Bel Canto – AXPONA 2018

By Rafe Arnott

Bel Canto is not a name that is probably as well known as it should be in audiophile circles in North America, which is kind of crazy if you ask me because A) They are designed and built by hand in Minneapolis, Minnesota and B) They make outstanding-sounding components. There are three product lines which are all comprised of simple but beautiful high-grade aluminum chassis with a low, slim profile and cutting-edge technology. It has been my experience that regardless of which version or series you choose to run music through, they deliver an astonishingly linear frequency response, with deep, controlled bass and an upper register presentation that while detailed, never strays into fatiguing crispness.

I first became aware of the company upon hearing and seeing their e.One integrated amplifier (Class D) and DAC combo at show a few years ago and being incredibly taken with the level of resolution that combo was capable of producing without losing a warmth to the sound which I associate with the best solid state. All this for under $4,000 for the pair. Colour me impressed. So now that the company has stepped-up its game with the Black series of components, (and the Black EX series), I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open for their wares at every show I’ve been hitting of late. In Chicago at AXPONA, Bel Canto was showing their EX DAC and EX Dual Mono amplifier with a pair of TIDAL Audio G2 Piano loudspeakers in black and the sound was dynamic, controlled and with the punchy bass I’ve come to associate with their amps, but with real air and open-ended extension upward as well. Add along another healthy portion of punchy, expressive midrange that belies their Class-D output – you have a winning recipe.

With enough digital inputs (USB, Toslink, AES, Ethernet, and USB) to keep the hardcore computer-audio freaks level headed and the inclusion of both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil analog inputs for those inclined to play their LP collection, the EX DAC also gives a nod to future-fi with full MQA decoding. With 350 watts into eight Ohms and 700 watts into four Ohms on tap, the EX amplifier is touted as being designed with ultra-short signal paths, 130dB of dynamic range and vanishingly low distortion. What this all means when listening is a truly enjoyable experience without a lot of cable fuss or high-box count. In an industry where it seems normal to have five, six, seven or even eight separate black or silver boxes in varying guises of chrome plating, gold accents or OLED displays, it’s refreshing to see a high-fidelity company take such a low-key approach to their visual aesthetic, all the while still delivering the sonic goods.

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