Bel Canto Design e.One DAC1.5

Device Type: DAC
Output: (1) pair RCA, (1) pair XLR, ¼” headphone jack
Dimensions: 8.5” W x 12.5” D x 3.5” H (216 mm x 318 mm x 88 mm)
Weight: 13lbs. (6.5 kg)
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $1,395

Industrious Revolution
I can remember the first time I saw a picture of the Bel Canto SET 40 power amplifier which employed a pair of 845 triode output tubes surrounded by some cool-ass Metropolis/Tesla/Frankenstein-looking tube cages and thinking—these guys are different. Fast forward to today which is a far cry from any of the futures envisioned by anyone even in 1990 when Bel Canto Design first opened its lab for business and we find a bevy of products housed in the same clothes regardless of function; switching power amplifiers, preamplifiers, DACs, a CD player, a CD transport, and an integrated amplifier. While the tubes have disappeared, the feeling that these guys are different remains.

Bel Canto's SET 40 Power Amplifier

The Bel Canto Design e.One DAC1.5 is an all-purpose DAC meaning its not limited to USB. It can accept incoming digital data via AES XLR, S/PDIF (2 Coax and 1 Toslink) and USB. While the USB maxes out at 24 bit / 96 kHz, the other modes can handle the same 24 bits but extend the sample rate up to 192 kHz. For those who concern themselves with aspects of design that rightfully belong in the lab, the DAC1.5 (are you sitting?) employs an adaptive mode USB topology and let's get the grieving over with in one shot, a switched-mode power supply. I'd imagine all those people who've never designed a single audio component are ready to decry these decisions sight unheard. And of course we know they're making one of the biggest of the big audiophile mistakes which is to latch onto ideas instead of reality. Come to think of it, audiophiles are not alone in this regard but that's neither here nor over there.

Beyond those five digital inputs, there are pairs of single-ended and balanced outputs which all reside on the DAC1.5s backside and up front a ¼” headphone jack, a display and a very clever multi-tasking knob. Detached from all that is a remote control which controls the volume, source selection and it can also defeat that display. The remote can also control more than the DAC1.5 if you own other Bel Canto gear. There's also a push in/out switch around back that provides either fixed or variable output making that aforementioned remote either more or less useful. The DAC1.5's 24-bit digital volume control also let's you skip a preamp if you don't use any other analog sources.

Back to that clever knob, it controls volume (for variable output and for the headphone jack) as well as input selection and depending on that choice, the display will show you your volume level (if running the variable out) and/or input (if you are running fixed out and during input selection). You select your function by pushing the knob in and then you adjust your settings, either volume or input selection, by turning it. Industrious as is the common chassis that runs throughout the Bel Canto lineup whether you're looking at an amp, preamp or DAC. Industrious in deed.

Connecting the DAC1.5 is simply a matter of connecting the DAC1.5 the specifics depending on your connectivity method of choice. I opted for USB as well as S/PDIF through the handy Musical Fidelity V-Link but as you may know, the V-Link maxes out at 24 bit / 96 kHz so I was not able to take the DAC1.5s higher resolution (24/192) capabilities for a ride. Beyond the other mandatory steps like plugging it in, powering it up and pointing your computer and media player of choice at it, there's not much else to talk about (except cable choice but we'll cover that a little later).

Shaken Not Stirred
If I were to describe the Bel Canto DAC1.5s sonic character in a nutshell I'd point out its incredible clarity, darn-near dominatrix-like bass control and an overall crispness. Think a dry as opposed to a wet presentation. And what I mean by that, in case that doesn't mean anything to you, is the DAC1.5 tends to present a super-controlled view onto your music. A heady capsule as opposed to a wetter, fatter and some might say sloppier picture. This nearly uncanny ability to unravel even the most intentionally noisy bits, like Einstürzende Neubauten's lovely The Drawings of Patient O.T. which combines non-instrumental noise made by banging and scraping on mainly metal things with more traditional noisy bits like guitars and mad-cap vocals was literally fascinating through the DAC1.5. Engrossing in a kind of startling way as I've never heard that much clarity come out of so much noise.

Well-recorded music like any of the MA Recordings High-Rez DVD ROM Discs which you'll hear me sing more of their praises at length shortly sound absolutely stunning; breathtakingly beautiful because these recordings are and because the DAC1.5 seems to be infatuated with well-recorded music. And you would be too if you could do it this kind of justice. Where the DAC1.5 sounds less happy is Redbook CD-quality material. My old standby, Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate's Kulanjan loses some variation in tone and texture and Son House doesn't sound as forceful as I've heard him sound; "John The Revelator" coming across thinner sounding than I'm used to. My feeling is all that clarity comes at the expense of some weight, tone and texture.

The good news, if you are so inclined, is you can vary the DAC1.5s voice with your choice of USB cable. I first listened through the AudioQuest Diamond USB cable and things sounded really thin. Even Louis Armstrong's trumpet lost its body as if the pitch shifted upward. Swapping in the AudioQuest Carbon USB added back some of that body (and the accompanying groove) but I'll reiterate that the overall presentation seemed to favor a clean delineation of sonic elements over tone color and decay. The differences between USB and S/PDIF (via the Musical Fidelity V-Link) inputs were too close to call but I felt myself leaning towards the latter ever so slightly feeling it added back some of the color I felt was missing from the USB's presentation.

At the end of the day, when I do most of my listening and enjoying, I could see myself listening to and enjoying the Bel Canto DAC1.5 over the longer haul especially if I had a nice transport to feed one of those other inputs along with a 24/192-capable USB-S/PDIF converter. For those listeners who enjoy a pristine experience in terms of presentation and recording quality, the DAC1.5's voice may speak directly to your desires.

Mwheelerk's picture

I have been enjoying my Bel Canto DAC1.5 for about eight months now and mated directly to my Bel Canto REF 150s amp it provides a system of audio pleasure and I think it flat out looks cool to.