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The great Steve Earle released a string of superb albums over the past five years, including 2007's Washington Square Serenade. Earle steps out of his comfort zone and applies splashes of trip hop, drum loops, and sound effects, yet remains grounded with acoustic instruments like mandolin and dobro. The album mixes hard-hitting rants along with tender ballads, all well recorded in Earle’s New York City apartment. Not only did the Soloist 3 communicate the intensity of Earle’s politically laced songs, but having recently seen him perform live, it also nailed his voice's timbre and intensity.
The Minnesota band, Low, has been making beautiful, melancholy albums for a decade now, and their 2005 album, The Great Destroyer is especially well crafted, and well recorded. The Soloist 3 shined on this album, allowing the crafty arrangements and mysterious melodies to populate their proper place in the soundstage, which was wide and deep. Tracks like “Silver Rider” and “Monkey” were darkly seductive. Bass performance, on countless recordings, was superb, with articulation and control being major strengths.
Operationally, the Soloist 3 is a pleasure to use. It is dead quiet and its volume tracking and balance control are spot on. Channel separation is superb as well. The only quirk some might find off putting is that you can only change inputs and mute the volume via the remote control. I say that may actually be a plus, as there is less wear and tear and the need for additional parts. On my wish list would be some nice support feet, but that is really nit picking.
The Belles Soloist 3 is a terrific preamplifier. It is a pleasure to look at and to use. More importantly, it is clean sounding, musical, and performs beyond its price point. Belles also offers a matching power amp, the Soloist 5. As mentioned, Belles is a low volume artisan who really strives to create excellent products that are not over priced and are, if anything, over built. Mr. Belles is of the “old school” and takes pride in his work. All his products are hand made in the U.S.A. and include a 5-year warranty.
Despite being diminutive in size, the Belles Soloist 3 is a serious component. I think its secret weapon is its simplicity, both in circuit layout, and concept. Forget fancy LED displays, complicated microprocessors, and other add-ons. Simplicity is something I have become more and more enamored with as of late. On the other hand, you can also extract the best performance out of the Soloist 3 with a few inexpensive tweaks, like a reasonably priced after market power cord from Element Cable or Pangea, and some Ayre Myrtle block supports. I also love the silver faceplate, although it looks great in black as well.
Put the Belles Soloist 3 on your shortlist if you are looking for a reliable, purist, stereo preamplifier that is easy on the eyes, sounds excellent, and won’t break the bank. If you do a preliminary search, you will find that there are very few domestically made two-channel preamplifiers at this price point. More importantly, there are very few, if any, two-channel preamplifiers at this price point that sound this good.
Manufacturer: Power Modlues Inc. www.powermodules.com Belles Sololist 3:
Weight 9.00 lbs
Height 2.00 inches
Width 12.00 inches
Depth 8.50 inches
Output Modes Stereo
Inputs 5 RCA
Outputs 2 pairs RCA
CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
CD Player: Unison Research Unico CDPrimo
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Integrated Amp: Unison Research Primo
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables: Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack
CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh MA6600
Amplifier: Revox A722
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Transmission Audio M1
Cables: Kimber Hero HB, DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Gensis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Pangea Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink
Accesories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold AC Strip