Bel Canto Black EX DAC/Control Preamplifier and Black EX Amplifier

Excellent Sound and Matching Design Quality

Equipment report
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters
Bel Canto Design Black,
Bel Canto Design Black EX
Bel Canto Black EX DAC/Control Preamplifier and Black EX Amplifier

First, both Bel Cantos had a touch of what I’d call “Class A sound,” in that they were very neutral but had less upper-midrange and lower-treble energy, air, and detail than many tube and most Class AB solid-state designs. This sonic profile was perhaps as characteristic of the largely digital circuitry of the Bel Canto Black EX DAC as it was of the analog circuitry of the Black EX amplifier.

I’ve noted before that some of the best digital units are slightly more open in upper-octave energy and appear to have more air and life, while others are slightly warmer and do more to emphasize the midrange. I have no idea how much of this characteristic sound comes from the digital or analog parts of the circuitry, but the Bel Canto and Legacy Wavelet processor are examples of “Class A” voicing, while Boulder and PS Audio are closer to “Class AB.” I’m not sure which of these presentations is more “correct” or “accurate.” Both involve a minimum of coloration—if it can be called that—and both produce sound that is musically realistic and similar to what you hear in different concert halls. Both are also similar to the sonic differences heard between the work of given recording engineers, who prefer one set of nuances over another. Presumably, however, both can’t be “right.”

Second, bass was very defined, quick, and tight, rather than warm and more lingering in duration. This was not a result of any lack of deep bass in the Bel Cantos. Even at very high musical and test-tone levels, the low-end energy was clearly there in both audible and measured terms. Again, these differences are similar to differences in concert halls and live venues, and I can’t choose between the two sets of nuances. Be aware, however, that if your speaker/room is a little limited in the bass, you may have to make use of the DAC’s tilt control or bass tone control.

Third, there were moments when I would have liked just a bit more life and air, and a touch less upper midrange/treble. The problem with this comment, however, is that the issue almost inevitably occurred with recordings that already had some problem in these areas, or when I was playing music at louder than desirable levels.

I may well be pushing subjective reviewing to unfair limits in all three of these areas—just to find something to describe in the way of sound character. In the case of life and air, for example, electronics which seem to do better in these regards may only seem to have better performance; in other words, they may be emphasizing the upper octaves slightly more, and actually be more colored.

One thing I can promise you. You can get different mixes of trace colorations in competing equipment at equal or higher prices, but you cannot get meaningfully lower levels of coloration. Nothing is perfect, and within real-world limits, the sound quality of the Bel Canto pair is just as outstanding as its compact style and design and overall engineering quality.

Summing Up
This Bel Canto combo is highly recommended. It is not only some of best-sounding gear around; it is also some of the most attractive—a major departure from the retro-techno “Captain Nemo” look of far too much of today’s audio gear—which may be a real selling point if you have a wife or partner who really cares about décor.

Specs & Pricing

Bel Canto Black DAC/Control Preamplifier
Analog inputs: Three unbalanced on RCA jacks, phono on RCA jacks (2.5mV to 5mV mm, 0.25mV to 0.5mV mc; 47k ohms mm loading, 50 ohms, 100 ohms, 500 ohms 1k ohms mc)
Digital inputs: AES/EBU, SPDIF, TosLink, USB
Outputs: Balanced on XLR jacks, unbalanced on RCA jacks, headphone output on ¼" TRS jack
Digital formats supported: PCM up to 192kHz/24-bit (AES/EBU or SPDIF), 384kHz/32-bit (USB), MQA (full decoding), DSD64 and DSD128 (DoP)
Dimensions: 17.75" x 3.5" x 15.5"
Weight: 25 lbs.
Price: $13,990

Black EX Amplifier
Output power: 350Wpc into 8 ohms, 700Wpc into 4 ohms (1% THD)
Inputs: Balanced on XLR jacks, unbalanced on RCA jacks
Outputs: Two pairs WBT Next-Gen binding posts
Damping factor: >500
Dimensions: 17.75" x 3.5" x 15.5"
Weight: 25 lbs.
Price: $11,990

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Suite 300
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 317-4550

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