Equipment Review No. 1 December 2001
Speakercraft BB1265 12-channel Amplifier
12-channel power amplifier; 65 WPC continuous at 8 ohms (all channels driven); .05% 20Hz-20kHz @ 8 ohms (all channels driven); Channel Bridging; Remote Power-On Switching via Signal Sensing or Voltage Trigger; 12V Control Output for Switching Auxiliary Devices On or Off; Pass Through BUS Output allows Daisy-Chaining Multiple Amplifiers; removable 3 prong power cord; 9.25 H x 17 W x 20 D inches; 2 year parts and labor warranty.
1650 7th Street
Riverside, CA 92507
Music Hall CD-25 CD player; Paradigm Monitor 9 version 2 speakers; Philips CDC-935 CD player; Signet SL-260 speakers; Rotel RB-976 6-channel amplifier for comparison.
Explanation of Functions and Operation
The most obvious use for a 12-channel amplifier is multi-room applications. In other words, you can have up to 12 speakers in other rooms of the house and you don't have to buy separate stereo amplifiers for each pair or use a passive speaker selector box that limits power and reduces quality. Also, you add the ability to add more amplification, easily switch speakers into mono or change channels, bridge channels, and even trigger the amplifier or other components on and off. I also received a Speakercraft Eazy-6 multi-zone/ multi-source preamplifier that will be reviewed in a future issue. There are so many features and functions that allow for just about any type of installation, that I almost can't list them all, but I'll try.
First of all, each channel is protected individually. On the front of the unit are 6 lights (grouped by channels i.e. 1-2, 3-4, etc) that indicate whether there is a fault. This means that if your installer is sloppy or wires accidentally touch together, only the affected area will shut down. This is very useful in tracking down wiring problems. The speaker terminals are not 5-way binding posts as mentioned in the manual. They have the typical plastic collar that prevents the use of spades. However, my guess is that in most installations bare wire will be used. Banana plugs are also an option. If you don't need all the channels, would like more power, and have 8-ohm speakers, then it is easy enough to bridge two channels together and double the power of the output. Also, there is an 8- or 4-ohm setting for each output to match to different speakers (and I assume for current limiting.) There are InstaLLock Connectors that are specific to Speakercraft amplifiers that allow easy and quick connection of the speaker wire. They look like long plastic pieces that resemble the plugs that connect boards in computers together, but are much heavier duty. I wasn't sent any of these connectors, so I couldn't easily try them. The amplifier is incredibly heavy, so if you don't have an easy way of getting behind the beast, then these connectors might make life easier.
Each channel has a dedicated RCA input. In addition to these inputs you have the option to instead assign the signal from either the BUS or AUX inputs (via a switch) and also choose whether the output is the left, right, or left + right signal. In addition, there are BUS and AUX outputs that allow pass through or connection to a second amplifier. Each channel has an independent level adjustment (which I used instead of a preamplifier as a means of level control.) Normally, these would allow channel balancing as well as providing a good way to prevent accidental overdriving of speakers in various zones.
The amplifier has different modes of operation. It can either be on constantly, it can be triggered by other components, or it can turn on when it senses the audio signal. The trigger will function with any A/C or D/C voltage between 3-30 Volts. There is also a 12V trigger for other components. I tried the audio sensing setting and was surprised how quickly the output came on. It seemed almost instantaneous (<1 second.) When the amplifier is first turned on you can hear the relays (protection circuitry) clicking on. Other than that, the amplifier emits no sound that I could hear.
The manual is very complete. It has several diagrams that give you a good idea of the various uses of the BB1265. It even shows the option of using five (bridged) channels of 130 WPC for a surround system fed by a surround preamplifier, and the other two used for another zone. It completely steps the user through the installation and explains all the setup options.
The chassis is very big and heavy as is expected with an amplifier having 12 channels of high current amplification at 65 watts apiece. When I looked inside, it seemed as if there were extra space in the component that would help with heat dissipation even if something were placed directly on top of the unit. Of course, the manual recommends against blocking any of the ventilation areas, and I wouldn't try this at home.
One quirk that I noticed was present when I had a set of speakers connected to a set of output terminals, but did not have an input selected. I had the AUX input running with the Music Hall CD player and was running a set of speakers off the 9 and 10 outputs. The 11 and 12 speaker terminals were connected to speakers but the input was set to LINE, and there were no cables connected. I heard clicking and popping sounds from the speakers. As soon as I connected another CD player (a Rotel RCC-935,) the sound stopped. As soon as the cables were removed, the popping started again. It is imperative to have something connected to avoid this noise. Of course, in a normal installation there would never be a case of speakers connected to the amplifier and nothing connected to the input.
Listening- Part I (comparison)
Most people will use this amplifier with small in-wall speakers throughout the house. I wanted to try it with a more conventional speaker to get a better handle on how it would perform in a typical stereo system. As it turned out, there was no problem driving the floor standing speaker that I used, although the Paradigm speaker is not particularly difficult to drive and is fairly sensitive. I left the amplifier set to 8-ohm and never felt that it was under stress whatsoever.
I happened to have an older Rotel 6-channel amplifier that I wanted to use for comparison. It originally sold for $600 and has been replaced by a newer model at $700. Two of these amplifiers would be needed to equal the number of channels offered by the BB1265, and the combination would still not even come close to the flexibility offered by the Speakercraft amplifier.
I put on track 2, "Don't Start Me Talking," from Joe Beard's For Real album. There was a good amount of punch coming from the speaker and the sound was clean even with the volume high. I never felt the amplifier was breaking a sweat, even when the sound was much louder than I would expect anyone to be listening at. The Rotel amplifier seemed to be less powerful in the low end, but had a little more focus on voice. The BB1265 had a good sense of space, and was more in-your-face sounding. Even with the Rotel turned up in level (clearly beyond the volume of the Speakercraft,) it still managed to sound more relaxed and laid back. The Speakercraft amplifier seemed to have a bit more bite and edge on the voice especially. The difference was so slight that I don't think it would be worth fretting about. With a typical installation (in-wall speakers) it would be almost impossible to tell the two amplifiers apart, and if the flexibility of the BB1265 were a factor, then it would be no contest.
Listening- Part II (solo)
I didn't really feel the need to do any more comparison listening, because it was clear that there was not a whole lot of difference between the two amplifiers sonically. This is good, because I always thought the Rotel was a pretty decent-sounding amplifier. There is no doubt in my mind that a critically-selected 2-channel amplifier would offer superior sound when compared to the Speakercraft, but then, if you are in the market for a good 2-channel amplifier you probably wouldn't be reading this review. I thought I would just continue the listening sessions
Next up was track 1, "Heaven and Earth (land theme)" from Kitaro's soundtrack to the film Heaven And Earth. Right away I was impressed with the wide soundstage and the sense of depth and space. All the instruments had nice texture, and the massive wash of sound flowed over me and was encompassing. The flute was nicely rendered without added edge or stridency. Overall, the sound was very convincing and believable.
For a little change of pace, I connected the Speakercraft amplifier up to the speakers that currently reside in my bedroom, the Signet SL-260s. The CD player in use at this point was an older Philips CDC-935. After rebalancing the levels a bit, I put on track 9, "Watch What Happens," from Stanley Turrentine's Easy Walker. Horn was sounding very good, and there was no doubt that the amplifier was easily powering the speakers (8-ohm setting.) Piano and cymbals had a pleasant sound and the dynamics were good. There was a believable sense of reverberation and the acoustic was presented naturally.
I used to have a rack full of stereo amplifiers that drove speakers in my dining room, bedroom, and outside. It was great to eliminate all the clutter and complexity of multiple amplifiers and utilize a single amplifier. Not only that, but I could bridge the BB1265 and get more power, or add more rooms later. In the past I would have had to use a combination of tape outputs and Y-adaptors to accomplish the final connection and get everything working. Happily, the BB1265 required only a single connection and a few switch flips and I was in business. However, I did lose one thing-the ability to easily trim the levels in different rooms from the front of the amplifier. Normally there would be local speaker level volume controls or electronic volume controls, but I never got around to installing them. When I get the Speakercraft Eazy-6 multi-zone/ multi-room preamplifier connected, then this will no longer be an issue-AND I'll have volume control in every speaker location.
I put on track 4, "It's Been Awhile," off Staind's Break The Cycle. Loud, raucous, head banging, and foot-stompin' sounds-and that was just me! To say that this amplifier can handle rock'n'roll is an understatement. It is definitely on the forward, up-front side of neutral, but as long as the speakers are not overly bright and hard, there should be no trouble. Another noteworthy characteristic of this amplifier worth mentioning is how quiet it is. In between tracks the sound just faded into blackness.
Lastly, I put on the Adagio, track 5, from Bruch Concerto No. 1, Op. 26 from Brahms & Bruch Violin Concertos (BMG 60479-2). Violin was sweet and well defined with just a slight edge. The performance is quite inspired, even if the recording isn't the best. It was easy to follow the violin as it stood out from the rest of the orchestra. I found myself becoming engrossed in the presentation with little thought about the equipment in the system.
I didn't even come close to testing the full capabilities of the Speakercraft BB1265 in this review. After I get a chance to play around with the companion Eazy 6 preamplifier, then the benefits of this amplifier will become even more apparent. At one point I connected two CD players to the 1265 via the BUS and AUX inputs. I was then able to flip the switches on the back of the 1265 and select L+R signal of one CD to the left speaker, and the other just played the R channel of the other CD. I could flip back and forth between sources, switch channels, combine channels to mono and play music out of both speakers or a single speaker-it was a lot of fun!
Multi-room audio itself is a lot of fun, and that is what this amplifier is all about. Whether you decide you want to listen to different sources in different rooms, or just send a little background radio throughout the house, the choice is yours. The amplifier functioned without a hiccup, and sounded as good as almost anyone would require (given the application.) It had no problem driving larger full-range speakers, never got too warm, never shut down, never made a sound other than what I put into it (except as noted in the end of the first section.) Although I would hesitate to recommend this component for use in a higher end surround system such as a 5-channel amplifier with an extra set of channels, it would provide good value for amplifying the rear channels along with a few extra rooms. As strictly a multi-room amplifier the BB1265 is a great value and coupled with the Eazy-6 preamplifier (or other equipment) would be a nice combination for very little money.
I don't know of any 12-channel amplifiers that come close in price or in features to the Speakercraft BB1265. Surround sound and multi-room audio is what is fueling the industry these days and the Speakercraft BB1265 is a perfect example why. Stay tuned to read about the preamplifier review next month, and you just might want to grab a set.
- Brian Bloom
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