Issue No. 2 1998
by Francisco Duran
These days it seems a lot of people question the necessity of a preamplifier in one's stereo system. Due to the availability of digital processors and CD players with volume controls, the question seems valid. If you only listen to CDs, your system can be made much simpler, less expensive, and sometimes better sounding by the removal of the preamp. For those who would find this too limiting, the BCAP preamplifier from Alternate Audio is good enough to prevent you from becoming a one-source pony, without regretting the extra complexity and expense.
Like its counterpart amp, the CA35, which I recently had in my system (regrettably not at the same time as the preamp), the BCAP is well built, good-looking, and very good-sounding. The BCAP fit into my system immediately, and was stiff competition for my own preamp. Two of the first discs I played were ones I got for Christmas: Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here and The Wall. The original LPs I had of these albums have long since disappeared, and for some reason I hadn't replaced them until now. Perhaps the sticker on the jewel case proclaiming that the CDs were digitally remastered under the supervision of the original band members, and at Doug Sax's mastering lab, had something to do with it, but whatever the reason, these discs sound great. And running them through the BCAP didn't hinder the review proceedings one bit.
Well, this slimline little preamp can really crank. Dynamics are very good. The bass and drums that open track five, disc one, Another Brick In The Wall Part 2, from The Wall, rang out quickly and clearly. Although the bass did seem slightly more rounded than my Classe CP60's, it was still very articulate, and very good in both quantity and quality. Cymbals were realistic, not bright or splashy. On vocals, I did notice a slight emphasis on s's and t's, along with a slight wispiness, although this might be due to my transport. The BCAP's top end is a tad more extended than my reference preamp's, the Classe being slightly darker on top. With the Phenomenon soundtrack disc, the Iguana's track had good detail and three dimensionality, but there was less body to the voices than what I usually hear. Altogether though, a very clean top end and midrange.
The soundstage is well-proportioned and layered. Again on track five, disc one of The Wall, the kid's chorus had a natural ambiance and was well spread out. It lacked the openness and spaciousness of my CP60, but was very competent indeed. Here again I point to my EAD DSP 1000 III, which reproduces the soundstage very well, bringing out ambient cues that help form a picture of the music in the mind's eye. Although the BCAP had no problem conveying what the front end was doing, it didn't reproduce dynamic peaks with the effortlessness and ease of my reference. I guess the low price of the BCAP comes into play here. The Classe, after all, has a very substantial separate power supply to handle even the most demanding crescendos. Nevertheless, while the BCAP may not equal the best there is in dynamics, this in no way interfered with my musical enjoyment.
What struck me about the BCAP above all else was that after casually listening to it for awhile, it started working its magic, and I forgot about critical listening. Whether this is due to the preamp's single-ended design or its class A operating mode, I can't say, but the same thing happened when I had Alternate Audio's CA35 amp in my system.
After awhile, I was too busy enjoying music to bother with any kind of critique. I think that says a lot for these products. The BCAP, though inexpensive, is a very good all-around performer, and gave my twice-as-expensive Classe CP60 a run for its money.
- Francisco Duran