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Belles Soloist 3 Preamplifier Review Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
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Belles Soloist 3 Preamplifier Review

ImageAudio 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.


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