Sound. Right out of the box, results were decidedly mixed. The MPS1 need to warm up and are quite sensitive to the quality of their power cords despite the sophistication of their dual power stages. Moreover, my High Fidelity CT1-E speaker cables were too high in capacitance to release the full LF energy of my Vivid Audio speakers. I didn’t dwell too much on this disappointing first impression and tried other options - a more conventional OCC copper speaker cable and high-end power cords better than the stock cords shipped with the units. This took the Black system of its leash. I actually think that the High Fidelity CT1-E cables designed by Rick Schultz took the lion’s share of the blame for the initially poor results.

Now we jump into what I was finally able to get from the Bel Canto Black system. First, it is important to reiterate that these devices were made to work together. Their synergy is total. Even though one could use the MPS1 amps with a legacy analog preamp or variable source, it is unrealistic to expect results which match what is obtained with the complete setup via its ST optical connections. As our friends across the Atlantic would say, the final result is greater than the sum of the individual parts. I also observed a fairly clear sonic difference between the media renderer inside the ASC1 controller and another digital source. The best-sounding digital input was the asynchronous Ethernet with its ABC PCB renderer board, sending signal via I²S to the internal ASC1 processor. Thus the Bel Canto Black is not an addition to the system but is the system. With that clear, what became its fullest expression?

I won’t beat around the bush. The Bel Canto Black was the most transparent system I've ever heard, period. The most spectacular aspect of it was the nature of the stereo image. I previously already enjoyed the illusion of a tiered soundstage with several layers to make the three-dimensional image seem more or less complete. This quality in my room thus far was very good and I continue to enjoy it with my great Vivid Audio G1 speakers. Alas, the Bel Canto Black ascended to a new level that was unfamiliar. The overlaid planes disappeared completely to make way for continuous three-dimensional space. This is a bit complicated to explain. The stereo image remained incredibly structured without any artificial isolation between different recorded sources. Each instrument had its place as though it were truly present. I deduced that the level of extreme resolution thus transparency of the Black system allowed for this type result. One moves past an impression of holography which occurs with high resolution, low noise and excellent phase integration to something even more disturbing: this feeling of natural presence that moves beyond a merely realistic representation.

I am personally attached to this notion of a three-dimensional stereo image which to me appears as the first required vector for the formation of the sonic illusion we all seek. The Bel Canto Black does not just deliver a stunning stereo image. It positions itself at the very top of the podium vis-à-vis all the other usual criteria for the assessment of a high-fidelity system. Whether speaking of the accuracy and range of timbres, dynamics, its silent operation or even its analog fluidity and ease, I would call the Bel Canto Black the best turntable on the market, the one we dream will be possible one fine day but whose existence now seems almost impossible. Indeed, what turntable could compete with the transparency of the Bel Canto Black? We’d agonize over the cartridge, the tangential arm, the power supply of this hypothetical turntable and its inevitable tracking noise and still, the result would have to be below this digital combo’s which seems to combine the best of both worlds, digital and analog.

Certainly this extremely natural performance diverts one from too demonstrative a result. There are no attraction magnets from being overly colourful or falsely seductive. The honesty of the system actually raises its own limitations. If the speakers do not follow or the acoustics of the room are unsuitable, the Bel Canto Black won’t forgive such issues. I almost wished that the MPS1 had even more power just to make it completely universal. But loudspeakers of very low efficiency and impedance are few and far between today. I suspect that lovers of vintage panel speakers are not the target market for such a modern and expensive system even though the Bel Canto Black drove my Magnepan 20.7 loaners with great authority.