SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIHot Product Archives

Published November 15, 2004

 

Blue Circle Audio BC3 Galatea Mk II Preamplifier

I reviewed the original version of the BC3 Galatea preamplifier in May 2002, and concluded that it sounded liquid and intensely musical, with resolving power galore. My cavils were relatively minor -- it lacked a remote, and I found its 2dB increments of volume adjustment less precise than I would have preferred. Also, compared with my reference Ayre K-1 preamp ($6750 USD), the BC3 ($4560) lacked some degree of bass impact.

Still, I found the BC3 Galatea extremely impressive, especially because I had the impression that Blue Circle Audio wasn’t so much a manufacturing superpower as designer Gilbert Yeung’s extra bedroom (or den or garage). I don’t mean that as a put-down -- I couldn’t design or build a preamp from scratch, much less a full line of audio products with logical gradations of cost and quality. Rather, I meant that Blue Circle was a direct link to audio’s hobbyist roots, when lone-wolf geniuses created an entire industry based on offering something uniquely better.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when Yeung e-mailed me that the BC3 Galatea had continued to evolve and that he had unleashed on the world a Mk II version. Would I like to audition it?

I did it for you. Really!

This was the appearance and structure of the wheels

The BC3 Galatea Mk II costs $4995 -- or $5595, if you need it balanced. Like the original, it uses dual-triode, single-ended class-A topology and is almost aggressively dual-mono in its signal path, down to dual volume controls and input selectors and mirror-imaged inputs. Yeung still hand-assembles them, relying exclusively on point-to-point hardwiring with no printed circuit boards carrying the signal. Only 1% metal-film resistors are used -- and only five of those per channel.

200411_bluecircle_bc3_mkii_back.jpg (11270 bytes)However, the Mk II version uses a different kind of internal wiring typically used in the aerospace industry -- and the wiring layout has been changed to reduce noise. It also features twice the capacitance of the original for the onboard power supply, as well as dual HexFred rectifiers and ultra-high-speed power-supply capacitors. There’s also twice as much capacitance on the BC3’s output coupling caps, which, Yeung claims, improves the bass response.

In the Mk II Yeung has taken a different approach to vibration control, employing rubber feet rather than the Mk I’s wooden ones, and silicone-bubble tube-mount sockets, which he first used in his top-of-the-line AG3000 preamp. Best of all, Yeung has marked the faceplate so you don’t have to count volume-control clicks any more, and has included a High/Low internal level switch, which gives you a lot more control over volume gradation.

The umbilical cable that carries the DC from the power supply to the audio circuit is now made in-house by Blue Circle. And, if you must match existing equipment, Blue Circle offers a range of colors for the BC3's cover (the power supply remains stainless steel).

They sparkled like chrysolite

So does any of that make a difference? I think so. I haven’t heard the Mk I for two years, so I’d be full of it if I told you I remembered its sound precisely enough to make a meaningful comparison. But I continue to use many of the same reference components daily, and I used a lot of the same audition material for this review. My impressions of the Mk II are surprisingly similar to my conclusions about the Mk I, with a few significant differences.

First and foremost, if I had any misgivings about the Mk I’s bottom-end impact, the Mk II made them gone, gone, gone. I pulled out my copy of The Wailers’ Catch a Fire [CD, Tuff Gong/Island 314 548 635-2] and was almost physically assaulted by Aston "Family Man" Barrett’s deep, throbbing bass lines. If you think that tubes must blunt the impact of deep bass, you need to do a reality check with the BC3 Mk II -- you have another think coming. I mean, you have another thunk coming.

That impact doesn’t come at the expense of traditional tube delicacy or detail, however. Antony Michaelson’s recording of the Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets [CD, Stereophile STPH015-2] are rendered with a delicacy and holographic imaging that peppered my arms and neck with goose bumps. Michaelson’s warm, woody tone was magical -- and he and his fellow musicians inhabited the rear quarter of my listening room with remarkable solidity.

This was due, in no small part, to another improvement in the Mk II over the Mk I -- its volume control. My hatred of dual volume controls was the big reason I surrendered my much-beloved Audible Illusions Modulus II 20 years ago to embark on the upgrade path that eventually led me to professional reviewing (that’s it -- blame Art Ferris). However, despite the inconvenience of having two volume knobs, the Mk II was a lot easier to use than the Mk I, for two reasons: First, the simple act of marking the front panel has made adjusting the two channels to the same volume much easier. Second, being able to adjust gain to match the gain of your speaker-amp combination makes a huge difference.






How did those two changes make the Michaelson quintets disc sound more real? Simple -- in my experience, every recording of acoustic music has one volume setting (and generally only one) at which it sounds truly natural. Miss that setting by as little as 1dB and the sound never locks in. The Mk II’s greater sensitivity went a long way toward helping me hit that magic volume point -- and its front-panel stencil went a long way toward helping me hit that mark time and time again.

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day

Without having a BC3 Galatea Mk I on hand to directly compare with a Mk II, I can’t swear that the differences I heard are a huge improvement, but I’m certain that they do represent improvements -- certainly in ease of use, if not in sound.

But I think the Mk II is a big improvement sonically, because when Gilbert Yeung needed mine back, I had second thoughts. In fact, once it left the house, I requested it back at his earliest convenience for another round of auditions. He graciously acquiesced, and I went through many of my favorite recordings again -- and again. I liked the BC3 Mk I, too, but when it came time to say goodbye, I moved on to my next audio victim without groveling for a second chance

Of course, you might not have the same reaction to the BC3 Galatea Mk II, but if it’s been a long time since an audio product has given you goose bumps, you might want to find out if the Blue Circle preamp can remind you of what the magic of music is all about.

’Cause that’s what it did for me -- and that’s one thing I’m sure of.

...Wes Phillips
wes@onhifi.com

Blue Circle Audio BC3 Galatea Mk II Preamplifier
Price: $4995 USD ($5595 for balanced version).
Warranty: Three years parts and labor (90 days on tubes).

Blue Circle Audio
RR2
Innerkip, Ontario, Canada
N0J 1M0
Phone: (519) 469-3215
Fax: (519) 469-3782

Website: www.bluecircle.com


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