Bel Canto Designs e.One Stream Review

A simple box that is simple to use will always be a delight in the world of high fidelity.

This is doubly true when it comes to digital front ends as opposed to analog – because I think there’s a preconception that digital is easy. While analog has its own tea ceremony of setup with tonearm and cartridge alignment, dip switches for phono stages – some liken it to the dark arts – introducing a streaming digital server, player/DAC, or combo thereof, is presumed to be a relatively simple matter of plug ’n play and firing-up an app.

Not always so, and the more I find myself focused on computer-audio playback, the more I realize that the knowledge base one must be familiar with to execute a flawless setup can be deep indeed.

There can be software or firmware compatibility issues between DACs and streamers, or within the applications used to run both (if they have dedicated apps), then there’s issues you might have playing specific file types, be they DSD or MQA. I don’t know how many times I’ve loaded up my TIDAL or Qobuz account information inside box-specific software (dCS, McIntosh, Aurender, Bel Canto – to name but a few). At times I feel I like an IT troubleshooter, and that’s not even taking into account the myriad digital cable connections one is presented with for sewing everything together; USB? Ethernet? Toslink? SPDIF? AES/EBU? ETC?

The Bel Canto e.One Stream.

So, it’s always a pleasure to receive a digital box like the $1,599 USD Bel Canto e.One Stream for review, because it just plain worked from the get go.

Some manufacturers forego dedicated, in-house designed or ported apps in favor of more turnkey solutions like Roon, which seamlessly communicates with hundreds of digital devices as long as they are connected to your home wired/wireless network. While I understand that the digital audio ecosystem is a complicated one, Roon does take a lot of that complexity out of the equation by automatically working with gear, which is a big leg up for the burgeoning digital-audio aficionado.

Running Roon through the e.One.

Whenever I get a new box to review, if it comes with its own software suite I always try to see how it jives with me and the gear I’ve got on hand. The Bel Canto Seek app does just what it’s advertised to do, but since the e.One instantly showed up on my Roon network, and I’ve got all my TIDAL/Qobuz/Local-area file playlists set up within Roon, I decided to stick with it for this review. I used Seek to set the e.One’s volume output to maximum for use with Roon and external DACs.

The goods

The e.One's connections.

Described by the company as “a high-performance … network bridge that connects your audio system to the internet and thousands of tracks of music,” the e.One is a UPnP/DLNA controller with “bit-perfect data transmission” and an asynchronous-Ethernet input (meaning it retimes the data to its own internal ultra-low-phase-noise master clocks) and sends along DSD or PCM via Toslink, AESEBU, or SPDIF to a DAC of your choice, or via unbalanced RCA (2V Line output) using the e.One’s internal DAC architecture, which can not only handle 24bit/192kHz files with support for gapless playback, but also has an MQA Core digital output/MQA full renderer. USB-A lovers can rejoice because the e.One has one input for external drives/sticks, can be software/firmware updated via remote and is a Roon Ready end-point (pending approval) of which I can attest to it working flawlessly in this capacity. It may have a smaller, half-chassis footprint, but weighs in at a not inconsiderable 15 lbs thanks to its heavy alloy, steel and aluminum casework.

The set up

A digital ecosystem.

For this review I used a dedicated Apple MacBook Air 11-inch running the latest version of Roon sewn up via Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet to a four-port 10/100/1000 router. The e.One was connected off the router then fed into the line stage of a McIntosh Labs C2600 tubed preamplifier via its unbalanced 2V output, or into the C2600’s internal 32-bit/384kHz DAC through its SPDIF/Coaxial output bypassing the internal e.One DAC completely. The C2600 in turn was driving a pair of McIntosh MC611 mono blocs hooked into a pair of Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers. All analog, digital and speaker cabling was a mix of TelluriumQ Black, Ultra Black and Diamond. AC cabling was TelluriumQ Black (for the e.One) and PS Audio for everything else. Clean power was supplied by a Power Plant 20.

The hook-ups.

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COMMENTS
plakey's picture

I’m confused why this doesn’t render to USB. It seems crazy to me. Most DACs are USB and USB DACs are more likely to have better DSD implementation. So this doesn’t make sense as a new product. I’m in the market for a Roon endpoint to replace my Rendu and this looks great. Except it doesn’t output to my DACS. Why would anyone make this without USB outputs?

Rafe Arnott's picture
Some companies may not want to deal with the noise and jitter issues of USB (but it's also inherent to SPDIF, Ethernet, etc.), so I couldn't say for sure. dCS doesn't use USB out in their Network Bridge, nor does Naim – just two off the top of my head... I could ask John Quick at dCS why that is and post the response.
Hudson's picture

I had the E.one for a week and came away less impressed than Rafe. On MQA files, it sounded very nice, but with Redbook files it was just ok. In a head-to-head against my aging TriVista 21 DAC fed by a modified Squeezebox, the E.One was bested consistently using Redbook files but it did pull ahead with MQA files. It did not best my Sony HAPZ1ES, though its streaming features are superior to the Sony's very limited Spotify and Pandora support.

One major limitation of the E.One with Roon - it cannot process Roon-DSD files (including Roon-upsampled Redbook files), nor can it pass along Roon's upsampled DSD files via its digital outputs, making it only a 24/196 DAC/streamer. I don't have many DSD files, but I do like what Roon does with DSD upsampled Redbook files.

I ultimately passed on the E.one and eventually ended up with the Lumin D2, which for $700 more offers DSD, balanced outputs, and full MQA and Roon compatibility. I really wanted to like the E.one as its price point was very accessible, but ultimately the E.One failed to deliver the sound quality I expected from my experience with other Bel Canto products. I did pop the cover and my brief inspection indicates there's not much analog goodness or power supply under the hood to justify a price above $1000 IMHO, especially compared to the Lumin (or my ancient TriVista or the Sony, which both have a fantastic output stage and power supply).

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