|Bel Canto e.One S300iu Integrated Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007|
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I kicked things off with one of my favorite rock albums of recent memory, Audioslave’s self-titled debut (Epic/Interscope). Beginning with the track “Cochise,” the e.One S300iu’s almost out-of-the-box performance can be summed up in a single word: damn. The first time I heard “Cochise” was at AVRev.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano’s house some years ago. Jerry was spinning the now out of print 20-bit stereo DualDisc release through a complete Meridian, Mark Levinson and Wilson Audio set-up. Needless to say, it was amazing and ever since then, I’ve been chasing that sound. Well, my day had come. With the e.One S300iu in my system, “Cochise” sounded every bit as real, visceral and involving as it was played back through Jerry’s reference system. However, there were a few things my e.One S300iu could do that Jerry’s system could not. For starters, the e.One S300iu has the blackest background I’ve ever heard; it’s not just quiet, it’s nonexistent. I’m talking no noise, no hum nothing, just darkness, which adds to the e.One S300iu’s strengths in the dynamics department, where it excels on every level. Vocals were clearer, with a greater sense of presence and weight through the e.One S300iu. The vocal track was so clear and precise that I could actually hear Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell swaying behind the microphone. The sound was subtle, but very present. Through other systems, Morello’s guitars sound raunchy, but through the e.One S300iu, you can hear exactly what he is doing to make them so. Each punishing chord change and scratchy strum came through with reckless abandon through the e.One S300iu.
Switching to the track “Show Me How to Live,” I could hear further into the guitars and technique than ever before. Even when playing back at ear-splitting levels, the e.One S300iu didn’t bully me by simply being loud. Instead, it built up the intensity layer by layer making for a very live, in-room sound. The e.One S300iu’s dynamic prowess isn’t explosive the way some amps are; instead, it is immediate. “Explosive” implies a build-up before an inevitable release, whereas the e.One S300iu’s dynamics happen instantaneously. The music can truly start and stop on a dime. The entire spectrum, from the highest highs to the lowest lows is rendered truthfully, naturally and so sweetly you swear you’re hearing the music for the first time. The amount of sheer detail and resolution, both in the micro and macro realm through the e.One S300iu, is staggering.
I decided to calm things down a bit and cued up Matchbox 20’s debut album Yourself or Someone Like You (Warner/Atlantic). Starting with the track “3am,” the opening seconds of the song appeared as if from nowhere. Rob Thomas’ vocals were rich, warm and carried with them tremendous weight and presence that placed him well into my room, giving me a front row-like performance. The high frequencies, especially the cymbals, were pristine and smooth, with zero signs of grain or glare, and exhibited copious amounts of air and such natural decay I would be hard-pressed to distinguish them from the real thing. The bass is the e.One S300iu party piece, reaching depths I didn’t think were possible through my Paradigm Signature S8s without the help of a sub. The bass was tuneful and agile and tremendously musical. Speaking of musical, the e.One S300iu’s entire performance was about as involving as it gets without inviting the band over to the house to play live. When I fired up a few other amps I had on hand for comparison, the same tracks played back through traditional amplification sounded a bit closed in, distant and subdued.
Skipping ahead to the track “Push,” the rim shots, drum kit and surrounding space conjured up images of a bad high school prom. I could almost smell the fruit punch and hear the rustling of the cheap streamers. This is what the e.One S300iu does best: it doesn’t play back music so much as it transports you into a performance. The e.One S300iu’s uncanny ability to extract every nuance from the music is not only amazing but at times eerie, for you’re going to hear things (provided your source is good enough) you’ve never heard before. For instance, with the song “Push,” what I once mistook for a spot of reverb on Thomas’ microphone through other systems is, in fact, several of his band mates singing backup vocals.
While the e.One S300iu is only a two-channel integrated amp, that didn’t stop me from dragging out a SACD or two to see what it could do with the higher-resolution format. I spun up John Mayer’s Heavier Things (Columbia) on SACD and set my Denon’s SACD settings for stereo. Most of the time, the addition of higher-resolution material results in an increase in quality in one or two areas, usually the treble and/or bass lines. When feeding the e.One S300iu an SACD, everything got better, and I do mean everything. The opening “snaps” to “Split Screen Sadness” were not snaps at all, but rather digital composites of several sounds that I can only describe as Galaga-like rocket and laser gun sound effects. Mayer’s vocals were simply sublime, and at no point did I get the impression that I was listening to a piece of audio equipment so much as I was listening to the real thing. The midrange the e.One S300iu is capable of producing is so seductive and sexy that you want to take it to bed. The treble was excellent, as was the bass, both independent and free of any slurring or bloat. The texture and detail to the guitars and drum kit were astonishing, allowing me to hear the ridges along the strings themselves, and even whether or not the string was plucked or strummed.
I ended my evaluation of the e.One S300iu with the track “Daughters.” I honestly don’t have the words. Beyond the technical, beyond the soundstage, even beyond the frequencies themselves, the one thing the e.One S300iu excels at more than any other amp that has come before it in my system is the emotion it draws, not just from the music, but from the listener as well. I’ve heard plenty of amps that are involving in one way or another, but you can always tell there is a big, heavy box working hard, whereas with the e.One S300iu, I never got the sense that anything technological was at work. Every element – the the strum of a guitar, strike of piano chord, decay from a cymbal – is completely un-audiophile-sounding and borders more on the real than anything I’ve heard this side of stupid money, and perhaps beyond that. I won’t classify the e.One S300iu as analog-sounding, or digital, nor would I call it warm or cold. To my ears, the e.One S300iu is none of those things. To my ears, the e.One S300iu is music.