Erick Lichte, January 2012

I had on hand three DACs that, in my and a few others' opinions, represent the best digital audio reproduction in their respective price classes: the Bel Canto Design e.One DAC3.5VB ($5440 as reviewed), the Weiss DAC202 ($7737), and the dCS Debussy ($10,999). Each represents a major advance in the handling of digital conversion, and each is based on a completely different design paradigm in its manufacturer's quest to wrest the best from all those zeros and ones. Unsurprisingly, each also has a completely different sonic signature.

The Goldilocks DAC in this shoot-out was Bel Canto's e.One DAC3.5VB. It combined the honesty and resolution of the dCS Debussy with the soul of the Weiss DAC202. In terms of dynamics, the Bel Canto was as gripping as the dCS, though it lacked the Debussy's crazy-great bass. The Bel Canto, in my opinion, bested the dCS in terms of my involvement in the stereo image: through the DAC3.5VB, backgrounds were blacker, and instruments hung in greater 3D relief in the soundstage. I found the Bel Canto's tonal balance and slightly warmer sound to be a tad more musically rewarding than the Debussy's. And while the Weiss's tonal balance was sweeter still, the Bel Canto made up for it with grain-free clarity and impeccable delineation in the treble.\

I was shocked and happy that, of these three DACs, I liked the cheapest best. Though the Debussy and Weiss have received many accolades in the audio press, the Bel Canto e.One DAC3.5VB remains a relatively unsung hero. —Erick Lichte

Bel Canto Design
221 N. First Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 317-4550