B.M.C. AUDIO PUREAMP integrated amplifier / PUREDAC MK2 DAC-preamp
THIS is a review assignment with a joyful difference for me. Not only am I tasked with reviewing a source component (the PureDAC) with its matching integrated amplifier (the PureAmp, no prizes for guessing) from the same highly regarded manufacturer, Germany’s B.M.C Audio, as a pair, I even get premium speaker cables which cost more than almost any single electronics component I own thrown in to boot!
Oehlbach XXL series loudspeaker cables had to be provided as the B.M.C PureAmp only accepts Speakon connectors, which, like most of us, I did not happen to have lying around attached to any of my own speaker cables.
I had heard of B.M.C prior to this encounter with their wares, but wasn’t aware they had an affordable entry-level line chock full of the proprietary technology found in their costlier offerings. How is this possible, you ask?
Well, for starters, the components are made in China, but this is no mere sub-contract job – the company apparently owns the factory and the designer, Carlos Candeias (yes, indeed he’s German), actually is on the ground in the Middle Kingdom, having lived there for about two decades. B.M.C also apparently runs a unique business model, which seeks to keep parties at the sales end of the chain commercially profitable and happy, yet being able to meet its competitive pricing objective.
BITS AND PARTS: Looking at the B.M.C components, one can only marvel at their simple but unique shape and quality fit and finish, being first class by my reckoning. Nice ideas abound, such as use of the heat sink at the bottom of the PureAmp as its back feet for support. Adjustable-brightness, clearly legible, fluorescent displays occupy the front fascia.
The PureAmp can function as an integrated amplifier or as a power amplifier. An all-solid state design, it’ll kick out 100wpc into eight ohms and features B.M.C.’s unique and exclusive technologies. This includes Load Effect Free (LEF) amplification, which seeks to avoid distortion and achieve increased efficiency, Current Injection (CI), and its Discrete Intelligent Gain Management (DIGM) volume and amplification control system. The last recalibrates gain without dividing and downgrading the input signal, avoiding unnecessary attenuation of the input signal and excessive amplification, eliminating the need for a preamp circuit, and allowing a DAC or other sound sources to directly connect to the amp.
Four line-level input pairs are provided, two pairs being RCAs, the other two being balanced XLR inputs (well, the “B” in B.M.C does stand for “balanced”). Speaker terminals are exclusively of the Speakon variety.
The dimensions are a relatively compact 365 x 328 x 103 mm (w/d/h), and the amp weighs about 11.5 kg. What might confuse a casual observer is the presence of two Toslink connectors at the rear – no, they do not link into any internal DACs, but allow for B.M.C’s unique connection scheme, B.M.C. Link, when used balanced with a component like the PureDAC.
The PureDAC, apart from being just a DAC, can function as a balanced preamplifier, if one sticks only with digital sources, and a balanced headphone amplifier (output via a four pin XLR connection).
The preamp and headphone amp also employ B.M.C.’s LEF technology, and again, uses its DIGM volume and amplification control scheme. It has separate volume controls for the preamp and headphone amp, a high-resolution asynchronous USB interface, digital AES/EBU, Toslink and coaxial inputs, balanced analogue outputs, RCA output jacks and, like the partnering PureAmp, the proprietary balanced B.M.C. Link using Current Injection for top level signal purity.
The USB interface accepts signals of up to 32-bit/384kHz resolution, has bundled drivers for Windows, Linux and Mac compatibility, and does DSD64 as well as DSD128. Physical dimensions are 365 x 328 x 103mm (WDH) and weight is at about 5.4 kg.
IN CONCERT: Most of the listening was with the B.M.C components paired on their own terms, although I did hook up a vinyl source consisting of a Roksan Xerxes-RB1000-Benz Ace L through a Parasound Halo JC3 phone stage via balanced connection to the PureAmp. I, unfortunately, could not test the headphone outlet of the PureDAC, not having suitable headphones around.
This is one of the most remarkably transparent source-amplification components I have ever heard at anywhere near this price, close to nothing impeding the source signal coming through the speakers. “Very good” became gob-smacking delicious when the B.M.C Link connection scheme was used, the difference being instantly noticeable – here was an even higher level of purity and transparency when one already had been suitably impressed using the “normal” XLR connection scheme. The gear then just seems to get more out of the way of the music in this mode.
With the B.M.C Link engaged, the PureDAC was effectively the source-preamp and the PureAmp effectively the power amp (if I understand B.M.C’s literature correctly) – all volume control was via the PureDAC end. The phrase where metaphorical veils are lifted is so overused, yet I’m not sure it adequately describes my reaction – it’s like the amp-digital source pairing in B.M.C Link mode makes you realise you never noticed the elephant in the narrow corridor you pass through every day because it’s always been there, and now you do, because the elephant just got sent on vacation.
All these amounts of intricate detail and finesse never come at the listener in a clinical, sterile manner. In fact, as impressed as one is with these aspects, the more important factor in the longer run is how the presentation makes one react to the music overall, and in my view, the B.M.C pair delivers with a whole lotta heart and soul.
On rock tracks, the sound was propulsive and at its head-banging best, one wanting to get up and dance. This is the best I have heard my Blue Man Group and Black Keys CDs sound, the qualities that impressed me, from recollection of listening to the same CDs via the Naim DAC-V1-Mesa Baron pairing as my previous high water mark, are now allied to a sense of and ease of access I have not experienced in my own listening room.
Play a wonderful female vocal like Rumer singing about the troubled girl in her Aretha hit, and the lyrics just seem to re-engage you even if you’ve heard the song umpteen times. Even older, simpler recordings like Italian chestnut Come Prima by Marino Marini take on a level of immediacy and emotional feel not usually heard. This is truly a genre-agnostic pairing when it comes to reproducing the essence of the musical message.
The hi-fi aspects also never disappoint – lovely spacious, soundstages where the recordings permit, silky airy highs, absence of grain and grit, lovely reproduction of the sense of depth, speed and superb dynamics. Bass is powerful, firm and well defined. Indeed, given about the same volume setting, which wasn’t all that loud, the PureAmp reproduced dynamics better and with less sense of restraint, microdynamic changes being all the more stark, than the pairing of a Naim 122X preamplifier-Teddy Pardo power supply and a Mesa Baron power amp, the latter sounding like the music was that bit more compressed.
Great as the pairing is, I melted like putty when playing vinyl through the PureAmp. Dee Dee Bridgewater’s cover of Elton John’s Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word sounded simply out of this world. What speed, control and clarity there were on tap, with a spacious and fabulously open access to the intricate percussion and other various instrumentation used in the production. This is one of the tracks I had forgotten about, but had used extensively in my assessment of components when I started out in hi-fi about three decades ago, and I can’t think of ever hearing it sound better before.
Good as the PureDAC is, listening to vinyl was what impressed me the more, this being the first time since acquiring my Parasound JC-3 some years back that I have heard it in a balanced-connection system. While the Naim-Mesa set up had perhaps that little bit more palpable presence, taking the B.M.C PureAmp out of the system certainly left me with withdrawal symptoms!
APPLAUSE: My, oh my, does this B.M.C pair impress. It’s like having a date with a girl that’s got you smitten, you then luck out when she brings her equally charming sister along for the date and all three of you genuinely enjoy each other’s company! If you are an all-digital system user, this is a very fine pair which I believe you will need to spend a lot more to meaningfully better.
BUT…: Can’t think of much here when looking at this pairing. Okay, maybe the Speakon connectors and the four-pin XLR headphones outlet may make things a little inconvenient, and the looks may not work for all. And if you want more sense of presence and that spooky, eerie, “they-are-here”ness, and a little more warmth to the sound, a good Single-Ended Triode valve amp with suitable speakers might be more your cup of tea than the PureAmp.
Also, the magic is in the pairing run via the proprietary B.M.C Link. While I did spend time with the individual B.M.Cs with my own in-house components, I never felt that I could do better than let the pairing work as intended.
FINALE: I like these B.M.C components immensely, though I am perhaps more slightly partial to the PureAmp. This is the kind of performance and value for money I would want from any hi-fi component I own, and boy, do I wish I owned them. Yeah, sure, Devialet, FM Acoustics and Soulution amps would give one bigger bragging rights, but for sanely-priced specialist hi-fi, B.M.C’s Pure range is a mandatory listen if you want maximum bang for your buck. Recommended, enthusiastically!
Sources: Apple Macbook Air (Audirvana) and Dell (Windows 7-Foobar 2000) laptops, Toshiba SD1200 DVD player and QLS-550 WAV File Player as transports, Roksan Xerxes-RB1000-Benz ACE L / Amplification: Parasound JC-3 phono stage / Speakers: Sonus faber Guarneri Homage, Triangle Ikoto / Wires: Symo XLR balanced and Western Electric RCA interconnects, diyParadise Whitesnake RCA digital coaxial, no brand Toslink cable for B.M.C Link connection, Oehlbach XXL series loudspeaker cables
Price: US$1,790 (PureDAC MK2) / US$2,690 (PureAmp)
Malaysian price: RM9,236 (PureDAC MK2) / RM15,037 (PureAmp)
Malaysian distributor: Audio Art (+605-243 2339) / Dealer: Living Audio (+6019-5710383)