Authorized reproduction from:
audioMUSINGS, No. 3, 1998
the BLUE CIRCLE
I met Gilbert Yeung, president and founder of Blue Circle Audio, at the Hi Fi '97 show in San Francisco. When I ran into him again at CES this year, he agreed to send us some products for review, and I couldn't wait. I was impressed with Blue Circle for several reasons. Gilbert is a great guy, the product is incredibly beautiful to look at, and from what I heard at both shows, it sounded awesome. I liked the rest of the Blue Cricle group, too. Some of the companies we visited treated me like the tagalong wife, but not Blue Circle.
I'll review the BC6 amp in a future issue. I was more interested in the BC3 preamp because I was so impressed with the Rogue Sixty-Six tube preamp (reviewed in Issue 1), and was anxious to hear how the BC3 would perform in comparison. As with all Blue Circle products, this preamp is very pleasing to look at. The case is brushed stainless steel, has that mystical glowing blue circle in the front, and those big wooden knobs, two of each because it's a dual monoblock preamp. The cosmetics add to the enjoyment of the product for me. The glowing circle is a point of reference in our otherwise dark listening room. The knobs not only feel solid, but are beautiful as well.
Before I discuss the sound of the preamp, let me digress a moment to my youth. In the late '70s, before I knew I was an audiophile, I used to buy a lot of records. Remember how satisfying it was to tear the cellophane off the record jacket? With the large format, the jacket became a work of art (sometimes), and there was plenty of room for liner notes. Some artists used to print instructions on their jackets. One such record was Steve Hackett's Please Don't Touch. I loved this record, and played it as loud and as often as I could. The title track is on side two. In fine print after the song title are the words, "For maximum effect this track should be listened to as loudly as possible with as much treble and bass as your system can muster. Not to be played to people with heart conditions or those in severely hallucinogenic states of mind." My system wasn't that good, so I never had hallucinations while listening. I guess I never understood what this admonishment to play music loud was all about, other than a way to drive my parents crazy. I think it's safe to say that after listening to the BC3, I finally understand.
No, I didn't listen to Steve Hackett. First of all, as I said, I listened to the record a lot in the '70s, when my system wasn't very good, and I'm sure the record is shot. However, I did listenn to Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. This CD doesn't have instructions to listen to it loud, but it should, and the song "Closer," in particular, should carry a warning. I know that this song has pretty offensive lyrics, but as I've said before, it provokes an emotional response in me. For the record, this is not because of the lyrics. Although I listen to the way the singer's voice sounds, I don't listen to what he's saying. There was always something else about the song, and listening with this preamp, I could finally hear what it was. This song is recorded in lots of layers. I remember listening to it once with a Hsu subwoofer in our system. It was so overpowering, I had to turn if off because I felt like the music was walking over me. With this preamp, it was almost overpowering again, but this time not in a negative way. The song seemed to undulate out of the speakers. There's one part where I felt like I could see the music swelling in ever-growing waves, longer waves against the floor, shorter waves near the top of the speakers. The next song on the CD, "Ruiner," was equally captivating. I wish I could describe this better, but words escape me.
Highs sounded sweet and natural. Lows were low and clear, like thunder off in the distance. Vocals were incredibly natural. What was most impressive, however, was the 3D imaging. I've heard components offer depth, width, and height before, but not in the way this units does. Other preamps reproduce music so that is sounds like a picture projected on a screen. This preamp projected the music out toward me, like I was part of the performance. In case you haven't caught on by now, I really liked this preamp, and they had to pry it out of my hands to pass it along to the next reviewer.
One other recording I listened to extensively was Sky Cries Mary's This Timeless Turning. This CD is from 1994, and is still my favorite recording by this band. I listened to tracks one through seven, and was more and more impressed as it went on. There are all kinds of music represented here, from swirling walls of sound with Middle Easten overtones ("Shipwrecked"), to delicate acoustic guitar and breathy male/female duos ("These Old Bones"), to hard rocking sounds ("Scapegoat"), to electronic sounds ("Every Iceberg is Afire"). I liked them all, and the BC3 kept up, never missing a beat when the sound of the music changed. It handled the delicate tunes with as much ease as the harder-edged ones. At times, I thought maybe they recorded this CD live in the studio. I checked, and there is no mention of this in the notes, so I e-mailed the band. Ben Ireland, the drummer, was kind enough to respond, to say that parts of it were recorded live in the studio, with the vocals added later. During "Shipwrecked," the details were so incredible, I swore I could hear the female vocalist turning her head as if to look at the male vocalist. The music seemed to come out so far into the room that I could feel it touching my feet. What I look for in a system is "in your face" sound. I don't want to hear the music at or behind the rear wall. Remember in my bio (Issue 1), where I said I like to smell the sweat of the performers? This preamp put the sweat right in my face. The projecting sonic images added a new level of enjoyment to everything. It covered all ranges of the musical spectrum. I did notice on some of my favorite old songs that it was a bit revealing of poor recordings. I'm willing to overlook that, though, because it more than made up for it with the well-recorded pieces.
I listened to Sky Cries Mary again with our usual setup. Here's my analogy – listening to the disc with our setup was like watching a concert from nosebleed heaven compared to listening with the Blue Circle, which was like watching the concert from the mosh pit. I could still hear what a beautifully recorded disc this is, but I felt like I was leaning over a railing to try to hear it instead of having it surrounding me. Dave and I liked this preamp so much, we've decided to purchase one.
Apogee Caliper Signature speakers.
Muse 150 monoblock amplifiers.
EAD 1000 transport and 1000 Series II DAC connected using Theta's TLC (custom DC power supply) and Audient Technologies' Tactic and Audit. Digital cable is a 1-meter length of Nordost Moonglo between the Tactic and Audit and a 6" length between the transport and TLC.
Linn Axiss turntable with K9 cartridge and Basik Plus arm feeding the E.A.R. 834P phonostage with Cardas Quadlink 5C interconnects.
Reference Line 1000 Series II passive preamplifier (fully upgraded to a Preeminence 2).
Nordost SPM interconnects and bi-wired speaker cables.
API 116 Power wedge and Coherent Systems Electraclear EAU-1.