B.M.C. Audio Amplifier C1 integrated amplifier Page 3

MoFi's superb new reissue of the Grateful Dead's Live/Dead (2 LPs, Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-365) reproduces Phil Lesh's bass with greater clarity, muscle, and precision than does the original Warner Bros. pressing—which itself is damn good, but noisier. I'd been repeatedly listening to "Dark Star" before installing the Amp C1 in the system, so I had a pretty good handle on this set's sound. The Amp C1's rendering of Lesh's bass lost no weight, digging down deep, though it missed a bit of the initial transient "touch," as well as the delicacy of the decay. A few weeks later, in the CES room where I interviewed Candeias, and through a full system of B.M.C. electronics and speakers, I heard that same taut, well-controlled, but slightly thick bass, and less than fully resolved attacks and decays.

Still, the B.M.C.'s bottom end packed a wallop. For a few days I drove a pair of stand-mounted Pulsars from Joseph Audio (review to come), to see how that combo worked, and while the speakers weren't yet ideally positioned, these two ca $8000 components were well matched: The Amplifier C1 cleanly controlled the Pulsar's mid/woofer to produce taut, punchy, well-damped bass. The Amp C1's grip and control would probably transform the sound of even a modestly priced pair of bookshelf speakers.

At the other end of the audioband, despite the Amp C1's short signal path and lack of a traditional attenuator-based volume control, superior transparency wasn't one of its attributes. Not that it sounded opaque—while the B.M.C. couldn't match the remarkably transparent yet smooth and highly resolving top end of some of the expensive amplifiers I have had recently in my listening room, it avoided the thinness and most of the grit that sometimes mars the sound of mid-priced gear. I doubt I ever reached the point where the bandwidth narrowed, as Candeias had said would happen at insane levels—but I occasionally cranked it up to nearly insane levels.

The Amp C1 competently reproduced Live/Dead's excellent sense of a live performance space, captured by engineer Betty Cantor, though the lateral image was flattened somewhat instead of being layered from front to back. Compared to more expensive electronics, or to tubed designs, the C1 was somewhat constricted in depth, and less than fully three-dimensional when reproducing recordings that contain such information.

Cassandra Wilson's genre-defying Blue Light 'Til Dawn has just been reissued on vinyl (2 LPs, Blue Note/Pure Pleasure 7 81357 1). Producer Craig Street confirmed what my ears had already told me: It was recorded by engineer Danny Kopelson "analog all the way," and mixed to 30ips half-inch tape. But other than a single LP from an obscure German label that most likely didn't have access to that tape, it had never been issued on vinyl. This edition is an AAA sonic spectacular that finally lets you hear what was put on tape, without 16-bit digital interference.

Wilson covers songs by Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Robert Johnson, among others, backed by a studio ensemble that includes Don Byron, Cyro Baptista, and Olu Dara. The finale, a cover of Ann Peebles's classic "I Can't Stand the Rain," arranged and backed only by the late Chris Whitley on National Resophonic guitar, is alone worth the price of admission.

I played that Pure Pleasure edition numerous times through the B.M.C. driving the MAXX 3s, and compared to what I'd gotten used to from the CD, it was almost like hearing Wilson sing these songs for the first time. The flat, cardboardy quality of Wilson's voice on CD was replaced by a three-dimensional image that hovered convincingly between the speakers; the instruments were equally convincing spatially. Wilson's inflections and phrasing, particularly her small-scale shifts in dynamic, communicated her emotional intent with far greater clarity and intensity. Coarse, spitty sibilants smoothed out to add believable luster. The percussion in Cyro Baptista's "Estrellas" was so much more believable, texturally and spatially, that it was difficult to believe I was hearing the same recording. In "I Can't Stand the Rain," the space around Whitley's guitar bloomed in three dimensions, easily discernible and definable across the entire soundstage in ways that the CD barely suggests. The B.M.C. amplifier revealed all of these spatial and textural details, aided by its very black backgrounds. In the absence of a very expensive alternative amplifier, my ears told me I was done. What more could I want or expect? Greater midrange liquidity and bloom perhaps?

But it was what the C1 didn't deliver that I found impressive. It didn't present me with what modestly priced integrateds do more often than not: a thin, harmonically anemic top end, drab and/or flaccid bass, and a hollow midrange over a hazy (if not audible as such) presentation.

What the powerful B.M.C. did do was sufficiently impressive for me to conclude that you could anchor a system with this $7990 amplifier, add your choice of up to five modestly priced sources, confidently hook up just about any pair of speakers—regardless of load difficulty, resolution, frequency response, or efficiency—and get great sound. You could be done.

For the Amplifier C1's relatively affordable price of $7990, B.M.C. Audio delivers high tech, high style, and high power, as well as the flexibility afforded by five inputs. It's a fun product to look at, to use, and to listen to.

Whether you call it an integrated amplifier or "a power amplifier with variable amplification and input choice," its generous power and black backgrounds made it sound more like a pair of monoblocks. Few integrated amplifiers of my experience, particularly at this price, have produced the Amp C1's level of muscular, woofer-gripping bass and overall sonic ease. Music didn't drip from the speakers, as it so often does from integrateds—it erupted.

Yes, you can buy more nuance and subtlety, but it will come at the price of power, or it will cost you a lot more. And I'm not sure you can buy greater sonic excitement. If you're thinking your system needs a wake-up call, the Amplifier C1 will deliver that in style. I look forward to what Carlos Candeias has in store for us next.

B.M.C. Audio GmbH
US distributor: Aaudio Imports
4871 Raintree Drive
Parker, CO 80134
(720) 851-2525