Another aspect of achieving this sonic quality is the pure Class A differential analogue output from the DAC working in tandem with the balanced analogue section. The goal is to preserve all of the original dynamics from the recording regardless of the quality of signal being fed via the digital or analogue inputs. The key to this part of the processing is using constant current and voltage to bias all parts in the analog output chain. Essentially Class A is being imposed on the signal from all contributing factors. This facilitates the maintenance of all original signals and dynamics.
This now fully realised signal is passed on to the 250W into 8 Ohms or (500W into 4 Ohms) Bel Canto custom NCore Stereo amplifier that delivers of clean and ultra-quiet Class D power.
As stated earlier the available controls are minimal on both the front panel and via the remote. Yet all user adjustments of the system can be done with either. To save new settings you hold the program button or press the wheel for a few seconds to complete the save. You will initially use the save function quite a bit because the Black EX has the capability to incrementally tailor the sound to your room and personal preferences in fine detail. The first interesting feature used to customize the sound is the Tilt function. Similar to Quad’s Tilt system in the old 34 preamp, this boosts bass and cuts treble – or cuts bass and boosts treble – around 775Hz. You can adjust the tonal balance in 0.6dB increments up to a maximum 3dB variance. This is more than an EQ effort to assist with both room and loudspeaker management to personal taste. I found it to be a fun exercise that does allow for specific compensation for room anomalies.
Another very useful feature is the Bass management customization. The Black EX has one pair of RCA outputs. Each can be used to feed a powered subwoofer a mono signal. The Black EX offers a BASS EQ (Shipped in the Off position) that features a 2nd order Butterworth Low and High pass filter set. These filters allow a + or – 3dB range in 0.6dB increments up to 250Hz. Many of the newer high-end subs have their own adjustment DSP but for a simple powered sub it allows for fine integration within the system and room. The bass-management 2nd order low pass filter allows adjustment from 40Hz to 120Hz in 10 Hz increments. The High Pass filter you can deploy for your loudspeakers to tailor them as well from 40Hz to 120Hz in 10Hz increments to add even more assist to subwoofer integration. If that is not enough there is also a bass gain setting from -6dB to +6dB in one step stages. It may take some time to work through your sub setting, but your room, sub, and speakers will be in harmony. I spent a fun afternoon with the Black EX and my SVS PB12+ subwoofer finding and experimenting with the best settings. In the end I could make the sub disappear in seamless coordination with my Vandersteen Treo CT’s or I could pump up the volume with some EDM tracks and annoy my wife. Who knew she did not appreciate Basshunter?
The Black EX provides a MC/MM Phono preamp with a strong selection of settings even for low output moving coil cartridges. The curve choice is RIAA only but that should cover the majority of listener preferences. An afternoon’s listening with my VPI Prime Signature and Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge proved to be very enjoyable. There was some depth missing compared to my reference Moon 610LP phono pre, however, considering the Moon costs half what the Black EX does the presentation was certainly a worthy one. Changing cartridge settings was a simple task via the remote control. It was overall an impressive effort for something usually underwhelming on a multi-function device.
Bel Canto has provided an IOS certified app called SEEK which allow for iDevice control over your playlists and source access. I found SEEK to work well and it was very good at searching out audio files from anywhere between my far flung networked computer system and on line streaming services. Entering my login for Tidal was simple and opened up a huge library of CD quality tunes. The Black EX as noted previously, is also in the process of becoming Roon certified. I am a Roon fan and I used Roon for most of my library control as it is much more comprehensive to music curation than SEEK. If you are not a Roon subscriber, then SEEK will serve you well.