Well, the BC gear is from a great, reputable company. It sounds worth every penny and will easily resell. It gets my vote.
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Gunbei did an excellent review of these two pre's. I don't know if his was a 21 or 21.1? He's being shy about posting it here. Perhaps your question will prompt the green man to quit horsin' around with Pokey and get on the stick! Cumon' Dean, after all that effort in listening and writing you should really share your thoughts here. In a nutshell, I can tell you that he liked the.....nah, I won't ruin it for him...you'll just have to hear it from the bendy green guy himself. He even throws in a BAT VK30i to make things interesting too.
It's all about you Dean....
Deanmiester emailed me to tell KCK he wants $25 forwarded to his email: GorgeousDean@PreampComparo.com if you want to view his premium review of BC and EE. I've paid the amount, and I'd tell'yah its well worth it. He speaks straight from the horse's mouth unlike those 6moons reviews that sensationalize everything from self-adhesive stamps to non-liquid nail polish remover. (yes, i did just wake up)
You also get a monthly newsletter with your subscription filled with pictures that the Enquirer will pay handsomely for.
$25?! That SOB gouged me for $50! And I didn't get no tabloid pics neither. I gotta' bone to pick with you Dean! Yeah, OK, it was worth it. I laughed. I cried. I am a better man for having read it. My sex life has improved, and my stool is a bit more firm and consistently floats to the top of the bowl. Thanks Dean!
Hey you goofballs, I finally found this thread!! Oh, and thanks for the all the money, I think I got about $100 so far.
Here's the review I sent to Mad Marco, Dirty Dan and Evil Ed. First, I should say that I have definite tastes in the way I like music presented, so please keep that in mind when reading this long-winded babble. Hopefully, it isn't so filled with such crazy prejudices that anyone not sharing my view of what is desirable in audio playback can extract what's important to them and discard the rest. Wait, didn't Bruce Lee say something like that?
Oh well, here goes...
here are "some" of my impressions. If you want to skip around, find
the subheadings that interest you. This could have been way longer so if you have
any questions feel free to ask away.
Well, after a great deal of listening to the five preamps I've been comparing since
the summer, I've decided to stay with my long time preamp the Blue Circle BC21.
During that time I've heard for myself what other people have written is important
to them [transparency, inner detail, etc..] in stereo playback, but even more so
I found what's important to me. The following is the process through which I have
The five preamps being considered were:
Antique Sound Labs Passive T1 DT
Luminous Audio AXIOM passive
Eastern Electric MiniMax
Blue Circle BC21
My reference system at the beginning of testing was:
Theta Pearl transport
Kora Hermes DAC [w/ Mullard tubes]
Blue Circle BC21 [w/ Ken-Rad black glass VT-231]
BAT VK200 solid state amp
My cabling configuration at the beginning of testing was:
from transport to DAC Acoustic Zen MC2
from DAC to preamp Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II
from preamp to amp Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference II
THE PASSIVE PRES
Early in the summer I received both the ASL and AXIOM passive pres to compare with
my tubed BC21 and it was immediately apparent what the Blue Circle added and took
away from the sonic presentation. The BC21 heavily favors the midrange and upper
bass frequencies, while the ASL and AXIOM offer a more balanced sound. Both passives
pass along tighter more detailed bass than the BC21, but I feel the AXIOM is definitely
better than the ASL everywhere else in the spectrum. The ASL T1 DT surprisingly
sounds a bit clouded and bloated compared ot the AXIOM. I didn't expected such a
difference between passive preamps. However, what immediately jumped out and crossed
them off the winners list was their flat and emotionless presentation of the music.
I've heard this is a characteristic of many passive pres and it was interestin gto
hear it for myself. The Blue Circle sounded fuller and created a more holographic
and romantic soundfield that just pulled me in. Maybe I didn't care for these two
passive preamps because they're cheaper ones. It may not be a fair test, but I was
definitely experiencing what other tube lovers have mentioned.
A few months ago I received the BAT VK3i, and upon initial hook up I thought "what
is all the fuss about?" I'd heard so much of the synergy between BAT products
and made sure to purchase a balanced run of Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference II interconnect
to replace the RCA version I use between the preamp to amp so that the BAT components
would be running fully balanced. At first listen the sound was closed in and just
plain dead, even after a thirty minute warm up. I remained patient and left the
VK3i on overnight and all the next day while I was at work and sat down for another
listen twenty four hours later. The difference was incredible. The balance of the
BAT is only slightly warmer than either passive pre, but with a huge expansion of
the soundstage in all directions. The center picture also appeared to me bigger
than with any other preamp, and although extension at the top end wasn't absolute,
it was as good as the AXIOM passive pre. Bass tonality was excellent too. I didn't
detect any humps or exagerations in these frequencies as exist with the Blue Circle.
I should remark that since I use ProAc Response 1SC monitors with a powered subwoofer
my judgement of the lower octaves of these preamps can't be construed as complete,
however I could discern the effects of each preamp on overall bass reproduction.
The initial listening with the VK3i was done with the tube and cable configuration
outlined above, but I noticed a slight glare in the upper midrange and a shift towards
the lean side after installing the BAT. It was then that I decided to remove the
AZ Silver Ref II and insert the Matrix Ref II instead. I'd say that experiment lasted
about thirty seconds. Removing the Silver Ref II from a slightly lean sounding system
in exchange for the fuller, copper constructed Matrix Ref II matched with the already
warm, full sounding Mullard tubes in the Kora resulted in a sound so muffled and
smeared, I thought the musicians were playing with pillows over the microphones.
I decided to keep the Matrix Ref II in the mix, but swapped the Mullards out for
the more revealing Siemens CCa 6922 tubes. What happened was that the sound regained
almost the same balance and resolution as the Mullards matched with the AZ Silver
Ref II, but with a more organic sense. Throughout the rest of the testing and to
this day this is the configuration I have. Although the BAT doesn't have the ultimate
in top end extension, I believe this preamp has much of what most people could want
in a preamp. It passes along an incredibly smooth, balanced sound and a holographic
soundstage. The one thing I felt it lacked was emotion, and for me that was the
deal breaker. Diana Krall and Jacintha sounded like they were just singing lyrics
with none of it coming from the heart. Flamenco guitar strings had body but didn't
have snap and therefore lacked passion. The VK3i doesn't have the coldness of solid
state, but neither does it sound classically tubey. If someone was searching for
a preamp that had many of the attributes of solid state line stages without the
SS hash and a wee bit warmth I'd recommend the BAT.
In the last month I'd been reading much positive feedback surrounding the Eastern
Electric MiniMax preamp. Reviews stated that it had attributes of modern tube and
solid state preamps such as great resolution and transparency, but with a music
lover's touch. I thought this might something for me and decided to take the plunge.
Bill O'Connell with Morningstar Audio who imports designer/builder Alex Yeung's
equipment was very helpful and great to deal with. I had initally contacted him
to purchase a demo MiniMax and after much communication I decided to buy a set of
three NOS tubes he'd put together for me along with the stock ones. Right before
he shipped me the unit, he asked if it was alright if he sent me a brand new MiniMax.
I had to laugh, because only in high end audio would someone ask permission to substitute
a brand spanking piece of equipment in place of a used one, and ata discounted price
too! I burned the MiniMax in for the suggested 100 hours, but also had periodic
listening sessions during the break in process. Out of the box with stock tubes
it didn't sound very good, but with time the sound smoothed out and opened up. After
120-140 hours I gave it a good listen and compared it to the BC21. The MiniMax had
an audible edge in transparency and frequency extension over the Blue Circle but,
also had a MUCH more recessed midrange and some evidence of treble grain. Frankly,
I was quite shocked the MiniMax's midrange was so recessed. A reviewer noted how
round and full it sounded compared to his reference Bel Canto preamp, but then again
I've never heard a Bel Canto preamp. I decided that my perception could be based
on my extensive use of the BC21, but the MiniMax's midrange was even smaller than
that of either passive pre. Bill said I could drop in the NOS tubes and give a good
listen after only a few hours burn in, but I decided to give it five days!
Last Friday night began my most prolonged listening session which was only interrupted
by sleep and watching the Roy Jones fight and Pride Grand Prix. I concluded the
test late Sunday night. I listened Friday night and Saturday morning to the MiniMax
and could immediately hear the difference the NOS tubes made. The sound was much
smoother than the stock tubes and the midrange regained some of its prominance,
but there was still something missing for me. The MiniMax gave more romantic renditions
of Diana Krall and Robby Longley than the BAT but seemed sucked out in the upper
bass which greatly differentiates it from the tonality of the BC21. Guitar strings
sounded thin and voices weren't as full as I think they should be. Something was
still missing. There were many spacial cues such as chairs shuffling, singers breathing
present in the MiniMax's playback that aren't there when listening to the BC21.
Cymbals have nice shimmer and decay with the MiniMax, and the same goes for most
percussion, but vocals and acoustic instruments, especially piano lack what I think
is the proper weight. Also, the soundstage seems smaller than the BC21 and VK3i
and less focused as well. I would say the NOS tubes are a must, they add a couple
levels of refinement and warmth that earn its "music listener" moniker.
Overall the MiniMax has a very mellow yet revealing nature probably suited for easier
listening type music and levels, a smaller soundscape as well, nothing big and bold.
I think it's a good preamp, just not my cup of Kona.
REVENGE OF THE BC
It was time to bring back the BC21 with my new tube and cable configuration for
comparison. Immediately, I knew something was right. The Blue Circle makes Liz Story's
piano, any acoustic guitar and vocalist sound as if they're playing in a small,
intimate club with me sitting at a table front row. Very up front, but not bright.
I love that! Guitars have a full-bodied twang and Diana Krall's voice sounds husky
and sexy. With exception of the BAT the other three preamps made vocals and acoustic
instruments sound as if they were being miked from a distant stage.
Through this process I realized that what I love about listening to music is...the
music. By itself, inner detail or impressive sonic cues which arise from the often
sought after audiophile transparency draws me into a musical performance. It's true
that of the five preamps the BAT and MiniMax because of their superior detail can
provide a clearer view into the sonic picture and even possibly help reveal more
of the recording. But through the course of this comparison I've found that an underlying
passion or emotion whether latent or manufactured by me is what I seek when I sit
down for a listen. More so than a violinist turning the page of their sheet music,
an audience member fidgeting in their seat or as someone mentioned in the forums
Diana Krall inhaling her own snot. Rather than studying the branches and leaves
or the claw marks a bear left on a tree's trunk, I prefer to take in the entire
forrest from a mountain top vantage point.
The choice between these preamps is a completely personal one, and I realize my
approach to music appreciation is most likely among the minority of audiophiles.
For me, the VK3i is Faith Hill, the All-American beauty singing in all her glory.
The MiniMax is more reserved but with a dash of attitude and spunk, so we'll label
her Ashley Judd. The BC21 is Maria Grazia Cucinotta from the movie Il Postino. A
six foot tall, smoldering, simple peasant girl and Mediterannean beauty standing
across the foosball table with a look of defiance and overt sexuality daring me
to take the ball from her mouth. Some audiophiles might hesitate to take her home
to meet mom, but give me the BC21 every damn time!
SYSTEM MATCHING AND INTEGRATION
The BC21 definitely adds a distinct sonic character to the overall mix, and that
can affect other components. For example, I feel ProAc monitors because of their
rear ports can depending on placement and music exhibit a hollow, hooty upper bass.
When matched to the BC21 which accentuates some of the same frequencies, this becomes
even more obvious with bongo drums and some wooden instruments. Neither the VK3i
nor MiniMax do this. My perception is that the BAT and AXIOM offer the most "correct"
tonal balance and therefore may be easier to match with a wider range of audio gear.
Of the five preamps they make the least amount of sonic mistakes and that may be
why I perceive them to be slightly boring.
Instruments and human voices are consist of a complex combination of tones. With
the AXIOM, MiniMax and BAT I was more aware of the higher frequencies that define
them. The chuffing of the brush on a tophat. The air being pushed through the vocal
cords of a singer. The edge of a guitar pick running across a steel string. The
texture of the kick drum's skin. With the Blue Circle these qualities are slightly
subdued, and I become more aware of twang of the guitar string and how it reverberates
within its wooden body. The reverberation of the drum after being struck. How lyrics
sound full-bodied resonating from a singer's chest. The weight of a piano key fading
out. I think what I'm trying to say is that with the Blue Circle I experience the
weight of whatever note is being played, not the treble detail that helps describe
If you're looking for a preamp that alters the in coming signal the least, the Luminous
Audio AXIOM accomplishes that best. The BAT VK3i adds slight warmth and greatly
increases the scale of the performance. The Eastern Electric MiniMax gives a detailed
yet quiet rendition. And the Blue Circle BC21 serves up a bold and saucy plate of
fettuccini alfredo fresh from Maria's kitchen.
Since settling on the Blue Circle, I've decided to tidy everything up and make sure
power conditioning and isolation have been adressed. I will be purchasing an MR1200
Music Ring with the companion BC62 power cord, and a set of Blue Circle Isolation
cones. Somewhere down the line I plan to send the BC21 to Blue Circle to have an
extensive array of upgrades done which Gilbert Yeung of Blue Circle and Kevin Allen
of Harmonia Audio outlined for me. I understand the upgrades will bring overall
refinements, and improve the transparency while retaining if not enhancing the inherent
character of the BC21. So hopefully I'll end up with Maria in a full tilt, plunging
neckline, high slit evening gown. Va va vooom!!
I look forward to driving home, warming up Maria and taking her in like a peaceful
If you made it through that review, I should also add that I heard the BC21.1 playing through a BC28 to Martin Logan Aerius speakers in the Blue Circle room at the last Vegas CES. The sound was much less colored than what I listen to, but still with that "Blue Circle" character.
The BC21.1 has some upgraded internals, but the main changes are the two 6922 tubes instead of the 6SN7 which are used in my BC21. Kevin Allen agrees that the lower midrange, upper bass hump I'm experiencing is due to the character of these tubes, so the BC21.1 shouldn't exhibit this nature. I didn't detect it when I heard the BC21.1. Also, if you opt for the Shallco attenuator and not the remote volume control even more refinement should be realized. I understand Gilbert Yeung can even install different Shallcos with varying amounts of attenuation depending on how many steps or changes in gain you want.
Dean, many thanks for coming through; the check is in the mail! Whew, made it through the review, and found it interesting that you also included the BAT, which was on my list last week but has been slowly sliding off due to its reputed high level of warmth (physical, not audible - I understand it needs space, space, and I am probably needing a cooler running pre in my setup). I know, not an audiophile type of thing, but if any of you have a perfect environment, let me know...
I have a used BC 21.1 coming in next week. Unfortunately it has the remote, not Shallco. The remote is a selling point for me, being a lazy-@$$.
I did like your description of the BAT sound. My cup of chai, with perhaps a bit extra sugar. Well, I will listen to the BC and let you guys know what I think. I must add that I am funds-limited so cost is an issue, and that precludes buying 3 or 4 units to audition, selling all but one at a loss. Yes, I try to follow the buy low, sell low design, but it does not always work out. I might consider the BAT if the BC doesn't make my earth move.
Now I am going to stick my neck out and ask you a question. How much did you consider the syndrome of "my baby is the prettiest" when doing this comparo? If you did, did you take compensating steps? Yeah, review = subjective and all, I know. Anyway, that is really a rhetorical question; there is no answer, correct or otherwise.
Thanks again. Audiogon good. Stereo Review bad.
Did you know the Mini Max inverts phase in some components?
I spent the past two days with several folks critically listening to several pieces of audio equipment with the Mini Max. Each time we swapped out components we checked and corrected the phase. This may explain why the Mini Max did not sound good in your system.
Everyone, who listened to the Mini Max, agreed it was one of the best pre-amps we have heard especially with upgraded tubes. Yes, it doesn't have a remote, but my cdp remote does work well.