I love the Belles gear. I have owned a 150A HotRod and a 350 Reference and a 21A preamp and they were wonderful. Just my .02 worth...
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I compared ICE amps (Bel Canto Ref1000 MK I) with Belles 350A and 150A Reference monoblocks, and for my preferences I preferred the Belles. To me, the ICE amps produce music that lacks any human quality. The Belles amps are nicely balanced and neutral, while still conveying a human touch to the music. Bass is extended and controlled, and the highs are clear without grain or etch.
IMO, the Belles 150A Reference are at their best when used in monoblock configuration.
I couldn't disagree more with the above two posts. I have never been a fan of ICE amps, but I currently have the W4S STI-500 in my system and it is very definitely an exception to the rule.
It's highs are airy and give you a wonderful sense of percussive sounds, bite on guitar strings and recording venue acoustics. Play something like Rodrigo y Gabriela's new 11:11 CD and you'll be mesmerized for the rest of the day at least. And the amp is not overtly bright or harsh, but rather, feathery, delicate, and easy on the ears.
The midrange is wonderfully detailed and musically satisfying, with a very nice presentation of timbre and instrumental harmonics.
And the bass is taut, articulate, and extended. It sounds just right, not overly damped. It serves up bloom with detail in spades all day long.
I've reviewed the Belles 150A in the past and at that time it wasn't exactly the best amp I had heard. Unless it's gotten orders of magnitude better since then, it won't compete with the Wyred amps.
For CD, I'm running my player through an excellent 6SN7 tube line stage and then into the Wyred. For my vinyl playback I'm running my battery-powered Nova Phonomena solid-state phono stage directly into the Wyred. In both cases, the sound is about as good as it gets.
See the recent review of the STI-1000 at sixmoons.com. From what I'm hearing with the STI-500, it's right on the money.
Tvad, okay, just to be clear, it was the Belles stereo 150A. While I don't doubt that the 150A Reference monos are the best of that series, as I said, the Belles I had in my system would have had to improve by orders of magnitude to compete with the Wyred. FWIW one of my friends bought the Belles 350A used on Audiogon and didn't even like it. He compared it to his Cayin A88T tube amp, which is a somewhat muddled but very musical sounding tube amp and sold the Belles in less than 2 weeks. I have not personally auditioned the 350A.
But let me ask you the big question: Have you heard either the W4S STI-1000 or the STI-500 in your own system or some other familiar, good-sounding system?
So far, I prefer the Wyred to the other very good amplifiers I've had in my system recently... And did I mention it has a polarity invert feature on the remote? I'm listening to a GRP Christmas CD as I write this and it's really marvelous through the Wyred. You really ought to hear one in your system.
Plato, if you read the reviews of the Belles 150A versus the 150A Reference, you will see that your reviewer peers make definite distinctions between the two amplifiers. I am specifically discussing reviews wherein the reviewer has heard both versions in his/her system.
Regarding the Wyred4Sound amps, I have not heard them in my system nor do I intend to. I have investigated ICE amps and switching amps enough to know that they do not connect with me, and I have no interest in hearing the latest iterations of any brand.
I am certain that 95% of audiophiles interested in this topic will choose Wyred4Sound amps. They cost less. They use less electricity, and they are getting a lot of buzz from the audio press. Belles by comparison gets little reviewer ink, and the company sell far fewer units.
I also wanted to mention that Dan Wright of Modwright has commented very favorably on the combination of one of his Modwright tube preamps and the W4S ST-500 basic power amp.
Beyond that it almost goes without saying that no amplifier will satisfy all the people in every situation. I always recommend that audiophiles audition prospective gear in their own rooms and systems whenever possible. You drink coffee, I drink tea, etc., etc.
Tvad, I assume you're referring to Doug Blackburn's 2004 review of the Belles 150A Reference amp at SoundStage.com? At least that was the only one of consequence that came up in my search.
I have respect for Doug Blackburn's opinions and what he said in that review was indeed high praise. Certainly I can't dispute it as I haven't heard that model of Belles amp.
That said, I am a little puzzled by your apparent closed-minded posture. So because you've heard a couple of ICE amps that you didn't like, now all ICE amps are bad, is that it? That's like me saying, "I heard a few solid-state amps and didn't like them so all solid-state amps are bad and I'll never listen to one again."
Excuse me for saying so, but that is the kind of attitude that prevents progress. There are still people who won't listen to CD's, only vinyl, and while the CD format is not perfect by a long shot, even you'd probably agree that it's not all that bad and is in fact much better now than it was 20 years ago. And of course vinyl is wonderful, but many post baby boomers would disagree with that as well.
Listen to some music, you'll feel better. :)
Plato, I no longer have the interest in investigating amplifiers that everyone else thinks is the best around...particularly ICE, Class D and switching amplifiers. I've auditioned several amps that were the topics of incredible praise and audiophile buzz, only to decide they weren't for me. I'm doubtful that my lack of interest in auditioning gear prevents the progress of the companies or the technology.
If you believe my lack of interest in auditioning these components prevents personal progress in audio, then that's fine with me.
I hope you can respect my decision to not spend my time auditioning gear.
But, we're off topic, and we should move on.
Coleman22, Wyred4Sound offers a 30 day home trial period (subject to a 15% re-stocking fee if the amps are returned). This is your best bet. Order one. Listen to it, and decide for yourself.
If you want to try Belles, I strongly encourage you to be patient and buy a used version. Then, it if doesn't do it for you, it can be resold without much pain.