Bel Canto Design CD3t Disc Transport Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Bel Canto Design, out of Minneapolis, has an the envious reputation of making a full line of very well reviewed Class D amplifiers, preamps, DAC’s, CD players, and transports.  Their products have a unique and stunning appearance. They also have a loyal customer base, and their products are designed and manufactured in the USA. The company is small but manages to distribute its products through a nice sized dealer network domestically and in thirty five countries worldwide.

John Stronczer, Bel Canto’s head honcho, founded the company in 1990. He has a serious technical background, having worked as a research scientist in some very high tech environments.  Interestingly, when Stronczer founded Bel Canto, he was making tube amplifiers. Ironically they are best known for digital products and switching amplifiers. Switching amplifiers have several major advantages in that they are low noise, low heat, and are known for very low power consumption. Stronczer believes that his amplifiers are the most efficient way to power loudspeakers.

Bel Canto has a full line of DAC units and CD players as well. They are designed with amazing attention to detail, with the stated goals of attacking jitter, noise, and other flaws that can compromise sonic performance. They also, like Naim and just a few other companies, offer external power supply upgrades for their components. As noted, they also take their industrial design very seriously. Their products are even more attractive in person.

The only time I have heard Bel Canto products were in unfamiliar settings. However, I have a vivid memory of hearing a Bel Canto DAC at a speaker manufacturer’s factory. It was one of the most convincing playback systems I have ever heard. So of course I was thrilled to receive for review a sample fresh off of the assembly line, the new Bel Canto CD3t (the “t” is for transport). The CD3t is a slot loading Redbook transport with no on board DAC or analog output stage, which means it must be connected to an outboard digital processor.  The CD3t retails for $1495.

The CD3t is outfitted with two digital outputs on the rear panel: BNC and AES/EBU.  There are no TOSlink optical or coaxial RCA connectors, usually seen on most CD players.  But most, if not all, audio engineers will tell you this is a good thing. BNC, which often stands for British Naval Connector, is known for low noise and high bandwidth, and is common in recording studios and professional applications. AES/EBU stands for American Engineering Society/European Broadcasting Union. AES/EBU is usually used in professional applications as well, and utilizes the XLR connector. AES/EBU is also known for low noise and high bandwidth, and is considered by many to be the superior form of digital connection.

Since the Bryson BDA-1 DAC I use as my reference has both BNC and XLR connections, I was pretty well set up to run the CD3t through its paces. I did have to order an AES/EBU cable from DH Labs, whose TOSlink, coaxial and BNC digital cables I also use throughout my systems.  The DH Labs cable arrived at the same time as the CD3t and, when I unpacked the transport, I was extremely impressed with the build quality and attention to detail. The rectangular shaped chassis was solid, with exemplary case work and a beautiful half-inch thick face plate on the front, with the Bel Canto logo engraved in.

Set Up & Listening:

I set up the CD3t on a set of Symposium Rollerblock Jr’s, and with a Shakti Stone on top, near the power supply. I used a Shunyata Venom AC cord and the aforementioned DH Labs BNC and AES/EBU cables to connect to the Bryston BDA-1. My first impressions were that the CD3t was offering a very detailed, airy, and dimensional presentation. It was also amazingly quiet operationally. I must admit as to not being a big fan of slot loading players or transports in the past, but I realized that highly respected digital luminaries like Esoteric, dCS, and others have embraced it. I am now a believer. Among the advantages of slot loading mechanism are durability and there is one less group of parts to wear down in a motorized tray mechanism.

A disc I have been spinning for a while now is Robert Plant's nicely produced Band of Joy album. With great covers by artists as varied as Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Low, and a stellar cast of supporting musicians, Plant is in full flight. The CD3t extracted the musical layers very impressively. On “Central Two-O-Nine”, the layer of acoustic guitars, mandolin, harmony vocals, and percussion were easily distinguishable. I can safely say I have not heard this CD sound better.

Bel Canto CD3t rear panel

One of the greatest bands of the 60’s British Invasion was the Animals, and they were very well served on the great sounding SACD Hyrbrid Retrospective. With the CD3t, the Redbook CD layer sounded positively thrilling. Such classic tracks as “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”, “It’s My Life”, and “When I Was Young” sounded amazing, and the superb mastering job by mastering guru Bob Ludwig was fully on display. These hugely influential recordings deserve the best possible sonics, and the CD3t was up to the task.

Peter Gabriel’s New Blood, a recording of some of his classic work with an orchestra, is a stunning sonic achievement, and of course the material is sublime, with tracks culled from across Gabriel’s illustrious recording career. Hearing Gabriel’s untarnished voice backed by a full orchestra made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. The CD3t did a superb job providing a framework for this incredibly dynamic disc. Quiet passages lead to throbbing crescendos on tracks such as “San Jacinto”, “Red Rain”, “The Rhythm of the Heat”, and “Digging in the Dirt”.

The 2011 remaster of U2’s 1991 masterpiece Achtung Baby is an amazing package, which includes six CDs, and four DVDs. The album sounds as fresh today as it did twenty years ago. The package also includes the follow up album, Zooropa, in remastered form as well. The CD3t did a great job of extracting the all the musical information from these recordings, which were done with a combination of analog and digital equipment, and are somewhat limited in overall transparency.  But the Bel Canto made every track come alive.

I was able to compare the CD3t’s BNC and AES/EBU digital outputs on a variety of recordings and I probably preferred the AES/EBU by a very slim margin. I mean very slim. Both outputs are obviously well engineered, and I may even have been imagining differences. The CD3t was also a pleasure to operate. The front panel buttons were very responsive and clearly laid out. Track access via the buttons or the supplied remote control was immediate and disc loading was impressively quick. The display is bright, and can be turned off as well. The only complaint I can muster is the fact that you can display track number, disc time, and time elapsed, but not time remaining on any given track.


Conclusion:

Bel Canto has distinguished itself in the high end audio industry for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they deliver the total high fidelity experience for those not willing to accept less. I, and many others, find their industrial design stunning. The products are also forward looking in design, and are upgradable via external power supplies.

I highly recommend the CD3t for those looking for a high grade transport to match with a quality DAC. I can also say that the CD3t would ideally be a terrific match with one of the Bel Canto DAC’s. At $1495, the CD3t is an outright steal.  It is refined and elegant in both appearance and sound. As a final note Bel Canto, out of Minnesota, designs and manufacturers it’s products here in the USA. The CD3t is a superb product, and when mated with a great DAC, is an easy recommendation.


Specifications



Bel Canto Design CD3t CD Transport: $1495

Dimensions: 8.5” W x 12.5” D x 3.5” H (216 mm x 318 mm x 88 mm)
Weight: 12lbs. (8.2 kg)
Disc Compatibility: CD, CD-R and CD-RW discs
Maximum Data Rate/Bit Depth:  44.1kHz/16bit
Digital Output types: AES/EBU, XLR, SPDIF


Bel Canto Design, Ltd.
221 North 1st Street
Minneapolis MN 55401
USA
Tel: 612-317-4550


Review System 1


CD Player: Naim CD5 XS
Server: Squeezebox Touch with CIA  VDC-SB power supply
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Integrated Amplifier; McIntosh MA6600
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, 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 3, Marantz NA7004
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
Computer: Dell netbook running Windows XP
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Preamp: Pro-Ject Pre Box SE
Amplifier: Revox A722
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio, Pangea Audio (AC), RS Cables, Element Cable








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