A project I’m working on for the upcoming Playback issue 23 is a review of Bel Canto’s e.One S300iUSB integrated amplifier with built-in USB DAC, which retails for $1995. My reasoning in taking on the project is that the Bel Canto holds promise in two areas. First, it promises to be a very good and not too outlandishly expensive general purpose integrated amp—one that opens the door to playing music stored on PCs (or on PC-like music servers). But second, viewed in a slightly different light, the Bel Canto holds promise as perhaps the mother of all powerplants for Desktop/PC based audio systems—one with enough raw clout to drive just about any desktop speaker imaginable.
Bel Canto’s e.One S300iUSB: A Brief Guided Tour
Bel Canto offers a range of four e.One-series integrated amplifiers that all share common features derived, at least in part, from Bel Canto’s development work in creating its earlier generation eVo integrated amplifier. The eVo, as some of you may recall, used Class D analog switching amplifier technology, and so do the present-day e.One models. Bel Canto says of the e.One design platform that it “has based these new amplifier developments on the later generation of technology from the ICEpower group,” adding that, “We have evaluated and implemented this technology using our years of experience in developing and producing the eVo amplifiers.”
In practice this means the e.One models offer the following technical highlights:
- Next-generation switching technology with fully regulated power supplies.
- A minimalist, “less is more” approach to signal path circuitry.
- A compact but robust chassis design that addresses mechanical resonance problems.
- Use of high quality connectors, terminators, etc., throughout.
As near as I can tell, all e.One models produce 2 x 150 Wpc @ 8 Ohms, or 2 x 300 Wpc @ 4 Ohms, and feature four line-level analog inputs, plus a fifth input “bay” that can be customized in various ways. Indeed, what differentiates the various e.One models are the input options Bel Canto installs in that fifth input bay.
In the e.One S300iUSB, the fifth bay provides a USB port that feeds USB-borne digital audio signals through circuitry equivalent to Bel Canto’s USB Link 24-96 module, which in turn is coupled directly to an onboard 24-bit/192kHz DAC. For a good overview of the USB Link 24-96, which is typically sold as an outboard module that is meant to be positioned upstream of a conventional SP/DIF DAC, see Alan Taffel’s review from The Absolute Sound issue 194. However, note that the USB link as implemented in the e.One S300iUSB enjoys one tremendous advantage; instead of being separated from the DAC by about a 9-inch run of coaxial cable (not to mention output and input jacks), the USB link in the integrated amp is directly connected to the DAC at the circuit board level—implying lower noise and jitter for better sound.
I’m going to hold off on comments about the amp’s sonic qualities until I release my review, but in the interim let me offer a few observations on the amplifier’s user interface and apparent build quality. First, let me say that pictures fail to capture the almost gem-like build quality of the e.One-series amps; they simply look and feel expensive (think of the finish of an old-school German Leica camera and you’ve got the general idea). Second, the e.One user interface is brilliant in its simplicity. A single knob controls everything through a combination of rotary movements and/or in-out pushbutton-like movements. The knob, whose motion control is silky-smooth by the way, doubles as a mode selector, input selector, and a volume control: very clever and elegant.
In the course of my upcoming tests, I’ll be giving the S300iUSB a thorough workout that will exercise both the amp’s analog audio and USB DAC inputs, and will report my findings in Playback in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.