Reviewer: Les Turoczi
Digital sources: Naim CD2 with various DIN-to-RCA interconnects from Chord, Wasatch and non-commercial prototypes; Sony PCM R500 DAT deck
Analog Source: Linn Sondek LP 12 fully upgraded with Lingo, Cirkus, Trampolin etc.; Naim ARO arm; Spectral moving-coil MCIIB cartridge; ARC PH3SE phono stage with NOS tubes
Preamp: Audio Research REF 1 line stage with NOS tubes
Power Amp: McCormack DNA 500
Speakers: Nestorovic System 12; DeVore Gibbon 8; Meadowlark Blue Heron 2 [in for review]
Cables: Various sets from Cardas, ARC Litz, Wasatch, Stealth Audio, experimental prototype ultra-thin gauge samples
Power: Dedicated power lines separated for analog and digital applications
Sundry accessories: "The Base" platforms; Walker Audio SST
Room size: 14' by 23' with 8' ceiling, speakers set up on long wall in equilateral triangle format; acoustically treated walls; concrete flooring
Review component retail: $2990

Note: My system is in transition and selected older components are being replaced during the upcoming months.

A follow-up review, eh? What's the rationale for this? If you haven't already seen the full review of the Bel Canto eVo2i presented by our editor in August 2002, please take the time to check it out. It provides extensive information on features, circuitry and sonic properties in a comprehensive and enlightening form. My contribution, as with most follow-up reviews, is to now offer an alternate take with different associated equipment, room conditions, music preferences and listening biases. I do not plan to rehash the fundamentals previously discussed but trust that this approach will extend useful and updated additions.

Srajan's review of the original eVo2i includes very well-detailed treatments of the flexibility and design aspects of the amp. His positive findings on the sonics were largely responsible for motivating me to undertake this project.

The blossoming of integrated amplifiers over the past few years has not gone unnoticed by either consumers or manufacturers. Creating such one-box models for simplicity's sake or sizing considerations is part of the priority scheme often associated with this category of gear. While the market indeed offers a large selection of budget-minded products, many other integrated solutions are complex, seriously built and for that matter, expensively priced. I have owned a few pieces in this broad category going back to the dark ages. There was my Fisher X-1000 amp followed by a McIntosh piece, a Naim Nait and even a few less recognizable other items. Over the past year, I have heard many competing products in settings other than my own home and find those to encompass an interesting spectrum against which the eVo2i seems to hold up quite well. There is something to be said for the inherent and intrinsic convenience integrated amps offer. The advantage of reducing the need for extra interconnects and keeping things tidy is an added plus.

The site contains reviews of a number of successful entries in the integrated amp category [and a number of our writers own them - Audio Zone AMP-1, Unison Research Unico, Audio Refinement Complete - Ed]. My current report examines the latest iteration of the Bel Canto Design unit known as the Generation II version. Its evaluation began a few months ago. Essentially, the eVo2i is based around the Tripath Digital Power Processing module and generates 120 wpc into 8 ohms, with delicious associated specs. There is, however, an even more interesting twist. I had already returned the review unit to Bel Canto Designs (BCD) when an additional upgrade became available. John Stronczer, Mr. BCD himself, and his staff discovered some German capacitors which they felt made things even better. [You can read more about this development from our editor's pen entitled "Bel Canto Design Gen II: The Tale of the Lone Capacitor".] The very same amp came back to me with new output filter capacitors. This is how buyers will find units delivered from this point forward. Incidentally, these parts will be incorporated into all eVo amps, not just the 2i. Ultimately, my report will thus focus on the Gen II version incorporating the most recent capacitor changes. The model designation hasn't changed officially but one could consider it the Gen II Improved.

Setup details
I initially put the GenII eVo2i into my system while the Nestorovic speakers were still part of it. Those speakers and their matching amps are now gone and the process of finding suitable replacements is grinding along. The integrated amp was quite easy to install since it is user- friendly, well sized and logical in layout. It is also put together beautifully. Since my Nestorovic System 12 was a biamped sat/sub speaker design, all initial listening happened with the eVo2i running only the satellites. Both subwoofers retained their original configuration whose signal arrived via an electronic crossover plus the Crown K2 stereo amp, my preferred approach for about two years.

Allowing for some burn-in time, the BCD gear cooked continuously for over a week playing either CDs or FM radio. The manual provides
concise and useful details about the abundant features while the high degree of flexibility and thoughtful operation makes this unit easy and fun to run. I shall say more shortly about how the eVo2i performed in this configuration. However, there were other approaches as well, with different associated equipment. To determine the amp's full-range performance, two additional speaker systems were pressed into service. At first, my DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8 floorstanders substituted for the Nestorovics. In general terms, this is a very sweet pairing that makes lovely music, even though deep bass response could not be fully ascertained due to the speakers' limitations in that regard. Nonetheless, this was a very helpful and instructive combination. Further along, the Meadowlark Blue Heron 2 speakers arrived; they are under evaluation for a review that will appear in about a month or so. With their extended low frequency ability, I was able to flesh out more of the sonic characteristics of the eVo2i across the board.

While some auditioning did happen via the LP format, the majority of listening came from my own Naim CD player or an alternative rig on month-long loan from fellow moonie Jules Coleman. He was generous in allowing me to discover his Audio Logic 24MXL DAC coupled to an Audiomeca Obsession CD player used as the transport. The digital interconnect was the Varidig from Stealth Audio. The digital playback was very good from both units, however the $7K package from chez Coleman did reveal nuances and smoothness which had eluded me previously. Thanks Jules.

There were interconnect and speaker cable changes during the evaluation and all of them assisted in the generation of a complementary story about this amplifier.

General impressions
The eVo2i GenII is a competent, user-friendly, clean-sounding, fine-looking and powerful integrated amplifier. It delivered very good tonal balance, clean dynamics and a strong sense of ambience/spatial specificity along with an altogether enjoyable listening experience. As previously mentioned, there was a break-in period, which is fairly common these days with most audiophile gear, but things seemed to settle down within a week or so of constant playing. Utilizing my various speakers on hand, it was obvious that the amp handled the frequency extremes easily.

With the Gibbon 8s for example, there was a striking sense of a large, expansive soundstage which had captivating qualities that struck a positive note both with me and several audio friends who happened to stop by for a listen. In particular, the extended high frequency capabilities of this speaker/amp combination conveyed an open, airy and engaging presentation. [The Gibbon 8s can do this with other high quality electronics as well. It is a neat aspect of that speaker design which helps to make it a very appealing product.] To judge deep bass characteristics below 40Hz more accurately, I did turn to the Meadowlark Blue Heron 2s, which were not fully broken-in yet. They performed quite well with the eVo2i. Here the bass certainly went lower and with a good sense of authority and evenness. What did emerge in that pairing was some initial concern about the mid-bass zone of the frequency band but it would take more investigation to sort that out properly. Eventually I came to see that the warmth region was not as fully rounded out due to the eVo2i, not the Blue Heron 2s. But there's more to that story shortly, with a happy ending!

The range of music I enjoy is pretty wide though not absolutely universal. My focus is on all types of acoustic music, honing in on Classical and Jazz offerings to a large degree. While I own and like folk music and some older classic rock, I can't say that much of that gets my attention either in live performance or via recorded software these days. I do have the good fortune of hearing a great deal of live classical music in my home territory and it usually happens in very pleasant, good-sounding acoustic venues. It is not news to any of our readers that live music, well performed and in complimentary settings, goes well beyond any reproduced sound.

We continue seeking the holy Grail in spite of knowing this undeniable reality - and I for one am perfectly fine with that. Live acoustic concerts are auditory reality checks to say the least!

Knowing how widely musical tastes can vary, I'll comment on the choices of material selected for this review so that some of my biases might become evident. In earlier writings, I noted my hobbyist audio taping activities, particularly the recording of live concerts. This is a major fun part of the audiophilic side of my life. While my friends and I do find those DAT master tapes or CDRs resulting from them engaging and informative, I will try to keep those comments to a minimum since that material is unknown to the general readership. It may be helpful to know that during each recording session, I sit in the audience near my microphone stands and actually listen to the whole concert. This is most instructive because I am attentive to the musical performance while planning for the live vs. recorded aspects that re-listening at home can provide thereafter.

Here are references to commercial discs that were used.