In 2010 I put together a high-quality field recording system starting with a pair of remarkable omni microphones developed by the late Joe Grado. His HMP-1 microphone is likely the most natural sounding mic ever developed for acoustic recording. I paired it with a Sound Devices 722 stereo digital recorder and started making high resolution 24/96 recordings of acoustical music in Antonello Hall at the MacPhail Center for Music in downtown Minneapolis. I have made dozens of recordings over the years and always monitor the live event using a pair of closed back Denon headphones direct from the 722. These acoustic recording experiences have taught me much about listening. How to recognize natural timbres, dynamic musical cues and the presence of low distortion and deep information retrieval in the playback chain. It also revealed how much was missing when listening through my reference system at the time. A system with numerous boxes, a classic analog and digital playback system architecture with many power cords and analog and digital interconnects. A rather long chain with the chance for signal loss and introduction of added noise and distortion at each link in the chain. A typical high-end audio system.
When we decided that Bel Canto needed a flagship or halo product design that would go well beyond any of our current products I was inspired by my recording experiences to conceive of a system that would introduce minimal signal loss, with extremely low distortion and noise and maximum dynamic range. This approach would ensure that I could hear everything that I expected from my recordings. This led me to conceive of a system architecture that is well outside the traditional high-end audio system paradigm. My concept of the original BLACK System began with a thought experiment: how to best combine edge of the art analog and digital design and architectural choices to achieve an audio system that would preserve all of the original recorded information that was presented to it from any source. A simple, yet demanding goal.
The BLACK System concept starts with the ASC1 and subsequently the ASC2 controller/processor that receives the source information. Digital source inputs are processed to remove jitter artifacts, analog inputs are immediately converted with a high dynamic range converter. In this way all signal inputs flow through the same optimized lossless signal path through the ASC2 Controller to the MPS1 Power Converters and out to the loudspeaker terminals. The MPS1 units are mono Power Converters that contain a minimalist, 3-stage analog signal path from DAC through to the 1200 W capable power outputs. Each MPS1 receives the signal from the ASC2 through high speed fiberoptic connections guaranteeing that no noise is produced from the fiber interconnects nor are they subject to electrical noise from any outside source. The fiber also provides complete galvanic isolation between the 3 units in the BLACK System, this prevents any possibility of ground loops or other noise coupling. The critical analog electronics in the MPS1 are custom class A discrete circuits using the best parts. These circuits are cocooned within an optimum environment. The cocoon is both mechanical, result of the massive billet machined chassis and damped construction, and electrical, result of the galvanic isolation and multi-stage power supply regulation. The BLACK System architecture and design delivers an ultra-wide system dynamic range of 128dB at the loudspeaker outputs. The sonic and musical results can be described simply as utter musicality, revealing the true sound of any musical source recording that you send through the BLACK System.
I will expand on further evolution of the BLACK System and my personal experiences living with it in future installments.