Am­pli­fier of the Year over $20,000

Am­pli­fier of the Year over $20,000

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It’s hard to imag­ine greater con­trast be­tween the McIn­tosh on the pre­vi­ous page and the ACI 600 from an­other Amer­i­can am­pli­fier brand, Bel Canto. There isn’t a sin­gle knob or but­ton to be seen on the ex­pan­sive front panel — and it’s cer­tainly ex­pan­sive since the ACI 600 is 483mm wide, though only 97mm high. The de­ci­sion is surely aes­thetic, since there can be lit­tle other ex­cuse (we’re re­ject­ing cost, given the RRP of $36,900) for putting the 6.35mm head­phone socket on the back.

In­deed aes­thet­ics fac­tor into the whole con­cept of this in­te­grated of­fer­ing from the com­pany’s ‘Black’ line. Es­sen­tially what Bel Canto has done is take three of its top-of-the-line in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents, and put them all in the one sleek chas­sis, un­der the con­trol of a so­phis­ti­cated elec­tronic con­troller. This is a smart move by Bel Canto, be­cause some peo­ple don’t like ‘stacks’ of com­po­nents, while oth­ers don’t like the small form-fac­tor chas­sis the com­pany uses for com­po­nents in its other prod­uct lines. Buy­ers get a sin­gle great-look­ing com­po­nent that ‘does it all’ and can be up­graded to ac­com­mo­date fu­ture de­vel­op­ments in au­dio.

Nor are there gi­ant heatsinks flank­ing the ACI 600’s width, de­spite its rat­ing of an im­pres­sive 300W per chan­nel con­tin­u­ous into eight ohms, and 600W into four ohms. The min­i­mal ac­count­ing for heat dis­si­pa­tion is partly down to the type of power on of­fer, which is pro­vided by N-Core mod­ules man­u­fac­tured by Dutch Class-D spe­cial­ist Hypex (th­ese are, says Bel Canto, cus­tom de­signs that are man­u­fac­tured ex­clu­sively for Bel Canto).

Of course the mere men­tion of Class-D has long caused many au­dio­philes to turn up their noses. But this is part of Bel Canto’s great achieve­ment here — the com­pany (and Hypex) has been in­stru­men­tal in prov­ing that Class-D done right can de­liver mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mance, along with the in­her­ent ben­e­fits of ef­fi­ciency, which have never been un­der de­bate.

Yet for all the power and fire of the bass, the midrange was glo­ri­ously rich, su­perbly lin­ear and won­der­fully del­i­cate. As for any thoughts of high-fre­quency Class-D sound be­ing brit­tle, the tre­ble from the ACI 600 shim­mered like threads of gos­samer in the moon­light, ac­cord­ing to our po­et­i­cally-in­clined col­leagues at Aus­tralian Hi-Fi. In­deed they sum­marised its high fre­quency per­for­mance in one word: ‘per­fect’.

The rear panel has an Amer­i­can flag (this ia gen­uinely ‘Made in the USA’) and in in­put terms it has two line-level in­puts and a phono in­put (yep, in a mod­ern high-pow­ered Class-D am­pli­fier! — and you can ad­just the sen­si­tiv­ity through four dif­fer­ent gain set­tings and five dif­fer­ent load im­ped­ances to suit both mov­ing-mag­net and mov­ing-coil car­tridges). The dig­i­tal sec­tion has one each of op­ti­cal, coax­ial, USB-A, USB-B and AES-EBU; the USB-B is good up to 24-bit/348kHz, in­clud­ing MQA, and DSD to DSD128.

It’s not for mak­ing Class-D sound this good that we give this award, but for such a su­perb am­pli­fier re­gard­less of type. More info: www.ab­so­lute­

JUDGES’ COM­MENT “It’s not for mak­ing Class-D sound this good that we give the award, but for such a su­perb am­pli­fier re­gard­less of type. The ACI 600 is a near-fault­less high-end de­sign.”

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