TC Electronic BMC-2 by Diogo C
Product: BMC-2 D/A Converter and Monitor Controller
Manufacturer: TC Electronic
Price: 599 USD (MSRP)
To put things into perspective: I bought this converter for my personal studio and my previous analog monitor feed and control was provided by a Steinberg UR28M, which is a well-regarded sound card in terms of monitoring and digital-analog conversion quality. The BMC-2 sounds very clean, uncolored and neutral - I’d say that it sounds the way supposed to sound and doesn’t get in the way of anything. It definitely felt like a sensible improvement on all ends. The Steinberg didn’t sound “bad” next to it, but the BMC-2 easily sounded better. It wasn’t night and day, but it wasn’t subtle and it really felt like an upgrade to my system - and this will likely be the case with the majority of low/mid-end sound cards out there.
Besides providing good quality XLR analog outputs, the BMC-2 also packs a nice headphone amp that is capable of driving well even most demanding cans. It can go very loud and stays clean, and listening to mastered music with my Beyer 990 (250ohm) hardly required going past the 10 o’clock position, while on the UR28 it had to past 12 o’clock and it still didn’t felt “right”, but on the BMC2 it definitely does.
I won’t go into the “insert brand X here” comparisons since evaluating a monitoring system is a mixture of personal tastes and circumstances such as room and speakers interaction that makes it hard to judge things on equal terms. I’ll just say that no sound card in the price range of the BMC-2 will sound this good and you’ll have to get into the Lavry-Benchmark-Mytek-etc range to beat it - and that’s why I’m giving a 4 out of 5 since there are clearly a lot of superior options out there even though they are totally out of its price range. Bottom line is: this unit does sound very good and it’s definitely worth a check if your budget is tight but your desire for quality conversion is high.
This unit is quite well featured and serves extremely well as a monitor controller. It can receive digital signals from up to three sources (Adat/Toslink and Spdif) which are handled and converted to the analog XLR outputs and the headphone output. Main output is controlled by the big prominent knob, and it has buttons to control dim, cut and mono/side. There’s a “reference” button that can be set according to the current volume knob position, which is quite handy to raise/lower levels for different loudness checking purposes. It has also an “alt” button for feeding a pair of speaker with digital inputs. The headphone output has its own volume knob and it’s not affected by the dim/cut functions - handy for muting monitors and doing quick headphone checks. This headphone output can be sacrificed to feed a second set of speakers, and I usually feed a home stereo with it for doing “real world” checks with the convenience of having volume knobs for the boombox and for my main monitors. Information-wise the BMC2 does a decent job: it displays the incoming sample rate and metering is provided by a 14 leds that are well scaled with decent resolution and there’s also a couple of red leds for analog overloads.
Build quality is good and it’s a small and light piece of equipment with a footprint that's small-enough to fit most desks, even the smaller and cramped ones. The resolution, precision and quality of the volume knobs are quite good, but the buttons feel a bit cheaper than the rest of the unit. The side panels are replaceable and even though TC doesn’t offer a solution for this you can get it done through the DIY route with some good skills on wood.
Overall the BMC-2 is a very good front-end for a monitoring system and can compliment a lot of sound cards out there as a desktop monitor controller, especially those with little or no analog controls over the monitor volume or rackmount and internal cards that might be harder to access. The BMC-2 can work very well even without a “proper” sound card if your computer’s onboard sound has a Spdif or Toslink output can provide a digital output and handle ASIO4ALL on Windows or Core Audio if you’re on a Mac. Luckily that is the case with a lot of computers, especially desktops, so the BMC can either be the hub for different sound cards or even function directly feed by the computer’s digital output. TC Electronics kindly included a mini-trs to optical toslink that comes in handy when connecting the BMC-2 to a laptop’s digital out. Only thing one could potentially miss here is a second pair of balanced analog outputs, but this would surely make the package less tight and more expensive.
Ease of use
Setting up the BMC-2 is super easy. Connect the power adapter, proper analog and digital cabling and you’re set - it doesn’t need a computer, so it’s basically hooking it up to your sources and play some music. All the functions are easily accessed and there’s nothing too technical to do here, like bit or sample rate conversion as the BMC-2 handles all by itself. On studio work (and general leisure use) it proves to be a very valuable tool with its easy source selection, dim and reference functions and a precise volume knob that will make it easy to keep levels where you want.
One weird thing I've noticed about this unit is that it stays hot even after you turn it off, and for it to cool down completely it has to really be plugged out - not a hard thing to do since the power cord is can be easily accessed and unplugged, but a weird thing to notice nonetheless, and since I live in a hot tropical country more heat is never a good thing...
Bang for buck
In my personal situation the BMC-2 came with a significant discount because it was purchased along with a pair of Dynaudio BM series monitors, so it was big bang for very little buck. If you’re on the hunt for a monitoring overhaul that doesn’t break the bank be sure to watch out for deals on the BMC-2 and on those combos with monitors, those offers are quite common - more so on some european retailers. At retail price it might still worth it depending on where you’re coming from i.e. the soundcard (and subsequent DA conversion) you have. The fact that it is kind of a future proof unit adds to the bang. I’m planning to replace the Steinberg UR28M for something bigger/better, but the BMC-2 will likely stay as the front end since the quality of conversion and ease of use I get with it will hardly be matched by anything costing less than a thousand dollars.