Battle of the "Davids"......Belles vs. Berning

OK, it's a cold, rainy Sunday am in Chicago - a great day to listen to music. After the provocative thread on "Tenor vs, Berning" that got a little side-tracked, I thought I'd narrow the scope. I have been fortunate to audition both the Belles 350a ss amp ($3,500) and the Berning ZH-270 ($4,500)in the past two weeks. The common theme is that these two amps come from, in essence, "one man shops" and seem to eschew mainstream "hi-end" retail. Both amps are widely recognized as providing huge "bang-for-the-buck" and might cost substantially more if their logos were different.

This would seem to be a real world comparison of two "Davids" that may be able to bring down Goliath - whoever that may be. What do you think?
I've never heard the Belles 350A amp. I would be very interested to hear how others respond to this shootout. My guess is that the Berning will get the nod. I am a tube freak so maybe I'm biased(Ha Ha!). Here's a chance for the SS contingent to speak their minds. Sounds like a battle of filament glow versus rows of huge heat sinks to me.
I think that you or any other locals should read the responses AFTER you go to the Chicago Audio Society meeting being held today. Here's a link for more info. Sean
having auditioned them both, maybe you should tell us your opinion.

what did you audition them with?
Alright, Ryno. We exchanged emails last week.
I thought the Belles was one of the best amps I ever heard.....until I heard the Berning. All improvements that were realized when I ran the Belles - depth, weight, proportions, balance, tonality, ease, presence, texture, realism - were touched on deeper with the Berning.

My system (today):
Cary 306/200
Hovland HP-100
Berning ZH-270 (Prior amp was Ayre V-3)
Cardas Golden Reference RCAs
Cardas Golden Ref Bi-wire
Proac Response 2.5s (Merlin VSM-Ms on the way!!)
TG Audio and Empirical Audio power cords
PS Audio P300

I could easily live with the Belles. But there was something about the delivery on the Berning that made the sound flow so effortlessly. Funny, the Belles is rated at 250 WPC and the Berning at 70. The Berning just played louder and stronger and put out a major bottom end.

Even as a tube neophyte, I am intrigued about "rolling" the tubes with some after-market NOS upgrade like tube groover reprorted in the Tenor thread.

I also tried my CD player directly into the Berning. Too early to tell. (berning has a "passive" input with volume knob on amp.)Initially I would say there is a trade-off. Higher resolution with loss in soundstage.
Ianrmack, I just got a set of six NOS input tubes for my Berning 270 - I bought ones that are 1% matched, and the four 12AT7's are cryo treated. I highly recommend it. I just installed them Friday and my initial impressions are this: more presence (almost holographic), more detail, more air around the instruments, better bass, and just an overall better, more pleasing sound - and it is still improving. Right now I am using ML SL3's, which are not great in the bass department, and after installing these tubes, for the first time I am getting musical bass. For example, on well recorded small jazz ensembles, I can easily tell that it is an acoustic bass resonating and not an electric bass. Before, you had to listen very closely to tell the difference (although it did get better when I switched from my ss amp to the stock Berning).

I also am experimenting with going directly to the amp from my cdp and tt. So far, I like it better, but I am bypassing an Adcom GFP 750, which is undoubtedly not as good as your Hovland. I may go back to it if I miss the remote volume control too much - the 750 in passive mode does not do much to the signal - probably the extra set of ic's has more of an effect. Your comment on the soundstage difference is interesting - a friend of mine really believes in the value of a good preamp and you have one of the best.

Congrats on your Merlins. I have not heard them but others say they are a great match for the Berning. (I have a pair of AP Avantis on order and am anxious to hear how the Berning matches with them - it did very well with their little brothers, the Virgos.)

Give us a report on how the Merlins + Berning sound after they are broken in, and try some NOS tubes - you won't regret it.

i cant be expected to remember all the things i say or do!

not surprised about the berning...i'm thinking of going that route myself once the hype dies down...i figure in a year, when the NEXT BIG THING comes around, everyone will upgrade and i'll get in one then.

the belles--hell, i got in it before the hype has started. no doubt, sam "everything is class A" tellig will give it a boost.

both quality products by quality guys...i have been and may live happily w/ the belles for a long time.
Rhyno, the Berning is not the "next big thing". When was the last time you read a magazine review with a 270 gracing the pages?? Please, this is a great product, period and the designer does not need to sell these just to make ends meet. Next big thing, yea right, that statement is a joke in more ways than you may ever realize. Why don't you first actually listen to all the amps you are interested in before you cast judgments.

Best regards,

Ianrmack, I noticed that you have are getting a pair of Merlins--probably the 'T' harness, judging from your system. This won't matter to you, probably, but I'm pretty sure that the Belles 350a is one of the amps that Bobby at Merlin recommends for the VSM's with the 'S' wiring harness. I've never heard it either, but it must be pretty good or Bobby wouldn't recommend it.
I have used the Belles for quite some time and am totally pleased with it. No desire to change. And I use fairly demanding speakers that are likely to reveal amplifier flaws.

Have not heard the Berning so I make no attempt at comparison.

my comment was on the sad state of audiophiles, not products. people jump from one thing to the next to the next, sometimes moving up, sometimes down, but always moving. moving in this hobby is expensive, or an opportunity, depending on your stance.

did i not say "quality products by quality guys?"

i would never take a pot-shot against berning--he's a credible designer running an honest operation...a lot better than a LOT of high-end companies i know.

but my point remains...audiophiles get suckered into the NEXT BIG THING a LOT. that's when i usually buy the previous one, if it sounds good.
Rhyno, you are right, audiophiles are unfortunately pursuaded by hype too often.
I owned a Berning 270 and an OCM 200. OCM was the company Belles was involved in prior to Power Modules. My understanding is that the amps are very similar. In comparing the OCM and the Berning amps the Berning was superior across the board. The OCM was a very good amp(slightly warm for a SS amp) which I could live with without any problem but was outclassed by the 270--faster,timbrally more accurate,more 3D soundstage,more like the real thing. I don't know if this is a valid comparison but the Berning was better on my Legacy Focus speakers.
I own both the OCM 200 (2 from Jayarr) and the 350A.
The 200 is raw compared to the 350A ... 2 OCM 200s bridged were more powerful but lack the grace and open, airy sound of the 350A.
As to the Berning, I cannot say...

What are you driving? David has modified the 350A to be a 800 watt monobloc that kicks! if you need the power.
Bobby at Merlin is recommending the "T" harness for the Belles.

no doubt, sam "everything is class A" tellig will give it a boost.
Sam sure had me fooled with his stellar review of the 350A. That amp didn't synergize AT ALL in my own rig; BIG disappointment & that's a radical understatement. Can't compare with the Berning though; have never heard that one.
Sounds strange to me, remember it needs a lot of hours to perform its best. It also seems to be a good idea to turn it off and on a couple of time a day, at least in the burn-in procedure. Turning if off and on again seems to open it up in the midrange.

The new Belles monoblocks are really recommendable, 800W in 8 ohm of pure clean power. The 350A worked great with me, the new monoblocks are however a whole class better. Hope to get a chance to compare these with the Berning.
This author owned a Belles I amp and matching preamp in the 1980's that I lived happily with for nearly a decade. This gear was well built, good sounding, powerful, and affordable.

I once had the opportunity to speak with David Belles when he was in the process of introducing a new line of gear - I believe it was the OCR series. He was very knowledgable and pleasant to speak with.

As for David's being under appreciated in the audio field, I would tend to disagree with this statement, since like the Frank Van Alstines of this world, David has a very loyal following who've kept him in business for decades, while a number of better known audio manufacturers fell by the wayside.