Bel Canto 3.5VB mk II digital processor and VBS1 power supply

24.03.2013..

In Minnesota, the 32nd state of the United States, the winters are endless and boring. To combat dullness the only choice is sipping a cup of black coffee and having some apple pie with friends while waiting for the summer, although always short and humid. For generations the main business of Minnesota's people has been farming. Nevertheless, from this place also come illustrious names in technology, like 3M and, in the audio sector, Audio Research, Magnepan and, of course, Bel Canto, a company founded in 1990 by John Stronczer, about which I am talking here by reviewing the DAC3.5 VB mkII converter and the VBS1 Power Supply (where VBS means Virtual Battery System).

 

The DAC3.5 is the flagship model of Bel Canto converters, followed by the 2.5 and the 1.5 models. Each of them is provided with a single, easy and multifunction control knob to select all the functions.

On the display, with eight alphanumeric digits, you can see the selected source, the volume and the sampling frequency: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 192.

The remote controls the entire functionality of the DAC3.5 and the enlightenment of the display.

In the back panel are several connectors: RCA and digital BNC, AES/EBU, Toslink, ST fiber and two RCA analogue inputs. Unfortunately, there is no USB port to extract the tracks directly from a PC, so that you need an USB-S/PDIF converter.

The chassis is very small with the front panel made in aluminum and with the logo placed on the upper side. It is one centimeter thick, heavy and with a U-shape lid screwed in six points, black and scratch-resistant.

 

The power supply, the VBS1, has the same dimensions and its technology is One Virtual Battery Supply. Its filtering capacity is about 400.000 μF, that is around half farad: lots indeed for a power supply. It has a low noise power, multiple stages of isolation and a high-energy storage.

A sort of modern lead battery supplies three devices at the same time. On the VBS1 front panel there is only a blue led, while on the back are three 12 V DC output receptacles, the power switch and the AC 220 V inlet jack.

 

The two machines together look like one standard chassis and the visual impact is captivating.

 

Inside (so curious that I had to open them immediately) the large amount of components is well organized and put on very well made printed circuits.

 

Let us start with the DAC. It features a printed circuit to handle display and functions. There are two separate circuits. One includes eight electrolytic 68.000 μF 16 V capacitors, a pair of filter inductances and other components with SMD structure. In the second are the conversion of the input signals from the Burr Brown PCM1792 converters and analogue outputs. Also here many components are SMD. Just a pair of short flat cables to interconnect the cards and an accurately interwoven power cord.

 

Inside the VBS1 is only one printed circuit and the switching stage. The eight 68.000 μF 16 V capacitors for the 12 V stage and, beyond the switching mode, other three 820 μF 400 V capacitors and a pair of 2200 μF 200 V. A remarkable filtration indeed.

Furthermore, on each of the three 12 V outputs are polypropylene capacitors and two test points for measurements and reparations.

The cables here are short and their use is limited to the minimum amount necessary. They perform very well, but, if you prefer, you can change them with high-end cables.

 

Listening test

Through the supplied cable, the Bel Canto DAC3.5 and VBS1 have been inserted in my system that currently has been integrated with a new Elios preamp and a Hitachi power amp of about 40 watts. Amps mounting the 211 and the preamp with the E88CC vacuum tubes, Sony X559ES CD player and Glas’t loudspeakers alternated with the new entry ZuAudio that I am going to test very soon make the tube setup.

 

After 50 hours of run-in, the first sensation I had, before playing the CD, was of absolute silence. Good sign.

The first CD I play is by Barbara Belloni, Velut Luna. Here you can find the review made by Giuseppe Trotto for ReMusic. Tribute to Jim Croce, is a true act of love that the label's owner makes to Jim Croce by remembering his quite unlucky life.

Belloni's voice gives a unique atmosphere, an ecstasy for the ears. The CD drifts track after track and the music reproduced by the Bel Canto is very good.

Another female voice: Fabiana Martone with her CD Big Band Bond. Same label and one of the most famous soundtracks collection: James Bond's theme, code name 007. I had attended the concert held in Naples appreciating the live performance. Therefore, I have bought the CD. Track 02 Goldfinger, a unique performance skillfully reproduced by the system.

The mid range is precise and controlled, the low extended and complete, the trebles also  very precise and never intrusive. On the whole, a clean and noiseless sound with every instrument in the right position.

After these female voices and soft sounds, I need some rock that has made history: The Dark Side of The Moon.

The music has changed but not the substance. Bel Canto's products can reproduce the music perfectly.

It was 1973 and this record a real music revolution: advanced recording techniques, multitrack recordings, analog synthesizers and in the background, some interviews. Track 5, The Great Gig in the Sky, where the soloist female voice is remarkable, as the Bel Canto gears are.

Money, with its noisy coins, is an example of the tonal balance, which this machine from Minnesota is capable of. There is balance between voices and instruments but also lots of signal linearity without adding anything to the input signal.

 

The DAC3.5, matched with the VBS1, makes a unique and inseparable couple.

I do not suggest Bel Canto if you are looking for a more rounded sound or some particular nuance.

Its sound is not cold or analytic, is not forcedly analogue, it does not indulge in sweetness or hyperdetails, it sound like it has to: a true sound.

 

It is time now to connect it to something else. I want to test it with the new musical frontier: streaming music. I use the USB M2Tech interface with coaxial output, using the Foobar programme with Dark One interface. This because I need an absolute control of the tracks I choose from the list. I start.

Also in this case the output is amazing. The sound quality is very high and all the reproduced tracks have an incredible bandwidth and there is no noise floor. It is a lot, don't you think?

 

Maybe the only fault is the lack of an USB connection, also considering all the limits and the characteristics not really audiophile.

 

Conclusions

The DAC3.5, with its optional empowered VSB1 power supply, represents that extra dot or comma that in a speech makes the difference. We have two elegant cases, carefully designed in their forms and attentively realized in the inner making, as well as in the choice of the components.

I hope I have been able to describe all the feelings I had during this test that, for sure, will leave an emptiness in my heart... and in my rack too.

Great test... Bel Canto.

 

Official technical specifications:

 

DAC3.5 VB

Digital Section:

Maximum Data Input Rate: 24bit Data at 192KS/s: AES XLR, SPDIF BNC/RCA, ST Fiber, TOSLINK

Master Clock jitter: 2picosecond RMS

Analog 24/192 DAC Section:

Maximum Output: 5.5 Vrms balanced XLR, 2.5 Vrms RCA

Output Impedance: 200 ohms balanced XLR, 100 ohms RCA

Frequency Response: 20 Hz-20 KHz, +/- 0.25dB

THD+N:<0.0015%, 5.5Vrms balanced out, 1KHz

Output Noise: 3uVrms A-weighted 20Hz-20KHz

Dynamic Range: 126dB A-weighted 20Hz-20KHz

Analog 24/192 ADC Section:                                                          

Maximum Input: 2.5 Vrms RCA

Input Impedance: 12K ohms RCA

THD+N: 0.003%, 2.5Vrms in, 1KHz

Dynamic Range: 110dB, A-weighted 20Hz-20KHz

General:                                                                   

Power Usage On: 8W

Power Usage Off: 0.0W

Power Requirement: 12VDC

Dimensions: 8.5” W x 12.5” D x 3.5” H (216 mm x 318 mm x 88 mm)

Weight: 14lbs. (6.5 kg)

 

VBS1 Power Supply

Maximum Output: 12VDC at 1A (x3)

Output Voltage: 12VDC +/- 5%

Output Voltage Noise: <6 Microvolts RMS, un-weighted 20 Hz-30 KHz

General:

Power Usage On: 5W to 20W typical, 1 to 3 devices powered

Power Usage Off: 0.0W

Power Requirement: 12VDC

Dimensions: 8.75” W x 12.5” D x 3.5” H (223 mm x 318 mm x 88 mm)

Weight: 13lbs. (6.2 kg)

 

Official Italian dealer: to Audio Point Italia website

Official current price in Italy: DAC 3.5VB 3,495.00 EUR, VSB1 Power Supply 1,495.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Gianluca Polidoro's system

 

 

 

 

 
by Gianluca Polidoro
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