Review: Bel Canto Design e.One S300 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

I've been a tube amp fan for many years. It is not the point of this review to offer debating points to justify that fondness, but those who enjoy tube sound will certainly understand what I mean regarding the beautiful midrange liquidity that a good tube amp offers. Until now I'd not heard a solid state amp that I could afford that delivered that sound.

Up to a few months ago I'd been happily listening to a Conrad Johnson MV60 amp. However, in reading about digital power amps I became intrigued enough to set out to give them a listen. After intitally considering the Nuforce series I became somewhat nervous as a number of the reviews commented on problems with units. Trying to arrange a local listening session with the dealer also resulted in some scheduling difficulties so it wasn't surprising when my interest subsided.

In looking at the Bel Canto line, here was a company that had a solid reputation built over a number of years. Their S300 amp was solidly within my budget and my inquiries to Bel Canto were answered promptly and pleasantly. So it was with good confidence I placed an order for one under their 30 day trial program.

The unit arrived quickly. It was double boxed, in perfect condition and was easy and fast to setup in my system.

Before listening to the S300, I gave my CJ tube amp a solid listen with half a dozen varied tracks just to help set my reference point. The S300 went into place and was quickly replaying the same set of tracks the CJ had just rendered.

Results? Excellent. I am one who is often annoyed by the severe hyperbole - both positive and negative - some audiophiles engage in, but that hardly puts me in the camp where there are no differences to be heard. The improved characteristics the S300 offered were subtle, but definitely present.

One of the descriptive terms that broadly defines the difference I hear between solid state and tube amps is "liquidity." A good tube amp has a midrange smoothness that I've never found in the solid state amps that have been in my budget range. I've read a lot of explanations as to why this is so, but no matter the reason, it is a widely observed phenomenon.

My first observation was the S300's midrange was easily the equal of my tube setup. Both male and female vocals were spot-on and natural. With a good recording, one could easily focus on a single voice in a group. The lows were definitely firmer and tighter than the tube amp, but this was hardly a surprise. Highs were more extended than my tube amp, but still smooth with no hint of stridency, a rarity for solid state amps in any price range I can afford. In fact, the highs have a sense of "air" about them that is quite engaging.

The amp is quite powerful for it's price and weight. It is stunning to think a 150 watt per channel (at 8 ohms) stereo amp weighs in at less than ten pounds. It easily drives my Spendor S5e's to any volume I care to dial up. However, an unexpected pleasure that helped seal the deal for me are the dynamics and clarity at low volume and during quiet passages. Most medium and higher wattage amps I've been exposed to the past really sound their best and blossom as you increase the volume. In fact if I'm not careful, I'll find myself listening to small scale acoustic music at a volume higher than would be found live. The S300 is one of the best amps I've heard for holding resolution at lower volume levels. Certainly I've heard nothing else for $1,400 that matches it in this regard.

I know there is a lot of competition in the field of high quality amps, but the bulk of them come with a much more serious price tag than the S300. A pair of Nuforce 9's will cost you an extra $1,100. The closest competitor price wise are the Channel Island D100 monoblocks and that is still more money for a bit less power. While they all have their advocates, I'll sum up this review by simply restating that I am extremely pleased with my purchase. This amp deserves a good look by anyone who is shopping for a musical sounding amp in this price and power range.

Associated gear
Spendor S5e speakers, Conrad Johnson PV-10AL tube preamp, Nad C542, Squeezebox 3 digital server system.
Good job on the review. Informative, concise, and well written.
yes, I agree about the liquidity. however, I did find that I like to crank it up to about 75 or 80 (from its initial setting of 50) for the speakers to really open up (full size planar speakers need juice). but mine is the s300iu - not the same as yours, and I imagine the power supply for the integrated is one of the space-induced compromises.
I haven't heard the Bel Canto ICE Power series but I did have the EVO 2i integrated for a lengthy audition and it was very good but it didn't do violins like my CJ PV-10AL into a B&K 202+.Srtinged instruments were better with thee CJ/B&K combo.The EVO was however a soundstaging monster & a very good amp that I could live with if I put one of those Musical Fidelity tube boxes on the outputs of my CD player
the bel canto s300(iu) looks like some great stuff. anyone have any impressions on the s300iu's usb dac? the amp section sounds like it combines the best aspects of tubes with the dynamics (and of course, practicality!) that i crave from solid state amps. i'm also a fan of all-in-one solutions. i'm even more interested because the setup i'm building is computer based, and it would be great to have nothing but usb feeding the bel canto unit, which sends the line level to a powered sub (like an hsu unit) and speaker outputs to some mini-monitors, like the atc scm7. less = more.

but yes, great review. i don't know if the regular s300 has a usb dac, but if it does, impressions? impressions on this feature its sister models are appreciated, too.
That is one very well written review. It conveys your impressions without all the audiophile jargon too many reviews rely on.
I currently own the evo2i and couldn't be happier. If there is a downside it's that my search for a better amp seems to be over as the cost for better is prohibitive.
To echo the other comments listed - excellent review Mlsstl.

Digital amps, of all brands, have really come a long way in a relatively short time.
This review and an actual audition sealed the deal for me. Got an S300 and will be ordering a DAC3 soon.

Thanks Mlsstl!
Great stuff guys, glad to see others are seeing the light about class D amps!!
There green not that I aim a green peace member, but @ 90% effecieceny your electric bill won't buge if you leave them on 24/7.

The size & weight are another huge plus. The class a/b amps are fine but not for me, there extremly heavy & large & @ best 30% effecient.

Class D is were all the major manufactures are going IMO.

I would add only the mono 300 is slightly better as they are able to fit some noise reduction technology into mono & not the stereo due to size restaints as both amps are the same dimensions.(info from Bel Canto tech.)

I aim currently running 3 mono ref. 500 for fronts & center & 4 m 300 for surrounds & all the amps toghter are the size, if not smaller than one class a amp & produce more wattage per channel. nice to have a seperate amp for each speaker & this would be very hard to do with a class a/b amp due to the size of my stand.

Kodg :)
I don't know about noise reduction technology but I can tell you one difference between the S300 and M300 is they use different ICE modules. I cracked them open for a look. Both amps use the 200ASC module but they have different current ratings. Look at the review on for pics.
I am currently using the wonderful Bel Canto S500 in my system.