|Bel Canto e.One REF1000 Digital Mono Power Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Saturday, 01 March 2008|
Page 1 of 3
I had my first real introduction to high-end audio back in high school. This consisted of a brief listening session with an entire rack of Krell electronics and a pair of Wilson Watt Puppy Version 5.1 speakers. Not since then has a company or product come along that has single-handedly changed the way I view two-channel audio and the paradigm of what’s possible quite like Bel Canto did late last year with their e.One S300iu Integrated Amp. I loved the S300iu so much I gave it my endorsement as one of the products of the year in our annual Gear We Love list. Truth be told, the S300iu came very close to capturing the top spot, which ultimately went to the magnificent Revel Salon2 loudspeakers.
However, the e.One S300iu review almost didn’t happen. When I contacted Bel Canto about doing a review, I had requested review samples of their REF1000 monoblocks. At the time, none were available but, rather then make me wait, Bel Canto shipped me their S300iu to tide me over. Halfway into my review of the S300iu, the REF1000s arrived and further cemented my views of not only the S300iu’s greatness, but of Bel Canto’s as well.
So here we go with Round Two. Bel Canto’s e.One REF1000 monoblocks visually fit into the rest of their lineup of products like peas with carrots, only better-looking and far tastier. Measuring in at eight-and-a-half inches wide by three inches tall and 12 inches deep, the REF1000s occupy the same amount of rack space as the rest of the Bel Canto e.One line of products. Unlike most traditional monaural amplifiers, the REF1000s aren’t going to blow your back out or require you to bribe a friend or two to move them from room to room, for they only weigh a scant 13 pounds. The faceplate has the e.One series’ trademark silvery white bezel with brushed black metal laid underneath. Gone is the large LCD display and rotary knob of the S300iu; in its place is a single blue-glowing LED, letting you know the REF1000 is ready to play. Turning my attention aft, the REF1000 has all the standard connections you find in a top-flight mono amp. A single pair of WBT binding posts and balanced and unbalanced preamp inputs, as well as a master power switch and detachable power cord, round out the REF1000’s list of connection options. All in all, I’m not sure you’re going to find a simpler or easier to live with amplifier than the REF1000. The REF1000s aren’t the cheapest amps on the market, especially amongst digital amplifiers with their retail price of $1,995 each. However, one must take into consideration the REF1000’s total power output, which is 500 watts into eight ohms and a whopping 1000 watts into four. That breaks down to roughly four dollars per watt, which in ultra-high-end terms is an absolute steal.
Getting back to what makes the REF1000 unique among traditional amplifiers is its use of a fully regulated switching power amplifier and power supplies capable of driving low impedances down to two ohms with a 120dB of dynamic range capability. In a nutshell, the REF1000’s internal architecture insures maximum speaker and driver control for purer musical playback.
For two-channel playback, I had intended to mate the REF1000s to my Bel Canto S300iu integrated amp via its preamp outputs. However, due to circumstances resulting from the fires in Southern California, my S300iu (and a few other components) were damaged. Luckily, I had recently purchased one of my all-time favorite preamps, the truly spectacular Hovland HP-100. The HP-100 (for the uninitiated) is a tube preamplifier with an optional tube phono stage. I connected my HP-100 to the REF1000’s unbalanced inputs via Transparent Cable’s MusicLink Ultra interconnects. For my sources, I utilized my ever-ready Denon 3910 universal player and my Apple iPod connected to my HP-100 via Transparent MusicLink Ultra interconnects. I connected the REF1000s to my reference Paradigm Signature S8 v.2 loudspeakers via Transparent MusicWave Ultra speaker cables. Power filtration came by way of Transparent’s PowerWave 8 (review pending). I also went ahead and swapped out the REF1000’s stock power cables with a pair of Transparent’s PowerLink Plus power cords.
For multi-channel and movie playback, I connected the REF1000s to my reference home theater rig, consisting of an Integra DTC 9.8 processor (review pending), Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player, Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player, AppleTV and Dish Network HD DVR fed to my trusty Sony VW50 “Pearl” projector. I used XLO Reference and UltraLink Reference cables throughout for both audio and video, with power conditioning coming by way of Monster Cable. I should note that, for multi-channel and movie playback, I did not replace the REF1000’s stock power cords, since I did not have enough on hand for all of the separate amplifiers.
Bel Canto recommends a minimum of 40 hours of continuous power on for the REF1000s to sound their absolute best and I’ll second that remark, but since the REF1000s are scary energy-efficient, leaving them on 24/7 isn’t going to tax your electric bill the way beefy traditional amps will. The REF1000s are truly set ‘em and forget ‘em amps, and I mean that in the best possible way.