Belles Soloist 5 (£1100)

The entry level Belles power amp has some charming characteristics

This midi-sized power amplifier from American designer Dave Belles’ Power Modules company naturally has a similarly compact preamplifier to partner it, dubbed Soloist 3; there’s also an MM/MC phono stage. This is ideal for enthusiasts desiring a separates combo that requires precious little space.
   There are no frills here – while better known for its high-end amplifiers, the Soloist components are Belles’ entry-level models. Build quality is staid and workmanlike, without the gloss of more costly designs. Nevertheless, good quality components are used throughout, eg, with polypropylene capacitors and 1% metal-film resistors in the circuit. Nor has it skimped on the quality of the sockets, which are gold-plated and sturdy. Two MOSFETs are utilised for each channel, and while a single 250VA transformer is used in the power supply, the Soloist 5 follows a dual mono layout and employs independent bridge rectifiers and filtering for each channel.

If you’re hoping to raise the roof with high SPLs the diminutive Soloist 5 will need to be partnered with sensitive speakers. Use a pair of efficient floorstanders, however, and it’ll surprise you with its engaging music-making. In Robert Plant’s ‘Silver Rider’ the vocals were clearly portrayed against an earthy backdrop with almost valve-like smoothness. Similarly in 2L’s hi-res Mozart recording solo violin was delicate and sweet, if lacking the openness with the Rotel and the sharper clarity of the more muscular amps in this month’s group.
   As with ATC’s P1 there’s a stark quality to the sound that allows you to really listen in and observe low-level details, simultaneously appearing warm and fruity through the midband. Consequently it invites you to relax and enjoy the music. Where it differs markedly from the ATC is its limited bass ‘clout’, evident when tackling the heavy bass underpinning Maxwell’s ‘Everwanting…’. And it struggled to retain composure with the dynamic swings of ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ where the Anthem and Parasound behemoths delivered the majestic power of the orchestra in their stride. Kept within its comfort zone the little Soloist 5 is a real charmer!

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Originally published in the November 2011 issue