Estro Armonico Audio Bellaluce MM phono preamp

24.03.2014..
Estro Armonico Bellaluce miniatura
Estro Armonico Bellaluce miniatura

In Italy, but also all around the world, there are plenty of audio artisans who, with ups and downs, try to enter into the market with products that have to compete with well-known brands.

 

The audio enthusiast knows very well that the mass production can offer reliability and manufacturing regularity, together with a good quality/price ratio.

 

Furthermore, an object that is commercially known can be better resold than a little known one.

 

But, the evolved artisanal brands, I mean those ones with a technical knowledge of a certain level and a consolidated productive and commercial organization, are able to offer very interesting objects for the reason I’m going to tell.

 

That happens with Estro Armonico, a brand that has been operating for many years thanks to Lorenzo Betti. The sonic value of his products makes me consider him among the best Italian artisans in the audio field of quality.

 

Many people know his upgrading on the Tannoy loudspeakers, where the Dual Concentric is inserted in a new cabinet and optimized with valuable “home-made” filters. Besides, he manufactures loudspeakers and tube amplifications whose main features are the velocity in the musical reproduction that means dynamics and sound vividness, and the absolute preservation of the original signal, which means sound transparency and listening pleasantness. Features that I consider the cornerstones of an electronic appliance.

 

This is not the first time I meet the products of Estro Armonico and, I can affirm, in each one you can clearly see the intentions of the designer.

 

The Bellaluce is the less expensive model of the phono preamplifiers, around two thousand euro, and comes up beside the more complex and performing Triple Cascode, both MM and with the same gain: 44 dB.

 

The choice is to offer an inadequate gain to low output MC cartridges. So, the Bellaluce here needs a transformer step-up. As a consequence, if the MC cartridges don’t like the transformers, like the Benz and some Van den Hul, for example, the Bellaluce cannot be the ideal partner.

 

From the designing point of view, this phono preamp can easily become part of the rich front of the electronic appliances with a two stages passive RIAA, so without using input/output counter reaction, and using two PCL 84 and one PCC 88 tube on the first gain stage.

 

The PCL 84, here a pair of very good Valvo tubes, is very common and was used for the TV sets. It is made of a triode that on the Bellaluce is employed as a second gain stage, and of a pentode that acts like an output buffer stage.

 

Very interesting is the power supply unity (PSU) realized with an inductive double Pi filter for smoothing, so called because it is like two Pi filters with a shared leg Π. Such filter in a tube phono preamplifier is very important to assure noiseless and dynamic performances to the device.

 

Hence, a minimalist approach.

 

From the making point of view, the Bellaluce shows from the beginning its artisanal manufacture, with an air-wound circuit for a best endurance of the electric contacts and more mechanical insensitivity to vibrations: a very important factor for a tube device.

 

The passive components are of good level, in particular the two capacitors in paper and oil by Jensen.

 

Listening test

I have tested the Bellaluce with my system for a congruous period of time, and I’ve noticed an improvement in the sound, probably due to a progressive run-in of the components, tubes first of all, and also and mostly of the capacitors in paper and oil, which have been mounted in coupling between the two gain stages and which require, generally, many hours to stabilize their performances.

 

My Denon DL-S1, due to the low output tension, has been matched with a step-up of the Japanese brand, the model AU-340 in the 1:10 ratio, and with another one with NOS Beyerdynamic transformers, with a transformation ratio of 1:15, still acceptable with this kind of cartridge.

 

Then I have tested the Van den Hul MM1, capable of giving a hard time to many moving coils of a medium price.

 

In both cases the Bellaluce has shown a strong personality since it has been designed to perform well. The preamp is very sensitive to the positioning, so it has to be placed very far from the other appliances, mostly if they are provided with big transformers. It tends to pick up radio and/or electromagnetic noises.

 

Nothing serious, but you have to take care of its set-up.

 

The noise floor is not very high, but higher than what produced by a good solid-state phono preamp. Its flexibility is not spoiled but you have to value carefully the match with cartridges whose gain is lower than 2 mV or the integration in high efficiency systems which are particularly critical with the noise floor of the devices.

 

The sound of the Bellaluce is the best typical tube sound.

First of all there is a great sensation of speed.

 

I know that someone is still thinking that the thermionic tubes are characterized by a slow and sugary sound. This is true only for the bad designed tube devices, while the good ones offer performances whose dynamic contrast and impulse velocity can’t be offered by the solid state and only with Fets, never with the opamps. By the way, I want to remind that the electric signal propagates faster in a tube than in a transistor.

 

This feeling of velocity is not accompanied by a tonal dryness but by a tissue of musical richness that deeply expresses the content of the notes and their peculiar harmonic guise.

 

Such prerogatives constitute a noble framework of coherent musical reproduction that is agreeable and musically convincing.

 

The tonality of this phono preamp is open, very bright on the mid-range, cleared by a white strong light, mid low harmonically rich and never overflowing. The range extremes are a bit gloomy, not regarding the high frequencies that are soft and well extended, but regarding the first octave that is slightly outlined, therefore with not very deep low frequencies. Be careful with MC cartridges with slightly acid musicality.

 

This is the only fault of the Bellaluce. In the bass it finds some difficulty in reproducing the musical content below 80 Hz, although there are an excellent articulation and a sense of concreteness in every note that contribute to draw a controlled and detailed sound.

 

Another positive thing is an accentuated transparency with an always deep musical picture. All of that makes the contrast vivid, real, mostly the micro contrast that can make easily recognizable also the smallest tonal variations of the notes and the different intonations.

 

These skills approach the authentic Music. The music that carries you from the coach to the live event.

 

Essential, in this game of pretence, that sense of naturalness and fluidity that the Bellaluce owns in a good quantity and that makes the musical programme ours without suffer in a passive way the listening experience.

In just one world, involvement.

The macro dynamics skills are of a good level, but I consider this phono preamp a great foilsman rather than a sabreur.

 

Delicious is the baroque music as well as the acoustical music where the micro contrast and the optimum transparency allow for unravelling every musical framework, also the most intricate and harmonically complex, whereas many other phono preamps cede inexorably.

 

The voices are always natural, refined and focussed, with the singers’ setting in the virtual space that is very solid and plastic, thanks to a faithful, articulated and always three-dimensional scan of the soundstages, in the full respect of the tradition of the valuable tube electronic devices.

 

After fifteen minutes of burn-in it will give you all the great qualities it owns.

 

Conclusions

The Bellaluce has shown worthy musical performances, not perfect and absolute since it is not a very expensive device. In comparison with top products what is missing here is some solidity and extension in the low range, together with a complete dynamic spark. It owns though a sense of freshness, brightness and timbric warmth of the mid-range that expresses itself with grace and richness of details. In this case the name of the object is correctly guessed.

 

It’s always difficult to describe a sound, but listening to the vinyl records with this Bellaluce has been always pleasant and never tiring. It has always added a personal cue and has interpreted every track with delightful and never feeble musicality.

 

The Bellaluce is among the products that build a limit, a dam, beyond which we can go, from the performances point of view, but with more than double prices.

 

In few words how to get much, at a limited price.

 

Maybe a better fine tuning of some manufacturing feature would have prevented it from some noises but, every minimalist project, or to better say “purist” has some venial inconvenient, which after few minutes are forgotten, in the moment in which the stylus goes down into the groove and the music starts.

 

Back to intro lines, I think that is clear that behind a well-made artisanal product there is the designer, his musical tastes and its technical guiding principles, while a good industrial object, although well performing, can result without a musical soul and without a manufacturing refinement.

 

It’s not easy to find valuable competitors at the same price of the Bellaluce, mostly if we think about solid state phono preamps of medium class, maybe more versatile but barely boasting the merits of a top tube amplification.

 

I confirm that, also in this occasion, Estro Armonico is one of the most interesting artisanal realities on the Hi-Fi and Hi-End market.

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks

Timbric: ✳✳✳✳ | very agreeable and capable of representing the peculiarities of the single instruments. Low range shy and not very extended, great brightness of the mid high.

Dynamics: ✳✳✳1/2 | of good level the macro, even better the micro-dynamics, comparable to products of higher price.

Rate:✳✳✳✳ | impulses very rapid although never unnatural.

Detail: ✳✳✳✳| very high, definitely.

Clearness:✳✳✳1/2 | appreciable in every circumstance, it allows to unravel easily also the most complex musical frameworks.

Image: ✳✳✳✳| coherent and well developed, soundstage realistic.

Manufacture:✳✳✳ 1/2 | artisanal, in good and bad. Soldering to be improved. Medium components, with some qualitative tops.

Price/quality ratio: ✳✳✳✳| optimum, even if with some functional limit. The absence of commercial intermediaries keeps the final price low.

 

Official technical specifications:

MM phono preamp

Dimensions: 240x140x300mm WxHxD)

Load impedance: 47kOhm

Gain:44dB

Weight: 6kg

Toroidal power supply transformer

Tubes: 2 x PCL84
1 x PCC88

PSU: Inductive double Pi filter

 

Official Italian dealer: to Estro Armonico Audio website

Official current price in Italy: 2,000.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Paolo "Miracle" Di Marcoberardino's system

by Paolo Di Marcoberardino
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