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March 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
BV Audio's PA300 Amplifier: A Mighty Engine That Does
Review By Jim Merod
Click here to e-mail reviewer

BV Audio PA300 Amplifier

  BV Audio's powerhouse PA300 amplifier sports 110 watts per channel at 8 ohms and 170W/ch at 4 ohms. It has XLR "symmetrical" inputs and separate channel gain controls on the rear panel of the unit. At 30-plus lbs. it is not a negligible addition to your audio/video rack. In the abstract, you've got a serious sonic engine working for you right out of the box. But glory immediately 'out of the box' is what you do and do not get with this little rocket ship. Let us count the ways.

First things first: appearance. The PA300 is a no frills put-it-where-the-juice-is engine. You do not get Levinson-like cosmetics. You do not expect Krell-like facades. On the contrary, you buy this not at all diminutive music monster because it is a relative bargain. No one should object to its modest good looks. It is a sonic earthquake in a plain paper wrapper.

Out of the box, cold, you find that the PA300 makes big sound, huge dynamic slam dunks that rival everything that an amp its size and weight should be required to produce. Out of the box, warmed up, the musical story begins to unfold.

Over many months, I threw everything that one might expect a recording engineer and jazz/equipment reviewer to place before an amplifier's signal path: original master tapes; classic vinyl albums; male and female vocals; big band, full-out thumping flag wavers; recordings in the process of being mastered... anything that one might imagine appears in the normal course of ordinary professional work weeks stretching across a long review period. The length of the review time involved had everything to do with my residual hope, constructed upon nothing but stubbornness, that the amplifier's warmed up "out of the box" boxiness might take on fuller texture, greater delicacy, finer musical nuances... all those sonic indicators that audiophiles consider to be elegant elaborations of aesthetic beauty aptly tailored to deeply personal, individually-educated refinement. 

The problem that the PA300 set for a careful reviewer was how to understand the slight sheen and brittleness in upper sonic octaves. Was that a function of unbroken-in electronics or a permanent characteristic of the amp? Would it remain in place after considerable use or, as one hoped, dissolve beneath the warm glow of many hours of music making?

Think of this faithful process -- fighting off a manufacturer's anxiety to see a review in print (any review: all notice in the world of marketing and sales appearing to be good; anything, in this enterprise, better than nothing) -- as integral to one reviewer's perverse belief that test measurements, bench scans, and other demoted technical variables that predict mediocrity often fail to enumerate counter-intuitive musical loveliness that only hard wear, maniacal road torque, and an undeterred reviewer-refusing-to-take-mediocrity-for-an-answer, thus pushing the electronic envelope, might reveal at the end of the long sonic haul.

Yes and no, mostly affirmative. One takes one's victories as they arrive. The truth of this amp is that it is essentially an audio bargain when it is locked to the right set of speakers. Hook the PA 300 to Silverline SR-11 mini-monitors, for example, and everything slumbering within the happy genius of Alan Yun's excessive imagination begins to purr forth as if "magic in" will equate always to "magic out." 

The PA300 loves the Silverline 11s. Alan Yun's small transducers adore the PA300. Move onward to the equally modest sized Tetra Bullitts: again, a match worth lingering with musically. That combination proved itself at every point smooth, seductive, and true. Tetra's Adrian Butts offers mini-monitor precision and glory quite distinct from Alan Yun's at Silverline. But both men have superior ears. Both of these small speakers are delicate, explicitly (if differently) accurate musically, yet sonically unforgiving of grunge. Both boogie in their own space and time without contradicting one another. Choose your sonic flavor. They are both splendid restricted speakers with large musical hearts. The PA300 is a happy mate with each.

Head forward and hook the PA300 to a less demanding, more spectrally revealing load: the classic Vandersteen 2Ce. Nothing but music in, music out; strong, beautiful music in and out. No problems, just fun. The Vandersteens, among the world's most consistent and undeniably musical speakers -- and one of its most gently forgiving yet exact sound reproducers -- enjoy the PA300 amp much as Ingrid Bergman loved Cary Grant in Hitchcock's brilliant film noir classic, Notorious. Ambivalence in this regard yields safe rescue in the end. What film buff or audiophile worth his stripes want to go straight to the final curtain without intervening melodrama?

We're on a roll by now. Lock the PA300 to the tried and true party animal KEF 104.2s. No problem here. We are charmed, as always, charmed differently by the 104s than we were with the 2Ces. More powerful obligatos. Slam in abundance. Fun. Sunshine. Musical hilarity. Once again nothing but rock and roll with room to spare as our dancing toes shake off jive-jooking dumb-downed rapper mumbo jumbo to shuffle savagely in sync with gentle bossa blasts. Good music unnerves noise and fakery every time.

The PA300 seems by now to be unlimbering. At this point, several weeks in tow for each speaker, we begin to hear this amplifier's stable heart and soul. It is courageous and wants only to make music and make people happy, an athlete with a touch of suave regard. This is not a "delicate" amp or the most refined and raise your pinky in the air sort of amp. It is a strong, utterly "no nonsense" amp. We suspected at the outset that it would beat any rap thrown at it. By now we've found that no bench numbers or techno-doubters can aptly derogate this innocent signal-shaping engine. It prances like a youthful stallion. Music roaring from the KEFs and Silverlines, from the Tetras and Vandersteens, consistently affirms the central brawn of the PA300.

We plod forward, nonetheless, alert that not all speakers are meek and gentle, few as languorous in their signal acceptance factor as those we've thrown at the amp so far. Time to take the challenge up a notch. We haul out modified Dalquist DQ-10s, long in the tooth, highly tweaked with solid silver wiring and all new state of the industry drivers, rev-engineered by that dean of the subwoofer kingdom, Thilo Stompler (now at Eggleston). We put the earthshaking little amp into its harness.

One might've guessed as much. The extended but gently delineated sonic spectrum afforded by DQ-10 revisions poses a threat. The speaker's phase-array relaxation and openness toss a small rock into the amplifier's placid sonic pond. This match is not as blithe as the others. Challenge accepted.

We move on, grabbing our trusty Cabasse Baltic eyeballs to find if their quick transparency proves the DQ-10's grouchiness wrong or, perhaps, merely fussy. Thus, one seeks appropriate sound tracks to let the PA300 strut its best stuff: the gorgeously recorded George Shearing Trio [Telarc CD-83310 + CD-83333]: Shearing, piano, Neil Swainson, bass, and Grady Tate, drums... captured live at the Blue Note in New York, a club not known for splendid acoustics but tamed, on these two albums, by engineer Jack Renner using B&K (now DPA) microphones along with high-performance Shoeps and Audio-Technica mics. 

This is a moment to savor, so we settle in to hear what the BV Audio box can do with all that Cabasse speaker head room at its behest, especially when it is pushed by uncannily reverberant ambience stolen from difficult acoustical conditions.

Interesting results, indeed. One hears how far into the club's soundstage the PA300 can take us -- or, precisely, how enormously sensitive to upper level dynamics and resonance are the Baltics. The ear is drawn in quite far, in fact, but with a touch of sonic edginess and grain that one knows does not reside on the beautifully mastered Shearing discs. For added clarity in the Cabasse challenge to our heroic PA300, one listens next to the horribly recorded May, 1961 Miles Davis Carnegie Hall concert -- an album that will nail your love of "all things Miles" to the wall or ceiling... an album that needs remastering if it is to join one's steady rotation of Miles Davis favorites. 

The PA 300 does not let Miles' "newly enhanced" (unsuccessfully "digitally remastered") trumpet off the hook. Neither the original vinyl recording, nor the proud re-digitized travesty, nor a personally revamped interim version (for the sake of one's own audio sanity) escapes the PA 300s wrath. Strident sound is hereby magnified and left to strangle on its own. We cannot blame that on the amplifier, but the amp did not conspire with its edgy quarry to redeem music badly rendered.

One, therefore, thinks to give the PA300 a break. Toss Laurindo Almeida's breathy Brazilian guitar, or Gene Bertoncini's equally poignant guitar textures, at the BV/Cabasse combination. Here is an undeniable possibility for lyrical splendor. Ah, yes! Music without ear-surgery. Upper range gentleness. Mid-range glory. Truthful bottom end dynamics. Seductive sound. Erotic notations. Sounds worth listening to at leisure.

One knew all along this laborious, drawn out reviewing process was worth the effort. You can't build a race car in one swipe. Or do we mean, one can't take the measure of a champ in a single bite? Or maybe, forgoing frivolity and bowdlerized clichés, one should not jump to conclusions from the roof...

Bottom lines (first): the PA300 does not like to "see" Apogee Stage speakers, but then few amplifiers of any heft and character do. The new McCormack DNA 500, more than any amp I've ever thrown at them, enjoys the Stages difficult to drive (at moments) 2-ohm load; it ate the Stages for lunch like none of dozens that I've put before those arrogant speakers. The DNA 500 is well beyond the ease and authority of any Krell, Levinson or Classe amp matched with them. The PA300, of course, is not in the same league with a nearly three times more expensive, genuinely state-of-the-art amplifier such as the McCormack DNA 500. Amplifiers rated at much higher current levels, costing a great deal more than the new McCormack dynamo, have failed almost as thoroughly when confronted with the Apogee Stages uncompromising signal load.

Bottom lines (more): the PA300 delivers enormous power and musicality for the price. It is a nice looking amplifier that is honest and, at moments, stunning in its ability to go down deep into the heart of a piece of music (and well into the heart of a good speaker) to offer graceful illumination across a musical soundstage.

Summation: The PA300 took somewhat longer to break in fully than many amplifiers I've worked with. That is not a drawback to complain of because "break in time" is not a topic often discussed and the truth is that most electronic components, especially superior ones, continue to grow more elegant and refined along a break-in trajectory that is quite lengthy. The long break-in period with the PA300 was not a distraction, but a challenge. I simply refused to give up on the amp because something in my guts told me that it had the heart of a little champ and, if I was right, I wanted to hear that. If I was wrong, I wanted to know that, also.

A note about power cord affiliation: nearly every amp I've ever employed has been enhanced in quite specific ways if one replaces the (usually undistinguished) power cord that a manufacturer provides with it. Low-horizon, run of the mill consumer electronics often come with an integrated power cord. Even there, replacement is recommended. Open the unit, swap out the lamp cord and enhance the power draw. That risks voiding a warranty, but the risk is worthwhile if you intend to use the unit for a long time. 

The PA300 responds dramatically to power cord replacement. More than many amplifiers, the PA300 seems to be sensitive to sonic differences that power cables provide. In particular, this amplifier seems at or near its best with the Shunyata "Black Mamba" cable. Everything about the PA 300's performance was enhanced -- not just a touch or a dollop, but to a whopping degree -- by the Shunyata. The Acoustic Zen "Gargantua II' dug out fuller dynamics from the PA 300, with an increase in soundstage width and height. Serguei Timachev's Stealth power cord lent a degree of gentleness to the amplifier's performance that was especially welcome. And the Audience "PowerCord" imparted a somewhat more relaxed quality to dynamics, bloom and transient decay that was also appealing.

All of these cords revealed that the BV Audio PA300 amplifier has much to recommend it in its power cable enhanced version . . . a "much" that I'd imagine BV's designers may develop further since they are well on their way to crafting an amplifier that produces musically satisfying results at a price that can only be thought of as within reach of even entry level audiophile aspirants. Although the separate gain controls on the amp's back plate reveal about a 4.5dB discrepancy, a difference barely within the notice of most listeners, this divergence is slight and easy to correct by gain level adjustment.

To those who awaited word on an amplifier that recommends itself to anyone on a modest budget, accept my appreciation for your patience. To the designers at BV Audio, let me salute such musical embraces here captured, promising greater refinement yet to come, that stalk elusive joys these manic searches, precisely rendered, dream of.

 

Tonality

81

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

82

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

77

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

80

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

70

Attack

86

Decay

87

Inner Resolution

83

Soundscape width front

78

Soundscape width rear

75

Soundscape depth behind speakers

70

Soundscape extension into the room

70

Imaging

83

Fit and Finish

80

Self Noise

82

Value for the Money

89

 

Manufacturer's Reply

First, I am grateful that Enjoy the Music.com was interested to review BV Audio products. It is obvious that Jim took the responsibility seriously. His written comments are quite flattering, making me scratch my head as to why the numeric scores were among the lowest I have ever seen Enjoy the Music.com give.

I regret that I didn't insist on Enjoy the Music.com reviewing the PA300 with our P1 preamplifier. Both have frequency responses more in common with extremely expensive Halcro products, than to anything anywhere near their price class. When paired with less sophisticated components, shortcomings become obvious, and it is easy to point the finger in the wrong direction: Clearly the case when Jim cites "The problem that the PA 300 set for a careful reviewer was how to understand the slight sheen and brittleness in upper sonic octaves."

Since the PA300 was designed to be faithful to the input signal, it will understandably expose the well publicized hard, edgy sound of pre-hi rez digital recordings. Pre-hi-rez, most listeners were forced to buy products that softened digital playback. Alas, many of those products are being used with hi-rez CD players. Everything from pairing the P1 to components barely achieving 20Hz to 20kHz and typically @ -3dB, to conventional tweeters/RCA plugs, can all/each be responsible for what Jim heard. BV Audio products are a wake up call that every aspect of the hi-rez CD playback chain needs re-examination in order to hear it at its' best.

I must take issue with anyone thinking to try the PA300 with a less than 4ohm load. Do not try this at home. There is nothing in our literature to suggest the PA300 is designed to handle such difficult loads. Oh, by the way….even on the back of our amp it says “minimum total load 4ohms”. Not only would most 4ohm amps sound awful, many would blow up- voiding the warrantee. So, why even bring it up?

The real beauty of the PA300 is that it will neither improve the recording, nor cover up flaws in one's system. What it will do is make it easier to find and correct those flaws, bringing the listener closer to the music.

Ivo Stepansky
BV Audio

 

Specifications

Maximum Power Output: 110W per channel RMS at 8 ohms
20Hz to 22kHz THD <0.01%
170W per channel at 4ohms, 20Hz to 22kHz <0.015%

Frequency Response: 20Hz-22kHz (+0dB/-0.1dB);
3.3Hz & 190kHz (-1dB); 1.2Hz & 450kHz (-2dB)

Bandwidth: 20Hz to 80kHz

Distortion THD + N: max 0.01%/110W/8ohms (20Hz to
22kHz);
max 0.015%/170W/4ohms (20Hz-22kHz);
Typical 0.003%/1kHz, 0.008%/10kHz

Input Sensitivity: 1V

Noise S/N: -105dB / 20Hz to 22kHz / full output

Dimensions: 17.5 x 3.5 x 14.25 (WxHxD in inches)

Weight: 31 lbs.

Warranty: Two years limited parts and labor

Price: $1,690

 

Company Information

BV Audio
P.O. Box 690249
Quincy, MA 02269

Voice/Fax: (617) 773-7290
Website: www.bvaudio.com
E-mail: contact@bvaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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