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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Bel Canto PLayer PL-1A
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe2
Amplifier: Bel Canto eVo4; JJAZ IP110KW and IP205KW [on review]
Speakers: Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3
Cables: Crystal Cable Reference cables and HMS Elektronik Gran Finale power cords
Stands: Thai solid-wood furniture
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature Plus; Quantum Symphony Pro [on review]
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in diagonal corner setup, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $2,450/ea. for IP110 monos; $2,600 for IP205 stereo

One of my recent columns suggested that based on industry comments, B&O's new high-power ICEpower modules might be the world's perfect amplifier. To advance from hearsay to personal experience necessarily required actual samples. US distributor Bolder Cables thus sent me a fully preconditioned demonstrator pair of the 1000-watt-into-4-ohms Danish JJAZ monos which hunkered down in Arroyo Seco in their Padauk Teak chassis as though to taunt: "Look here ma, where are me amps?" In the above photo, they're the vertical wooden blocks on either side of the stand. Talk about bleeding-edge technology wrapped into non-threatening living-room-friendly organic materials. My wife loves it! Unless viewed from the back where shrouded speaker terminals sit recessed in a bay far too narrow to make spade terminations anything other than a theoretical option, these amp don't give away their electronic innards with so much as a tiny power LED. Think solid slabs o' wood.

Input is exclusively balanced but Cardas XLR-to-RCA converters are provided. I used Crystal Cable balanced Reference cables from my PRe2 and defaulted to Radio Shack 10-gauge bare-end copper for speaker-level connections. That's because none of my resident speaker cables sport bananas. I wasn't going to break one of my spade-terminated runs trying to squeeze them in a right angle into the inconsiderately oriented terminals. But that -- bloody rare -- beef was the only complaint I could muster about these amps. With no big transformers to buzz away and despite their monstrous power output, these amps were as quiet as the dew-covered daisies surrounding the graves of the wicked. More importantly, once I inserted a CD into the PLayer's tray, they immediately trounced my resident Tripath amp. Though refined over generations of modifications and parts tuning, the eVo was handily bested and sounded veiled and a bit bleached by comparison. Though forebodingly frosty and aloof by name, ICEpower's cool-running electronic heart pumped color into the sonic proceedings and serious oxygen into the lower extremities. They responded with phenomenally crisp bass transients, wonderful articulation and tremendous weight. They also literally rather than figuratively added at least a half octave of bass extension.

When Digital Power Processing by Tripath first appeared as a technical OEM solution, Bel Canto kissed tubes good-bye and jumped on the opportunity. For HighEnd audio applications, the team around John Stronczer has arguably taken this approach farther than anyone else. With the release of the latest ICEpower modules now -- the 250, 500 and 1000ASP respectively -- the art of the prefab 'digital' amplifier has just reached its next evolutionary level. Unlike the touch'n'fry iterations of the earlier triangular Acoustic Reality amp I reviewed, these latest smart boards replete with SMPS power supplies and auto diagnostics feature apparently bullet-proof safety measures and short-circuit protection.

With record-setting distortion levels and radically low operational noise floors, ICEpower in Taos opened Tripath veils I didn't recognize until removed. Perhaps more impressively still, a certain harmonic reticence inherent in the eVo amps had packed some important calories on its frame. The added clarity thus went hand in hand with subtle enhancements in tonal fullness and away from the kind of leanness a tube lover would point at in the eVo sound. While I have no fire-breathing dragon ladies like Apogee's amp-eating Scintillas in-house, the side-firing high-excursion woofers of Gallo's Ref 3s are loaded into a counter-intuitively small air cavity. They thus slurp current for breakfast and thrive on a high-amperes diet.

The appearance of ICEpower muscle immediately asserted itself to such an extent that the much-anticipated arrival of Gallo's SA bass amp would lose most its urgency were these amps to remain in my system. Bolder Cables has also dispatched JJAZ' half-powered stereo amp [left] to allow investigation into rumors that -- much like Steve McCormack is said to have achieved with his DNA-500 -- the highest-power B&O module is the finest-sounding one of the lot. Adding my Audiopax Model 5 preamplifier into the equation to test the adaptability of its TimbreLock with these solid-state amps; and moving these Danish amps into the big rig to see how they will respond to being (barely) woken up when asked to power 103dB horns ... these and other interesting tests remain to be done. But as someone who's been on the Tri-path since the beginning and has a current-gen eVo in-house, I'm already well comfortable stating that the most potent of the new ICEpower modules goes handily beyond the best of the Tripath amps - and it's clearly not just a matter of raw grunt and brawn.

The overall sonic picture was more robust, even more immediate, direct and communicative without turning bracing or brutal. A minor previous whitishness was filled in with color and more overall body. Kettle drums now clearly telegraphed the multiplicity of events from the initial transient strike of the skin to the subsequent compression of the captured air turning the vessel into a ringing mass. Rather than perceiving just one homogenized low-bass event, the IP110s separated out the individual constituents to where the initial impact's ferocity was every bit as riveting and intense as a plucked guitar string's or Cuban trumpet's far higher up in the frequency range. Besides obviously extending the speakers' effective bass reach without bi-amping their woofers' second voice coils, this acceleration and articulation of challenging LF transients clearly went beyond even bridged eVo power.

Due to what must be a measurably lower noise floor, ICEpower also went yet further to recreate the recording venue's acoustics by revealing yet more ambient low-level information. As with Tripath, there's zero grain or chalkiness in the treble. Considering the well-deserved acclaim for the eVo amps, this is an impressive list of advances. If the specs are to be trusted, amps based on this newest generation of ICEpower modules are additionally comfortable into zones of punishing impedances where the eVo amps were not fully recommended. While a blow-by-blow account is still weeks down the road, buyers in the market for high-power solid-state amps need to investigate these Danish offerings. Acoustic Reality, Audio Magic, Jeff Rowland and JJAZ are clearly just the front runners in this, the next wave in digital high-efficiency amplifiers. We have other examples of this breed promised so consider us surfing this ICEpower wave now. For once, advances in technology seem to be fully in the service of music rather than focused on lowering parts costs to increase profit margins. In case the JJAZ spelling threw you for a loop, those are Johnny Jensen's initials teamed up with the initials for Audio Zest. Johnny's company just became

the Danish distributor for Stello by April Music. This reiterates what his IP amps already suggest - he's into fair value. Grabbing one of the Asylum inmate's bylines -- interesting times -- I'm merely left to wonder. If B&O's stock modules sound this good to clearly require no modifications or add-ons, will we see dozens of differently branded amplifiers whose only separating distinction will be their physical enclosure and retail price based on brand loyality and cachet rather than performance? If so, factory-direct rather than dealer-retail branding will be the ticket. Interesting times indeed. More on this soon.
Manufacturer's website
US distributor's website
ICEpower website