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On the subject of the reasons for change, Stronczer wrote me:

"1) In developing our next generation of Tripath-based amps, we experimented with switching power supplies and found a considerable performance improvement using them.
2) When evaluating the ICEpower modules, I found that the amp's noise floor was about 10dB better than the best we could do with Tripath technology.
3) I also found that the levels of harmonic and intermodulation distortion were lower (not by a large amount but lower nonetheless).
4) I determined that we could offer a better and higher value product that continued Bel Canto's tradition of forward-looking innovation and performance.
5) When I lashed up a pair of prototypes, they just sounded more like music and have not been out of my system since..."

See Bel Canto's website at review's end for the complete white paper but, briefly, there are several things of interest to note about these designs. First, the e.One amplifiers use an advanced switching power supply (SPS) said to be vastly superior to the traditional line frequency (50/60Hz) power supplies commonly used. The SPS architecture consists of an input filter, AC/DC rectifier and a high frequency (>100kHz) switching power regulator stage, high speed rectifier and output LC filter. It is the absence of line frequency-related noise artifacts accompanying traditional power supplies that is said to be responsible for the superiority of the SPS architecture. Inasmuch as the AC line voltage is immediately converted to a rectified and filtered DC voltage, it is not sensitive to residual DC on the AC line. Consequently, Bel Canto can reduce the sensitivity in both the power supply and amplifier to typical AC line problems such as high or low AC voltage, RF line noise, AC line distortion components and AC line droop.

Additionally, Bel Canto maintains that magnetic materials used in power transformers are vastly more efficient when operating at higher frequencies. Because the e.One amplifiers are operating at greater than 100kHz rather than the usual 50/60Hz, the resultant efficiency allows that the power transformer can be several times smaller, using less magnetic material and less copper wire. The transformer inside the e.One amplifiers is less than 2 cubic inches while a comparable transformer operating at 50/60Hz would be upwards of 100 cubic inches and weigh 50 lbs. The smaller transformer size and reduced copper winding resistance is said to offer additional dividends when it comes to regulation as well. The regulation of the e.One power supply is said to be 10 to 50 times better than that of a conventional 50-pound transformer.

"The power supply performance defines the absolute limit of how well an audio amplifier performs. The remarkable performance of the e.One power supply leads directly to the remarkable sonic results that these amplifiers can achieve. The solid foundation of the e.One power supply translates directly to the solid musical foundation that the e.One amplifier provides to the sonic picture."

While this is the first of their power amps I've heard, I've been a fan of Bel Canto preamplifiers for quite some time. Incredibly neutral and transparent, I refer to them reverentially as a clear glass of water. They don't editorialize, they don't embellish, they just move the signal along. I like that in a preamplifier. If you think of your components each as a chef cooking to its own taste, you can imagine how too many cooks will indeed spoil the broth. So I was a little surprised when I fired up the e.One REF1000 and heard an amplifier from a slightly different page. Of course, everything is relative and the perception of elevation depends on your own altitude. But from my perspective, the e.One REF1000 sounds surprisingly warm and robust. Certainly warmer than the Bryston 7B-STs they replaced and warmer even than the Art Audio Carissa. Not thick or fuzzy, just warm. Not so warm as I could ever imagine being a detriment, just warm enough to sound slightly denser and thus more real.

By now I hope I've made clear what I think is so special about the midrange. It's incredibly transparent yet there. There's a boldness to it that I haven't experienced before. No ethereal apparitions here. The images cast from the Bel Cantos are as substantial and earth-bound as imaginable. Immediate, palpable and immersing - bold as said earlier. They bring me a step closer to the real thing. It's a perspective on the music that helps bridge the gap between the music and the listener. It reaches out and draws you in as it immerses you in both the music and the energy of the performance. And when you can almost see the performers before you, you can't help but feel engaged and involved. At least to some extent, you can attribute the effect to saturated tonal colors as the e.One REF1000s sound most tube-like in this regard. Think of this as the antithesis of thin, watered down and tasteless. Remember, Bel Canto's roots are in valves.

Through the treble, the e.One REF1000 is neutral enough but certainly cut from the same cloth as the midrange - sweet and very smooth, relatively speaking. At first it doesn't have quite the subjective extension of certain other amplifiers. Note the use of the word subjective. What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't draw attention to itself. It doesn't sparkle. It doesn't embellish with exaggerated air or space around instruments. If you have speakers with rolled-off highs and need to inject them with some added life, this is not your amplifier. But neither are these amplifiers that will exacerbate recordings that are bright or ragged on the most revealing of speakers.

Those who value imaging will fall hard for the e.One REF1000 monoblocks. Their presence factor also means greater contrast of images against their backgrounds and heightened delineation. Focus is excellent. Soundstaging is excellent. The aforementioned treble honesty means that they don't produce the exaggerated sense of space that some amplifiers may but you'll get an excellent perspective on the venue. I find it very natural and less HiFi-ish.

Since the introduction of the e.One REF1000 amplifiers into my rig, Brian Setzer Orchestra's self-titled CD [Hollywood Records HR 61565-2] has been in frequent rotation. Vibrant is probably the most concise way to describe the music even through the inexpensive Axiom M80 loudspeakers where the e.One REF1000 injects the music with a vivacious gestalt that's mesmerizing. The clarity and presence of Setzer's vocals have become addictive as have the presence and tonality of the bass lines and the raspy edge and heightened presence of the sax on "Sittin' On It All The Time". Check out "There's A Rainbow On My Shoulder" for sheer mass and energy and see if the word vivacious
doesn't spring to your mind as well. And don't miss the muted trumpet on "Route 66" for the well-mannered treble that brings its clarity to the brink of both realism and ferocity. Ever been in the same room as a trumpet revved up to full speed? It's quite the experience.

Whenever I hear an electronic component or a loudspeaker that seems unusually warm, I always reach for Chris Isaak's Baja Sessions [Reprise 9 46325-2]. It's a very full and warm recording and if the review component is bumped up in any one area in an attempt to cheat and sound like something it's not, this recording will tell me so. It sounded wonderful over the Bel Cantos - warm but not overly so. Never thick or slow, the presentation was smooth, musical and robust. Once again I was just knocked out by the presence of Isaak's voice within the room. The level of harmonic density and the richness of the instrumentals were fantastic. Guitars almost pop out at you with their heft and realism. Percussion is crisply and naturally presented from the rear of the stage where it belongs.

I spoke of the sweetly smooth treble. The Genesis G7.1c SE loudspeakers with their uniquely transparent, revealing and detailed round ribbon tweeter that also happens to offer extension to 34kHz proved an exemplary mate to the e.One REF1000 amplifiers. Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat [Private Music 01005-82092-2] and the opening chimes on "Joan of Arc" proved the combination had extension, detail and clarity. The Genesis tweeter and e.One REF1000 amplifiers produced chimes with a presence that few if any other tweeters can match. The REF1000 amplifiers don't restrict their near magic to male vocals either. They reproduced Warnes' with the same panache. The soundstage was spacious and deep and the bass was as extended and faithful as the treble. More often than not, the REF1000's produce a soundstage that goes wall to wall.

While I didn't come across a genre of music that wasn't well served by the e.One REF1000s, they turned out to be awfully well suited to pedestrian Rock recordings such as Green Day's American Idiot [Reprise 48777-2]. The only downside to the e.One REF1000's high resolution was the view on Billy Joe Armstrong's voice that varied from track to track. The CD's title cut evidenced a cupped-hands coloration that was completely absent on most of the other cuts. Still, from cut to cut the transparency, presence and relative freedom from artifacts does change and it was highly illuminated by the REF1000s as it should be once you think about it. Regardless, the robust density of the e.One REF1000 amplifiers completely served the music and its wall-of-sound presentation.

Two years ago I reviewed the Thiel CS2.4 loudspeakers and awarded them a Blue Moon Award. In my room, the Thiels did just about everything right. On my own ultimate search for nirvana, I thought the speaker was just a little too lightweight. I returned the speakers at the end of the review period but was so impressed that I figured one of Thiel's larger speakers (the eventual replacement of the venerable CS 3.6 perhaps?) might work just a bit more synergistically with my room. However, upon receipt of my e.One REF1000s and as compared to the Bryston 7B STs with which I had evaluated the Thiels, I was sure that a rethinking on the matter was in order. I was sure that the Bel Cantos were going to be ideal mates for the Thiels. In fact, I was so convinced that I contacted Thiel and prepaid for a personal pair of CS 2.4s. Turns out I was right.

As positive as I was about the 4-ohm, 87dB efficient Thiels two years ago, what I'm now getting from them via the e.One REF1000s is better. Everything I've described about the speakers has been enhanced. I'm also getting bass weight and power I don't recall from before. I recall a speaker that seemed as powerful as it needed to be but one that may have left some listeners wanting for a little more warmth and body. The Bel Cantos bestow on the Thiels an added measure of body and warmth. Without a doubt, they sound much more formidable now. The ICE-powered REF1000s are capable of the kind of current delivery that makes the Thiels come to life.

Practically speaking, the Bel Canto e.One REF1000s are wonderful amplifiers. Distinctly non-trophy like, they don't take up a lot of real estate, don't suck silly juice from the local utility company and run so cool that they can be hidden away. When left out in the open, they will impress with understated good looks, not ostentatious glare and you can fit two of these power houses side by side on a single shelf.

Yet audiophiles are often anything but practical so these 'uns had better prove themselves in the listening room, too. They do. They easily handle all the basic requirements of a high-end power amplifier. They are smooth and refined. They are transparent to the source in a way that makes them appropriate as listening devices as well as reviewers' tools. They also deliver lots of current and they exude the kind of bold muscularity that you'd expect from amplifiers equipped to deliver 1000 watts into 4 ohms. Additionally, they deliver the tonal saturation you just may have to experience to appreciate.

Though I've owned and reviewed a lot of solid-state amplifiers, I've always considered myself a tube guy. That's because it seems that it's always been tubes that truly lit my fire. While solid-state amplifiers did solidly serve their purpose, it's the tube amplifiers that evoked real passion in me. Until I heard Bel Canto's e.One REF1000s, that is. These are very special amplifiers. They are the first pair of solid-state amplifiers to ever truly excite me.

By the way, I've also got Bel Canto's S300 stereo amplifier here and it's very good. But that story is Srajan's to tell. In the meantime, I'd give Bel Canto's e.One REF1000 monos two Blue Moon awards if I could - one for the right, one for the left channel. That makes them Lunar Eclipse material [and incidentally, the first-ever such award we've given out for an amplifier since we launched four years ago - Ed.] If you're in the hunt, do not miss out on trying these unique minis. I've just found my new high-power solid-state references.
Manufacturer's website