Music in the Round #2 Page 2

While the MAP-1 is, at $2395, about three times as expensive as the TA-P9000ES was, it scores over the Sony in a number of ways. First, it has more inputs, eliminating the need for a separate stereo preamp, especially since McCormack makes a phono stage plug-in for it. Second, the MAP-1 has a built-in setup procedure that, unlike with the Sony, makes channel offset/balance easy without an external setup signal. Third, the McCormack's sound was marginally quieter, more open, and tighter than the Sony's with all sources. Fourth, the McCormack is available. Overall, the MAP-1 deserves a strong recommendation as a basic analog preamp that serves both two-channel and multichannel needs.

Bel Canto eVo6 power amplifier
I've mouthed off so much about Bel Canto's second-generation eVo power amps that there's little to add here except to describe the eVo6 and comment on its performance when used as intended.

The $4900 eVo6 is a six-channel power amp created with three of the two-channel modules from Bel Canto's eVo2, along with an even beefier power supply that's suitable for running all six channels at 120W. The subwoofer in my 5.1 system is self-powered, so I used only five channels (I don't even know if the sixth channel works). The only external evidence of these changes are the additional connectors on the rear and the amp's greater depth (18.5"). The eVo6 weighs 42 lbs.

Replacing my long-resident Bryston 9B-ST with the Bel Canto, I found the eVo6 equally dynamic and powerful, but with a somewhat different signature. The eVo6 initially seemed to have less treble energy, but extended listening found nothing missing in terms of balance or detail. It offered a kind of laid-back presentation in stereo but not in multichannel, where the presentation is greatly under the control of the mixing engineer. The bass was full and extended, and particularly enjoyable in those Chesky recordings that lack a dedicated LFE track. Amazing what those little woofers in the Paradigm Studio/60s could do with the eVo6 doing the driving! The depth of image, in all dimensions, was excellent.

With the McCormack MAP-1's tonal balance complementing that of the eVo6, I spent two days listening to Stereophile's "Recording of the Month" for July 2003: Rachel Podger's new SACD of Vivaldi's La Stravaganza concertos (Channel Classics CCA SA 19503). After the first playing, I re-read Robert Levine's review. While I agree with everything he said, if he hasn't heard this performance in multichannel, he ain't heard nothin' yet. Not only is the balance surprisingly rich and mellow for a baroque performance, but the details are much more apparent and enjoyable in multichannel. Podger is sitting in with the ensemble rather than standing on a podium in front, if I can believe the session photos and my ears, but I had no difficulty distinguishing her fiddle from the rest—its tone was redolent of pineapple, strongly sweet and rich, with a refreshing tartness. Nor do the plucked instruments (archlute, guitar, theorbo) melt into the ensemble. At one point, I approached the left speaker and could still hear the archlute and theorbo coming clearly from the right side of the acoustic space.

Overall, the eVo6 was quite forgiving of "hot" recordings and those that might have a more intimidating presence than I find comfortable. For example, I've generally preferred the "audience" to the "stage" mixes on those AIX DVD-Audio discs that offer the choice. Well, maybe it was the eVo6 and maybe it was the infectious music, or maybe I was seduced, but I preferred the stage mix on Dorian Michael's Acoustic Blues (AIX 80016). Compared to the audience mix, there was more detail and, thus, greater ease in audibly distinguishing among the guitarists, to say nothing of the other instruments.

More significant, there was a thrilling intensity to the performance that was just noticeably diluted in the audience mix, even when I opted for the live video. When apparently surrounded by musicians, it's nearly impossible to be distracted or read—but a truly musical event should be engrossing. Moreover, the very close miking (visible in the video) makes each guitar a very powerful instrument. Thanks to the eVo6, the guitars and supporting instruments were strong, punchy, and distinct, with no unnatural edge—short of smelling the beer and sweat, it was just like being at the session.

At $4900 and 42 lbs, the eVo6 is hefty but svelte. If your rack, like mine, has standard dimensions but an open back, the eVo6 and associated cables will slip right in, and its efficiency means that it will need no special treatment for heat dissipation. If you need more power, you can add another eVo6, bridge the channels, get 360Wpc, and still not steam up the windows. With both RCA and balanced inputs, the eVo6 is a no-brainer solution to all the obvious demands of multichannel.