GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published September 1, 2002


B&K PT-3 Series II Preamplifier and ST2140 Stereo Amplifier

If I didn’t know B&K Components Ltd. was located in Buffalo, New York, I would have guessed they were a German company. Everything B&K makes seems overbuilt, much like German cars. Their products' solid appearance and surprising heft, along with their conservative but unique styling, go a long way toward setting them apart from the electronics mainstream -- no mass-market cookie-cutter looks here. All of their products are designed, engineered, and built at their own facility in Buffalo, and maybe that element of complete control accounts for the performance and value B&K seems to be able to build into their products.


The PT-3 Series II is a stereo preamplifier that retails for $598 and, unlike many of its competitors, thoughtfully includes an AM/FM tuner with 40 presets, in addition to five line-level inputs and a tape loop (there is no phono input). Also uncommon at this price point is the inclusion of a subwoofer output mated with a high-pass line-level output for use with smaller speakers. This way, if you are using a sub for low-bass duties, you can cross over your smaller speakers for potentially better sound. Neat stuff.

The unit itself is of standard width, but only a little over half the depth of most full-sized components, yet the little PT-3 Series II still manages to weigh in at a solid-feeling 16 pounds. Although part of this is due to the over quarter-inch-thick aluminum faceplate, peering through the vents revealed that the majority of the weight was from the dense circuitry inside.

On the PT-3 Series II’s front, and below the characteristic truncated oval-window display, are nine rubber (i.e., not plastic) buttons that can be used to control most of the unit’s functions. These are also duplicated on the remote. You can, if you wish, customize source names and even level settings (bass, treble, volume, etc.) for each source. The manual, although thorough, is fairly confusing regarding this feature and I found I could operate the unit just fine without customizing it, but it’s certainly nice to have these capabilities if you want them. I wasn’t crazy about the layout of the remote, as the volume control was located on the left side (maybe there are a lot of lefties in Buffalo) and the source buttons were grouped in two different areas, and set well apart from each other. That said, the remote was comprehensive and worked well once I got used to it. The PT-3 Series II is also equipped with a control output (to remotely turn on/off other components), IR input, and an RS-232 input to maximize control flexibility. There is also a headphone jack for quiet listening.

I’ll go into wish-list mode and say that I would prefer that the volume control worked in 1dB increments rather than 2dB, as on many occasions I was stuck listening to a song either a little too loud or soft. Also, the volume control on the remote has to be pushed once to tell the preamp you’re controlling the volume, and then again to adjust the level, which I found to be an annoyance.

I’ll now get greedy and add that an analog bypass to avert passing the signal through unused circuits would be nice, as would a home-theater pass-through function that would allow for seamless integration with a processor or A/V receiver without the need for volume matching.

There’s not much to talk about in the ergonomics department regarding the ST2140. The power button is the lone occupant of the front panel, which is also of the sturdy quarter-inch-thick-aluminum variety. The big surprise was on the back panel where, in addition to the dual pair of plastic-capped, five-way binding posts, I found balanced inputs along with the standard single-ended inputs. This, along with the 31 pounds of mass and detachable power cord, were my main tip-offs that this amp was meant for duties that lay far beyond its $698 asking price. This led me to the specs page, where I learned that this thing puts out a claimed 140W per side into 8 ohms, which is delivered via what is called a "class-A pre-driver stage" and a "class-AB MOSFET output stage." At this point, I had to remind myself that this amp is actually part of B&K’s lower line of amplifiers -- overbuilt indeed.


I started by plugging the PT-3 Series II into my system where it replaced a Rotel RSP-980 preamp/processor, which fed a McCormack DNA-0.5 (Rev. A) amplifier and Soliloquy 6.2 speakers. In turn, a Pioneer DVD transport and an Electronic Visionary Systems Millennium DAC1 fed the B&K.

Pretty much right from the get-go it was apparent that the PT-3 Series II was a smooth operator. Music took on a sense of ease that made listening fairly effortless and very enjoyable, yet there was enough detail to let me know what was going on, in and around the instruments and performers. I started with Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature [Giant 24719] and found Donald Fagan’s vocals on "Gaslighting Abbey" to take on a slightly fuller and smoother tone that sounded more natural than what I’m used to hearing. The cymbals also had a slightly cleaner presentation. On the other end of the sonic spectrum, the deep and driving bass line in "Janie Runaway" was full of all the punch and rhythmic feel this song demands, without any bloat or slack.

I often use Patricia Barber’s Modern Cool [Blue Note/Premonition 7243 5 21811 2 4] as an acid test to evaluate a component’s capabilities -- it is well recorded and contains an eclectic mix of songs and sounds that readily expose any limitations a piece of equipment may possess. I know this disc so well that I can usually tell in the first few minutes whether a particular unit is doing this recording justice, and it was obvious as soon as I pushed Play that the PT-3 Series II was doing a lot right. Immediately, I noticed that the soundstage seemed like it expanded and filled out with more weight and feel among its occupants, a characteristic I usually find in, and associate with, much higher-priced preamps.

Also noteworthy: Center images seemed more solid and locked in, so that it took less effort on my part just to absorb the music. I didn’t have to think about it. The PT-3 Series II once again fleshed out tonal colors, and I also heard an improvement in the balance between tone and sibilance in Patricia Barber’s sultry voice. Bass remained tight and tuneful, and the treble was nicely detailed and balanced in the mix, yet with just a hint of softness at the very top end that slightly rounded off the leading edges of some attacks. This also showed up as a slight veil that limited the perceived sense of air within the recording. But these concerns tended to fade well into the background considering all the things the PT-3 Series II was getting right. Overall, the PT-3 Series II delivered all the emotion, dynamics, and wealth of tonal flavors that this disc has to offer. Although it sounds like a cliché, I mean it when I say that the PT-3 Series II could easily be compared to preamps costing much more than its asking price.

As impressed as I was by the PT-3 Series II, I was outright stunned by the ST2140. I was so captivated that I really had to dig to come up with anything that I could even stretch to call a fault. The name of the ST2140’s game is transparency. It simply lets the music come through without adding anything of any significance that I could discern, which is high praise for any audio component at any price. Treble was extended and clean, bass was tight and quick, mids were full and emotive, imaging was precise and well defined, and the soundstage was as big as you please.

On "Company," from Modern Cool, the snare-drum whacks were detailed and dynamic with all the resulting echoes that radiate out after each stroke. The bass drum was also punchy and tight, while the drum solo toward the end of the song was always right where it needed to be and never lagged behind. There was also tons of space and air in and around the performance. On "Touch of Trash" the tin cans readily occupied their own physical space at the back, right portion of the stage. They sounded like they were physically being played in my room. The piano on "You & The Night & The Music" attained its proper life-sized scale, and its physical presence was notable as the ST2140 communicated not only the hammer and string, but also the soundboard. I could easily tell this was no small instrument. In short, the ST2140 had enough delicacy and grace to capture the small nuances essential to a musical performance, but it also had the guts to bring the images to life in my room, and this combination makes it an outstanding all-around performer.

However, no amplifier is perfect, and after some searching, I finally found something to quibble about. Although the bass lead-in from Diana Krall’s "All or Nothing at All" from Love Scenes [Impulse! 233] was accurately portrayed, I didn’t sense quite the weight I have heard from much more expensive amplifiers. I confirmed this with Tony Falanga’s Soul of the Bass [Plane 88846], where I didn’t get the full resonance and warmth of the big double bass. I must say, though, that overall the low frequencies sounded present and convincing.

It’s almost not fair to quibble at all, as we are talking about that last ounce of performance that is usually reserved for amps reaching well into the multi-thousand-dollar range, but the ST2140 is so good that it deserves to be judged at this level. In fact, the ST2140 is so transparent and well rounded that I could easily use it as a reference -- it’s that good. I found myself wondering what B&K left on the table for its upper-level Reference line of amplifiers, ‘cause the ST2140 sure didn’t leave much wiggle room.


The PT-3 was more refined and more tonally rich and meaty than my Rotel RSP-980, and in this sense the PT-3 Series II sounded like a much more expensive preamp than it actually is. For its part, the Rotel excelled at capturing more air and the crispness of transient attacks, generally yielding a more open sound in the upper-frequency range. I suspect many people who are looking for a product like the PT-3 Series II are looking to add refinement to an existing system, and in this case the little B&K would be an excellent choice.

B&K ST2140 Stereo Amplifier

When I started this review, I planned to compare the ST2140 to the amp section of an NAD receiver I have. Instead, I had no choice but to compare it to my reference McCormack DNA-0.5, as there were far more similarities than differences between the two. However, one glaring difference is that the McCormack, with its Revision A modification, is about four times the price of the ST2140! But for some added heft and tonal bloom in the bass and mids on the part of the DNA-0.5, the amps performed like fraternal twins in my system, and that is very high praise considering the McCormack’s excellent reputation and the formidable price difference between the two.


Both the PT-3 Series II and ST2140 are excellent performers by any standard. In the few areas where they err at all, they do so by omission rather than commission, which is the preferred tack. Together they are a rare find anywhere near their respective price points.

I believe the ST2140 could live quite happily in just about any high-quality rig, while the PT-3 Series II represents a near-perfect choice for those looking to enter the realm of separate components. At a combined price of just under $1300, this is the kind of performance that will make a lot of people with much higher-priced systems start to feel a little insecure. From my perspective, the PT-3 Series II and ST2140 would have to be considered screaming bargains. My experience with these solidly built and solid-performing, high-value B&K siblings makes me wonder if BMW shouldn’t start building cars in Buffalo.

Prices of equipment reviewed

GOODSOUND!All Contents Copyright © 2002
Schneider Publishing Inc., All Rights Reserved.
Any reproduction of content on
this site without permission is strictly forbidden.