Bel Canto DAC EX1 Mini-Review and Measurements

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ChitChat:

The Bel Canto E1X is a pretty interesting product due to the featureset it offers. It not only features a DAC which can also operate as a Roon-ready network streamer, but also features a phono input, line input and a wealth of features intended to make various speaker setups as easy and convenient as possible.

There is a version of the E1X which features an integrated amplifier, however this is unfortunately not the integrated model.

The analog inputs are processed with an internal ADC to allow the various DSP functions to work. And they also have adjustable input sensitivity to allow for maximum dynamic range with any source device signal level.


So what kind of DSP? Well firstly there is of course volume control, allowing you to use the E1X as a digital preamp for any source be it analog or digital.
There are also some tilt and bass EQ functions in 0.6dB increments to tune sound to your liking.

Tilt EQ
Bass EQ

Perhaps the most useful or attractive feature though is that the ‘analog out’ is separate from the main outputs and can be used for two subwoofers in stereo. Combined with the DSP high-pass/low-pass features, this makes for easy integration of subs into your setup.
These offer a 2nd order low-pass filter in 10hz increments from 40hz to 120hz for the subwoofer output, and a 2nd-order high-pass filter for the main outputs again in 10hz increments from 40hz to 120hz, allowing you to very easily tune the crossover point for and connect your subwoofer with no external devices needed.

High-Pass filter

The DAC itself is….well ‘big’ is putting it lightly. This will absolutely not be a desk friendly unit and may even be too deep to fit on some racks, so do check that the dimensions (17.75 W x 15.75 D x 3.25 H inches, 451 x 400 x 83 mm) will fit your intended space. It is not too heavy however at only 6.4kg.

In terms of digital processing, perhaps the only issue is that it is not capable of DSD256 playback, only DSD128 and below. So for those with DSD content, that may be a hinderance.

Inside we can see two separate linear power supplies, and two mainboards.

The board on the left contains the DAC chip itself (Burr Brown PCM1792), an Analog Devices ADAU1450 DSP chip, and a Burr Brown SRC43921 sample rate conversion chip.
There is a CCHD-575-25 clock which operated at 24.576mhz for 48khz playback, but seemingly no dedicated clock for 44.1khz playback. The other board has two clocks (also CCHD 575) though.
It’s possible that all digital information is resampled to 48khz before conversion given the DSP-heavy nature of this product.

Mini-Review:

What I can say about the DAC E1X is that it does sound good, very good in fact, and it’s certainly not ‘limiting’ your experience in any way just because it’s an all in one. Many combo units may be good in some areas but poor in others.

The Bel-Canto has a slightly warm leaning sound, but not so far as to be considered ‘coloured’. It’s resolving, smooth, spacious, and will fit nicely in most setups without issue.
This is a competently designed, good sounding unit, BUT, the issue for my personal situation is that I do not need the majority of features offered by the E1X. And for the same or even less money, you can get a better sounding DAC. For under 5k for example you could be getting a Holo May, Rockna Wavelight, Chord TT2 and various other options which will likely beat the E1X strictly in terms of DAC sound quality.

I therefore do not feel I can give it a fair review as whilst I really appreciate the work that has clearly gone into making this product, I can’t really fully evaluate it and all it has to offer.
If you are looking for JUST a DAC, I’d recommend an alternative product as you can get better sound for the money. But if you want a unit that genuinely does everything short of making you dinner, this is a fantastic option.

Measurements:

Test Setup:

– Audio Precision APx555 B-Series Analyzer with 200kOhm input impedance
– Audioquest Mackenzie RCA/XLR cables
– USB Source: AMD PC via ifi iGalvanic 3.0 and iUSB 3.0
– All measurements shown in this post are taken with USB input unless otherwise specified.
– All measurements shown are using the XLR outputs
– Full reports containing additional data and test configurations are attached
– Exact analyzer/filter configurations for each measurement are detailed in the full reports

Full Measurement Reports:

Reports available here:

Dynamic Range (AES17): 122.9dB

SNR: 123.0dB

Noise Level RMS (20-20khz): 3.53uVrms

Noise Level RMS (20-90khz): 26.89uVrms

DC Offset: 6.1mV active, 6.3mV idle

1khz 0dBFS:

THD+N doesn’t look all that amazing here, but gets a lot better if we reduce the level. It seems to perform best around -17dB:

1khz -17dBfs:

Nice to see that regardless of level, harmonic distortion is mostly 2nd order, which in my opinion tends to sound preferable to 3rd order.

Filters/Upsampling:

Unfortunately the E1X uses the MQA ‘renderer’ filter for all content regardless of if it is MQA or not. Meaning there is no filter available that properly attenuates by 22.05khz (nyquist frequency).

Jitter:

Jitter performance looks to be very good, with everything contained below -150dB on the J-test.

44.1khz Jitter
48khz Jitter

THD+N / Frequency:

40khz AES Filter
20khz AES Filter

THD+N is flat across the frequency spectrum, good to see! Some DACs have a rise in distortion in upper freqs.

Linearity:

Linearity with bandpass filter
Linearity without bandpass filter

SINAD/THD+N vs output level:

We can see here that THD suddenly starts rising at about -17dB. Not entirely sure why this would occur.



IMD (SMPTE) vs Output Level:

Crosstalk:

-90.31dBfs 1khz Sine:

Idle Noise Spectrum upto 1.2Mhz:

Multitone:

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