This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Like all Bel Canto amplifiers since their early Tripath models, the C5i is powered by B&O ICEpower™.

The C5i gets a single 125ASX2 module. The Danes rate its S/N ratio at an impressive 117dB A-weighted.

Given its 60/120wpc 8/4Ω rating, this amplifier module is surprisingly compact - all of 16 x 8 x 3.5cm.

I've lost track but B&O's class D technology as implemented by Bel Canto must by now be at least in its 4th generation.

For D/A conversion the C5i relies on a 24/192 Wolfson WM8740, for its 24/96 USB 1.1 input on a Texas Instruments TAS1020B transceiver, for asynchronous sample rate conversion on a BurrBrown/TI 4382.

Presumably for the line-level and phono inputs there's also a dual-bit delta-sigma 216kHz AKM5386 A/D converter. This conversion of analog signal points at exclusively digital-domain volume control—in 200 x 0.5dB steps incidentally—which their website confirms.

Given its multi-tasking functionality the C5i appears to be executed exceptionally tidy. With my 160GB iPod Classic into one of its S/PDIF inputs, it legitimises even HifiMan's inefficient HE-500 and HE-6 orthodynamic headphones at above 80.0 on the dial. This means strategically minimized digital attenuation (gain maxes out at a displayed 100.0). In my book running toward the top of the range is a good thing with such schemes no matter how transparent and non-lossy they're claimed to be. Leaving the amp powered up for 24 hours cured some initial out-of-the-box paleness. This blossomed into a slightly warmer and softer sound than the NuForce signature I'm familiar with. In the bass the C5i certainly gets everything from those small but feisty Mark+Daniel long-throw mid/woofers they're good for. At a 1-meter desk-top distance this means no subwoofer is required.

Resolving power over an ATM-equipped ultra-rigid synthetic marble speaker from a clearly noise-optimized converter plus class-D amp in one combo box is as you'd expect. Out there. No need to extend spring cleaning to actually clean any windows. Toed in directly at my ears, such micro magnification makes these small speakers perform nearly on par with any of my top reference headphones now. Even the inherently lit up slightly nervous Sennheiser HD-800—Ken Ball's ALO Audio aftermarket leash ameliorates this over the stock harness to quite an extent—cottons to the gentler overall voicing which is coupled to potent bass and very broad soundstaging of this Bel Canto. In short my straighten out+up mission has been accomplished. Ivette has inherited my former Dayens Ampino for her downstairs artist studio. Her prior Qinpu rig of valve hybrid with mini speakers and sub will soon serve a young Chinese couple who run a terrific little Sushi bar half a block down our cobblestone street. Ivette's already loaned them one of her large samurai paintings to dress up a wall. Getting better sound there will make us feel even more at home whenever we go out to eat. With Sushi that really isn't good for the wallet particularly when you're righteously hungry but it does support the (very local) economy.

It seems to me that the C5i would have been quite impossible to build for any newer company. It clearly leveraged the design team around John Stronczer which includes Jim Kinne, ex director of engineering at Wadia Digital. Bel Canto's design familiarity with source, line- and speaker-level components and their by now deep understanding of class D makes for a special kind of vertical integration.

For the C5i it plainly involved trickle down from the 3-deep standalone converter range at Bel Canto. This creates audible seriousness beyond what one would expect for many integrated amplifiers which add a USB DAC mostly as convenience and because it's fashionable. My new C5i will undoubtedly make cameo appearances in future reviews. When it does I should have a better opinion on the 'heaviness' of its various functions. Gut instinct and first impression is that should its amplification stage turn out to be lighter overall—my desk top needs presently simply can't tap this and performance here is quite a step up from the Ampino—the accompanying digital signal processing must be quite a heavyweight. Converter first, headphone amp second, amplifier third might be the rating progression in the bigger scheme of things. With its pre-outs I'm certain that the C5i will compel me to feature it as DAC/preamp for future amps under review. Until then this is my indefinite teaser preview. For my very specific needs the C5i has already proven absolutely tailor made.
Bel Canto Design website