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Blue Circle Audio BC208 Hybrid Mono Amplifiers
A Mighty Wind Blows In From The North

 

October 2006


           


Getting the call from Blue Circle
Imagine if you will, being a child again and receiving a call from Santa Claus telling you that he’s made some new toys and wants to bring them over for you to play with to see if you liked them and if you thought other kids might like them as well. Aside from the shock of getting a call from someone from the North Pole as long as they don’t ask you to accept the charges, I’m sure you’d be downright giddy with excitement. That’s how I felt when Blue Circle Audio’s Gilbert Yeung called me from Ontario, Canada and asked if I would be interested in having him bring me his BC208 mono-amplifiers over for a review. Gilbert didn’t ask me to accept the charges for that call either.

In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that he was just joking and really didn’t take him too seriously at first. I figured what he really meant was the BC204 or even the BC206 (which are fine products in their own right), but not his statement amps, the gargantuan BC208s, they’re the best amplifiers that Blue Circle makes. I figured that Gilbert’s take on the “state of the art” would be reserved for only the most veteran audio reviewers. You know, the guys who are best known by their initials. I saw the BC208s at the 2006 CES and was impressed by what I saw and heard, but never imagined I would have the opportunity to review them. Once Gilbert assured me he was serious, my stature became more upright, my shoulders became square, and my chest puffed with pride. Last year I reviewed Blue Circle’s BC202 amplifier and found it to be an excellent performer, especially at its price point, and a wonderful introduction into their 200 Series of amplifiers.

Several months passed by and the anticipation of receiving the BC208s was building. In the mean time, I had the opportunity to “cut my teeth” on a couple of other excellent performing amps: the Thor Crescendo tube mono-amps and $25K(!) TIDAL Audio Impact from Germany. I was grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to amplifiers of this level of performance and learned a lot about what the very best amps have to offer that sets them apart. I also looked forward to hearing how the BC208s would sound in light of having to follow a couple of formidable sounding mega-amps.

Where’s the beef?
Finally, the big day arrived and Gilbert came by to deliver the amps. I knew something was up when Gilbert asked me to help him to carry the amplifiers inside my home. Gilbert is not a big guy, but I’m always amazed how he uses leverage and his legs to move some of his heavyweight gear around. However, when we started carrying the BC208s into the house, I could easily see that there was no way he would be showing off his strength today. Once we got the boxes inside the house, Gilbert began to slowly unpack the carefully packed boxes that the BC208s came in. Reaching inside the box and lifting the amplifiers out of the box put me in mind of unpacking the “Ark of the Covenant” from the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. These amplifiers measure 13”w x 18.125”h X 31.75”d and weigh about 130lbs. I have had friends try to quantify the price of amps I’ve had in that were barely half the size of the BC208s. They would see a typical size amp (19”w x 6”h x 18”d) and say, “$20K! Where’s the rest of the amplifier?!” I imagine their response upon seeing the BC208s would be, “These things must cost about $50K!”

These are some of the most handsome looking amplifiers that I have had in my home. If you’re at all familiar with Blue Circle Audio’s amplifiers, and in particular, their 200 Series amplifiers, the BC208s resemble a single BC206 on the outside, though internally, they are quite different. You get the typical Blue Circle craftsmanship with the metal frame and woodwork in the front. As per Gilbert’s usual, if you can get him a color sample, he will build your amplifier to your desired color at an extra cost. The options available to customers would include your choice of different wood finishes or stainless steel on the BC208s faceplate, the platform the amp sits upon, and the steel cover of the body of the amplifier itself. The particular pair I had on hand had a faceplate that is finished in dark cherry inside and Macassar Ebony for the outside trims with Purpleheart/Walnut also being available. The metalwork was deep dark brown.

As far as switches on the outside of the amps go; there is a toggle switch on the front of the amp that you flip up to turn on the amplifiers, and that trademark illuminated blue circle. It gets a bit more interesting on the rear panel. The BC208s accept single-ended and balanced interconnect. The speaker connectors are made via a heavy, gold-plated five-way binding post. There is also a neat little feature that I wish more amps had called a “ground lift switch.” If you find yourself hearing ground loop hum, flipping this switch, in most cases, will take care of it, unless the issue resides somewhere else in the system. The power cords are Blue Circle’s own BC68s, which have their own line filtering and use Neutrik connectors for a nice, smooth, solid fit. The fit-n-finish of the amplifier is top notch. There was nothing that was loose or rattled. All of the switches and connectors were tight and performed as designed.

I’m always in awe of the fact that Gilbert takes the time, effort, and care to build these amplifiers by hand. The BC208s, like the other 200 Series of amplifiers, are hybrids. They use two 6922 input tubes per amplifier and its solid-state output generate their 215 watts per channel into 8 ohms and over 600,000uF of power supply capacitance to support those watts. Since the amplifiers have plenty of ventilation, the exterior of the amp never got more than lukewarm to the touch, even when I pushed the amps hard.

Getting down to the BC208 sound
Having the BC208s standing tall in my system instilled confidence. They let me know that there would be no situation they couldn’t handle, and handle with aplomb. Describing the BC208’s sound is interesting when you think of it. They did not have a sonic signature that I could come up with, sounding neither like a solid-state device, nor like one centered around vacuum tubes. These amplifiers are very neutral, but at the same time, they infuse your listening senses with the joy of music. Depending on how good your speakers are the BC208s can help them to engulf you in music. The BC208s seem to pull you into a “music portal” where you’re transported into the performance and begin to notice things going on that previously, were only hinted at. Once you get past the sensory awakening experience of being absorbed into and hearing your favorite music in a new light, you begin to notice the rich timbre and tonal colors contained in the music that you didn’t know were there. You start to notice that even though there are performers at the rear of the stage, in your listening room, that they have no less a role of importance than the front men. Just as it is in real life, supporting players come through just a clearly and vibrantly as if they were out front.

The BC208 amplifiers are fast, very fast. Transient response is very lifelike; detail is never slurred or seemingly rolled off. You always hear the leading note on percussion instruments, and whether they are played loud or soft, always present dynamic impact. The high frequencies are extended and project a realistic amount of detail, and at the same time are sweet sounding and airy. Performers, across the stage, possess a sense of dimensionality and palpability combined with a presence that I found to be hypnotizing. Many times, the critical listening would just go out the window as I found myself immersed in the music. Bass performance was more natural, more lifelike than what I normally hear. Let me explain. The midbass is not as overwhelming as it is with some other amplifiers. If I’m listening to some reggae music or synthesized R&B or jazz, the bass, particularly the midbass, is just as fat and overwhelming as it is with most other amps. The biggest difference being that when the music doesn’t call for an over abundance of midbass prominence or boom, the BC208s will not reproduce the bass in that manner. Suffice to say, the bass performance of these amplifiers is totally dependent upon the music you select. When I played “The Invasion”, from the Seven Years in Tibet soundtrack [Sony], I got the requisite deep bass rumble and rattled a few items in my listening room. The same thing occurred on “The Lair”, from the Batman Returns soundtrack [Warner Brothers] and the soundtrack to Gladiator [Decca]. At the same time, discs such as Prince’s latest album, 3121 [Universal] and Bob Baldwin’s Brazil Chill [A440 Records] have strong midbass, but no deep bass.

The BC208s render vocals beautifully. I found myself falling in love all over again with Eva Cassidy’s CD, Songbird [Blix Street]. There was a certain magic she possessed in her voice that would speak to the soul. The BC208s not only allow you hear more information about her performance on this disc, but you also get a connection to her and what it is she’s conveying through her music. Another disc that is surely becoming a favorite of mine is an SACD of a wonderful session with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, aptly named Ella and Louis [Verve Records]. This SACD recording of two great jazz legends is something special. Though there is a bit of an edge to Louis Armstrong’s voice, the duo is re-created in my listening room in such a way that I felt as though I was given the privilege of listening to a performance that was done just for me and my friends.

Winding it all down
The Blue Circle Audio BC208 is easily one of the best amplifiers I have heard, in any venue, but especially in my home. They performed flawlessly, are extremely well built, and are as musical as any amplifier I have heard. They excel in there ability to replicate the recorded event in such a pristine manner that you get the eerie feeling that you are actually there while the recording was being made. I had the pleasure of using both my Klyne 7LX3.5P and Blue Circle’s own BC3000MKII with the GZpz power supply, with these amplifiers, and got stellar performance with both. They also performed with a great amount of realism with both dynamic and electrostatic speakers. With my Martin-Logans, I had a heightened sense of musical truth and detail, though with their 10-inch woofers, I needed to experiment with speaker cables to alleviate a slight midbass prominence that the Dynamic Design White handled masterfully. For dynamic speakers, I did my listening with the Almarro M2As, their new M3As, and speakers from a new company, Nomad Audio, called the “Ronins.” All of these speakers were used to good effect and were highly enjoyable. Dynamic speakers provided a different kind of listening experience, but no less enjoyable. I did not get quite the “see through” type of realism I got with the Martin-Logans, but I got a very wide and very deep stage with the BC208s that contained perceptibly real images that existed in their own dimensional space with air and a higher degree of focus.

My room is 15’ across and for one of the few times in memory, I could place speakers about 12 feet apart and still get a wide stage with solid images all the way across. There was not much difference whether the speakers were 8’ or 12’ apart, the stage presence was consistent. Most of my listening was done with balanced interconnect, speaker cables and power cords from DCCA Audio. When I did listen with single-ended interconnect, I used Klyne Dragonfly Wings between the source and preamplifier and between the preamplifier and mono-amplifiers. I experienced no noticeable loss of clarity or dynamics using the Klyne interconnects, however, I did need to compensate for the change at the preamp end by adjusting the volume control a couple of clicks. On the power cable end of things, I swapped out the DCCA power cords for cords from Dynamic Design. Their THB power cords rendered improvements across the board to a system that was already sounding top notch. At more than $24K, the Blue Circle Audio BC208s aren’t cheap. But if you can afford them, you will be buying a truly exceptional pair of amplifiers that have a lot of gifts related to its performance and its ability to shine with whatever you’re using in your system. The BC208 mono-amplifiers are “highly recommended”.

Mike Wright

                   ____________________


Specifications:
Design: Mono hybrid power amplifier
Power output: 215 watt into 8 ohms, 430 watt into 4 ohms
Tube compliment: (4) 6922 tube for the input stage
Total capacitance over 1.2 Farad (1,200,000uF) both channels
Comes with 6ft BC68 power cord, standard
Dimensions: 13" wide x 18.125" high x 31.75" deep
Cosmetic options same as other 200 series power amps
Price: $24,995.00/pair

Manufacturer:
Blue Circle Audio
RR2
Innerkip, Ontario, Canada
N0J 1M0
Ph 519-469-3215
Fax 519-469-3782
http://www.bluecircle.com
bcircle@bluecircle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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