● 5 Line level inputs, 1
Loop Input (3 Line Level Inputs for
● 2 Preamp
Outputs, 1 Loop Output
Complement: 2-6922 (Electro-Harmonix)
Below 400Hz: >-143dB or <1.5uV
● MFR: 10 Hz - 100 kHz ± 3 dB
● Distortion at 1V
Output: <0.05 %
Gain: 23.5 dB
Output: 25 Vrms
Volume Control Range: -95dB to 0db in 62 steps
Impedance: 100 kOhms
Impedance: 180 Ohms
Requirement: 120V 50/60Hz; 38 Watts
Main Chassis: 3.25" H x 17.5" W x 14.6" D;
Power Supply: 5.4" H x 6" W x 14.6" D
● Weight: Main
Chassis: 37 Pounds; Power Supply: 16
MSRP: $6495 US for SE; $7095 US for Balanced
Blue Circle Audio
Some may think that reviewing is a fun job. Not always,
at least for this
critic. Occasionally, it is a matter of getting through a review of a
product you don't like. But, it's another thing if you're reviewing a
product as wonderful as the Blue Circle BC3000 MKII and find yourself
wanting to listen more and more.
Auditioned in its single-ended (SE) configuration, which mates with my
reference single-ended Jadis Defy 7, Gilbert Yeung's Blue Circle
preamp is a joy to listen to. It certainly qualifies as one of the two
best preamps I have so far had the privilege to review.
Allow me to qualify that statement. My current reference preamp is not a
stand-alone unit; it is the one-piece Theta Generation VIII DAC-preamp. I have
often wondered if the significantly shorter signal path of a one-piece combo
contributes to its superiority.
While the listening I conducted for this
review leaves me further convinced that the Theta is a superb preamp in and of
itself, the different but superb sound of the Blue Circle BC30003 MKII
suggests that a longer signal path need not necessarily degrade an audio
When you use a stand-alone active preamp as good as the
SE Blue Circle, you may in fact discover that it adds an extra and welcome
musicality to the signal. Even if there is a slight loss on one level or
another (all plugs and jacks can contribute to signal loss), the extra
musical satisfaction it may deliver can more than compensate.
Take, for example, an inexpensive unit - say $299 - that
has a DAC, preamp, and power amp all in one chassis. Will that bargain unit
sound better than a more expensive outboard DAC, preamp, and power amplifier
system housed in three separate chassis and connected by two sets of
interconnects (DAC to preamp, preamp to power amp)? Most probably not. But
only if all three components are high quality will the final signal
to the speakers also be high quality. One poor component in a chain of three
can seriously compromise the sound.
The same, of course, can be said of life in general. Few of us have "perfect"
mates, friends, jobs, or sound systems. But when they make us happy, they
make many of us so happy that their imperfections count for nil. That is the
case with the Blue Circle BC3000 MKII Dual Mono Linestage Tube Preamp. When
all is said and done, the sound of the single-ended version makes me feel
You can even select what kind of knobs you want. The
photo below shows the various choices.
I'll leave most of the technical discussion to Blue
Circle's website [http://www.bluecircle.com/index.php?menu_id=1770].
I do however include the following comments from Gilbert Yeung [with mild
editing of grammar]. Gilbert's feedback on the difference between the sound
of the single-ended Blue Circle BC3000 MKII I auditioned and the balanced
version that I have not heard has a strong bearing on my conclusions.
When I wrote Gilbert, I noted that the balanced the
BC3000 MKII only has balanced inputs and outputs; it does not have RCA
jacks. I asked Gilbert if he had considered building a balanced preamp that
offered both single-ended and balanced inputs and outputs. I also asked
about the difference in sound between the SE and balanced versions.
“When I say balanced, I am saying a completely balanced system from CD player
or turntable cartridge all the way to the speaker. If one were to mix and
match, then it would be best to stay with SE (Single Ended).
“When it is a completely balanced system, usually it will have a more defined
soundstage. Bass also has tighter, better control. SE
usually has a more holographic soundstage and tiny bit loss in the bass.
Balanced usually has a more effortless presentation of music. There are other
differences, and I can keep going on and on and on, but I believe the above are the
“For $100 additional, we can install a processor bypass loop for hooking up
the BC3000MKII to a multi-channel system. When the user wants to listen to two
channels only, he/she can just use the BC3000MKII. When the system is in
multi-channel mode, flip the processor bypass loop switch, and the front
two-channel signal will bypass the BC3000MKII and go right through to the
power amp from the processor output.”
Rear panel of balanced version - not reviewed
I paired the Blue Circle with the solid-state Red Planet
Labs STR201. I would have also tried it with my Jadis Defy 7 MkII amp were
it not in the process of being replaced by the current Jadis Defy 7 Deluxe
(review coming in a couple of months). However, pairing a tube preamp with A
solid state power amp is frequently done, because it combines the sound of
both tubes and transistors, and also supplies more power to the speakers
than is generally available from tube power amplifiers. The Blue Circle
costs twice as much as the amp, but the Red Planet amp offers outstanding
for its price.
I first auditioned the Blue Circle while reviewing a pre-release CD-R of jazz
great Fred Hersch's new Leaves of Grass (extended review coming in March). I
normally don't expect great sound from a CD-R that an artist whips together in
their home. Imagine my surprise at discovering a recording so good that even
the sound of a pre-release CR-R was light years ahead of many recordings from
an earlier digital age.
I found the air of the Blue Circle beautiful and seductive. It was so
delicious, and the percussion so clear, that I was reluctant to interrupt my
listening by switching back and forth between Blue Circle and Theta.
Nonetheless, I eventually roused myself. Each return to the Blue Circle
further convinced me of its gifts. It offered a most musical glow. The Theta
had an immediacy that at times was a bit scary (albeit never sterile). Its
bass, a Theta strongpoint, also seemed a bit clearer and more impactful. But
the romance and fullness of the Blue Circle proved irresistible.
As I continued to audition the Blue Circle with other recordings, a nagging
question entered my mind. Is any preamp I review at a disadvantage when
compared to the Theta, which combines a first rate DAC and preamp in one unit?
There was only one way to find out. I called my friend Jeff Wilson, a devoted
member of the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS).
who owns a 24-bit Audio Logic tube DAC, had previously contacted me to propose
a DAC shootout as a BAAS event. He was confident that the Audio Logic would
leave the Theta dead in the water.
I didn't have a shootout in mind. But I did want to see how a stand-alone DAC
feeding the Blue Circle preamp would compare to a one-piece DAC/preamp unit,
in this case the Theta Gen. VIII, feeding the Blue Circle.
Jeff was gracious enough to make the Audio Logic available several days in
advance, allowing ample time for setup and warm-up. When he showed up for
extended listening, he brought with him an EMI disc of André Watts' 1986
Liszt recordings. I immediately objected, fearing the disappointment of early
My concerns were certainly justified while listening to the Audio Logic/Blue
Circle combo. The sound was flat, lifeless, lacking in color, and irritating
on high notes. I already knew that the problem couldn't lie with the Blue
Circle, which had sounded wonderful on other CDs. Unless the Theta failed to
make the Watts recording sound any better, it was clear that there was no
point in listening further to the Audio Logic.
I thus proceeded to listen to the Watts CD using the Theta as a stand-alone
DAC/preamp; the Blue Circle was temporarily removed from the chain. The Gen.
VIII by itself produced more air, life, and presence than the Audio
Logic/Blue Circle combo. The flatness heard from the Audio Logic was somewhat
ameliorated, the bass cleaner and
more profound. It was clear that the Audio Logic was an inferior DAC, and
would not prove of further use in the review process.
How would the SE Blue Circle sound fed by the Theta DAC? [Note: When the Theta
is used solely as a DAC and feeds into an external preamp, its volume
control simply functions the way any DAC's gain stage does. This is not a
case of putting two preamps back to back in the chain.] The bass was a
little less deep, but there was an added romantic warmth and air to the
presentation that more than compensated. The Theta DAC/SE Blue Circle preamp
combo did the best job of filling the space with something that sounded a
step closer to real. André Watts' piano seemed more dynamic, and the highs
finally started to ring in space (albeit still in an unsalvageable
irritating manner common to many early digital recordings).
Jeff liked the Theta DAC/SE Blue Circle combo the best. He praised the Blue
Circle's extra (and natural) bloom and air in the midrange. He felt the
preamp in the Theta stand-alone unit a little flatter sounding overall and
lacking ultimate dimensionality and richness in the body of instruments. To
him this registered as a lack of emotional involvement. I certainly heard
what he was talking about, but the Theta's greater
immediacy, sonic neutrality, and fabled bass extension suited me emotionally
to a T.
[Note. I recently spoke with John Baloff at Theta. John
told me that when Theta designed the preamp section of the Gen. VIII, a few
experienced evaluators complained that it lacked the midrange bloom of some
other preamps on the market. Theta chose neither to beef up the Gen. VIII's
midrange nor to overemphasize its bass; instead, they maintained its neutral
Many audiophiles who are not accustomed to the sound of
live, acoustic concerts often confuse the extra midrange bloom of some
audiophile equipment for the real thing. It is not. It is extra midrange
bloom. The same is true for extra deep, boomy bass, the kind often heard at
amplified concerts. Nonetheless, if implemented properly, extra midrange
bloom and/or bass emphasis in audiophile equipment may provide musical
compensation for other deficiencies inherent in most reproduced sound].
Just as I began to articulate a number of qualities that I thought the Blue
Circle lacked, Jeff asked me what kind of supports I was using under it. I
blinked my eyes, looked again, and discovered to my everlasting shame [Serinus
critics, take note] that while I was using the same Nordost Valhalla
interconnects and power cables as in the rest of my system, I had failed to
place supports under either the preamp or its power supply. Both were sitting
directly on my equipment racks, with only their inadequate stock feet beneath
Some readers may ask “So what?” My response: countless hours spent comparing
Ganymede, Stillpoint, Michael Green, and other support systems has convinced
me that choice of equipment support can made a huge difference in the sound of
a component, especially tube products, as they can be microphonic from
Happily, I had two extra Ganymede ball-bearing supports available. Once
installed, all my equipment was floated on Ganymedes.
“It's like a different preamp!” Jeff exclaimed. And so it was. Almost the
entire list of “less thans” that I had prepared to share with you was
immediately rendered invalid. No point talking about differences that don't
After listening to two of my usual standbys,Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances
(Reference Recordings) and Rosa Passos with Ron Carter (Chesky), I continued
to find the sound of the stand alone Theta DAC/preamp a little more direct
and natural, albeit less atmospheric and warm than the Theta DAC/SE Blue
Circle preamp combo. Bass, on the other hand, was not only a little stronger
with the one-piece Theta, but bass transients and pitches were also more
pronounced and defined. Even though the Theta's preamp section may have
offered more resolution, Jeff was swayed by the Blue Circle's greater depth
and ingratiating sound.
Note however Gilbert Yeung's e-mail message, included above, which he wrote without
any knowledge of my feelings about the SE Blue Circle's bass. The
implication of Gilbert's comments is that the mild bass deficiency I
experienced with the SE BC 3000 MKII may be much less, if non-existent, with
the balanced version.
If Gilbert Yeung can spare his preamp long enough, I look forward to pairing
it with the “in the mail” Jadis Defy Deluxe and adding additional commentary
about that pairing to this review. Given that the Jadis offers many of the
qualities Jeff admired in the Blue Circle, I wonder how the combo will sound
Mating the Blue Circle with Tube
Although I did not have my reference Jadis Defy 7 MKII on hand - it had just
been sold, and the latest version, the Jadis Defy 7 Deluxe, had not yet
arrived - the folks from deHavilland brought over their GM70 50W
single-ended triode monoblocks for evaluation just as I was finishing this
When deHavilland designer Kara Chaffee took a first listen to her marvelous
amps through my reference Theta Gen. VIII, she complained that the sound of
Diana Krall's "When I Look in your Eyes" was not as rich as she had hoped.
She especially pointed to the sound of the guitar in the second track, which
she found flatter than she was accustomed to.
I immediately proposed that we route the Theta DAC into the SE Blue Circle
BC3000 MKII to hear if it would make a significant difference. Did it ever!
The guitar was noticeably fatter and richer sounding.
It became clear that when paired with tubed amplification that has
warmth and presence to begin with, the SE Blue Circle's tube bloom is
further magnified. This was the sound that Kara had been accustomed to
hearing. Regardless of whether or not it was more or less true-to-life than
through the Theta's preamp, it was delicious. In fact, I would go as far as
to say that, thanks in no small part to
the fabulous deHavilland amps (review forthcoming in April or May 2005), it
The SE Blue Circle BC3000 MKII preamp is a superb unit. It offers everything one
might desire from tube preamp: a natural but never exaggerated or artificial
sense of air, warmth, expansiveness, and musicality. Properly supported and
isolated from vibration, its highs are as extended and clear as those from a
top quality solid-state preamp. The SE version – the balanced version has not
been auditioned for this review – may lack the last iota of bass extension and
detail, but its overall musicality makes it a must-hear product.
Regardless of whether you can afford a preamp in this price range, giving it a
proper listen should go a long way to convincing you that an extra financial
investment can deliver enormous musical satisfaction. Even mated with an amp
half its price, the Blue Circle's flagship quality sings out in spades.
- Jason Victor Serinus -
Digital Front End
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen Va single-ended DAC (to be replaced shortly by the Gen VIII)
Perpetual Technologies P-1A with Modwright modified Monolithic Power
Supply and Revelation Audio umbilical power cable (not used for this
Jadis Defy 7 Mk IV modified with a Siltech silver harness
Bruce Moore Companion III tube preamp with Electro-Harmonix gold pin 6922s
and Jan Philips 12AU7 equivalents;
Reflection Audio OM-1 Quantum battery-powered preamp in non-battery mode
(used for this review)
Talon Khorus X speakers (with latest modifications and Bybee filters that
render its response even across the spectrum and greatly improve the bass)
Nordost Valhalla interconnects and digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Powercables: Elrod EPS-1, 2, and 3 and EPS-2 and -3 Signature on main
chain plus Harmonic Tech, Nordost, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks, room treatment, and
Ganymede supports under amp and transport
Black Diamond Racing Cones
Shakti stones on Amp, Monolithic/P-1A and Theta
Bedini Quadra Beam Ultraclarifier
Audioprism Stoplight and latest, Marigo Stealth Mat for CDs
Sheffield/XLO degmagnetiser and break-in disc and Ayre demagnetizing disc
Analog (hardly the strong suit of the system, not used for review
Sumiko Blue Point cartridge
Classe 6 phono preamp with optional umbilical cord
Interconnects: Tara Decade and Nirvana SL-1 to phono preamp
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