The Bel Canto Design that is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year is a long way from the original firm founded in 1991. Debuting as a tube amp manufacturer noted for their SET designs Bel Canto today is at the forefront of digital technology. The Bel Canto Black digital system (£50,000) is a cutting edge example of 21st century high end audio. Bel Canto was founded by engineer John Stronczer in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is located there today in the heart of the city. All product design and manufacturing are done locally by company engineers.
The focus of this article will be a system review featuring the much more affordable £2,500 each Bel Canto Ref 600M Class D monoblock amplifiers and the £2,500 DAC 2.7. The DAC 2.7 is both a very fine DAC as well as a digital control pre-amp. All three handsome brushed aluminium faced units are housed in identical cases each measuring 216mm × 318mm × 88mm making them both visually attractive as well as easy to place in your listening room.
The Ref600 Mono’s offer 300 watts into 8 Ohms and 600 watts into 4 Ohms of Class D power via their Hypex NC500 modules. Power is supplied from the Hypex SMP1200 power supply. Bel Canto’s own Impedance Optimized Input Stage is a “balanced high Common Mode Rejection, low output impedance driver that is critical to the amplifier’s performance, ensuring that the refined dynamic qualities of the recording are preserved.” (www.belcanto design.com). What all that means to the listener is power and finesse are both present is spades. Setup could not be simpler. Connect your speakers to the five way WBT output terminals, plug in your source via the Single ended or Balanced inputs, position the input switch accordingly and then plug in the IEC power cable. Turn on the rocker switch and you are ready to go. These highly efficient amplifiers are designed to be left on all the time while drawing a small 22 watts in standby.
I spent some time with the Mono’s independent of the DAC 2.7. Connected to the Vandersteen Treo CT’s they provided a terrific low end grip during Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon [SACD 2003 EMI Records], with Roger Waters’ bass notes setting a subterranean foundation at the start of ‘Time’. Queueing up ‘The Vengeful One’ from Disturbed Immortalized [iTunes download 16/44.1 256 Bit Rate], power was in full command as the wall of guitar, bass, and drums came through in clean aggressive waves. Finally, a quick spin of Jack Johnson’s On and On [2003 Universal CD Rip AIFF 16/44.1 1411 Bit Rate] revealed the finesse of these compact powerhouses. ‘Traffic in the Sky’s gentle acoustic guitar work was natural and crisp with the intimate group’s work properly presented with appropriate spatial cues.