B.M.C. (Balanced Music Concept) is a relatively new company with an old soul. It was founded in 2009 by a team of accomplished designers and managers who have produced quality components for a variety of well-known brands since the mid-1980s. led by the articulate and gregarious Carlos Candeias (who studied electronic engineering at the Berlin Technical university), B.M.C. is a truly cosmopolitan effort which designs and markets in Germany and manufactures and assembles in its own purpose-built dedicated factory in China.
With the $8390 CS2 stereo amplifier there’s more than meets the eye. It’s a hybrid of sorts, adaptable for multiple roles at the user’s discretion. As with an integrated amp or preamp there is input-switching and a volume control. But there is no conventional preamp stage. Thus, it can be used purely as a stand-alone stereo amp or slaved to a preamp or processor. In the ultimate expression of the CS2’s synergy it connects with the B.M.C. DAC 1—a high-resolution DAC also available with an analog preamp option. Complete with digital (including usB) and analog inputs and B.M.C.’s unique DIGM compatibility (see Tech Highlights), the DAC 1 effectively becomes the command center for input-switching and volume, basically bypassing all but the CS2 amplifier section. In a nutshell this is what the B.M.C. philosophy is all about—short signal chains, bypassing extraneous circuitry where possible and, chameleon like, creating component flexibility.
The CS2 is visually striking—an 88-pound, retro-brawny component that imprints on the memory long after the system is powered down. The execution of the aluminum casework is stunning, massively constructed with deeply finned wraparound heat-sinking and an equally thick faceplate. As the CS2 can run fairly hot, a pair of silent fans underneath the chassis maintains thermal equilibrium. Everything about the CS2 creates an impression of strength, resonance rejection, and permanence. Its power output is rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms and 350Wpc into 4 ohms—a spec that places it near the top of its category. It has a fully regulated power supply with a huge 2kW toroidal transformer and a small battalion of specially designed and produced current capacitors.
The front panel centers around a whimsically large, circular analog Vu (as in volume units) meter. It displays right and left channel signal level, while volume level and input-selection are numerically displayed. The display is well lighted and dimmable and, depending on your point of view, highly entertaining as you watch the red signal needles whipping back and forth. Equally arresting are power and volume knobs the size of hockey pucks that require a firm hand to ratchet up and down. The back panel is spacious and, befitting the amp’s dual-mono circuitry, features a mirror-matched input/output setup. There are three sets of RCA inputs, a pair of XlR inputs, plus an Opto control-loop for DIGM compatibility. A full-featured machined-aluminum remote, the RC-1, handles multiple functions including B.M.C.’s own CD and DAC-1 separates.
Sonically the CS2 plays big. There’s nothing bashful or withdrawn about the personality of this amp. And dynamically it just flat-out brings it on. As I listened to Solti’s reading of the Beethoven Ninth [Decca], the full percussion and brass batteries of the Chicago symphony blazing, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the CS2’s potency and the steady grip and control it exerted on the music—traits that infuse a system with a firmer foundation and denser hall ambience. Coupled with its unflagging dynamic thrust these were qualities that exemplified the long reach of a robust power supply and transformer. Even loudspeakers that I was very familiar with (some of them compacts) benefited from this weightier, more stable sound. These are characteristics we assume come as standard equipment on high-power-rated amplifiers, but this doesn’t always prove out in practice. As I was listening to the 24-bit WAV file of “Mercy street” from Peter Gabriel’s New Blood album, I became increasingly aware of the dynamics gathering behind the vocal like a harmonic storm, and welling up from below the orchestra during the second chorus of the song.
The CS2’s tonal balance is modern solid-state. It doesn’t suggest the kind of brazen personality that once defined tubed or early transistor electronics. There’s not a hint of the grain, forwardness, golden bloom, and slightly tubby bass of early valves. It doesn’t tilt to the rose-complected side of the tonal spectrum, either, although orchestral string sections do have an authentic sense of harmonic richness. Nor does the amp suggest icy stridency whether it’s engaging the Hamburg Steinway beneath the fingertips of piano virtuoso Minoru Nojima [Reference] or the aggressive bowing of Arturo Delmoni [John Marks Records]. Throughout my evaluation the word “control” kept resurfacing.
The CS2 imparts a musical performance with a timekeeper’s level of precision. But the CS2’s virtues go well beyond a precise sense of image placement, although the amp excels at this. On a richly ambient cut like Dire straits’ “Private Investigations” from Love Over Gold [Warner], there is just more space in and around groupings of images, and expansiveness at the borders of acoustic environments.
There’s also a light-footed sparkle to the musical presentation that calls to mind the elegant amplification of Simaudio—a company that continually fields amps at the highest levels. Like that Canadian firm, the B.M.C. sound is spotlessly clean—clean in the sense that from the leading edges to the trailing ends of notes or musical phrases there are no electronic or textural oddities clinging to the music—no thin, cottony halo or veiling that smudges and smears. It’s as if someone has vacuumed a layer of dust from the auditorium prior to letting the audience take its seats. Try listening to your system using one of my favorite examples, the solo piano of Bill Carrothers’ Civil War Diaries. You should hear only a pristine silence against a placid, jet-black background where the lowest level micro-dynamics emerge. Is it the DIGM volume control that deserves the credit? Hard to say. If so, pristine, low-level resolving power is most definitely the beneficiary.
Through the CS2, transients fly out of the blocks as if cued by the report of starter’s pistol. I knew I was onto something with this amp when I was startled by the deep bark of the baritone sax during Jen Chapin’s “It Don’t Mean Nothing” or Roy Hargrove’s trumpet blasts on Jazz in the Key of Blue [Chesky]. There’s pure magic to this detail and image precision. There’s also a speed to transient and dynamic attack that can only be credited to an overarching lack of amplifier distortion. There’s something extra-pristine in the way the CS2 recovers the leading edges and trailing harmonics of a performance. And yet it also does this in a relaxed manner, without etch or grain or constriction of treble information.
Bass response is a richly balanced blend between deep extension and sophisticated timbre and pitch definition. There’s a descending bass line riff during Yes’ “It Can Happen” [Atco] that always reminds me of this competitive balancing act. This simple cue, a finger slide down the electric bass’ fretboard should convey a smoothly plummeting pitch, and an engulfing resonance at the same time. some amps emphasize one over the other—losing pitch at one end or thinning out the resonant information at the other. The CS2 always struck a natural balance in these instances.
As neutral as the CS2 is, its personality is not completely devoid of color or flavor. Its emphasis on precision and control can also result in an underlying dryness with string sections, and a constriction of dimensionality and orchestral layering. In these criteria, it contrasts with other mega-integrateds like the Vitus Audio RI-100 (Issue 232). During the middle portion piano solo from Holly Cole’s “I Can see Clearly,” I found the CS2’s character skewing slightly cooler on top—not quite the match for the RI- 100’s warmer, darker harmonics, which back up images with a greater degree of air and low-level color. B.M.C. bass lines are precisely rendered melodically, though they’re not quite as rock- solid as those of the Vitus. In many ways, my thoughts on the B.M.C. remind me of the classic and controversial audio divide, in that this amp reflects a little more of the analytical head than the seductive heart of musical reproduction. Both sides are entirely valid and each has its ardent devotees. The synergy that each establishes with a given loudspeaker should ultimately make the case for one or the other. As an aside, I should note that it says an awful lot about the CS2 that I needed to seek out an integrated of the caliber as the Vitus RI-100 in order to adequately contrast its sonic merits. The margins of difference between the two were at times very thin.
The B.M.C. CS2 performs at some of the highest levels of amplification I’ve experienced. Exceptional transparency, commanding power reserves, and intriguing innovation make this a world-class amp. At its not insubstantial price it jousts with an elite crowd of integrateds, but its flexible layout and circuitry give it unique advantages that should bode well for its continued success. B.M.C. may be technically a rather young company, but by any measure the CS2 is a first-class, mature effort all the way.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 200Wpc into 8 Ohms, 350Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: Two balanced XLR, Three unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: 17.1″ x 5.9″ x 15.9″
Weight: 88 lbs.
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