Authorized reproduction from:
The Inner Ear Report, Volume 9, #3
85 Moorehouse Drive, Scarborough, ON
Canada M1V 2E2
Tel: (416) 297-7968 FAX: (416) 297-0311
Blue Circle Preamplifier
Another Canadian high-end product comes to us from a young designer based in Innerkip, Ontario, a short distance from Kitchener, famous for its annual city-wide party, the Octoberfest (you know, beer, bratwurst, etc.). The young man is Gilbert Yeung who got his start in the audio business a few years ago when he worked with Sound Stage, one of the high-end retailers in the area. The BC3 is one of seven products Blue Circle presently produces. There is also a pair of monoblocks, a stereo amplifier and line conditioners.
The preamplifier is a two-piece unit whereby the external power supply is connected with an umbilical cord to the main chassis. The unit is made from non-magnetic stainless steel and looks rather impressive, sporting four large wooden knobs on the faceplate. The knobs are available in (standard) black oak, also available in optional finishes. The two outside knobs are the selector switches, designated input 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The inside pair of switches are the volume controls--one for each channel. In addition to the knobs, a pair of toggle switches allow for tape monitoring. The company logo--the circle--is back-lit in blue, when the unit is switched on. On the rear of the unit, all inputs, two outputs and an XLR connector (for the power supply) are neatly arranged. The small power supply also sports the company logo. The unit measures 17.5" wide, 5.375" high and 14.6" deep. Its weight is a hefty 40 pounds. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and the BC3 appealed to some of our panelists, while others thought it looked too professional--whatever this means. Visitors to our studio thought that the unit looked just fine. Audio folks may not care one way or the other because what counts is inside the unit.
The principal design is based on a dual mono blueprint. The unit is a single-ended, class A, dual triode design. Each channel is operated with independent volume controls and input selectors. An external power supply is connected with a six-foot umbilical cord. The unit is built with quality components throughout. The high-end component list includes brands such as Cardas, Quad Eutectic solder, Kimber Kaps, Jena Labs internal wiring, Neutrix Shallco military grade volume controls and selectors switches with silver contacts and stainless shaft. Solen Fast Caps operate in harmony with two 6922 vacuum tubes. Point-to-point wiring is carefully executed on a suspended and adjustable 0.25-inch thick Acrylic signal board. Maximum output is quoted as 25Vrms which makes the unit ideal to use with low input sensitivity amplifiers.
The BC3 is built like the proverbial tank with care and attention to the important thing, the end-result...
First of all, we should state that the BC3 competes easily with other, perhaps better known units in its price range. For our initial auditioning session, we connected the BC3 with a serious amplifier--the Topaz. You'll recall our review of the Topaz--a single-ended vacuum tube amplifier based on 611 tubes. As well, we auditioned the BC3 with the Blue Circle monoblocks and a solid state OCM 500 amp. The BC mono amps were brought into our studio for the specific purpose of determining synergy and to evaluate the performance of the BC3 with its siblings and to assess a system's performance when the preamplifier is connected with other amplifiers. There is a good reason for this: Sometimes a preamplifier manufactured by a company which also builds amplifiers will sound its best with only one component; and while this isn't unusual, even understandable, a preamplifier's function within a system aught not to be limited to but one or two components. This said, it's time for us to tell you about the BC3's nitty-gritty accomplishment when connected to the above-mentioned amplifiers.
With the Topaz, the BC3 managed to let the amplifier do it's sonic magic and the all-round sound is best described as full-bodied with blossoming high-frequency information, mastering find detailing and culminating entirely. The bass sounds rather rich, with a hint of uncertainty in the ultra-low region. While the bottom end comes across with good authority and without boominess, the pedal-note deep bass isn't as expertly resolved as the balance of the spectrum. With the OCM amplifier, the bottom part of the frequency spectrum was practically unchanged but with a bit more bite to it. The highs remained liquid and smooth, the midrange became a touch rougher but the fundamental character of the BC3 was maintained throughout the audible frequency spectrum. When connected with the Blue Circle mono amplifiers, no aberrations were noticed by any of our panelists. That is to say that the BC3 performed like a champion, introducing resolution across its frequency extent, all the way down to the pedal-note region.
With all amplifiers, the BC3 came across with superb imaging, exemplary focus on instruments and vocals as well as terrific, well defined layering in the front-to-back dimension. The BC3 delivers sonic qualities not easily found in preamplifiers and can be called excellent with the components to which it was connected--with one exception; the exclusion being the Blue Circle amplifiers. When connected with its siblings, the BC3 can be labeled superb.
Synopsis & Commentary:
This is another quality product from relatively unknown designers, which should alert us all that the industry often comes up with innovative, excellent components which had been an ambitious dream of small business owners. Since small business has little money to invest in advertising and promotion, it must come up with quality components which can be sold on sonic merit alone. Judging by what we have seen at the recent WCES in Vegas, vacuum tube components abound, but few displays offered better than average sound. It isn't easy to determine the reason for poor sound at shows, since there are too many variables to consider. At last year's Canadian show, for example, E.F. had listened to the Blue Circle setup with Von Schweichert speakers--and the experience left him with the impression that the sound wasn't great. The reason could have been the setup, the speakers, the amp or the preamp, the wires, the room and so on...
We can tell you now that the mediocre sound cannot be attributed to the amps or the preamp, because in our setups the Blue Circle components sounded great. Chances are, the Blue Circle components will sound fine with a lot of loudspeakers and the only thing left to do is to audition these fine Canadian components in an environment with which you are familiar. If you are one of the many audiophiles/ music-lovers interested in vacuum-tube technology, add the Blue Circle preamp/ amp combination to your list of components to which you must listen.