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This review first appeared in the November 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end is accompanied by a link to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Sources: Audiomeca Obsession II, C.E.C. TL51XR
Amplification: Integrateds - Accuphase E-212, Myryad MXI2080, C.E.C. AMP5300, Lua 4040C; pre/power - bel canto PRe3/S300, audiolab 8000Q/8000M, Bryston BP25/4B SST
Loudspeakers: Thiel CS 2.4 , Sehring 703 SE
Cables: low-level - Straight Wire Virtuoso, Zaolla Reinsilber NF; high-level - Ortofon SPK 500, Straight Wire Rhapsody, HMS Al Cinema
Review component retail: €2,200 PRe3; €1,800 S300; €2,600/pr M300

Trio Infernale?
Blame the prefrontal cortex, not for everything in the book but for a goodly amount. I won't pretend at amateur psychology but I am fascinating by how our brain works. How do we create opinions? Especially an Editor might wonder.

The relevant processes aren't exactly simple and straightforward. The prefrontal cortex -- the med term for this brain region -- is headquarters of opinion manufacture. It sits relatively frontal within the skull and is responsible for our (calmly reasoned, ha) decisions and judgments. Alas, this brain center isn't exactly the autonomous, sole and purely objective ruler of the domain it thinks itself to be. Nyet. Emotional sub texts of the, um rational kind -- say salacious greed or stubborn denial -- are much of the power behind this funky throne.

Truly, the pride of our 'objectivity' isn't free of shame. This includes hifi kit, say digital, just shy of 22cm wide and about 5kg on the scale. How's that supposed to sound? Shall we bet that devotees of mature class-A brutes won't be lost for a quick opinion? Whatever, today's review loaners from Minneapolis in the US come on strong cosmetically.

Bel Canto e.One PRe3 remote-controlled preamplifier
Bel Canto e.One S300 or M300 [visually identical]

Petite, silver-black, digital?
To nip misapprehensions in the butt: class D amps, including Bel Canto's, consist of mostly analog building blocks. Despite logical appearance to the contrary, class D is no more shorthand for class Digital than class A is for class Analogue. If Bel Canto's website does go on about "digital amplifiers", there's solid reason: Many surfers will google using this phrase when looking for class D amplifiers.

The heart muscle of Bel Canto's e.One S300 stereo amp -- just as it is for the e.One M300 monos -- is an SMPS or switch-mode power supply. Granted, the basic operational principle of just two states, on or off, does mimic digital's 0s and 1s. However, these on/off states aren't limited in number over a fixed period to represent a given analog signal. With PWM or pulse width modulation, the duration of the on/off states becomes the arbiter which, unlike digital, can assume unlimited intermediate values. Or to cite famous designer Nelson Pass: "PWM is definitely analog". For more in-depth reading on the subject, reference the following two links: and

The SMPS modules of the S300/M300 are Bang & Olufsen issue. Should you automatically correlate that brand with style over substance, control your prefrontal cortex. Bel Canto at least banks on the tighter coupling of power supply and buffer circuitry which B&O's modules make possible. Among other claimed advantages are reduced distortion, better S/N ratio and drier bass. ICEpower as the patented solution was christened is based on inventions from the mid 90s, more accurately the White Papers of one Dr. Karsten Nielsen. At first employed by B&O, the end of the 90s saw the creation of an independent joint venture which today serves a growing market, including as OEM provider for other firms, Bel Canto included.

Back to the subjects at hand: Clamoring for attention is the ultra low output impedance of Bel Canto's e.One S300 and M300, namely 8 milli ohm at 100Hz, netting a stout damping factor of 1000 for 8-ohm loads. Equally impressive is power output - 2 x 150 watts into 8 ohms, 2 x 300 into 4. Just as relevant but often overlooked is the power consumption of the monos, identical to the dual-mono S300: 10 watts at idle. The SMPS modules operate similar to switching amps, two concepts known for low power losses. Typically high switching frequencies in the 10 or 100 kHz bands enable more efficient current generation and the use of smaller, lighter transformers over conventionally rectified linear power supplies. According to John Stronczer, boss at Bel Canto, balanced is the preferred connection of his components: "... this is how they are designed to work together." Unlike the power amps, Bel Canto's e.One Pre3 preamp eschews switch-mode supplies whose particular advantages are viewed best for high-level power buffers.

The D word does appear in the Pre3 in the "digitally controlled analog volume control", said to optimize channel tracking and distortion while enabling 0.5dB steps of linear attenuation. The singular frontal control, similar to a Joy Stick, adjusts volume, power on/standby and input selection in a simple and intuitive manner. Worthy of further comment is the high-end fit 'n' finish of these components and how readily their aftern connections are accessible (these include XLR fittings and RCAs that'll accept even very thick interconnects).

Sonic impressions of the e.One Pre3/S300 combo
To begin with:
I kicked off with the most affordable option of preamp and stereo amp. To get to the point, this pairing certainly does not belong into the category of sensationalist kit which subdues the loudspeakers with an iron grip, never mind the high damping factor. While not suggestive of lack of control, the e.One S300 won't be the ultimate choice for those who get off on stoically chiseled soundscapes and dynamic orgies, including stints of occasionally harsh and stern aural punishments.

The Bel Cantos counter in different currency, namely silence. Sure, anything unplugged from the mains will comply but the Bel Cantos manage even plugged in. They create the oft-cited pure, clear, inky blackgrounds to generate fascinating inter-note silence and cleanliness around the sounds. These Yanks are anti-stress all the way. Are you allergically predisposed against hot cymbals and spitty sibilants? While saying outright sayonara to sibilants is overstating the case, even a cursory listen proves quickly how these Bal Cantos draw with a finer, softer, more painterly brush and flow.

Actual impressions
A signature trait of French Avantgarde formation Claire Obscure is the sheer number of instruments and performers they routinely engage. On 1994's album Rock for example, no fewer than 30 musicians mixed it up. "We Went" kicks of with a tight, highly focused keyboard which repeats a casual, softly glistening motif before a flute picks up to segue into the meat of the number where infernal bass drum kicks rule and tom impacts energize and splatter.

The Bel Canto S300 managed without peaks and edges. Piano, keyboard and flute appeared
to meander along in a melt of warmth and body. Those aspects the Americans had down pat. Which warrants a detour: The phrase "musical flow" has become standard vocabulary of HiFi discourse. Granted, some view many of the phrases our kind employs to describe what components sound like as a bit esoteric. Still, the ability of gear to portray the overriding musical arc by connecting the dots of individual sonic events is most certainly not of interest only to ESP fiends.

Regardless of output devices or component category, have you never encountered a hifi piece that dissected the sound into its smallest constituent parts? On the one hand, you admired its 'high-endy' detail retrieval; on the other you wondered why your evening session had turned about as relaxing as a 10-hour corporate meeting at the office earlier that day where the boss, via high-end Power Point presentation and laser pointer, owned all the details yet each of his astute listeners failed miserably at making the connection.

To dissect without the big picture is managed by many. It's simply not a trait the Bel Cantos value. Granted, certain sonic events do end up less obvious because of it. The rhythmic keyboard elements of "We Went" move farther back into the mix, less fresh than usual. The adjacent piano too is less direct though full-bodied and colorful. The entire sound presentation is of the relaxed sort - and perhaps so homogenous because of it. It's never boring though to prevent an easy misunderstanding. Clearly, this is where personal biases intrude. The nonchalance whereby the Bel Cantos yield to the musical flow without fuss is definitely fascinating - just of the subtle sort.

For "objective" nits, I'd cite the usually explosive toms and bass drums. While not tired "poof", there clearly was less explosive ammunition behind the Thiel CS 2.4 or Sehring 703SE than usual, making me wish for a bit more attack and force...

Bone Machine - that really is the title of Tom Wait's album from 1992. If I recall correctly, it was a critic's darling of its time. Whiskey voice, plenty of percussion, a staccato saxophone, cool guitar riffs - all of it comes together on "Such a Scream". Right off, I noticed something else however - the rattle. The Bel Cantos presented it authentically, with body and cleanly - as authentically, fully and cleanly as one expects a rattle to sound. Other amps seem more anemic here, more spitty. Geez, I do occasionally notice secondary details, don't I?

This same relaxed and soft gestalt also meant that percussive attacks did not meet this
listener as on-the-nose as other amps. Even the bass, naturally limited in extension on this number, lacked a touch of muscle tone and growl. Likewise for the blooming guitar riffs throughout which were less immediate and jumpy.

The other side of the coin was simply that the subliminal shrills which this piece can occasionally bare especially to sensitive ears remained MIA. So there was a bit less crack and energy but conversely, "Such a Scream" gained in roundness, sonority, flow, color and was presented utterly stress-free - which, enter bias again, needn't equate to less involvement. As stated earlier, the American Bel Cantos of e.One Pre3 and e.One S300 love the understatement cultivated by the British: superficial though spectacular bombast is anathema; coherent, non-pushy long-term comfort is key. Which could beg the question. What if you wanted both painterly long term comfort and the occasional descent into crude rocking out?

Last but not least: e.One M300 mono power...
No need to beat around the bush: The dynamic twins clearly build on the strengths of the stereo amp. Be it musical flow, tone colors, instrumental body, the silence between the notes or the outright refusal to ever get harsh - it's déjà vu all over again.

Alas, the monos pull off the mean trick to add attack power which mostly eliminates the above nits. Nope - harsh, brutish and straightforward driven they still won't do, thank gawd. But on "We Went" by Clair Obscure, things did bang and explode as they rightfully should have. Even keyboard and percussion increased in gravitas and articulation. Be it percussion or bass, the Tom Waits numbers sounded tauter, with more growl and rebound. Accompanying guitar runs entered with the pep I know from true heavyweight amps. Nice. It felt nearly like mild turbo boost across the entire audible spectrum. It was not louder but simply delivered with more sheen and plasticity, more grip and pep.

Even though Belcanto (Italian for 'beautiful song') refers to a compositional style with 17th century Italian roots, I felt no longer obliged to hold back with the heavy ammunition amongst my records. "Musik aus dem nächsten Jahrtausend" ("Music of the next Millennium") is indeed the header for a record review of The Eyes Of Stainley Pain by Download. Though 10 years have passed since, the header's relevance survives. Futuristic, dense electronica with apparently extraterrestrial sounds and arrangements, this is surely anti-mainstream as hell yet well recorded and thus, ideal for reviewing.

Be it dynamics, dimensionality, exploded bandwidth - this is a workout across the floor. Even
subtle sound signatures of hifi components are quickly unveiled, quite the antidote to the typical demo tracks which favor soft listening fare that always sounds good. Download's music, even on high-endy systems, often sounds anything but good and can become outright torture. But when the hardware is sound, the opulent, nearly brachial flood of intense sonic vistas will tear you straight from your seat.

To tip my hand: I really had to hold on to my seat. "Sumi C" -- so goes the first track -- thundered, pulsed and slapped me with such magnitude that I had to scale back the SPLs. Yep, the Bel Canto monoists can do spectacular. Whether pulsing infrasonics or a non-stop barrage of mids and highs, everything was precise, agile and in control. This was involvement of my kind. The three-dimensional staging and impressive image focus merely underlined my agreement. To be dimensionally so well sorted, tonally so comfortably sonorous on this type of complex and heavy fare - that's anything but the rule for Download.

Especially the e.One Pre3/e.One M300 combo has what it takes to make sonic happiness. In certain ways, it does combine the best of two worlds, the charm of good tubes and the propulsive muscle mostly credited to transistors. Depending on ancillaries, some may hanker after a more developed treble where others would call that too obvious already. Certain mondo amps will develop even more pressurization. That's a matter of taste. I didn't miss a thing. Well-behaved, long-term agreeable and overall natural-sounding amplifiers in this price class and above are anything but easy to spot.

Hence, the trio of Bel canto e.One Pre3 and two e.One M300s has become one of my must-hear recommendations. Especially the monos cut a swell figure against the competition. Due to their manageable size and weight, these Bel Cantos are also ideal "borrow from a dealer for a weekend"
candidates, practically supported by their snazzy carrying cases. Of course storming home in anticipation with three black cases under your arms could raise neighborly mistrust in these days of explosive headlines.

That said, even the team of Bel Canto e.One Pre3 and e.One S300 stereo amp has its charms if you're prepared to subtract points for propulsive fortitude and dynamics, painting instead with a gentler and softer brush than with kick and vigor. Should this meet your requirements -- or if you're intent on taming your presently overly aggressive rig --then this smaller duo could well warrant a closer listen...
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