[SoundStage!]The Traveler
Back Issue Article

September 2005

The Changing of the Guard

The look of an audio designer who drove for hours and slept in a minivan in order to drop off his latest creation.

It’s ironic that I haven’t been able to write my "The Traveler" column in the last few months because I’ve been traveling so much. It’s also ironic that this first article in some time is not about someplace I traveled to, but rather someone who traveled to see me. Last week, Blue Circle Audio’s Gilbert Yeung drove from Innerkip to Ottawa (about six hours if you drive really, really fast) to drop off a BC204 stereo amplifier that I’d ordered from him.

The BC204 arrived to replace my BC2 monoblocks -- Gilbert Yeung’s original amp design, 75W pure-class-A, wood-chassis, hot-as-hell hybrid amplifiers that I, as well as others, consider something of a masterpiece of modern audio design, with their completely esoteric look and superb sound. I've owned my BC2 monoblocks since just after the time I originally reviewed them, in mid-‘90s, a time when the Internet was still a rather fledgling endeavor and Titanic was the hottest picture at the box office.

The BC2s, along with the companion BC3 preamplifier, served as my reference electronics for many years. In fact, the BC3 is still with me -- upgraded to full BC3000 status. The BC2s, though, were getting a little long in the tooth, especially for use in an audio reviewer's system. Not that there was any problem with them -- they still sounded superb, and I kept my pair in absolutely perfect condition -- but they were a little inconvenient to use, particularly for someone who swaps components in and out of his system and changes things around as much as I do. As I mentioned, the BC2s run scorchingly hot, making handling them a little difficult. As well, they sound best when they’re scorchingly hot -- it’s at that point you know the amp's fully warmed-up. However, warming them up takes time, about 30-45 minutes, and that just wasn’t conducive to the way I work now.

For some time, then, I knew the BC2s would need to retire, but not to just anywhere or to anyone. You don’t put "masterpieces" on some dealer’s trade-in shelf. So they never went that route at all. The BC2s are tucked away; they'll enjoy their twilight years in comfort and safety. Very few pieces of audio equipment deserve this kind of treatment, but the BC2 does.

Retirement, though, came slowly, as I hadn’t found any amplifier that I liked quite as much -- even in Blue Circle’s own stable. That changed, though, when Gilbert designed his new line of 200 Series hybrid amplifiers that includes the BC202, BC204, and BC206. It was these amplifiers that piqued my interest enough to seek them out and learn more. From first glance they seemed, well, just right. Jeff Fritz wrote about the BC206 last October in his "The World’s Best Audio System" on Ultra Audio. Jeff liked the BC206 plenty, which spoke well for it, as Jeff is pretty much a hardened solid-state guy, not caring much for tubes, and tends to prefer the look of massive, over-built gear with inch-thick faceplates. Gilbert’s stuff isn’t really like that at all. Praise for the series continued through Jason Thorpe’s and Marc Mickelson’s accounts of the BC202 and BC204 on SoundStage! this year.

By all accounts, Gilbert Yeung had hit the jackpot with these designs. Unknown to our writers and editors, mind you, I’d already suspected that. I visited Gilbert’s factory numerous times on trips through Ontario, and I heard his designs -- including these new models -- at shows and demos for years. One can’t go by reviews alone. No matter how much you trust the reviewer, you have to hear things for yourself, simple as that. While our reviewers reviewed, I did a little background research of my own. Suffice it to say, what I'd heard in that time impressed me.

I could have lived with any of the 200 Series amps, but, of course, one had to be chosen. As with any purchase, there were constraints -- most notably cost.

Gilbert "I refuse to pose properly for your stupid pictures" Yeung comes to life when the stainless-steel-clad BC204 is unveiled. According to Yeung, a piece of the packing foam makes an excellent amp stand for the BC204 -- and he's serious!

I would have loved to have owned the BC206, but at a touch over $10,000, it’s just too rich for my blood -- my SUV is a Honda CR-V, not a BMW X5. Therefore, the BC202 and BC204 were my targets because they’re priced at about $5000 and $8000, respectively. That's still not cheap by Costco standards, but it's more affordable than the alternative.

The BC202 could have done the trick, but my budget was actually a little larger, and I also wanted an amp that's more powerful. I settled, then, on the 150Wpc BC204, which Marc Mickelson more or less raved about in his review and on the phone. Because Marc had one in-house, he also served as "cosmetic consultant" for my order.

Marc and I had both seen Blue Circle’s optional stainless-steel chassis cover and faceplate at shows, and Marc surmised that a stainless-steel chassis and faceplate on the BC204, along with a "Blue Circle Blue" bottom plate, would be to my liking. Gilbert, mind you, didn’t care one way or the other. "Get what you want," he barked at me, the way he tends to on the phone (afterward he conceded that I’d made a fine choice). Within one minute the order was placed.

However, while you can place an order in one minute, that doesn't mean you'll get the product in the next. As with many high-end-audio companies, specific designs with specific cosmetic requirements aren’t just sitting on the shelf at the factory. Furthermore, Gilbert let me know that he’d had a particularly busy year and would have to build my BC204 from scratch. I'd just have to "wait!" And wait I did, until one day I got the call: "Doug, I know you travel all the time, but are you going to be around this weekend? I can drop off your amp." I was stunned -- the BC204 was arriving and my BC2s were officially going to the old-amp's home.

And that’s pretty much the whole story of how the 85-pound BC204 replaced my decade-old BC2 mono amps, arriving by minivan from Innerkip to be the new centerpiece of my audio system. I don’t change my audio equipment often, but when I do it’s more or less an event. Now, let’s see if the BC204 stays here as long as the BC2s did. Judging by how it sounds right off the bat, I suspect it just might.

...Doug Schneider


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