely the perceptual complement of its presence reserve, but I wonder if it might, as well, have been some residual artifact from the characteristic class-T clipping noise well above the audio range. Surely, there was no grain or harshness anywhere in the EVo's presentation.

Recently, I did some comparisons of various incarnations of Louis Armstrong's "St. James Infirmary." Distinguishing the CD (Blue Moon BMCD 3067) from the LPs was not difficult, but the eVo made the differences between a late (Audio Fidelity AFSD 6132) and an early (AFSD 5930) release apparent. With each step back in time, Armstrong's voice became richer and warmer beneath the characteristic growl, and I got the impression of greater detail and resolution. Instruments were quite natural, with good placement, but the ambient bloom of each part of the mix seemed distinct. In general, the eVo was more successful in dissecting the mix than other amps, but its literal presentation was less sensually engaging.

The EVo's responses to dynamic changes were excellent. Very subtle changes, such as those resulting from the slight variations in volume created as performers move their heads or instruments in relation to the microphone, were easily apparent. Macrodynamic contrasts were delivered with appropriate force and without apparent compression or strain. While Murray Head's voice is highly processed and intentionally disembodied on "One Night in Bangkok" (RCA PD-13959, 12" single), the voices of the full chorus, the smaller ensemble of women, and the forward, breathy flute had jolting impact in this highly synthetic but hugely spacious mix. Beneath it all, the powerful beat was a pachyderm stomp. However, when dealing with recordings that attempt to re-create a live event, I felt that the eVo 200.2 rendered the interaction between dynamics and perspective in a unique way.

The Small Print: Isn't Louder Closer?
When you sit closer to the performers at a concert, the music is louder and the lateral spread of the ensemble seems wider, even though we know that the musicians are not playing any louder. This is true of vision as well: a horse 20' away occupies a larger portion of one's visual field than does a horse 50' away, even if the horses are the same size. We interpret proximity, in part, from image size.

Bel Canto
212 Third Avenue N., Suite 345
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 317-4550