Bel Canto Designs e.One Stream Review Page 2

Listening

I started all my listening sessions using the e.One’s internal DAC and its unbalanced output into the McIntosh C2600 and then switched over and listened to the same tracks/albums through the e.One’s SPDIF output into the 2600. I also compared the e.One to the dCS Network Bridge that I have in my system, but I’ll discuss that later in the review listening notes.

American pianist and composer Philip Aaberg grew up in Montana and it’s hard not to note the impact of prairie space and light in his compositions on the 1985 album High Plains. “Marias River Breakdown” opens with a driving piano solo which pushes the listener ahead like a leaf on the breeze – you have no idea where you’re headed but you also have no choice but to go with it, and the e.One delivers here on dynamics and rythmic cadence. “Montana Half Light” allows the travel taking place in your mind to be less about the destination and more about the journey as Aaberg paints a rich tapestry of of songwriting with both weighty and featherlight notes whose felted-hammer impact on strings resonates with the space of the recorded event. The e.One does a convincing job of relaying the almost 18 tons of pressure flexing stretched steel wires within the piano’s frame.

Covering The Beatles is a tricky proposition as so many are intimately familiar with the original songs, but Russian-born singer-songwriter Regina Spektor does a compelling job of taking a stripped-down classic like George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Weeps” off the White Album and transforms it for Kubo and the Two Strings motion picture soundtrack by making it fresh, entertaining and wholly haunting. With Japanese flair imbued throughout the cut thanks to backing strings, percussion and a Shamisen – a three-stringed Japanese lute – playing alongside her piano work and lilting vocal treatment, Spektor draws the listener in. Through the e.One’s DAC and circuit architecture timbre and tone are concise, with clean transients and an overal presentation that is tilted more towards analytical than euphonic, but not so far that one doesn’t get a sense of the warmth from second-order harmonics, albeit without the warmest fuzzies.

1974’s Crime of the Century is a classic album with signature sonics that has the ability to transport you back to the first time you heard it, or the times when it was in heavy rotation from your collection. Queueing up “Bloody Well Right” through the e.One brought back all the rich tonal smoothness of Rick Davies’ keyboard noodling in the opening bars and highlighted the speed of attack on notes when Bob Benberg (nee Siebenberg), John Helliwell, Dougie Thomson and Roger Hodgson concuss in and out on a dime on the drums, saxophone, bass guitar and electric guitar respectively. The big rolling proto-funk drop that slides the song into into its opening lines of “So you think your schooling’s phoney/I guess it’s hard not to agree” was fleshed out nicely by the e.One and showed off the spaciousness of the recording as it rocked me back to the ’70s.

McIntosh Labs C2600.

Using the bit-perfect digital (SPDIF) out from the e.One into the $7,000 USD McIntosh C2600 and its internal DAC revealed a larger sonic image, more meat to guitar, bass and drums and fatter, more euphonic presentation to the cuts compared to the e.One’s unbalanced output (thanks in part I’m sure to the NOS early-’60s Amperex tubes I’ve installed in the C2600).

dCS Network Bridge.

Comparing it to the Ethernet-in/SPDIF-out of the dCS Network Bridge ($4,250 USD) into the C2600 allowed for an even larger sound stage to be writ in every spatial axis and further improved timbre and tonal colorations the dCS. That said, comparing an $1,599 USD unit to the sound of gear that is three or five times its price will generally take a little wind out of the sails, so take those price/performance differentials into account when reading these observations, and realize those were what I had on hand for comparison.

Conclusions

In the e.One Stream, Bel Canto has created a device that is comfortable in mulitple guises as not only a DAC/Streamer/Seek app enabled all-in-one device for those seeking computer-audio playback, but also as a Roon end point and digital source for an external DAC of your choice. That it is capable of doing this with practically no colorations of its own on the sonic signal it’s passing along, is robustly constructed, includes a DSD/PCM (24-bit/192kHz) and MQA-decoder eqipped DAC that you can add to an existing system with minimal cash outlay to become cloud-music equipped (to audiophile standards) is testament to Bel Canto’s continuing commitment to those looking at expanding their listening choices without breaking the bank.

Specifications

  • Maximum Digital output to 24/192: AES, SPDIF, TOSLINK
  • Ultra-Low noise Master clocks: <100fS jitter from 100Hz to 1MHz
  • Optimized playback of all formats: FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AAC, MP3, AIFF, DSD, MQA
  • 2Vrms Analog output: <0.01% distortion, 20Hz - 20Khz
  • Power Usage On: 15W Max
  • Power Usage Off: 0W
  • Internally Set Operating Voltages: 120VAC/60Hz or 240VAC/50Hz
  • Dimensions: 8.5 inches W x12.5 inches D x 3.5 inches H (216mm x 318mm x 88mm)
  • Weight: 15lbs (7kg)

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COMMENTS
plakey's picture

I’m confused why this doesn’t render to USB. It seems crazy to me. Most DACs are USB and USB DACs are more likely to have better DSD implementation. So this doesn’t make sense as a new product. I’m in the market for a Roon endpoint to replace my Rendu and this looks great. Except it doesn’t output to my DACS. Why would anyone make this without USB outputs?

Rafe Arnott's picture
Some companies may not want to deal with the noise and jitter issues of USB (but it's also inherent to SPDIF, Ethernet, etc.), so I couldn't say for sure. dCS doesn't use USB out in their Network Bridge, nor does Naim – just two off the top of my head... I could ask John Quick at dCS why that is and post the response.
Hudson's picture

I had the E.one for a week and came away less impressed than Rafe. On MQA files, it sounded very nice, but with Redbook files it was just ok. In a head-to-head against my aging TriVista 21 DAC fed by a modified Squeezebox, the E.One was bested consistently using Redbook files but it did pull ahead with MQA files. It did not best my Sony HAPZ1ES, though its streaming features are superior to the Sony's very limited Spotify and Pandora support.

One major limitation of the E.One with Roon - it cannot process Roon-DSD files (including Roon-upsampled Redbook files), nor can it pass along Roon's upsampled DSD files via its digital outputs, making it only a 24/196 DAC/streamer. I don't have many DSD files, but I do like what Roon does with DSD upsampled Redbook files.

I ultimately passed on the E.one and eventually ended up with the Lumin D2, which for $700 more offers DSD, balanced outputs, and full MQA and Roon compatibility. I really wanted to like the E.one as its price point was very accessible, but ultimately the E.One failed to deliver the sound quality I expected from my experience with other Bel Canto products. I did pop the cover and my brief inspection indicates there's not much analog goodness or power supply under the hood to justify a price above $1000 IMHO, especially compared to the Lumin (or my ancient TriVista or the Sony, which both have a fantastic output stage and power supply).

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