Belles Soloist 3 Preamplifier Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Audio products emanate from all sorts of places. Many come from big established multi-national companies like Marantz or Harmon International. Some hail from medium sized, independently owned firms. And some even come from small shops run by artisans plying their trade. One such artisan is David Belles, who runs Power Modules Inc. out of Pittsford, NY.

Mr. Belles is passionate about his art and avoids trends like the plague. His products are superbly built and made with high quality parts. They clearly are designed with the simplest circuit paths in mind. The Belles product line caters to those who are looking for no compromise, high-powered amplifiers in the Statement series, and entry-level audiophiles in the Soloist series. I reviewed the Belles Soloist 1 integrated amplifier last year.

Belles Soloist 3I’ve decided to review the Soloist 3 stereo preamplifier, since I have had one in my system for some time now, and believe it is hidden gem in the world of high-end audio for those looking to get into separates on a budget.  The unit retails for $939. The Soloist 3 is elegant in its simplicity. It has five line level inputs and a Home Theater bypass. There are two sets of stereo outputs as well as sturdy volume and balance knobs. There is a supplied remote control, which allows for mute, volume, and input selection. As a matter of fact, you can only select input via the remote.

The Soloist 3 is very attractive, with an aluminum faceplate available in silver or black. The Soloist is diminutive in size, but ruggedly built. The inputs and outputs are high quality and the casework is seamless. Honestly, I rarely see workmanship like this at similar price points.

Belles Soloist 3 rear panel

Set Up & Listening:

I use the Soloist 3 in my second system, with a Pangea AC-9 power cord or an Element Cable Element Cord, to drive my vintage Revox A722 power amp via Transparent MM2 Plus interconnects. I also use the power amp section of the McIntosh MA6600 integrated.  Audio Sources include my trusty Squeezebox Touch connected optically to the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, and Harbeth Compact 7ES3 speakers.  In this setup, the Soloist 3 is a neutral, dynamic, and transparent performer (shockingly so, considering the price).

There isn't a hint of mechanical artifacts, or detectable traces of electronic haze that some “budget” solid state preamps leave behind. On the contrary, the Soloist 3 is one of those rare components that is detailed, truthful to sources, and makes beautiful music. I can’t even imagine how good Belles’s more expensive Reference and Statement series preamps must be.

Now on to some musical notes. I had a good variety of interesting stuff at the ready to get started.  Joe Henry -- a producing genius, but also a superb recording artist in own right --dazzled critics with his 2011 album, Reverie. It is an understated, and jazzy, meditation that is nicely recorded with natural sonics. The Soloist 3 did a wonderful job of recreating the ambiance and feel of the Henry’s excellent band and his distinctive voice was accurately rendered.


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.

Belles Soloist 3


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.  


Power Modlues Inc.

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

Review System 1

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
external drives.
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

Review System 2

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

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