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Black by Bel Canto and other musings

November 23, 2013

bel canto black

At the November 2013 Audio Society of Minnesota meeting Bel Canto CEO  John Stronczer introduced the club to their latest product: Black.   Bel Canto says this is a new audio concept – I am a pretty uninformed audiophile – so I believe them – it is certainly not like anything I am familiar with.  Neither traditional hi-fi (turntable/preamp/amp/speakers) nor current fad of wireless digital streaming systems (e.g. Sonos) – this is something else.  My interpretation is that Black is the ultimate cost-is-no-object digital stereo.  We are talking about a $50K system – and that does not include the $5k of cables and start-of-the-art speakers (at least $20k right?) that would be necessary to match with this system.  Oh and don’t forget you are going to need a digital music server (could be your Mac, something more elaborate or the “cloud).  And of course none of this is going to be very fun without hi-rez audio files that are in short supply, lack a standard, cost big bucks themselves and are often from a dubious source.

I have to give props to companies like Bel Canto for doing this kind of pioneering work.  There is no doubt in my mind that a digital music solutions like this are the hi-fi future.  But I am completely baffled as to the current audience for this kind of spendy equipment.  It must exist, it is just not a circle I travel in.

I am almost 55 and a good stereo and decent music collection has been my raison d’être since I was 18.  I have cobbled a humble system together over many years (probably about $5K over 10 years).  My young adult kids are as serious about music as I am, but they couldn’t care less about hi-fi – convenience and low-cost are their priorities.  High end audio is unobtainable to me, let alone the next generation.

I don’t know the demographics of audiophiles, but I presume it is:

  • 50 years old
  • Male
  • Income over $100,000 annually

I have read  that some manufacturers feel that the estimate for ‘audiophiles’ is about 500,000 worldwide.  And the “high-end ” has got to be like 50,000 worldwide.  Not quite zero, but pretty damn close compared for the audience for smartphones and tablets.  I wish I could buy a system like Bel Canto’s Black, but it will never happen.  I wish my kids would listen to music on something better than their Mac’s speakers or cheap ear buds.  Although Beats and Bose headphones are crap, it does give me hope that there is an audience to support hi-fi into the future.

Back to Black by Bel Canto – this is a truly amazing system, but I am way to ignorant to recommend it or evaluate it.  I would love to be able to be able to justify spending $1400 on Bel Canto’s entry-level DAC (and that is not going to happen).  My only hope is that pioneering work like Black will trickle down to my budget in the next 5 years.

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