The Bel Canto eVo2
9 January 2003
Output power: Stereo - @ 8 Ohms-120 W/@ 4 Ohms-240 W
Mono - @ 8 Ohms 360 W/@ 4 Ohms 700W
Gain - @ 8 Ohms-23 dB/@ 4 Ohms-29 dB
Bandwidth 1 Hz - 80 KHz -3 dB
THD and Noise: < 1% THD at rated power
Damping Factor: >100, below 100 Hz
Input Impedance: 100k OHMS
Inputs: XLR & RCA
Idle Power Draw: 25 Watts
Dimensions: 17.5" (44.5 cm) W × 14.5" (37 cm) D × 4.5 " (11.5 cm) H
Weight: 36 lbs (14.5 Kg)
212 Third Avenue North Suite 345
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Hindsight's 20-20, and having the opportunity to look back at all my choices in amplification over the years, I get the rare opportunity to see that my quest for audio nirvana wasn't meaningless. Expensive? Hell yeah! Meaningless? No! Form follows function and there exists a running theme to my pursuits. Considering my early adulation for single-ended devices coupled with my graduation into solid state boasting single-ended topologies, the one thing that remains my constant benchmark is purity of signal. Whether through the minimalist gain-stage circuitry heard with the amazing Nelson Pass Aleph Zero amplifier, Victor Khemenko's Balanced Audio Technology VK1000's or the ghastly expensive, $21,500, 12-watt KR Enterprises 800 SE amplifiers, all of which served as my former references, today's bleeding edge circuitry of [my] choice is the Tripath technology. This all-digital dynamo has taken my affinity for pure signal transmission to an entirely new level. This very same technology spearheaded Bel Canto's chief designer John Stronzcer into producing his eVo line of amplifiers and the eVo2, John's stereo amplifier here under review.
Bel Canto's all digital eVo amplifier has been my favorite amplifier for some time now. The Stereo Times Publisher's Choice Award winner two years straight may seem like high praise, but more amazing, were all the fine sounding amplifiers that the eVo's beat out, some quite expensive, to earn such honors. For all of $3k ($6k for a mono pair), many of our readers rejoiced when they saw the sticker price of what Stu McCreary, Dan Dzuban and I wrote so favorably of. But some skeptics remained. Readers often ask "Clement, after one year and with lots of music and equipment coming and going, what remains your reference at the end of a busy day?" My answer is simple! Sorry guys, if I failed to keep your respect and loyalty by not re-financing my crib to spend $35,000 on that hand-shredding, unyielding, two-hundred-fifty pound amp, hand-made in Tibet, that had us all drooling since making the cover of Stereofool, my bad. My choice for amplification of 2002 remains the Bel Canto eVo amplifier. Not the original eVo, however, but the better sounding and improved looking sibling to the original eVo called the eVo2.
Yep, that's right, the new and improved eVo2 has evolved, no pun intended. Having three reviewers from Stereo Times laud the amazingly good sounding original eVo does offer a glimpse of what the new eVo2 sounds like. Bel Canto has obviously taken the improvements learned in their multi-channel amplification research and design department and successfully amalgamated the best of these into this two-channel racehorse. The first thing one notices in the new eVo2 is the unassuming black box exterior of the original eVo is gone. Now you get a two-tone, brushed aluminum trim against a centered black, faceplate that gives this newcomer a more sophisticated, grownup look. It appears Bel Canto arrived for the big dance dressed in a tux. In addition to improved visuals, the eVo2 also sports a larger chassis than the original by a good inch on all sides, while its 36-pound curb weight makes it a solid five-pounds heavier. The power button, formally located on the rear panel right above the AC receptacle, is now located on right side of the front panel. The powder-blue power-on indicator is now centered on the front panel, accentuating the eVo2's simplicity both in and out. A glance at the rear gives the appearance of all the connections remaining identical. Like the original eVo, the eVo2 has identical innards with the exception of a beefed up power supply, which explains the weight differential. Their white paper states
"The eVos 1500VA transformer at maximum power is at the core of the power supply. Combined with amplifier technology that is 90% efficient, it provides a power supply that exceeds demand, maintaining a constant and cool temperature."
Question: Does a new beefier power supply guarantee a better product? Secondly, does this single upgrade warrant a new tag and sticker price designation?
The eVo2, right out of the box with zero burn-in, sounded better than the original eVo in almost every musical respect. Character wise, both versions sound very much alike, but the bigger power supply gives the eVo2 a heaping dose of rhythmic buoyancy that's not as evident in the original. CD's I formally thought were merely okay sounding sounded much better through the eVo2. A wonderful illustration was Randy Crawford's Are You Sure from her Every Kind of Mood disc [Atlantic 92785-2]. An UN-audiophile CD for sure, through the original eVo, Randy's voice - as well as the leading edge of instrumental transients - sound less refined with some hints of hardness, making this great songstress' work less involving. Not so through the new and improved eVo2, which takes Randy's sumptuous vocals, spot-on center, and surround it with a more relaxed group of musicians playing within a more textured three-dimensional soundstage. The original is still tops in its class when it comes to multi-tasking, but in comparison, it can not do what the more advanced eVo2 does. What this reveals is, as our equipment evolves (again no pun intended), so do our listening biases. What I thought were not-so-good-mass-recordings of, say, two years ago, sound much better through today's advanced electronics. I'll also be the first to admit that until I first heard the eVo2 there was some suspicion as to how and where this new souped-up version would outperform the original. Truth told, I simply was not aware the significance a power supply impacts on the performance of this, or any for that matter, amplifier. Compared to the original eVo, the eVo2 makes everything sound easier, lighter and airier - regardless of volume.
Love X Love
In terms of sheer performance, as good as a single eVo2 sounds, I much prefer having two eVo2's driven in mono. Bridged, which is easily achieved by simply wiring both channels positive and negative leads from the left and right channels and engaging the mono button located on the rear, takes the eVo2 to another level of performance. Once this is completed, their dual channel boards operate in anti-phase, becoming a fully balanced differential amplifier, thus reducing low frequency power supply noise and increasing common mode rejection to improve signal to noise ratio. In addition to the astonishingly low noise, dual eVo2's possess the uncanny ability to reproduce the most difficult and taxing musical passages from classical as well as big band orchestras that never ceases to amaze this listener. The new eVo2 sounds like it's in cruise control at deafeningly loud levels. A stereo pair does very well on its own when played within its boundaries. A single eVo2 will not hesitate to send out quite distress signals when pushed beyond its limitations. In terms of price/performance, the ability to strap two musical maestros such as these into a mono design for all of $6k is a steal in any language.
Stu qualified in his original review some intense comparisons of the eVo were made to many single-ended tube amplifiers, including the legendary solid-state Nelson Pass Aleph Zero (which I too also once owned). The original eVos, says Stu, has strong similarities to tube amps while avoiding the associated headaches. I wholeheartedly agreed, but in respect to the new and improved eVo2's driven in mono, their sound is single-ended triode like minus that ultra-golden glow or thermal blush. Don't get this twisted and think the eVo2's don't have bloom however, because they posses plenty. Perhaps because of the eVo2's lightening mid to lower bass speed coupled with an intensified articulation of the midrange octaves, the sound may be just a tad cooler than your contemporary tube design. Again, I would state for the record the eVo2 sounds more honest overall than any tube amplifier I've owned, and I've owned a quite a few. When partnered correctly, the new eVo2's sound like single-ended devices in the midrange - minus that tint of golden bloom - and solid state in the bass and treble. I'll be the first to admit I would like to see that golden bloom on the eVo2's because I consider this as the magic behind what makes tubes so strangely addictive. But then again, the bass would suffer. And when it comes to controlling bass, the eVo2 can control a 90-dB efficient loudspeaker like the Talon Khoruses two 10'' woofers like no single-ended amplifier I've ever had in my possession. This can make all the difference in the world when, for example, listening to Duke Ellington's Blues In Orbit [Mobile Fidelity UDCD 757], or the hip and rhythmic "Manteca" from Dizzy Gillespie's Gillespiana CD [Verve 8902]. The eVo2's can play these torturous discs with aplomb from top to bottom at very high volumes. The very thought of trying this on my Zanden Audio Model 7000 SE tube amp makes me first think of how close I'm sitting to my fire extinguisher.
That said, comparing the eVo2 to the incredible 12-watt Zanden Audio Model 7000, which uses the Western Electric 300B, proved ear opening [I've the Zanden Model 600 going through the paces as well as the amazing Model 5000 DAC. Review forthcoming]. The Zanden may very well be the most musical amplifier I've heard with certain high-efficient loudspeakers. At $15,000, it is not easy on the pocket and therefore ought to sound special. It does. As remarkable as it performs on a musical level, the moment I compare it to eVo2's on the Talon Khorus X'es, I have to scratch my head. The eVo2/Talon synergy is undeniable. I simply get better dynamics with all of its micro and macro shadings, along with a more refined bass amid a wider and more transparent soundstage using the eVo2's on the 91-dB efficient Talon Khorus X'es. That's not to say the Model 7000, driving other loudspeakers like the Rosinante Dulcinea's or the amazingly good Xavian mini-monitors, doesn't perform midrange magic. On the contrary, the Zanden Model 7000 sounds more musically satisfying in the midrange than any amplifier I've heard.
As good as the eVo2's are, if there's anything to wish for, it would be the thick and luscious midrange presentation the Zanden Model 7000 has. Shucks, anything equipped with the Western Electric 300B tube is going to possess an incredible midrange quality dripping with palpability. The Zanden 7000 is no exception. Duly noted, there is something magical about tubes that I doubt any amplifier devoid of tubes can duplicate. Unfortunately, this includes this great eVo2 amplifier too. The eVo2 is not a tube amplifier and therefore should never have to apologize for what it does and doesn't do...tube-like
When it comes to my wide and varied predilection for different tastes of music and the loud, real-life volume levels the Talon Khorus X'es allow me, I enjoy the eVo2's more than any amplifier I have owned.
'Scuse me while I climb atop my soapbox. Ahem, megaphone please…
"Stand For Something Or You're Liable To Fall For Anything"
In closing, I stand for what Bel Canto has done to help rearrange the high-end playing field. I certainly stand for single-ended purity with solid-state control. I'm sure everyone can stand for state of the art sound at mid-fi prices. And lastly, I stand for the music, which the eVo2's seem to have a certain affinity for.
The digital amplification age has arrived and I'm so glad to be a participant. Great minds think alike so I won't be too surprised when famous amp designers begin taking a strong foothold of all that digital amplification has to offer. After long discussions with both Greg Weaver [his Spectron review speaks volumes] and Greg Petan on the new Rowland 300 series digital amplifiers [review forthcoming], I think it's only fair to say that digital is no longer a dirty 7-letter word. Simply put, the Bel Canto eVo2's represent a new level of signal purity and musicality that few can match and fewer still at its asking price.
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