Blue Circle Audio BC3 Galatea
Ive always harbored a passion for
a Morgan motor car. Morgans, in case you arent aware, are perhaps the ultimate
personification of the British sports car. They still make em pretty much like H. F.
S. Morgan did back when his Pickersleigh Road factory started cranking out four-wheel
models in the 30s -- the chassis is still hewn from ash, and aluminum stock is still
pounded over wooden frames until it takes on the sinuous curves and flares of the classic
Morgan coachwork. Why the bonnet is even held down by a leather strap!
There are endless reasons why the +8 (my fantasy model) is
a thoroughly impractical car. Morgan doesnt make a hardtop model. Loaded with
passenger and driver -- or simply the driver, in my case -- the car only has five inches
clearance, and the suspension is not, shall we say, forgiving; therefore, you can only
really drive them pleasurably on dry, well-paved roads. Theres a two-year waiting
list at the factory (and remember, the companys British, so the queue is
sacred -- theres no jumping the line). Then, theres the small matter of price:
a completely stock +8 runs a not insubstantial £30,000. And we wont even speak of
getting one thats street legal in the US, or the possibility of finding a mechanic
here who knows his way around one. (Hey, its a British sports car -- you find a
mechanic before you buy one.)
But. But. But . . .
But, if you like to drive drive, if you like to feel
the pavement thrumming through your hands while they caress the wheel, if you like the
sensation of a hand in the small of your back pushing you into the true path through a
curve, if you want to experience the purest motoring this side of a track, the Morgan is
possibly the most genuine distillation of motor fun you can have with a vehicle whose
owners manual isnt in Italian.
To a certain kind of motoring enthusiast, all of the
Morgans shortcomings could simply be described as intrinsic components of its
When I received Blue Circles BC3 Galatea, I
immediately recognized it as the Morgans soul brother. Its non-magnetic
stainless-steel chassis is lovely, but shows the unmistakable signs of having been hand
built. This is no more a criticism than describing a +8 as handcrafted -- Blue
Circles owner Gilbert Yeung contracts a company in New Dundee to bend Blue
Circles casework to order, and they do it well, but youd never take the BC3
for a mass-produced item.
And, like the Morgan, the BC3 lacks a certain number of
convenience features, so it seems to hark back to an earlier era: It has no remote
control, it employs dual volume controls and source selectors, and it requires a certain
fearless adventurousness on the part of its owners.
And, at $4650, its a bit of a luxury -- one
definitely aimed at the enthusiast who feels that the journey itself should be as romantic
as the destination.
Any sufficiently developed technology is
indistinguishable from magic
The Blue Circle BC3 Galatea is smack in the middle of the
BC3 line. At $3300, you have the BC3 Despina, which sports the same audio circuit, but
utilizes a less complex power supply. The BC3000, at $6250, keeps the Galateas
BCG3.1 power supply and utilizes a variation on the BC3s audio circuit that includes
additional damping for the tubes themselves.
The BC3 Galatea is housed in two polished boxes of bent
stainless steel: one, bearing shoebox proportions, houses the dual-transformer truly
balanced (common-mode rejecting) DC power supply; the other contains the audio circuitry.
Both chassis bear Blue Circles distinctive, glowing blue
circle-with-a-dot-in-the-middle logo on their front panels. On the rear of the BCG3.1
power supply is an IEC power cord socket, an on/off switch, and a Neutrik connector for
the handmade Cardas-sourced twisted-pair umbilical cable that connects the power supply to
On either side of the preamps centrally located logo
are two oversized wooden knobs flanking a toggle switch. Each channel has its own volume
pot, source/monitor switch, and rotary source selector. The rear panel has accommodations
for five line-level inputs, an output and a tape loop. All of the RCA jacks are
Cardas-sourced rhodium jobbies. The dual-mono theme is carried over on the BC3s rear
panel -- each channel occupies one half of the real estate and there may be a span of as
much as a foot between a sources right and left inputs.
The BC3s lid is a U-shaped solid piece of stainless
steel, pierced by two sets of holes (two circles of eight holes surrounding a central hole
-- think large asterisk) and held to the chassis by four threaded studs designed to allow
you to remove the lid without tools. As I removed the lid, I was struck by its weight;
closer examination revealed it was damped with a large piece of Dynamat, a lead and
anthracite-tar panel-damping material widely used in autosound circles. As a result, the
steel shell was acoustically dead.
Did I mention that the preamp sits on four wood feet?
(Note: Lately many audiophiles have been touting the benefits of wood supports; some have
even made outrageous claims for them. Here you get them free -- and you can always replace
them with cheap rubber feet if you think theyre too silly.)
Inside, the look is sparse. The deep blue, transparent circuit board isnt
etched with a single trace -- Yeung uses it only as a surface to which he affixes the
circuit components, which are connected with point-to-point wiring (generally the
lead-outs of the circuit elements; elsewhere Cardas wire), and which float above the
board, except where Yeung has damped them with strategically placed gobs of silicon
The board itself employs a compressed spring suspension. In
pride of place in the boards center are two 6922 dual triode tubes. Yeung employs
these, surprisingly, in a shared configuration where the front tubes pair of triodes
function as the two channels voltage gain stages, while the rear tubes halves
buffer that output. The theoretical downside to this is that the two halves of the tube
are capacitively coupled, which might cut down on channel separation.
I asked Gilbert Yeung why he would risk this, given the
care he had otherwise taken to preserve channel separation. He acknowledged the collective
consensus that using separate tubes guaranteed separation, but opined that temperature and
voltage changes of the filaments changed the sound of the musical signal and that sharing
tubes guaranteed that the two halves of the tube would offer identical environments, and
therefore, identical sound in both channels.
The Blue Circles volume pots are extremely
impressive. They are handmade 31-element Shallco stepped attenuators. Personally, I hate
dual volume controls, but these were easier to adjust equally than most. I have to admit I
seldom had any problem achieving a proper balance or the correct volume for a given
recording; I was concerned that Yeung had chosen to arrange his resistor ladder in 31
equal 2dB steps over most of the BC3s range (the last few steps consist of two 3dB
steps, a 4dB step, and a 6dB step -- theres no full mute, the quietest the preamp
gets is 90dB down, which will leave some listeners with audible signal still coming
In my experience, steps of 2dB make it hard to fine-tune
the volume sometimes -- you have to settle for either slightly too loud or slightly too
soft. Is this really a big deal? It is to anyone who has ever heard how some records can
pop to life when the proper volume is achieved. I believe Mr. Yeung should consider
switching to .5dB steps in the most critical "middle" positions.
On the other hand, that pretty much goes through my whole
list of gripes right there. Not too shabby.
This rough magic I here abjure
The once-firm line between the sound of solid-state and
tubed gear now exists primarily as a collective hallucination shared by audiophiles not
old enough to remember when it actually existed. Does anyone really believe that
contemporary Conrad-Johnson gear sounds like Sonic Frontiers products just because
they both use tubes to amplify signal? Or that Krell and Ayre share a sound simply because
they use transistors?
I only mention this because the BC3 Galatea, ummm,
does not sound like a tubed preamp. So, just to keep a twenty-year-old audio myth
alive for another month, I have to say that the Blue Circle does not sound colored in any
way or suffer from blunted highs or weak bass. It has a crystalline clarity, a sparkling
top end, and powerful extended bass. In short, it performs essentially like a preamp at
this price ought to. It sounds good.
It does have one performance quirk I should mention up
front. Because it is a single-stage design, the preamp inverts phase. This isnt a
problem as long as you remember to switch the polarity of your speaker leads as well
(unless, of course, your amplifier also inverts phase, in which case, youre back to
a normal connection at the speaker).
The magic of the sea and the voice of that wayward song
I auditioned the BC3 Galatea with a variety of power
amplifiers, including the Krell FPB-300c, the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300, the VTL
TT-25s, and the Ayre V-5. It drove them all well, with a seductive, musically relaxed
sense of authenticity, but it really seemed to cotton to the Ayre amplifier. Whatever the
reason, I was infatuated with the combination and foreswore all others for the rest of the
audition. The Blue Circle/Ayre combination was magical.
I recently discovered Islands deluxe editions of the
great Wailers recordings. These are two-disc affairs that give us the original Jamaican
recording sessions for Trojan on one disc and the remastered "prettied-up"
Island versions on the other. Wailers fans have debated the merits of the two for years
and while, like many hardcore reggae fans, I prefer the rawer, less densely orchestrated
Trojan recordings, I really like having newly remixed versions of the slicker Island
I started my audition with Catch A Fire [Island/Tuff
Gong 314 548 635-2]. The Blue Circle Galatea/Ayre V-5 drove the Dynaudio Evidence
Temptations like a dream -- pulling deep, elemental dub bass from the lines "Family
Man" Barrett laid down over thirty years ago. This was true reggae bass, too -- the
kind that hits you physically in the chest and then falls to the floor with an audible
It was like hearing the Wailers again for the first time.
The sound was physical -- it wasnt just the tidal pull of the deep bass, the music
just demanded that you dance. And then, those lyrics! If youve started to feel as
though reggae has been incorporated into pop musics Esperanto -- just one more
flavor in the international musical stew -- you owe it to yourself to hear these songs
again. In Catch A Fire, the Wailers were still a band with two strong songwriters,
for every "Concrete Jungle" by Bob Marley, there was a "400 Years" by
Although the bass was what grabbed me, what kept me
listening was the way the BC3 captured the pace and timing of the music. Everything
started and stopped precisely when it should have -- there was no blur or overhang.
I was similarly captivated by the way the BC3 reproduced
the signature acoustic of Blue Heaven Studio on John Atkinsons most recent
recording: Musical Fidelitys Antony Michaelson playing Mozarts and
Brahms clarinet quintets [STPH 015-2]. The studio has a distinctive, bright,
supportive bloom totally at odds with the modern "deadness=perfection" studio
sound of most big-time recording venues.
In addition, Michaelson plays a unique instrument, a
bespoke clarinet tuned to A (rather than the conventional B flat). You wouldnt think
that a half-step lower would make much of a difference, but Michaelsons tone is huge.
Antony recently offered to play for me, and I will definitely take him up on it, as long
as he promises not to point that thing at me! Its tone is so big, its scary.
And the BC3 Galatea just thrived on capturing the small
touches that distinguish Blue Heaven from the dead-zone studio. It caught the fast echo of
the little brick church, and it nested Michaelsons voluminous tone on its
oh-so-unique cushion of air. And the instrument itself? It may well be a licorice stick,
but in Antonys hands it was red hot -- a searing brand that capered above and around
Mozarts lovely themes and Brahms profound ones.
The BC3 is a soundstaging wonder. It even managed to make
assembled-in-the-studio mixes -- such as the gimmicky, but extremely effective, Rêver
Mieux by Daniel Bélanger [Audiogram ADCD 19150] -- sound 3D and totally real. (This
disc is one of the gems I returned with from the Montreal Son & Image show -- many
thanks to Paradigms Mark Aling for demoing with it.) Bélanger thinks nothing of
adding echo to a line or of employing a flanger or other studio effect on his voice --
hes creating an emotional sonic landscape that doesnt follow the same rules as
the one we live in. And it works -- and the BC3 can present that world with a palpable
We must not let in daylight upon our magic.
My reference preamp remains the Ayre K-1x, a design with
more than a passing resemblance to the BC3 Galatea -- at least in several important ways.
First, it too employs a Shallco-based resistive ladder volume control, albeit a
46-position model with 1dB steps rather than the BC3s coarser 31-position 2dB
ladder. It also sports a hefty outboard power supply and a, shall we say, idiosyncratic
layout that reflects its designers non-linear approach to problem solving.
Of course, the $6750 Ayre is solid state, while the $4650
BC3 Galatea has tubes. Yet they sound amazingly alike. Both have liquid, intensely musical
presentations that emphasize what is good about the recordings they play. Both have the
resolving power to reveal poor recordings and clumsy edits, but neither preamp calls an
undue amount of attention to such matters. The music comes first, you know.
Where the two part company is in the deep, deep bass --
such as the synthesized bass on Fila Brazillias A Touch of Cloth [Tritone
001]. Here, the Ayre presents the deep synth tones with the same force and power as any
thumbed bass line; the BC3 did a good job, but it lacked the sheer punch of its
Preamplifier: Ayre K-1x, Krell KCT
CD players: Audio
Research DS3, Perreaux ECD2
Power Amplifier: Ayre V-5, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300,
VTL-TT-25, Krell FPB-300c
Loudspeakers: Dynaudio Evidence Temptation
Cables: AudioTruth Midnight, AudioQuest Dragon, DiMarzio
M-Path, DiMarzio Super M-Path
Accessories: Osar Selway Audio Racks, AudioQuest Big Feet
and Little Feet, Vibrapods, PS Audio Ultimate Outlet, PS Audio Power Plant P600
Room treatment: ASC Tube Traps, Slim Jims, Bass Traps
Auditioning the Brahms/Mozart quintets disc,
I was more convinced by the woody overtones of Michaelsons sound through the Ayre --
it captured the darkness among the HF sparkle, a detail that simply was lost with the BC3.
And, I hate to belabor the point, the Ayres volume
pot was better able to get the sound just right than the Blue Circle's. Taken on
its own, I didnt ever really feel the BC3 missed the mark regarding full-sized
sound, but head-to-head with the Ayre, it tended to be slightly off of my preferred
response levels. But most people dont have a second preamp to compare with
the Blue Circle -- not in everyday use, anyhow -- so this might well never present a
When you consider that the Ayre K-1x is fully
differentially balanced -- and costs almost half again as much as the BC3 Galatea
-- its not surprising that it can better that preamps bass extension and
low-level resolution. Put another way, the BC3 Galatea is worthy of comparison with the
finest preamplifiers I have personally experienced.
Once more weave together emotion, thought, and magic
The Blue Circle BC3 Galatea is definitely a profoundly good
preamplifier, but its not for everyone. Like my beloved Morgans, its a little
wild for some audiophiles, while its spartan handmade splendor might well be another
audiophiles "hair shirt" component. I know many people who would never own
a preamp that lacked remote control -- lets not even mention dual-mono volume pots.
But other audio enthusiasts -- especially those of us who
remember the good old days when the people who gave the companies their names were still
active hobbyists -- will be entranced by the Blue Circles make-no-concessions audio
purity and unique vision. And when you consider that you
get all that in a hand-built, individually assembled
package capable of standing side by side with some of audios finest products,
its enough to tempt anybody with even a spec of audio romance left alive in his
There are many fantastic audio products available today,
but for the right music lover the BC3 Galatea offers all of that and some good
old-fashioned magic, too.
Blue Circle Audio BC3 Galatea Preamplifier
Price: $4650 USD
Warranty: Three years parts and labor (90 days on tubes)
Blue Circle Audio, Inc.
Innerkip, Ontario, Canada N0J 1M0
Phone: (519) 469-3215
Fax: (519) 469-3782