Class D amps came in for lots of criticism when they first appeared on the market, but I found that to be mostly unjustified and even more so over the last few years when the technology seems to have come of age. I have reviewed several Class D amps in recent months including those from Mola Mola, TAD and Primare and here we have a pair of Class D Monoblocs from Bel Canto.
Bel Canto are based in Minneapolis USA and were founded in 1991. They currently have 4 ranges of equipment each with Pre / Power and Integrated Amps and DACs and with the e.One being their entry point range which also includes a Streamer, a CD Transport and a Phono Stage. The Ref 600 Monoblocs cost £2,400 each but to put that into perspective within the Bel Canto range their top ‘Black’ system comprising a digital preamp and 1200w monobloc amps would set you back £56,000. Their ‘Black’ two box DAC is £35,000. The e.One series definitely takes advantage of trickle down technology and expertise used in their higher end ranges.
Technology – These are small but powerful amplifiers, each delivering 300w in 8ohms and doubling that into 4ohm loads. Peak current output is an not inconsiderable 27 amps. There are no front panel controls, just a single green light to indicate power on. The rear panels contain WBT NextGen speaker terminals, XLR and RCA inputs (switchable), a 12v trigger connection and the standard mains connectors.
These amplifiers are half width cases along with all other e.One components measuring 216 x 80 x 305mm (whd) and weighing just 7kg each. They come with either black or silver front panels. So, you can see that they are mighty powerful yet compact and very ‘green’ drawing just 22 watts each from the mains. The e.One Ref 600’s don’t have a standby mode and because they only draw 22 watts each from the mains I just left them powered up all the time for the review.
System Components used in this Review:
Amplifiers: Preamp – PS Audio Direct Stream DAC
Power amps – Bel Canto e.One Ref 600 Monoblocs
Digital Sources: Innuos Statement – PS Audio Direct Stream DAC in Bridge Mode and providing volume control - Sony CDP X3000ES CD
Analogue Sources: None
Streaming Sources: Tidal and Qobuz – Roon Management
Speakers: Marten Mingus Quintet
Mains: Source Components - Evotek Titan - Nordost Quantum QBase6 - Nordost Qx2 and Qx4
Power Amps - Powered directly from the wall sockets
Accessories: Quadraspire custom made SVT stands – All Cables by Jorma Design except: QED Glass optical cable from the CD Player -English Electric Network Switch
Performance – Replacing my Michi M8 monoblocs for this review I found the Bel Canto’s to be immediately impressive performers. Compact in size but not in sound, powerful but not aggressive, cool running but not cool sounding. They will play as loud as you like but you really don’t need to wind up the volume control to hear them at their best. They excel at vocals but not at the expense of image separation or bass performance. They are not overly warm sounding but audiophiles more used to using valve amplifiers may not find them cosy enough for everyday use.
Delivering 600w into a 4ohm load is not the realm of normal Class A/B amplifiers, especially ones this compact, and this means they have a great dynamic range across a wide spectrum of music. They can deliver impressive punch and can manage more difficult speaker loads without distress. Just listen to ‘Electrified’ by Yello to understand why I say dynamics are not an issue. Sure, the deep bass of larger and much more expensive amplifiers is somewhat missing but used in a sensibly priced system with a good source and price matched speakers and not forgetting an appropriate preamp of DAC/Pre and they could easily become a part of a seriously good system.
They also handle tracks with lots of close miked sibilance very well, reducing the ssssss effect to a more manageable level without loss elsewhere.
‘Blue Monday’ by New order opens with strong pounding beat and the 600’s lived up to their powerful spec by delivering with all the punch and drive you could reasonably expect from amplifiers in this price bracket. They also have channel and image separation that only monoblocs seem able to fully deliver.
Conclusion – Class D amplification really has come of age and the Bel Canto e.One Ref 600 monoblocs are fine examples of the art. They never get warm to the touch even after extended use, draw little power from the mains yet can deliver astounding power to your speakers. Looking at them in their cute little shelf and space friendly cases you might think they are not for you but don’t jump to conclusions until you hear them in action. They really are a case of not judging a book by its cover. Highly recommended.