Newport 2012: Joseph Audio, Bel Canto

Let me start by gloating a bit.

When I read the rave that Stereophile’s Michael Fremer gave the Joseph Audio Pulsar in the June issue of the magazine, the first thought I had was a bit smug, I’ll admit it. I can’t seem to help myself when I say that I’ve been in love with them since I first heard them back in 2010, and I’ve been happy and proud to call them a personal reference since earlier this year. There is something about this particular speaker ….

If you’ll pardon me while I digress a bit — let me break it down for you. Would you enjoy a freaky level of transparency? Fullness without loss of detail? Detail without etch? A panel’s top-to-bottom coherency? Bass that will have you hunting, actively hunting, for the subwoofers someone must have hidden in the room?

Well, then don’t go listen to the Pulsars. YMMV, but … well, I couldn’t live without them.

So, that said, I really ought to recuse myself from any review of the sound in this room lest I be accused of horrible bias or being unable to adequately distance myself from memory.

Bah, humbug. Fie on that. Pish posh. Moving on ….

I’ve heard the Pulsars at the last several shows, all in similar rooms, which Jeff Joseph tends to optimize rather creatively. Like the last few shows, this setup was kitty-corner instead of the typical long-wall or short-wall installation. Lots of seats, wide dispersion, and no (obvious) nulls.

Joseph Audio tends to show with Bel Canto, so seeing them here, together, was hardly a surprise. Shown this weekend — their new $2,995 C7R receiver. This compact amp puts out 60wpc and is festooned with 5 digital inputs (two coax, two Toslink, one 24/96 USB), a MM phono input and, yes, an input for an FM antenna.

The receiver was used here with a Mac laptop and some Bel Canto USB trickery — I suspect a USB LightLink, a USB-to-Toslink converter, given how far away Jeff was sitting with his laptop — but I failed to ask while I was there.

Also (relatively) new in the Bel Canto lineup is the CD3t, their $1,500 slot-loading CD player (CD/CD-R/CD-RW). This unit is half the price of their top-loading CD2, a personal favorite of mine, and marks an embrace of a much lower price point for them — a smart and very welcome move, IMO. Perhaps even more interesting than the price is the fact that this is a CD transport not a CD player. There are no DAC chips in this box! The only outputs are digital — AES/EBU and S/PDIF over BNC — and that’s it. This is a nod, I’m guessing, to the new realities of computer audio — and the fact that Bel Canto makes some superlative stand-alone DACs … and embeds that technology into it’s integrated amplifiers! So, got a standalone DAC, or one in your preamp or integrated, but still need or want to spin discs? Say, when you need to do something else with that computer you’re using as a server? Then the CD3t is your huckleberry.

The two pieces together make up an elegant, stylish, and almost absurdly tidy footprint. Two half-width pieces and, well, you’re kinda done.

I’ve owned Bel Canto amps for years, using them in my home theater system, and at the risk of abusing an audiophile cliche, the Bel Canto amps are the only ones she’d allow into the rack in the living room. It’s a sharp look, I’ll give her that.

But say you’re not done. Say that, just perhaps, you need a little analog in your life in order to feel complete. I feel that. So, it warmed the heart to see that included here. Spinning the vinyl was a $2,750 VPI Classic 1 turntable. Simple, straightforward, and fine sounding, the Classic, helped out by a Soundsmith cartridge, created large-scale drama, with vivid, textured layers on my two trips through the room. All Classic turntables ship with a uni-pivot tonearm and an aluminum platter.

3 comments

  • I completely agree with plakey regarding the use of an ADC, however if this piece is essentially an all digital item with the convenience of a phono stage (which it is), then I guess it can be rationalized. Use a “head-amp or microphone type amp and you have a MC input! The nice thing about this unit is that it can function as an I/O device to a comp (well I assume this…), so ripping LPs can be done easily.

  • Is the MM input converted to digital? I have to say it’s a total mystery to me why all the Bel Canto pre amps / integrated amps that have “analog” inputs convert those to digital. It totally defeats the purpose of analog.

    • Part-Time Audiophile

      I think it is, actually, because the volume control is also digital — and everything would need to come together for that to have effect across all inputs. I read somewhere that the C5i does conversion for all “analog” inputs (including phono) at 192kHz sampling — I assume that it’s the same for the C7R.