Bel Canto eVo 200.2 power amplifier Page 3

In the home, we turn up the volume to make the audible image of the performance seem larger and, as a direct consequence, the performers nearer. This maneuver should not make the performers sound as if they're playing louder, because the true loudness of the performing instrument is encoded into the recorded harmonic content and dynamic emphasis. At least, this has been my experience.

That's not what I heard from the eVo 200.2. When I turned up the EVo's wick, everything got louder, but not much closer. The eVo forced me to find the one volume level that suited the sound captured on the recording. At that unique and appropriate setting, the eVo offered a breathtaking glimpse of the original event. The best example I found was the Glen Cortese/Manhattan School of Music recording of Mahler's Symphony 3 (Titanic Ti-252). Recorded during a live performance at the Riverside Church, the highly reverberant acoustic usually drives me to increase the volume in order to get sufficient presence and detail. With the EVo, I was quickly swamped in ambient soup, while the music was simultaneously too loud and too distant. I had to find that very specific level where the listening room's walls melted away. As the last movement's opening theme shifted to the lower strings, so clear was the depiction that I felt I could hear the violins not playing.

Good harmonic and dynamic performance is required for an audio component to successfully re-create soundstage width and depth. The eVo performed outstandingly in this area, but its soundstaging depended on finding the appropriate volume level. The aforementioned King on the Road was a great example of this. When I got the level right, the eVo extended the front end of my room right into George Cardas' studio.

The downside was that inappropriate settings, whether too loud or too soft, created cognitive dissonance between the ambient perspective and the music's tonal and dynamic characters—the audio equivalent of an optical illusion. The upside is that few amps, at any volume level or price, sound as defined, powerful, and uncolored as the eVo did when set up right. Of course, I can still move my listening chair...

The Large Print
The eVo challenged my presumptions about what's truly accurate. Its dynamic and perspective behavior, as well as a possibly related midrange dryness, made the eVo sound a bit analytic in my system. And, in an A-B comparison, it lacked some of the airiness of the other amps.

But these faults, if they are faults, are small in significance. I won't condemn this otherwise outstanding amplifier simply because its presentation was, in my system, somewhat different from what I've grown to expect—there were too many instances when the eVo stripped away familiar resonance and bloom and communicated the musical event with elemental transparency.

Try Marc-André Hamelin's brilliant Liszt recital (Hyperion CDA66874), recorded in Wigmore Hall by Tony Faulkner and Andrew Keener. The eVo placed all the gleaming power and detail of Hamelin's grand piano right there between the speakers. The hall's ambience lent reverberant weight and dimension to the direct sound while remaining distinct and unconfusing.

If there really is, as many believe, only a single correct volume setting for the truthful re-creation of any particular acoustic event, the eVo made that choice easier to find than with other amplifiers. It was easy to dial in the precise correct level for Michael Daugherty's wry and witty Red Cape Tango (based on the Dies Irae!), with Eugene Corporon conducting the North Texas Wind Symphony (Klavier K-11109). I got the opening antiphonal exchanges, spaced laterally and in depth, to sound proper, and the eVo presented the rest spectacularly.

Regardless of price or of underlying technology, the Bel Canto eVo 200.2 power amplifier is one of the best on the market. Its bass performance is state-of-the-art. Its high resolution and lack of grain are exceptional. Its mild reserve in the midrange will exactly complement many speakers and systems, and should not be terribly significant with the neutral ones. Its subtle and powerful dynamic performance is, however, distinctive as well as instructive. Is it more dynamically accurate than other amps, or is it just more finicky?

That could depend on your equipment and how you listen. At the price asked, the eVo demands consideration. Even if you're planning to spend a lot more, you can't ignore it. Bel Canto's eVo 200.2 is one serious amp.