Belles Soloist 1 Integrated Amplifier REVIEW 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 15 June 2011

David Belles founded Power Modules, Inc. several decades ago to ply his trade at designing high end audio components. Flash forward to 2011 and Mr. Belles offers everything from budget minded, but beautiful sounding entry level gear, to state of the art, ultra powerful amplifiers, and thoroughbred preamplifiers. Mr. Belles covers a good part of the spectrum, hybrid tube preamps, phono stages, and sweet sounding solid state integrated, power, and mono block amps.

David Belles has quite a following in the audiophile community worldwide. His products are sold around the globe, including Asia and Europe. As a matter of fact, Belles has enjoyed a barrage of rave reviews in various British audio magazines for some time now.  Several years ago, I was in need of some amplification for a second system I was setting up and a friend recommend the Belles Soloist Series preamp and power amp combo.  Suffice it to say I was thrilled with the performance, especially when taking into account the price tag, roughly $2000 for separates, made in the U.S.A, to boot.  Since having the Soloist 3 preamplifier and Soloist 5 power amp in the system, I have longed to review other Belles products.

Belles Soloist 1

After a few months of communicating with Mr. Belles, who I found to be a true gentleman, and highly dedicated to his craft, our schedules aligned and he offered the new Soloist 1 Integrated Amplifier, priced at $2995. I jumped at the opportunity and it soon arrived at my door step. If the review was based on appearance and build quality, it would get an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. The case work, connectors, and general “feel” of the unit was extraordinary, even for components costing double or triple the Soloist 1. No joking here, folks.  Many would point out that this is secondary, but I bet to differ. A high end audio product is something with which the owner will interface on a daily basis, and if there is no pride of ownership and agreeable ergonomics, it detracts from the user experience.

I won’t get very technical in this review, as as you will see, the Soloist 1 is a music maker to the highest degree: But some basics. The power output is specified at 125 wpc into 8 ohms, and doubles to 250 wpc into 4 ohms. There are single ended inputs only, and two pairs of speaker binding posts. From the Belles literature: “The preamplifier section features all discrete transistor, resistor, and capacitor components, no integrated circuits  are in the signal path. Other features include polypropylene capacitors, 1% metal film resistors, Mosfet output stages, and premium gold plated input and output connectors."

The Soloist 1 is very versatile. There are five line level inputs, a monitor output for recording or processor loops, a mute button, and a preamplifer out section for use with a subwoofer or for driving an external power amplifier. All of these functions are selectable from the compact remote control unit. Green and Red LED lights help identify which input and function is selected. The front panel has some pretty cool old school toggle switches, and a superb volume knob that is smooth as butter.  I should also note the unit comes standard with Black Ravioli Isolation feet. This is a very nice plus.


Set Up and Listening:

Set up was a five minute process which included the usual, hooking up sources, speaker cable, and power cord.  From the get go, several things were very apparent.  First, there was a bell-like clarity, a beautifully neutral midrange, and an overall coherence, which for me is essential, that had me stuck in my chair for hours. Compared to my Audio Research SP 16 and VS55 tubed combo, images were sharper, better defined, and bass articulation was superior. On the last item, that never surprises me, as most solid state gear I have reviewed has bettered my tube combo in bass accuracy and punch.  Usually the ARC gear comes out ahead specifically in regards to “midrange magic”.  But here things were much, much closer than I had anticipated.

The high frequencies were extended, airy, and very smooth. The Belles was a great match with the Thiel CS2.4 speakers, which is exceptionally neutral and musical. Individual instruments were perfectly framed and soundstage depth was superb. There was power to spare and the Soloist 1 barely broke a sweat driving these 4 ohm speakers. I could itemize the usual audiophile checklist, but ultimately the Belles Soloist 1 was very difficult to find fault with sonically. The presentation was as rock solid as the case work.

Amazon's exclusive Queen box set, featuring the iconic British band’s first five albums remastered by the great Bob Ludwig, arrived during the review period.  Through the Soloist 1 it was easy to hear huge differences between these and the previous set of remasters done by Hollywood Records ten years ago. There was quite a bit more detail, way more bass, separation of instruments, and more gain. Ludwig certainly used compression, but I would say judiciously. The Hollywood versions sounded a bit dull, low in output, and flatter by comparison. Through the Belles it was easy to hear the micro details, and to identify previously buried parts and overdubs, and even distortion inherent to the master tapes.

Belles Soloist 1

A new favorite of mine is Street of the Love of Days (Merge Records, 2011) the debut album by Amor De Dias, the new side project by Alasdair MacLean, the leader of one of my favorite bands, The Clientele. He is joined by Lupe Nunez-Fernandez, of the band Pipas.  It is a gorgeous, impressionistic album, filled with acoustic back drops, catchy melodies, and a laid back, summery feel.  Having seen them recently live, I was mesmerized. The Soloist 1 presented one of my favorite cuts, “Season of Light”,  in all its autumnal glory, with beautiful Spanish guitar, and hushed vocals.

The new project from rock legend Robert Plant, Band of Joy (Rounder Records, 2010), is a triumph across the board. Well recorded, with a mix of excellent covers and originals, played by a superb cast of veteran musicians. The album features great songs from Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Low, Townes Van Zandt and more. Plant is in great voice, and master sidemen like Buddy Miller, and great vocal accompaniment by Patti Griffin, a recording artist in her own right, make this different than any other album Plant has done.  The sublime version of Minnesota based band Low’s, “Silver Rider”, pulses with sensual melancholy, and a beautiful version of “Harm’s Swift Way”, one of the last songs Townes Van Zandt every composed, sounded just immaculate. Plant’s vocal nuances and his ode to the late, great songwriter shines through.

A few notes about living with the Belles Soloist 1. First, it ran mildly warm to the touch. It was dead quiet in operation,  I loved working the toggle switches, and the volume knob was very precise.  Which brings me to my one or two minor quibbles (no component is perfect right?). I wish the supplied remote control allowed for more precise volume changes. Secondly, and lastly, I wish there was a way to to directly select inputs, instead of toggling through. But obviously, this is nit picking!

Conclusion:

David Belles, of upstate Pittsford, NY has been designing and hand building wonderful products for decades. I was turned on to his Soloist series separates by an audiophile friend of mine and used them in one of my two systems for several years. Belles has received great praise from the British audio press for his higher end products. It was with anticipation that accepted the assignment to review the Soloist 1 “entry level” integrated amplifier.  I soon found out there was nothing entry level about this product.  The Soloist 1, in my opinion could be a top end product for most other manufacturers. At $2995, I believe the Soloist  is a steal. It offers a clarity, coherence, and neutrality. that one would expect from amps costing double.

Belles Soloist 1 Integrated Amplifier

The build quality, feature set, and sound left me wanting for nothing, except as noted above in relation to the volume steps when using the supplied remote control.  I cannot imagine  that someone looking for a great sounding amplifier, that is built to last, and looks great could pass up the Belles Soloist 1. The unit comes with a five year warranty. It is available in silver or black.
I highly recommend an audition.

Specs

Belles Soloist 1 Integrated Amplifier:

●    Inputs 5 pairs of rca's plus 1 monitor pair rca
●    Outputs 1 pair of rac pre-ampilifier
●    Power rating 125W (Rms) per channel @ 8 ohms
●    Power rating 250W (Rms) per channel @ 4 ohms
●    Input Impedance 100K omhs
●    Shipping Weight 30 lbs.
●    Size 17 “ x 4” x 12”
●    Retail Price $2995.00

Power Modules Inc.
David Belles
479 East St.
Pittsford, NY 14534
info@powermodules.com
(585) 586-0740

Review System 1

Cd Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Server: Squeezebox 3
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables: DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC),  Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC)  Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands,  Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack

Review System 2

Cd Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
Amplifier: Belles Soloist 5, Revox A722
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio, Pangea Audio (AC), RS Cables, Element Cable
Accessories: Sound Anchor stands, Ayre Myrtle Blocks, Standesign rack






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