Stereo amplifiers have been a staple since music went from single speakers to two-way back in the day. Over the years, we've seen stereo amplifiers go from simple, manageable black boxes to over-the-top, larger-than-thou space heaters for the home and seemingly back again. Today, there's a new breed of amplifiers out there, employing digital switching technology that not only allows the amps themselves to be supremely powerful, but also very compact. Case in point: the Bel Cantoe.One S300 digital stereo amplifier reviewed here.
Retailing for $1,395, the e.One S300 is a 150 watts per channel into eight ohms and 300 watts per channel into four ohms digital amplifier with a Bang & Olufsen-sourced ICE module at the heart of it all.
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The S300's digital switching amplifier technology allows it to be very compact, measuring in at eight-and-a-half inches wide by three-and-a-half inches tall and twelve inches deep. It also makes the S300 very light, tipping the scales at a spry nine pounds, allowing it to be easily moved and placed seemingly anywhere in your listening or living room. Try that with a Mark Levinson N° 433 or Krell Evolution 402e. The S300 is a slick-looking piece of kit, the embodiment of simplicity with its thick, dare I say chunky, off-white faceplate surrounding a small LED light that lets you know the unit itself is on. Speaking of on, the S300, unlike other mega-watt amplifiers, is extremely efficient, drawing only 10 watts at idle and not much more at full power, making it the ideal amplifier for the audiophile looking to go a little greener.
Getting back to specs for a moment, the S300 has a reported frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz and has a total harmonic distortion of less than one percent. The S300 features both balanced and unbalanced input options, which are user-selectable via a small button next to the inputs. Beside the inputs is a pair of WBT-style binding posts that can accept spade or banana-terminated speaker cable, as well as bare wire. There is a master power switch. The S300 is designed to simply stay on, and a detachable power cord rounds out the tiny amp's list of features.
In terms of sound, the S300 is nearly identical to the rest of the amps in the Bel Canto line of products, including the S300iu integrated amplifier, for it is essentially the same, minus the preamp section. This synergy of sound boils down to Bel Canto's use of the Bang & Olufsen ICE modules I mentioned earlier. The ICE amps allow for Bel Canto's amps to be exceedingly powerful for their size and to run extremely efficiently, producing a sound that is rather uncolored, light and airy but unique. The S300 has a very natural and open midrange coupled to a very sweet treble, but both lack the bit of soul you'll find in more traditional amplifiers, be they solid state or tube. This said, a number of visitors to my home commented that they liked the immediacy and delicacy of the S300, not to mention its compact size and physical appearance. The one thing the S300 (again, like all Bel Canto amps) won't do is true, rich, earth-shattering bass. The S300 has bass, don't get me wrong, but it lacks a bit of heft and punch that makes the amp's overall sound feel a bit lean. Also, if you cane the S300, it will distort and compress at the extremes and becoming decidedly digital-sounding. In terms of soundstage, the S300 is a delight, for it casts a deep, cavernous space that is rich in texture, air and detail. It's not an unpleasing amplifier, definitely one that takes some getting used to, but once you've adjusted, it can be quite addictive.
Read The Conclusion, High Points and Low Points on Page 2