Monday, June 29, 2009

Bel Canto S-300i integrated amplifier

The Bel Canto S-300i is a handsome piece of hear. Sporting arguably the thickest aluminum fascia I've ever seen, the fit and finish is absolutely stunning. From the tactile feel of its microprocessor controlled control knob, to the WBT binding speaker binding posts, everything feels perfectly balanced.

For a "digital" amplifier, the Bel Canto is also suprisingly heavy, about 5 kg. Based on a 150 wpc (8 Ohm) Bang & Olufsen Icepower module, the Bel Canto will deliver up to 300 wpc into a 4 ohm load.

Well enough about the specifications, how does it sound ?

According to conventional hi-fi wisdom, "Digital" amplifiers sound dry, synthetic and lifeless. Some early "digital" amplifier designs may have done nothing to dispel that myth. However, the Bel Canto has a fairly easy going sound. Extremely tight and fast bass, a warm midrange with the right amount of weight, what more could one ask for ?

I think the weakness of the Bel Canto lies in its presentation of high frequencies. There is a certain opacity and dryness to the sound such that hi-hats and percussion instruments don't really have much sense of air or space. You can hear the initial transient of the note, but without much feel of the decay thereafter. This weakness is not immediately noticeable but is revealed upon extended listening and comparisons with the other amplifiers I had at hand.

The above criticism has to be taken in context. The Bel Canto for its power is not an expensive amplifier (OK, its not a budget amplifier either). It proved very reliable in use, never skipping a beat or giving any cause for concern. I have built two systems around this amplifier for friends, and the results have been very satisfying. However, its overall balance requires careful auditioning and matching with partnering equipment.

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