World Premiere Review!
Bella Sound's offices and factory are in Northern California, about 25 miles south of San Francisco. They design and manufacture amplifiers, power conditioners, and AC power cables. The subject of this review is their Hanalei monoblocks, which have an output rating of a substantial 700 Watts into 4 Ohms. Bella Sound offers one other amplifier, their Kahili stereo amplifier, rated at 400 Wpc, not as powerful as the Hanalei monoblocks, but still a considerable amount of power.
Both amplifiers that Bella Sound manufactures have enough
solid-state power that one might not be faulted for assuming that both their
amplifiers, especially the subject of this review, are made with a Class D
circuit. In fact, they are both Class A throughout the front-end signal path,
and Class A/AB through the output stage. High performance and efficiency are the
product of innovative advancements in power supply technology and biasing. Not
only are their approximately 19" wide, 9" high, and 17" deep cabinets a
giveaway, but they also weigh in at a hefty 70 pounds each. The amps were
shipped to me in "Pelican" cases, which are seriously protective
molded and reinforced plastic cases that likely add another 20 to 25 pounds to
their shipping weight.
Spoiler Alert: I was very impressed with the sound quality of the Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks. I am sure that the designers of these monoblocks also think so; as they state the neutralizing output stage configuration contributes to astonishing clarity, transparency, spatial resolution, and immersive sound, without the slightest hint of edginess, coloration, or compression. My many listening sessions during these monoblocks' audition period revealed this to be absolutely true.
The digital front end was built around a computer-based music server, with its USB output connected to an EMM Labs DA2 digital-to-analog converter (DAC). On occasion, I also used a Benchmark Media DAC HGC converter. The music server had several hard drives that were hard-wired to the computer's USB inputs, but occasionally, I listened to music streaming from either Qobuz or Tidal apps. I do have a nice collection of SACD, music DVD, and Blu-ray, so for these 5" silver discs, I spun them on an OPPO UDP-203 universal disc player, with its digital output connected to the DAC, its analog outputs to the linestage.
I listened to the analog front-end for at least half my time during the Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks audition. It included a Basis Audio Model V turntable with a Top Wing Suzaku / Red Sparrow phono cartridge mounted on a Tri-Planar 6 tonearm. An AC power regenerator acted as a power supply and speed controller for the Basis turntable's AC synchronous motor. The Tri-Planar's integral RCA interconnects was routed to a Pass Labs two-chassis XP-27 phono preamplifier connected to the linestage using XLR interconnects.
Sound Labs touts their Majestic 545 speakers as "full range," although their specifications reveal that their bass frequencies gently roll off at about 32 Hz. This low-frequency range is very respectable for an electrostatic speaker. To me, "full range" indicates that the speaker reproduces frequencies with the ideal range of human hearing, 20 Hz to 20 kHz. To reach this perfect frequency range in my listening room, I augmented the speakers' low-end with a pair of SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofers with a low-frequency response of 16 Hz (+/-3dB).
In August of 2023, I reviewed Crystal Cable Micro Diamond Series 2 interconnects, loudspeaker, power, and USB cables. I haven't removed them from my system since then, so I must like their sonic performance! I used these cables throughout the system during the entire Bella Sound monoblocks audition period, except for the monoblocks. For these mighty amplifiers, I used the power cables provided to me by Bella Sound, their own Kaula 2. Bella Sound's website makes some bold claims regarding their Kaula 2 cable. Still, since one of these claims is that they "Absolutely have no sonic signature of their own," this made me feel more comfortable using them during the audition period.
The room where I auditioned the Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks is an acoustically treated room with several audio treatment panels on the listening room's rear, sides, and back walls. In addition to these panels, the walls are lined with shelves filled with LPs, and the floor is covered with commercial-grade carpeting. Two dedicated power lines go straight to our basement's circuit panel. The listening room walls are painted with Benjamin-Moore "Lake Tahoe" blue. A major psychology publication claims that blue "evokes feelings of calmness, serenity, peace, tranquility, and security."
Bruckner's penchant for having the horns and lower strings of the orchestra play the score's themes in unison never fails to fill with awe of their power. While listening to this Bruckner symphony through the Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks, the key takeaway was power. My feeling of awe is practically unmatched when listening to this score, as long as I don’t compare it to the relatively infrequent event of being able to hear this symphony played live.
Even though there is no way a two-channel audio system can faithfully replicate the sound of a full orchestra playing on a 50-foot-wide concert hall stage, some systems can let me sonically glimpse the gestalt of the live event. Through a decent high-end audio system, my mind has less trouble filling in the sonic blanks that might be missing. The Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks came pretty darn close to sounding like I was sitting in row H of the concert hall where the piece was recorded. In this case, this was largely due to the sheer power that the Hanalei monoblocks possessed, which enabled an amount of headroom that made micro-and macro-dynamics as lifelike as possible, given the technical choices made by the designers of these monoblock amplifiers.
The Bella Hanalei monoblock amps seemed to revel in reproducing a large orchestra that Bruckner called for, as I could imagine the amps' basking in their ability to reproduce the power that George Solti coaxed from the Vienna Philharmonic. As the symphony progressed, more and more instruments were added to the mix, and so the music became, for lack of any other term, breathtaking.
In addition to their dynamic prowess, the drawn-to-scale soundstage and realistically pinpoint imaging rendered by the Hanalei monoblocks were exceptional. I've had the pleasure of auditioning amplifiers that cost even more than these Bella Sound amps. The Hanalei monoblocks would not embarrass themselves in a head-to-head comparison with these more expensive components.
From how I've portrayed it, one might think that Bruckner's Eighth Symphony is all Sturm und Drang, but this is not so, as many pastoral themes are frequently present. Yes, the powerful passages of this symphony flaunted the Bella Sound amps' dynamic prowess and other benefits of a well-designed, high-powered amp. Still, the quieter passages, too, sounded amazingly lifelike. This was made possible because of the Hanalei monoblocks' rock-solid sound that floated above the amps' pitch-black background, enabling details during these quiet passages to sound amazingly lifelike.
What was even more fascinating was that sometimes, I found it challenging to analyze the sound quality of these amps. I would be captivated by the music and more than impressed by the sound quality of these amps. During the monumental final movement of the symphony, the score morphed into one with the horns alone playing the theme – as loud as they could – and that made it even more breathtaking! While playing this symphony, the Bella Sound amps seemed as if they could handle anything that was sonically thrown at them.
The sound quality of Pale Communion was excellent. Its
sound was not only excellent for a rock album but also excellent, period. It was
mixed by Steven Wilson, who, for the last couple of decades, has become very
well known for mixing contemporary acts but even more famous for remixing albums
by bands such as Yes, King Crimson, and many other progressive rock bands of the
The Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks' prodigious amount of power resulted in not only being able to reproduce the album as loud as I desired without a hint of overload distortion but also being able to reproduce the album's colossal dynamic peaks with zero overload. The Sound Lab electrostatic speakers in my reference system are more than a cut above most electrostatic speakers in that they can play very loudly without breaking up. But they can't defy the laws of physics, nor are my ears indestructible. I was quick to discover that both the monoblocks and the speakers were able to play louder than I could withstand.
Unlike the Bruckner symphony above, this Opeth album takes the real music recorded in a real space adage in a different direction. The Bella Sound Hanalei monoblocks expertly reproduced this multitrack recording. I would bet my last dollar that I was hearing a version of this album as close to the sound of the master tape as possible. With the Hanalei's extended frequency response, combined with its marvelous soundstage and imaging prowess, I could put this album on repeat and listen to it all day with no "listener fatigue" setting in until it was very late at night.