Bel Canto e.One Phono phono stage Page 2

What I do not want to do is undermine any sense of the unit’s near-universality. Indeed, the beauty of the e.One is that its possible gain/impedance combinations allow the user to find something close to ideal for most real-world cartridges – even though I couldn’t set it up for 68kohm for the London/Decca.

I’d like to dispense with the downsides right away. Using this with the Audio Research REF6/REF75SE pre/power combination [HFN May ’16], Wilson Yvette loudspeakers [HFN Feb ’17] and Transparent MM cables, the Bel Canto e.One Phono certainly acted like it belonged in a system easily two or three price categories above its own. Normally, my set-up plays host to the EAT E-Glo at four times the price, and valve-equipped to boot. The e.One lost only a little to it in terms of warmth.

All Together Now
What confounded me was occasional bad-boy behaviour, like flashes of sibilance or the odd bit of grain against what is, 99% of the time, a step-up of truly ghostly silences. If I do have to narrow down its best-case scenarios for you, I’d say this performs at its best with moving-magnets – I also had a quick burst with the most normal of these, a Shure V15 V, and found it fast, clean and even a touch sweet with only the merest hint of edginess. And that was with the brashness of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ mono 45s collection The MGM Singles [Sundazed LP5339].

But then this is supposed to sound brash and ballsy and bold. ‘Woolly Bully’ is, perhaps, the ultimate ‘frat rock’ party song. Honking sax, thumping bass, whining, nasal vocals – even if you’re teetotal, this has a power to make you feel like you’ve been hitting the Boone’s Farm. The sound coalesces into a party vibe, also available from recordings by Gary U.S. Bonds and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, and it can get sloppy and raucous, but the e.One Phono holds it together.


Instead of pandemonium, you get power. Moving to the less frantic ‘Li’l Red Riding Hood’ track, the e.One Phono perfectly recreated the spooky atmosphere of the intro (and remember – we are talking mono here), the splash of tambourine, the crisp percussion. As I find an ever-increasing phenomenon, the single-channel nature of the recording soon proved to be utterly unimportant: my listening room was filled with sound, and there weren’t any distractions.

Sonic Spectaculars
From the ridiculous to the sublime, I was lucky to find a bunch of 1960s stereo demo records, including a fine copy of Living Presence Stereo [Fontana SFXL52]. This UK collection of Mercury, Philips and Fontana ‘Living Presence’ recordings certainly loses nothing to US offerings, with the usual suspects, like Ray Davies & The Button-Down Brass, The Coffee Set and The Band Of The Scots Guards delivering sonic spectaculars noted for their finesse.

This was mainly a brass-fest, which is as good a torture test as any for a unit that might have a proclivity toward the sharp. I needn’t have worried: from track to track, all possessed that gorgeous sheen that has vinyl collectors, audiophiles and hi-fi pensioners like me waxing glorious about specific labels from a half-century ago.

After cleaning this LP treasure, I robbed the e.One Phono of the chance to deal with clicks, so close to immaculate was the surface. When one or two bits of dust found their way to the stylus, the speed of the e.One ensured that any intrusion was momentary. The flipside, of course, was that the brass had the kind of punch that sends chills down the spine. This unit is seriously quick.

I saved my ultimate test for last – female vocals courtesy of Linda Ronstadt. The recent reissue from Mobile Fidelity of Heart Like A Wheel [MFSL 1-472] came from the era when studios demonstrated a heavy hand, but this exhibits transparency that belies any studio tampering. I’m not about to suggest that 1970s Left Coast rock is a patch on Capitol circa 1957, but this was magical.

Airy acoustic guitar on ‘It Doesn’t Matter Any More’ distracted me from listening to her voice, so open was the sound. Ms Ronstadt’s distinctive, rich delivery was palpably present, just breathy enough. Detail was plentiful, the bottom end on ‘When Will I Be Loved’ substantial and full, with the incessant percussion driving the listener along to an almost martial beat. £1250 for all this? It’s a real champ.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
It’s easy to regard the e.One Phono as slightly confused if you judge it solely by DIP switches. But if you neglect the settings and trust your ears, this is one of the most confident-sounding, myriad-cartridge-accommodating phono amps for the money. The build is excellent, balanced outputs allow you to follow an upgrade path not restricted to cartridges and the sound is just what you want from vinyl: involving.

Bel Canto Design Ltd
Minneapolis, USA
Supplied by: Padood Ltd, Cambridge, UK
01223 653199