Perfect condition Phono3 VB with LNS1 external power supply (9/10) and Ref VB 12V power cable. Original everything including manual, packaging (x2), power cord and catalog. External (rear panel) DIP switches allow easy changes to gain, resistive and capacitive loading. A damn fine phono stage.
Also have a new silver face plate with the updated look. Purchased for the Phono3 VB, but never installed as I kept it with other BCD gear with the original look (square corners). Paid $175, available for $150. Happy to install prior to shipping, but you want it, you're getting both face plates for an additional $150.
Two separate packages, so shipping and insurance need to be discussed prior to final sale.
The Bel Canto new e.One PHONO3VB RIAA preamplifier builds on the remarkable musical performance of the PRe2P phono preamplifier architecture. Using the same signal path, power supply architecture and parts quality of the PRe2P Phono Stage in a more compact chassis with rear panel accessible gain and loading adjustments the e.One PHONO3VB is a complete high performance solution for the serious LP lover.
A custom low-noise high-isolation power supply and double stage low noise regulation insure that the e.One PHONO3VB audio circuits get low noise, wideband power for the highest musical resolution possible.
Gain Settings of 40 or 60 dB provide compatibility with most cartridges. Input loading settings for both input resistance and capacitance provide optimum matching for a wide range of moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. Custom audio grade resistors, capacitors and gain stages provide a musical experience that will enhance the enjoyment of your LP collection.
IMPORTANT: Needs either LNS1 or VBS1 external power supply
RIAA Accuracy: 20Hz-20KHz +/- 0.2 dB
Signal to Noise Ratio 40 dB gain: >80 dB A weighted, re 5mV RMS in
Distortion @ 2 Volt RMS/1kHz: 10W
Power Off usage: 0.0W
Internally Set Operating Voltages (LNS1 or VBS1): 100-120VAC or 230-240VAC 50/60 Hz
Dimensions: 8.5” W x 12.5” D x 3” H (216 mm x 318 mm x 75 mm)
Weight:10 lbs. (4.5 kg)
Review of the NON VB version of the Phono3.
Bel Canto e.One Phono3 Phono Stage
The traditional way to begin a review of a phono preamplifier is to lament the need for a standalone device. While it’s true that in decades past most preamplifiers and integrated amps featured a built-in phono stage, these were mostly a matter of convenience; serious vinyl lovers were already looking for better performance than these devices usually offered. Many phono preamplifiers are now available for a few hundred dollars, but these deliver performance roughly equivalent to what you’re likely to find with a built-in stage. The subject of this review, the Bel Canto e.One Phono3 ($1595 USD), is squarely aimed at the vinylphile looking for better performance at a reasonable price.
The Phono3 measures 8.5"W x 3"H x 12"D and weighs a substantial 10 pounds. In appearance, the Phono3 matches the other components in Bel Canto’s new e.One series. The front panel is a piece of 1/2"-thick aluminum, with a long, wide slot with rounded ends milled out of its center. If you have other e.One components, you’ll appreciate the uniform look, but I found that, in a rack of mixed components, the Phono3 just looked odd.
On other e.One components, the central slot frames the display and controls, but here it’s occupied by only a single blue LED, which lights up whenever the Phono3 is plugged in. Everything else is found on the rear panel: high-quality, chassis-mounted RCA terminals for input and output, and a screw-terminal for tonearm grounding. Power is supplied to the Phono3 by your choice of IEC terminated cord -- I used the one provided.
The Phono3 is designed around high-quality audio amplifier chips, and runs entirely in class-A. Signal bandwidth is specified as 1Hz to 50kHz -- any wider would be pointless for a phono preamp. Accuracy to the RIAA curve is within +/-0.2dB, 20Hz-20kHz. The signal/noise ratio is stated to be a respectable 80dB at the 40dB gain setting, referenced to a 5mV input. Self noise (i.e., the Phono3’s output with no input signal present) isn’t specified, but I found the Bel Canto to be, subjectively, as quiet as other high-quality phono stages. The Phono3 consumes 10W at idle -- since it has no power switch, that means whenever it’s plugged in. The constant power keeps the circuitry operating at the proper temperature and always ready to play. Fortunately, that 10W will add less than $10 to your annual electric bill.
The Phono3 has two sets of DIP switches, one per channel, for adjusting gain and cartridge loading. Rather than the user having to remove the top panel to make such adjustments, these switches are conveniently located on the rear panel. There are 14 choices of resistive loading, including the standard 47k ohms, and eight choices of capacitive loading. While I’ve seen phono preamplifiers with more settings, the selection offered by the Phono3 should meet the requirements of all but the most esoteric phono cartridges. Somewhat more constraining is the choice of only two gain settings, 40 and 60dB.
Most moving-magnet and high-output moving-coil cartridges have a nominal output voltage of 2-5mV. If the Phono3’s 40dB gain option is selected, the output will then be 200-500mV. An input signal of that level will be sufficient when used with an active preamplifier, or integrated amp with preamplifier stage, but may not be enough to drive a passive preamp. The same consideration applies to the use of low-output moving coils, which typically put out 0.2-0.5mV when used with the 60dB setting. More gain may be needed for some low-output cartridges, and it would be useful to have some intermediate gain settings. If, for example, the output of your cartridge is 3.0mV -- as is that of my Shure V15XMR -- the output of the Phono3 will be, nominally, 300mV. That’s not a problem when used with a preamplifier of 500mV sensitivity, but it’s too low for one with a sensitivity of 1–2V. Increasing the gain to the 60dB setting for that same 3.0mV-output cartridge will result in an input to the preamplifier of 3V. Now the driving voltage is sufficient, but with a substantial increase in noise. This doesn’t mean that the Phono3 is a bad design, but it does suggest that consideration be paid to the equipment with which it is to be used.
Setting up the Phono3 was quick and uncomplicated. Pull it out of the thick packing foam, and adjust the DIP switches on the rear to best match your cartridge (whose manual should include recommendations for loading). Place the Bel Canto on a convenient shelf on your equipment rack, connect the inputs and outputs, and plug it in. The whole operation took me less than five minutes. At that point, you’ll probably want to start spinning records, but Bel Canto recommends letting the Phono3 burn in for at least 100 hours. To me, it sounded fine after having had a few hours to reach thermal equilibrium.
True to its manufacturer’s name, the e.One Phono3 presented music in bel canto style. It was sweet and fluid. I’ve heard thankfully few analog front-ends that have been harsh or fatiguing, but the Phono3 distinguished itself with an exceptionally inviting sound that led to some of the longest listening sessions I’ve had in quite a while. I heard an ease and naturalness with the Phono3 that was intoxicating. This fluidity and sweetness didn’t seem to be something covering the signal, but rather the result of its adding very few artifacts.
At first I thought the Phono3’s high frequencies somewhat curtailed. But as I listened more to it, I decided that its highs just weren’t drawing undue attention to themselves. Many designers will tip up a component’s frequency response to create an impression of more extended highs. At other times, what the listener perceives as high-frequency extension is actually a slight bump in the mid-high frequencies. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but the Phono3 evidently wasn’t designed that way. Its frequency response extended smoothly into the highest treble in perfect proportion to the rest of the range.
I didn’t notice the highest frequencies as such -- they became evident in the harmonic textures of voices and instruments. Whether it was John Coltrane’s saxophone, massed strings, or Alison Krauss’s angelic voice, the presence of such harmonic information -- in the proper proportions -- was a better representation of the sounds of real instruments than I’m accustomed to hearing from analog or digital.
From my initial comments about the sweetness of the Bel Canto’s sound, you might think it had a lush midrange. However, I heard "lushness" only when the recording itself was particularly lush. Rather than a sweetness resulting from sonic syrup poured over everything, the Phono3 had the clean sweetness of spring air. In fact, the distinguishing characteristic of the Phono3’s midrange was its lack of character. It wasn’t lush or lean, highlighted or recessed. Although what I heard through the Bel Canto was usually pleasing, it changed with the recording -- which is exactly how any component should behave.
The Phono3 did have a particular character in the low frequencies. Its bass didn’t give an impression of exceptional depth or power; rather, it was articulate and tuneful. Walking bass lines in particular were served extremely well by the Phono3. Each note had a precise pitch and tonal structure, and occupied a defined interval of time. The decay of each plucked note was rendered naturally, with no additional bloom or overhang.
Many classical recordings, particularly of large-scale orchestral works, can benefit from a little more bass depth and weight. While such a sound is not always strictly accurate, a bit of extra bloom can add to the grandeur of such music. Absent such grandeur, you gain the ability to hear clear articulations from the double-basses. The difference is akin to hearing an orchestra in a large, reverberant hall vs. a smaller, drier one. In this respect the Bel Canto Phono3 fit my priorities, though it may not fit yours. Alternatively, if your speakers have weightier bass than my minimonitors, the balance may be just right.
Rock recordings can go either way. Additional power from the bass guitar and bass drum can help make a recording sound more physical. In one way, that boosts the energy level, but too much bass can also make a song feel slow. The quick, taut bass of the Phono3 lent rock recordings a different sort of energy that propelled the music along.
One aspect of analog playback that I’ve found to be greatly dependent on the quality of the phono preamplifier is soundstaging. Most preamplifiers can preserve the left-right spread very well, but there are significant differences in depth among the various designs I've heard. To be sure, not all recordings have a sense of depth to portray, but when it was there -- as on any of the RCA Living Stereo recordings of the Boston Symphony or Chicago Symphony -- the Phono3 could produce a cavernous sound. Such a natural sense of depth isn’t to be found and appreciated only on classical recordings. When listening to Buddy Guy and Junior Wells’ Drinkin’ TNT ’N Smokin’ Dynamite (LP, Blind Pig BLP 1182), it was easy to close my eyes and imagine that I was there at the Montreux Jazz Festival, so natural was the sense of space.
Bel Canto Design e.One Phono3
Price: $1595 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Bel Canto Design
212 Third Avenue North, Suite 274
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: (612) 317-4550
Fax: (612) 359-9358