Bel Canto Evo One S300i

E

earl of sodbury

Guest
Bel Canto Evo One S300i half-width digital integrated amplifier

prod_eOneS300i_angled.jpg


I was recently offered a home dem of an early production example of this amazing little amp, and naturally leapt at it, being a hifi slut, and always having half an eye on potential replacements for my Musical Fidelity gear.

So What Is It, Then?

The S300i is among a slew of Bel Canto implementations of Bang & Olufsen's new "Ice Power" digital amplification modules. It offers fairly basic/minimalist facilites of four relay-switched RCA inputs, plus one each of volume-controlled and pass-through RCA outputs (AKA pre and tape outs), an IEC socket, and classy and sturdy WBT binder posts. There is also a $200 USB DAC option available, which allows you to use your computer as a source, usefully bypassing soundcards, thoughnot fitted to this example. There is no on/off switch for mains power, and no earthing post, nor indeed phonostage option, for turntablists.

Input selection, volume control, muting and standby are controlled by an attractively small, lozenge-shaped plastic remote. Input selection gently mutes and then ramps-up volume as the relay switches, while volume changes are effected in nicely-judged and useful increments: few will ever get more than half-way up the range available!

And the lozenge continues as the style du jour of Bel Canto, as the front fascia reproduces the rounded-letterbox of its larger predecessors. Cut through a centimetre-thick slab of aluminium, the black recess hosts a very large and easily read luminous green display, which defaults to a volume readout and auto-dims after use; and a discrete black manual volume control-cum-source selector. This is beautifully weighted, and a single press allows you to switch between volume and source modes.

Behind the fascia, the main casework comprises a 2.5mm thick sheet steel wrap and base - mystifyingly over-specified until you see inside... Because the true dual-mono arrangement of Ice Power modules don't require mains transformers, and the boards use mainly tiny surface-mount components, weight is slight - and let's face it even the best of us sometimes rate a component by weight - and thus consumer confidence risks being undermined without the extra heft that its bullet-proof exoskeleton affords. For the record, recognisable full-size circuit components are of high quality, and build top class.

Externally, the front panel is beautifully finished in silky silver-anodised alloy - the laser-cut Bel Canto logo is a really classy touch - while the main body is a discrete velvety matt black. On the underside tall compliant rubber cones provide both support and isolation from any surface the amplifier may be placed upon.

And What DOES It DO?

Now, we've all grown todislike audiophool cliches, but there is a reason that certain terms get used so much that they become cliches: because they are simply the best way to describe something; usually something subjective.

In this case, the Cliche of the Day is "punches above its weight".

Now that doesn't mean "mighty wallops of power", though power is available aplenty: this little box - smaller than Musical Fidelity's square X-series boxes, can muster no less than 300 Watts. But, No, in spite (or perhaps in part, because) of this, this little amp is a master of subtlety.

Now I have to be scruplously honest. It had been my hope that this might be my next system upgrade - I like my current CDP and speakers (though neither is anywhere near perfect), but fancied simplifying my amplification and wiring arrangements. Its compact size would also mean that I could keep my gorgeous Ash Designs stand, too.

But this is the heads-up: this small amp is simply too good - the euphonious tendency of the MF was highlighted, as was its artificially humped-up bass, while its lack of true low bass was left cruelly exposed, as was both the MF and Neat Elites' over-zealous treble.

It taught me an unwelcome lesson - don't pair highly neutral kit with highly coloured mid-priced systems... Not, at least unless you plan on embarking on a fairly comprehensive upgrade programme...

So, on the downside, this amp needs good and careful partnering, but, more importantly, on the upside this is by FAR the cheapest entry into High End hifi possible - I doubt there's much at three times the price that could embarass it.

Sonically this amplifier has class: it throws the sort of soundstage that only valve and vinyl users are accustomed to in this fiscal ball-park: wide yes, but also deep, and, most rarely at this price - tall, too. Timing is examplary, it makes no "favourites" and yet takes no prisoners - it is just spot-on right - music lopes along, and you with it, without you so much as stopping to question it.

Similarly, tonality doesn't favour any part of the audible range over the rest: everything is articulate, clear and precise, with all shading well developed. It goes as deep as your speakers can ever hope to manage - yet never sounds strained, at the same time treble simply sounds limitless - in particular its ability to render ambient information well above the audible range has got to play a major part in its awesome soundstaging.

But most significantly, it does all of this in a "friendly" manner - not warm or euphonious, and not brilliant and "Ultra Hi Fi"; it more completely allows you to forget the electronics and concentrate on the music than anything else I have yet used.

So Not Baby Bear's Porridge, Then?

Whether that particular approach is right for you depends on both your preconceptions and on the kit you intend to partner it with. Were I in the position to start from scratch and partner it with suitably capable ancillaries I wouldn't hesitate - for what it can do, in context, it's a storming great bargain - but one due some care and respect. If you're ready to commit to the High End - this one is for you.

More info: http://www.belcantodesign.com/prod_eOneS300i.html

churz, eofs

 

meninblack

Wammer Plus
Wammer Plus
Jul 20, 2005
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HiFi Trade?
  1. Yes
Easy solution Earl - sell all the MF, buy one of these and enjoy_the_music's Victor ....
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E

earl of sodbury

Guest
meninblack wrote:

Easy solution Earl - sell all the MF, buy one of these and enjoy_the_music's Victor ....
biggrin.png
...and get a new girlfirend when she see that huge chavpagne gold lump half-filling my front room...

Mind, t'would sound bloody nice! Hmmmmm... :chinrub:

 

Craig

Wammer
Wammer
Jul 20, 2005
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AKA
Craig
Yeah, nice write up Earl:^

(Would you mind editing the bit about the partnering eq. needing to be top notch though?)

 
E

earl of sodbury

Guest
cheers, gents.

Craig, I have a notion that a decent pair of Dyns might be just the flava for this little beast, but a demo would be essential...

 
E

earl of sodbury

Guest
The Swedish Chef wrote:

really nice write up, had everything but the UK price:)
Not absolutely sure it's been finalised, but believe it's a shade under £1800.

 

gsrai

Wammer
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Aug 18, 2005
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AKA
Gobind
A career change in the offing methinks - the new KK
wink.png


Nice write up fella' - any chance of you reviewing the new MF X-series !

 
E

earl of sodbury

Guest
Thanks gents.

gsrai: if MF or a an MF dealer want to send me one, I'd be only too happy to have a play!
wink.png


 
G

Guest

Guest
Nice write up Earl. The wieght to quality ratio is one of my downfalls . Glad to hear you don't have to buy anything hernia inducing to get great sounds.

 
E

earl of sodbury

Guest
Duvet wrote:

Nice write up Earl. The wieght to quality ratio is one of my downfalls . Glad to hear you don't have to buy anything hernia inducing to get great sounds.
Ta Duvet. I think in a quality setup like yours ithas thepotential to cause an upset...
wink.png


 

Papa Lazarou

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Aug 18, 2005
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AKA
Phil
HiFi Trade?
  1. No
It'll be interesting to see if my monos gel with the Kharmas (or not according to my bank manager). They could be a great match or perhaps a terrible one. This is what makes this hifi malarkey so interesting imo.

 
G

Guest

Guest
Still reckon this Bakeoffs gonna cost you more than me Papa. The last one did.:raoflmfao:

 

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