Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIII DAC; Accustic Arts Drive-1; Audio Aero Prima [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe2; Wyetech Labs Pearl [on loan]
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo; Gallo Acoustics Reference 3
Cables: Stealth Audio Varidig S/PDIF, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Crystal Cable Reference speaker cable and power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature Plus for source components; Walker Audio Velocitor
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs; Mapleshade 4" solid maple platform under BPT conditioner
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, 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 pricing: $2,995

Jim Saxon had sung the praises of the latest Plus upgrade to my stalwart BP 3.5 Signature powerline conditioner -- and to the silly-obvious tune of 20dB of additional noise reduction no less -- well before I was even aware of its existence. Then designer Chris Hoff had offered to take my unit in full trade against a Plus, making me liable only for the difference in price. Sacre bIeu, how could I not? Jimbo had trusted my original review and ordered up a BPT 3.5 Signature in Costa Rica sight unseen. Now it was my turn to trust Big Sexy and commit to a blind date of his doing. Meanwhile on the beast coast, our chef-to-the-country-club-truffles, John Potis, had fallen for the same siren song. He'd dispatched his Signature back to BPT for a day of rejuvenation in Hoff's solder spa. Like Jules and Ken and Stephæn, John and I own our units. For once -- but not yet another credit card, again -- we weren't saddled with the prequalification of having to write a review when the men in brown knocked down our doors with the Plus versions. But then we decided what the hell. This only had to be a follow-up to my original review in the first place. Too, it could be written jointly between us. What's a little Sunday afternoon ink between friends? Alas, there was to be one prerequisite. We'd only go to town if there was a party going down. Only if we'd hear enough of a difference to pronounce the hotrodded Signature worthwhile and commendable for the surcharge asked would we rat out on the Plus. If not, we'd have better things to do than apologize for minuscule differences we'd paid for in hard currency out of our own pockets and in blind faith. Hey, if nothing else, we've got our pride. But, since you're reading this now, it must mean we've got something worthwhile telling...

A cursory inspection between both the Signature and Signature Plus backs revealed a new magnetic rather than thermal circuit breaker, Hubbell's premium GFCI outlet and cryo'd WattGate instead of the previous Hubbell duplexes. The already substantial casing has grown even more massive to become 8-gauge black power-coated aluminum. Even the screws are upgraded to brass. Moving to the innards, StillPoint's ERS cloth now completely lines every square inch of metal surface including the area underneath the gargantuan balanced isolation transformer. Ditto for the circular shield around the toroid. A new custom Z-Sleeve Ultra engineered for just this application shields the main transformer lead to the duplex bank which benefits from new anti-resonance-encased filter capacitors while the prior 20-amp hi-current filter has grown to 30 amps and includes surge protection now.

Unlike John who's returned his unit to the factory and eagerly awaits its return, I was lucky enough to get Jimbo's personal unit while I still had my original. Jim's electrician had finally told our man that in paradise, the municipal power delivery scheme already operates fully balanced. That makes forking over dough for a balanced isolation transformer on the far end's wall socket somewhat redundant. Having both units in-house for a few days before the 'plain' Signature would return to Hoff, I was prepared for some intensive A/Bing. You know, just in case I'd be trapped in that nebulous wallflower limbo of "she loves me, she loves me not", that adolescent inability to distinguish between reality and wishful thinking. Not. Once run for 48 hours to settle in, I picked a couple of my favorite m.a. recordings tracks from Krushevo, Senhora da Lapa, Buenos Aires Madrigal, Contrast & Parallels, La Segunda and Le Maître du Roy. Label proprietor Todd Garfinkle records in ambient-wet monasteries and with just two microphones for some of the spatially most sophisticated CDs I own. And I know you know that thang about ambience - it lives just above the noise floor which simply means that unless the noisefloor is truly low, the finest reflections and acoustic venue interactions are buried in it. Whenever you have reason to believe that a component addresses the lowering of the system noise floor, the most telling recordings to test this with are albums with phenomenally well-captured spatial attributes. If there's really more to be had, you'll be able to tell quite instantly.

I'll make this quick and by way of video. Comparing the Bel Canto PLayer PL-1A's DVD picture quality to our Cambridge Audio Azure player and an even cheaper BestBuys' Pioneer -- with our 27" Sony Wega picture tube and the Jules Verne-reminiscent Sean Connery flick The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as source material -- the clearly superior imaging contributions of the BCD unit occured in three areas: the depth perspective (which makes the image seem deeper and more three-dimensional way back into the distance); in very subtle hues of color especially relevant on skin (which makes facial inflections of minute shifts in muscle tone and tension far more apparent as though the actors had just graduated from a deep training course in body language); and in the intelligibility of very dark tones all the way into pitch black (which becomes telling in shadowy and night scenes). Now take those video-related observations and transcribe them to music. Voilà - that's what the Plus added over the Signature.

It tells me that whatever the various technical and implementative contributors are -- those are Chris Hoff's department -- the Plus does drop the operative noise floor of the whole system by a margin significant enough to be well beyond the domain of imagination and wishful thinking and instead be planted on dead-obvious turf. It's the little things that are revealed - e.g. the ripples from the ripples from the ripples of reflections. All those seemingly obscure little details add up to a lot more meaning between the lines, a lot more space, a lot more "body language on the faces and hands of the actors". A lower noise floor also
equates to increased dynamic range. Though things don't get louder per se, they get quieter in-between. And that makes the dynamic peaks perceptionally louder since they now span more of a distance. Instead of from just pp, they now rise from pppp and various fractional degrees thereof. Once again, this reveals more artistic deliberation in the minimal gestures but also means you can listen at subdued levels and not stare at a lowered curtain. How big is this difference? Think about the transition from video tape to DVD. That's a major jump and akin to going to the BP-3.5 Signature. Going from a very solid DVD performer like the $400 Cambridge to the BCD is a far smaller quantitative follow up step. Ditto for the Plus. But qualitatively, it's still another world entirely. In video talk, that world comes alive in movies like Scorcese' Daniel Day-Lewis vehicle Age of Innocence whose interior half-light scenes of richly decorated environs, paintings on the walls, hues hidden in curtain folds and carpets and tapestries and lavish banquets suddenly gain dimensionality as though the color range had gone from 16 to 32 bits.

That also describes the Signature Plus. It delivers the same aural objects as before but it depicts them in richer hues, with more dimensionality and greater expressive finesse. And that's huge because once you're dealing with the level of competence that's embodied in the BP-3.5 Signature, going beyond that in any meaningful way is rather tricky, especially when the cost to the consumer doesn't escalate commensurately. For a $20% increase over the standard Signature which is already at the very apex of its kind and bloody affordable for what it does, the Plus offers a very substantial and easily audible advance. In speaker or amplifier land, that would readily justify a near doubling of the retail price. I'm not being flip. Everybody knows that once you're above 90% with speakers, just a 5% increase in performance could easily set you back double the expense. For what the Plus offers over the already excellent Signature, the surcharge for once is a true pittance (well, as much as $500 spent on anything can be called a straight-faced pittance). And that makes the BP-3.5 Signature Plus an even hotter bargain than the Signature. It transfers the previous Blue Moon Award also to this newest comer from the laboratory of BPT. Just remember that spending $2,500 or $3,000 on an ultra balanced-power isolator isn't sensible at all if you cheap out on the power cord feeding it. The cord from the wall to the powerline conditioner is the jugular artery. Cheap out elsewhere and amputate a leg or an arm if you must but don't mess with the head. Make this juncture the best and finest you can afford. The results should validate it. In fact, if John Potis' experiments in this regard and with his updated BP-3.5 Sig bear out my own observations, we'll hear him chiming in with comments on this particular subject soon.
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