Blue Circle Audio BCG3.1 Power Supply
by Doug Schneider
Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades -- just when you find a piece of equipment you absolutely love, the manufacturer goes and changes it.
So it is with the Blue Circle BC3 linestage preamplifier and its companion, the separate BCG3 power supply. When I first laid eyes on the esoteric BC3, I loved it -- dual volume and selector controls, large wooden knobs, spartan simplicity, stainless-steel chassis. The BC3 is not for the feature lover, but its perfect for someone who wants something fabulous-sounding and a little bit different. The BC3, with separate BCG3 power supply, is a bargain at its $3300 price tag.
At the time I bought the BC3 it was Blue Circle's best linestage -- in fact, it was the companys only linestage. But today things have changed, and there is not only a new, lower-priced model, but also a new $6250 top dog dubbed the BC3000. The BC3000 looks the same as the BC3, but is improved internally and comes standard with a new external power supply, the BCG3.1. It just so happens that BC3 owners can make a middle-ground leap by adding the BCG3.1 power supply to replace the BCG3, and herein lies the subject of this review.
The price to move up a decimal point? A not-insubstantial $1350 if you trade in your old BCG3 power supply, and $1620 if you don't. You can also get the BCG3.1 at the time of purchase of your BC3. The total price is $4650, and Blue Circle calls this combination the BC3 Galatea. Astute observers will note that the price difference equates to no savings. Call that a good thing for current BC3 owners and a great thing if you're a little short on cash and want to spring only for a BC3 in its basic form (which Blue Circle calls the BC3 Despina) with the possibility of upgrade later.
The BCG3 comes in an all-metal, black chassis; the BCG3.1 comes in a longer, stainless-steel chassis that matches the BC3 and BC3000. On the outside are an illuminated Blue Circle emblem on the front, and a single power switch, IEC receptacle and umbilical connector on the back. While the BCG3 uses a no-name twisted threesome of blue-jacketed wires as an umbilical, the BCG3.1 comes with a Cardas-made cord that attaches to the back of the BC3 or BC3000. Inside, all internal wiring is Cardas and there are dual transformers for higher current capacity and all HEXFET diodes in the rectifier. All this sits atop wooden feet.
Swapping in the power supply is a few-second job. The BCG3.1 replaced the BCG3, sat beside its little brother on the floor, and attached to the BC3 linestage -- shazzam, set to go. Other system components included the Theta Data Basic transport and Theta Prime II DAC with a Camelot Dragon Pro2 digital signal processor. Digital wiring was Nirvana Audio's T1 and T2 digital interconnects (all that for spinning and decoding CDs...whew, the life of an audiophile). I used my Blue Circle BC2 mono amplifiers for power, with speakers that included the Merlin TSM, Gershman Acoustics X-1, Speaker Art Clef and Super Clef, and in the end Cliffhanger Audio's new model. Interconnects and speaker cables were also by Nirvana Audio, the S-L series.
I must say that the performance difference between the BCG3 and BCG3.1 was not easy to discern at first. I was expecting to hear a certain kind of difference that simply did not exist. It took me days before I could really get a handle on what was happening. In fact, I almost gave up!
The overall tone and frequency extension sounded, at least to me, identical. At the end of the review period, and now that the BCG3.1 is my own, I have learned that tonality is identical to that of the BCG3, which means that the basic sound of the BC3 did not change. What I went into the review expecting just did not materialize. However, after countless days of power-supply swapping, with plenty of back-and-forth listening, I finally comprehended what was happening. While listening for one thing, I missed others. And once I did hear what the improved power supply was doing, it was not hard to mistake.
While the essential character of the sound remained the same, the BCG3.1 provided finesse, control, resolution and, for lack of a better word, refinement. Not that the BC3/BCG3 does not have refinement -- it does in spades. The BC3/BCG3.1 combo is just a bit better.
The bass performance, the low notes of a piano, the rumble of a room, and the power of a pipe organ were more discernible in terms of detail and realistic in terms of presence. The soundtrack of Titanic [Sony Classical/Sony Music Soundtrax SK 63213] has some of the deepest bass to come from a commercial recording in some time. With the BCG3.1 in use, the sound had more weight, better resolution, and increased presence, all of which translated into more realistic sound. The BCG3 sounds a little woollier and looser in comparison. The BCG3.1 also sounds a little quicker with better attack. This showed most on good percussion recordings. The improvements here proved interesting because I had not felt this area to be deficient with the BC3/BCG3 combination before this new power supply came into play. However, with the BCG3.1 in use, the sound of drums, for instance, was definitely better.
Upper bass through the midrange showed similar benefits, but not quite to the same extent. There was better definition to the voices, a little more detail, a little less warmth, but more presence and realism. Images were a bit more solid and specific, and depth was also easier to discern. Recordings that are clean but have exaggerated high frequencies -- Jewel's excellent new Spirit [Atlantic CD 82950], for example -- had a little more tizz through the BCG3 -- not much, just a smidgen. The BCG3.1 makes the BC3 sound a wee bit more pristine up top. These are small differences, but apparent.
It took me a while to find the improvements that the BCG3.1 brings; in hindsight, I should not be surprised. The BC3 with BCG3 power supply is already an outstanding linestage, one that will musically serve its owner faithfully for many years. Had the BCG3.1 knocked the BCG3 over in terms of performance, I would say that there would have to be something grossly wrong with the BCG3 in the first place. Of course, this didnt happen.
The largest improvement is heard in the bass region, which steps the linestage's performance up a notch. The midrange and high frequencies are also more refined and smooth. Overall, the improvement I heard was one that would be classified as refinement -- subtle, meaningful improvements most noticeable in a very good system.
Is there good value, then, in upgrading your BCG3 to a BCG3.1 or by purchasing the BC3 with a BCG3.1? The BCG3.1's worth will depend on your pocketbook, and if you are like me, how much you like your current BC3 preamplifer. I really enjoy the BC3 linestage, and it is a piece of equipment that will, quite literally, have to be eclipsed in performance at a price as reasonable before I will part with it. The BCG3.1 makes a very good preamp that much better, so the purchase of the upgraded power supply becomes a no-brainer based on its long-term listening value. If you're happy with your current BC3, definitely audition the BCG3.1 to see what it does in your system. And if you're in the market for a high-performance linestage under $5000, check out the Galatea combination. It's a winner.
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