Bel Canto ACI600 vs Black EX Sepates


I'm trying to decide between these two Bel Canto beauties for an office setup. Both are similarly priced.... The ACI 600 is an integrated version of the 55k Black system. The Black EX separates are the more budget friendly system.

Whatever I choose, they'll be driving KEF Reference 1's.

I'm looking for advice/impressions from people who have owned these systems or heard them at an audio show/dealer. What are the pros/cons of each setup?

Please, no advice on different electronics or speakers.

Thanks!
Ken
keoliphant
Here's the question I asked Bel Canto directly.....

I’ve been busy saving for my new office system and it’s between the ACI600, Black EX Amplifier+DAC, or the Black EX Integrated. My local dealer only carries the REF600’s and hasn’t heard what I’m considering so thought I’d follow up directly with you. The electronics will be driving KEF Reference 1 speakers within a 10’x14’ office. Sound-wise, I’m a bass player so I love rich/tight bass, luxurious mids and clean but non-aggressive highs. All types of music except rap and hard rock. I’m wondering about the following:

 

  1. What are the differences between the ACI600 and the Black EX separates? Relatively similar pricing. Different sonic signature? Any sort of comparison chart for these two?
  2. What am I losing going the “budget” route (Black EX integrated)?

 

Thanks in advance for your assistance!
Ken


And here's what I heard back.....

Ken,

These are not easy questions. I would say that the ACI600 is a richer sound while the EX separates are perhaps a bit tighter and more dynamic. There is also a liquid quality to the ACI600 that EX might not quite capture. The EX separates have the true dual mono amplifier so the bass definition and ‘slam’ is going to be maximized here.

 

Comparisons hold true for the EX integrated with a slightly softer sound than EX seperates but similar resolution to the other products, not quite the liquid character of the ACI600 nor the ‘slam’ of the EX separates. In any case these are exceptional products and performance and feature set for each of the price and product categories. Can’t go wrong with any of them!


Decisions, decisions, decisions.....
Hello....Does anybody own ever heard these systems? I’m very interested but this is a big budget purchase.
Ok, no owners or auditions.... What would you do? The aci600 and ex black
separates retail for about 25k. 

My gut says go for the aci600..... It's part of the black family and a cheaper version of the black system.
Are you going to have an audition with any of those units? They are rather different tech from most gear so I would definitely want to have a listen first. 

A few years ago the 50K Black system was listed here for around 28K by a dealer. Customer traded it in. Sounds like that original buyer had an expensive change of heart.
@yyzsantabarbara : yes, having a difficult time pulling the trigger on a purchase like this without hearing it first...especially given the huge depreciation following initial purchase. The lack of response to this thread is proof that the Bel Canto Black doesn't seem to be a hot product.

With no local dealers stocking the Black or Back EX, I'm having 2nd thoughts and thinking of waiting for the new Hegel 590 integrated or the Luxman 509. The problem with the 509 is that I'd have to find a decent DAC as the Luxman integrated is DAC-less. 
I thought the wife did not like the looks of the Hegel? I think the new Hegel will be a dark horse in the new crop of high end integrateds. Lots of people rave about the Hegel DACs. I assume the H590 will have this highly regarded DAC technology.

An interesting DAC to consider if you go with the Luxman is the Mola Mola. I have not heard it yet but it has a lot forward looking features that a lot of current DACs do not, including Ethernet (Roon, DLNA). I was on another forum discussing this DAC and there are a lot of DAC geeks interested in this one.

https://www.mola-mola.nl/tambaqui.php

A very good integrated you may want to consider is the T+A 3100 HV. (I am seriously considering this one myself)

https://www.ta-hifi.de/en/audiosystems/hv-series/

https://www.soundstageultra.com/index.php/equipment-menu/808-ta-elektroakustik-pa3100hv-integrated-a...

The T+A MP 3000 HV Media Player is available from the S.Cal dealer for about $7K.. See here on A’Gon demo unit). Would work great with that Integrated.

I have heard both together and they are overkill for the KEF REF 1 you have but I get the impression you want to get some truly outstanding gear for those KEFs..Overkill because your KEF’s do not need such massive power. However, there is nothing wrong with doing this other than $$$.

I am also considering the newer T+A MP 3100 HV Media Player. This icovers everything I need.

SACD | CD | FM Tuner | excellent DAC | I think Ethernet connectivity for ROON (not sure about that).

Have you considered the Devialet Integrateds?

https://www.soundstageultra.com/index.php/equipment-menu/528-devialet-400-mono-integrated-amplifier-...

A lot of dealers will tell you that it is not all that great. I think it is quite good and covers the check boxes you mentioned previously. I heard these with some B&W speakers.

BTW - "The Devialet 400s were the quietest amplifiers ever. " quote in the above review is incorrect. My AHB2 amps we discussed on the other thread are quieter.

I am giving suggestions based on you stating something that would also appeal visually to your better half.
@yyzsantabarbara :
great memory on the wife acceptance factor. She’s all in on the looks of the Bel Canto system but I’m too nervous to spend so much without hearing first coupled with such little community/forum feedback.

So I’m thinking I’ll change gears and try to limit spending to 10k for a permanent office piece with no plans to take home in the future. That makes the forthcoming Hegel integrated a perfect pairing with the KEF Reference 1’s....brand new, does MQA. Should be sweet but don’t want to wait!

that Mola DAC looks very interesting. Looking fwd to hearing it. That might be perfect with the new Luxman.
If I had the cash ready today I would be severely tempted to buy the Luxman 509x that WC put up for sale. I would use it in the office and likely move my office electronics to the future big rig in the living room.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis916dd-luxman-l-509x-integrated-the-best-integrated-from-luxman-...

I have heard the KEF Blade 2 with the Hegel 360 and it was surprisingly good driving the much bigger Blades. Your REF 1 would sing with the 360 and not need the extra little bit from the 590.
Totally agree the 360’s more than enough but want to have an integrated with internal dac that plays mqa.....the 590 will, the 360 doesn’t.
I have auditioned the full Bel Canto Black system at my dealer. I thought the system sounded very good when playing through Wilson Alexias. The name “black” describes it well as it is a naked, crisp type of presentation that is extremely transparent. I did think the vocals were a little recessed in the sound field though. At the time of audition I was actually considering the ACI 600 but the dealer no longer had that available. Long story short, I ended up purchasing an Audio Research system because I like its natural sound. The Black system in person looks really nice and exceeds the build quality of any equipment I have seen.

I have not yet heard or  seen any EX products first hand but I am considering the EX DAC as an upgrade for my Linn streamer. I am not really sure if the Bel Canto UX/UI is as good as the Linn from the streaming/app point of view. I would definitely want to give it a try first. 

I know this isn’t probably very useful information. Just wanted you to know that someone has heard, and likes, this system : )
We own the Bel Canto Black EX. It is $1K more than the ASC 600, but I like the added inputs. The Black EX DAC is SOTA, including Ethernet input. Its filers easily allow intergration of a subwoofer, if you go that route. 
Our Black EX system is driving YG Acoustic Carmels with a subwoofer. The Black EX brought them to life. My wife said the Black EX “has balls.” I, however, do not think it has a gender. My wife now spontaneously wants to dance. Some songs give the hair on her arms goosebumps when listening to her favorite songs. I have a single criterion for high-end audio: emotional involvement. Specs are meaningless IMHO.

After years of owning different DACs and amps, this is a final destination product, which is saying something coming from an upgrade junkie. The Black EX makes good speakers great, and there is no other way to achieve this sound.

The Black EX has a phono pre-amp and Tilt Control. The Tilt Control is amazing, especially with recordings that are hot, i.e., intentionally recorded with an emphasis on the high-end, like Adele 21. Listening to any song on that album on a car stereo may be ok, but you need to tweak it on a high-end system. Tilt also can be used if you room is too bright or too dead.

It has equalizer features – high pass and low pass filters. Subwoofer integration, in my opinion, is very difficult and rarely successful. The Black EX integrates subwoofers. It takes a bit of time, like an hour or two, to adjust the high pass and low pass filters for your room and subwoofer, but the end result is integration. By integration, I mean you cannot tell if the music is from the main speakers or the subwoofer. I am using 50 Hz on both settings but they do not have to be the same.

The Black EX has an Ethernet input. This is often overlooked, but it means you are not using a computer in your system (unless you want to use Roon; the Black EX is Roon ready). We mostly use the Bel Canto SEEK app. Ethernet is a superior connection over USB.

Finally, Black EX is MQA compatible. Playing an MQA recording using an Ethernet connection is a step up. It squeezes out that last five percent.


Just a thought -- for that kind of money, why not take a trip to Minneapolis and visit the factory to hear them there?
@nord  Thanks for the response. Great hearing you liked the Black system.

@markalarsen  wow, great review/commentary. Prediction - I believe we'll end up with the Black EX separates once i'm able to pull the trigger on the home system.

@mlsstl great idea...think I'll end up attending an audio show before I put together the home system.
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is the next show
@keoliphant Did you decide? I'm in the market for a Pre-amp and a DAC. My dealer suggested Bel Canto EX DAC as well. I was planning to go with Ref 6 + PS Audio Direct Stream DAC but now I'm confused. I may need to listen to this. Since I see very fewer reviews on EX DAC, I'm still hesitant. 
@karurravi Still trying to decide...leaning toward the Hegel H590 but also strongly considering the Black EX separates. I tried to get out to RMAF this weekend but work schedule didn't allow it. Stay tuned.
I know this is a old post but I was wondering if anyone purchased the black separate ? I have a full current luxman setup and was thinking of trading it in . 

Thoughts ? 
I have that combo , from what I heard black system suppose to best it ? 

Yea I dont think so. You can view the thread MY LONG LIST OF AMPS for example and the Black System doesnt even make the Top 10. Luxman Combo is in the Top 3.  Its a long thread but there is detailed info on the Black System.  Another reason not to buy the Black System?  You will lose over 50% of your investment should you ever try to re-sell it.  As of the time of that OPS review only 30 Black systems had been sold in total. Not very popular probably cause Class D is cheap to make and they are charging an arm and a leg.

I decided to demo the Black system ASC2
at home before pulling the trigger and should have it setup in a couple days . I really enjoy the C-900u/M-900u combo I 
currently own . I understand the black system is not cheap but as a system with all the options it comes with is not really out of line . 

Its only out of line in terms of resale value which you might want to do your homework on. Luxman you can get those pieces brand new for $10,500 each and re-sell for 8-9K easily. The loss is 20% worse case scenario...compared to 50-60% trying to sell the BC...and even at that loss wont be easy to move. Guess it all depends on how affluent you are.
I pulled the trigger on the ASC2 system , so far I am really impressed . I have had 1 issue and it suppose to be taken care in the couple days with a new FW 
Bel Canto ASC2 Black System 
Sonictransporter / Linear PSU 
Martin Logan Renaissance ESL 15A
PS Audio P15 , Cardas Clear Beyond Power Cables