Product Reviews

Product reviews written specifically by our designated content team. They are the personal opinions of our chosen members on products supplied by manufacturers.

Hypex Nilai(R) 500 DIY Mono Power Amplifier By Alex Colburn The Class D amplifier was invented back in the 1950’s with truly practical amplifiers not appearing until the 1970’s. In 2003 Hypex moved into Class D with the introduction of the UcD (TM) (Universal class D) series of amplifiers which quickly became an industry standard employed widely in HiFi and pro audio. Then in 2011 Hypex introduced the NCORE (R) series of amplifiers, a new technology with a 20dB boost in feedback loop gain (Loop gain in Class D should not be equated to that in linear amplifiers) and resulting in 10 times better performance. For me, NCORE (R) represents a point when Class D amplification came of age as a serious competitor for linear amplifiers to the extent that my main amplification has been exclusively Class D since 2016. Moving on to late 2022 Hypex introduced another new technology, “Nilai(R) which apparently means “value” in Malay, a name somewhat appropriate for the DIY market. Hypex has always strongly supported the DIY community, choosing to release their latest technology to the DIY community first and Nilai (R)is no exception in this. The Nilai(R) technology features a triply nested feedback loop with first order bandwidth roll-off, improving loop gain and bandwidth. Hypex claim Nilai(R) is another 10-fold increase in performance across the board over NCORE(R) and this is reflected in the measured figures on the data sheet adding zeros after the decimal point in the distortion and output impedance figures. Taking these vanishingly small figures literally would imply Nilai (R)is 100 times better than UcDÔ, but of course, these things are never linear. NCORE(R) was a big step forward from UcD (TM) so it will be interesting to see where Nilai(R) stands in relation to NCORE.(R) Nilai(R) also boasts a custom designed discrete input buffer rather than the usual op-amp buffer. The monoblocks use a new power supply designated PS500DIY which features audiophile components and interleaved power factor correction to increase power density and lower electromagnetic interference. Kit assembly Nilai 500 DIY monoblock kit Since the WAM has a very strong DIY community it’s particularly appropriate to review the Nilai (R) as a DIY kit from the ground up rather than a completed amplifier. The kit comes very neatly packed in a compact tri-wall box including all the electronic and mechanical parts with virtually zero wasted space. Whoever designed the box deserves a medal, how often do items arrive in poorly designed packaging with acres of empty space which ends up just filling the bin with cardboard! Electronic assemblies, wiring looms and hardware Assembling the Nilai(R) 500 kit is very straightforward since the instruction booklet is predominately graphical with comprehensive images covering the identification of parts and each stage in the assembly process. For those interested, a preview of the assembly instructions can be found here: https://www.diyclassd.com/media/f0/6b/1c/1678454093/Nilai500DIY Mono-kit Assembly_R2.pdf There is also a useful animated video of the assembly process available here: The kit includes the specialist tools that are required such as Torx and small hex keys, any additional tools like pliers and a small flat-blade screwdriver will generally be available in the average household. Monoblock case components Having studied the instruction manual and identified all the components, the first stage in assembly is to bolt the PSU and amplifier module to the pre-drilled baseplate. The PSU has 7 small mounting pillars and requires a pre-drilled and threaded transition plate to position all the base mounting screws within the base plate. Interestingly, the only thermal path for heat dissipation from the PSU to the case is via the 7 small pillars which points to the very high efficiency of this new PSU design. In comparison, the PSU’s used in the NCORE(R) series of amplifiers have a very substantial heatsink which is bolted directly to the casing. The Nilai(R) 500 amplifier module is bolted to the baseplate with 4 screws and Hypex says that the efficiency of the amplifier means it does not need heatsink compound to enhance thermal conductivity to the baseplate. Unusually, the amplifier module heatsink comes with a semi-mirror finish which may play some role in mitigating the thermal requirements. PSU and amplifier module mounted on baseplate Stage two adds the U-shaped side panels to the baseplate which are held in position by the screws for the 25mm diameter machined aluminium feet. Each foot has an O-ring partially rebated into its surface to provide non-slip furniture protection. I found it beneficial to leave foot mounting screws loose by half a turn as they tend to bring the upper edges of the side channels together when tight making it difficult to slide in the top case panel and also insert the rear panel screws. The feet screws should only be tightened once the rear panel and top plate have been fitted. Next the front panel mounting brackets are screwed to the side panels which provides a neat screw free fixing for the front panel. Side plates, input power loom and front panel brackets fitted Stage three is the longest phase and covers the assembly and fitting of the rear panel. The supplied speaker terminals are a substantial gold-plated variety able to accept 4mm plugs, fork connectors or bare wires. With the rear panel having two 45° spaced mounting lug notches for each speaker terminal, by removing and rotating the speaker terminal base to the desired position they can be mounted in any one of eight positions according to your own preference. The speaker terminals are fixed in position with an insulating washer and a nut which is best tightened with a 12mm spanner. A short wiring loom with gold-plated fork connectors is at one end, and bootlace ferrules at the other end, connect the speaker terminals to the amplifier module. Two opposing grub screws in the terminals are used to firmly clamp the bootlace ferrules. A push-fit IEC power inlet with integral fused live is pressed into the rear panel and the two T6.3A anti-surge fuses (one fuse is a spare) are fitted in the integral pop-out fuse holder. A single pole push-fit mains switch is pressed into the panel above the power inlet, which should be inserted with the correct polarity shown in the diagrams. The mains wiring loom connects to the power inlet and switch using spade connectors, so care is needed when following the wiring diagrams to ensure the mains live is connected to the correct terminal on the PSU. The balanced XLR input connector is mounted on a PCB assembly incorporating the external trigger socket and a three-position toggle switch to control the front panel LED brightness (high-off-low). The input module is swung into the back of the rear panel and secured with two self-tapping screws. Two wiring looms are connected to the input module before fixing the completed rear panel to the case with four screws. Assembled rear panel Rear panel mounted, speaker and power looms connected Stage four is the important step of fitting and dressing all the internal wiring, following the Hypex instructions carefully to avoid any unwanted electromagnetic interference that could otherwise affect performance. All the internal wiring is fitted with polarised connectors at both ends except for the speaker and mains wiring looms so it is a good idea to test the insertion of these before assembly, none should require significant force to mate properly. A short earth wire connecting to the power inlet is firmly bolted to the base panel of the case to fulfil mains safety requirements. The gold-plated fork connectors on the speaker connection loom are clamped into the amplifier module receptacles taking care to observe polarity and the wire is carefully dressed away from the input module. A short wiring loom connects the input module to the amplifier module which should be dressed in a simple vertical loop away from other wires. The wiring loom from the PSU to the amplifier module requires a single twist to align the correct polarity for the PCB connectors and should dress itself naturally in a simple vertical loop. All internal wiring connected and dressed Stage five is the final assembly, fitting the remaining PCB, top panel and front panel. The front panel PCB has the power/stand-by switch and indicator LED and is mounted above a recess on the rear of the front panel with two screws allowing the switch and LED to protrude very slightly through the panel. The ventilated top panel is slid into the top grooves of the side panels and held in position without fixings. The bottom edge of the front panel has two holes to take hex key grub screws which should be screwed in halfway. After connecting the remaining wiring loom to the front panel PCB, the panel is lifted onto the front of the case so it rests on the mounting brackets. By holding the panel down and in at the bottom, the lower edge grub screws can be tightened onto the lower edge of the mounting brackets and thereby locking the panel onto the front of the case. Finally, the feet screws can be tightened up locking everything together and the Nilai(R) 500 is now ready to be tested! Ventilated top panel and front panel fitted Assembly of the first kit took a little over one hour but the second kit only took 30 minutes with the whole process being pretty painless due to the excellent instructions. Both amplifiers powered up without any problems and I checked the DC offset on the output terminals to make sure they were safe to connect to the speakers. The rear mains switch powers up the PSU into standby mode and pressing the miniature push button above the front panel LED powers up the amplifier as confirmed by the illumination of the LED. A moveable jumper on the Nilai module allows you to set the overall gain of the amplifier to 11.68dB, 21.75dB or 27.88dB, I chose 21.75dB to best match my system. The monoblocks run nice and cool, after several hours they only reached a modest 32°C so the electricity bill is not going to suffer. Audition All listening tests were conducted using a Linn Klimax DSM with Organik DAC as a digital source and driving a pair of modified Townshend Glastonbury Tor Mk1 speakers augmented with Townshend Maximum Supertweeters. These speakers are not particularly sensitive at 88dB/W 6W and do respond well to power delivery. Source material was derived from a local NAS or streamed from a Qobuz Sublime account. Starting with classical, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring-Pucinella Suite, Yoel Levi Atlanta Symphony Orchestra 16bit/44.1kHz. It was clear that the lower frequencies were being presented with great solidity enhancing the perceived depth with no apparent smearing. Timpani was fast with natural depth and power and three-dimensionally stable. Michael Moore’s tuba playing was exceptionally full-bodied with great texture as was double bass. Imaging of the entire orchestra showed effortless depth and height extending beyond the speakers. Moving on but staying with the classical genre, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: Jean Guillou at the Great Organ of the Tonhalle, Zurich 16bit/44.1kHz is a well-known tour de force for any HiFi system. The Kleuker & Steinmeyer organ played in this piece was newly installed in 1988 and was based on a design conceived by Jean Guillou himself. So, a virtuoso musician playing an instrument designed by themself should be something special and I was not disappointed with the Nilai (r)’s reproduction. The organ was dimensionally well presented with each rank of pipes precisely defined all the way down to the 32’ monsters heavily featured in The Great Gate at Kiev. The attack and decay of notes were cleanly and naturally modulated by the acoustics of the hall imparting feeling and reality to the performance. By way of comparison but also contrast because Pictures at an Exhibition was originally written as a piano piece, I listened to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: Night on a Bald Mountain, Lorin Maazel The Cleveland Orchestra 16bit/44.1kHz. As with the Stravinsky, timpani was very solidly portrayed with good tonal character. The preponderance of wind instruments in this piece showcased the NilaiÒ’s ability to clearly and accurately present this class of instruments which many amplifiers fail to do. Agnes Obel: Aventine 24bit/44.1kHz is a fine recording of piano and female voice. The piano was reproduced very well with an “in the room” feel to it and the closely miked voice displayed a haunting and wonderfully breathy quality. As the recording is densely layered with cello and plucked strings it can be challenging but the Nilai (r)' s succeeded in maintaining good separation of instruments. Yamato: Aozora (The Drummers of Japan) 16bit/44.1kHz. A good recording of Japanese Taiko drumming is a stringent test of speakers and the ability of power amplifiers to drive them. The frequency range spans from the largest O-daiko drum all the way through to the smallest Shime drum and is topped with hand bells. Attendance of a live performance of Taiko drumming is needed to appreciate the sound and feeling to expect from a HiFi system. The Taiko technique integrates copious rim shots which add higher frequency content to produce a unique sonic quality. The Nilai’Òs delivered the best Taiko performance I have had from the system; the physical soundstage is necessarily large in all three dimensions (the O-daiko drums are mounted on a frame several feet above the stage) which was reproduced convincingly, and the high frequency content of the drums had the effect of locking them into the stereo image. Depth and power of the drums were very good and begs the question of how much current was being delivered into the speaker terminals at the 80 - 90dB SPL I was listening at. Throughout the audition, despite the demand I was putting on the Nilai(R)s, they failed to gain more than a couple of degrees in temperature. Conclusions My current amplifier is the Nord Three SE 1ET400A Mk II dual mono version which I found surpassed the performance of my earlier Hypex NC500 based amplifier. Based on Purifi technology with the Nord pro opamp custom input buffer, the 1ET400A does most of what the Nilai(R) 500 does in terms of sonic quality but not as well as the Nilai(R)s do. To sum up, the Nilai(R)s are seriously good amplifiers and at some point will migrate into commercial products but as a DIY kit they offer exceptional value for money. There is a cheaper stereo version of the Nilai amplifier available as a kit but since both channels share a single PSU it only delivers about half the power and therefore not a fair comparison to the monoblocks. The Hypex Nilai (r) 500 mono power amplifier kit costs: €820 excluding VAT and shipping and can be purchased direct here: https://www.diyclassd.com/products/diy-amplifier-kits/nilai500diy-500w-mono-power-amplifier-kit The kit is also available from some dealers in the UK who also offer a ready-built option for a relatively modest fee. The review amplifier kits and title picture are courtesy of Hypex Electronics B.V. (r) registered Trademark (TM) Trade mark Associated review equipment: Source: Linn Klimax DSM Organik Speakers: Modified Townshend Glastonbury Tor Mk1/Townshend Maximum Supertweeters Interconnects: Nordost Tyr 2 balanced XLR Speaker cables: Nordost Heimdall bi-wired Z-plugs Power cables: Nordost Heimdall 2
Hifi Lounge DeVore Day – 12th September 2023 By George Sallit I have said many times before that local dealer events are one of the best places for seeing and hearing audio. Despite that, the current favourites are still large audio shows held in unsuitable rooms in a hotel, or even worse, large glass-sided rooms. Shows are reasonable places to look at audio and get a general idea of how they sound but that tends to be it. Despite that, they still remain popular. There has recently been a significant increase in local dealer events. Not only can you see the audio equipment but you hear it in a purpose-designed room where the equipment has been carefully placed to get the best sound from the equipment. Whereas major shows tend to be set up quickly in order to meet the allocated times. I therefore admire what is achieved at big shows given those constraints. So when Hifi Lounge decided to showcase DeVore speakers I jumped at the chance to hear these speakers. They are made in the USA and have acquired a reputation for being efficient and having a lively sound. A bit like Audionote speakers. And to cap it off the big DeVores would be accompanied by a lovely Western Electric 91E 300B valve amplifier. As always Hifi Lounge accompanied the audio event with copious supplies of teas, coffees or cooling orange drinks to keep us all going throughout the day with some great nibbles at lunchtime. In the reception area was a great-sounding desktop/mini system using a pair of DeVore Fidelity O/Micro speakers and an all-in-one Rose RS 520 streamer, DAC and amplifier. This system made an impressive sound considering its size and made an excellent introduction to DeVore speakers. Next door was the first serious system consisting of a pair of DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers, an Audio Research I/50 integrated amplifier fed by a dCS Rossini and a Melco N1 digital front end. I spent a lot of time here as this system was really well balanced and the valves from the intro Audio Research amplifier worked well with these speakers. I liked the look and the sound of the speakers and DeVore has given the Fidelity O/93s a nice finish to make the most of these big square box speakers. I have been trying to get an Audio Research I/50 amplifier in for review by the Wam for some time. Seeing and hearing one in the flesh I know why. This amplifier looks the part and has Nixie tubes to show volume level and comes with the top plate in a variety of colours. It is white here. Next door to this system was the Coup de grâce with the DeVore Fidelity O/96 speakers with their big 10” (250mm) bass drivers. They were driven by a real work of art, the Western Electric 91E 300B amplifier using (surprise, surprise) Western Electric valves. And yes, it looks stunning in real life and sounds well, glorious. Having a front end of the dCS Vivaldi One helps no end. And for the vinylistas there was the SME Synergy turntable. I spent close to an hour here and enjoyed every second with a system that emotionally connects you to the music. Goosebump moments galore. To finish this set of systems off, upstairs was a more affordable set-up with the DeVore Fidelity O/Baby speakers Powered by a Prima Luna 400 integrated amplifier fed by the dCS Lina DAC + Clock. The soundstage was anything but babylike and the Evo 400s filled the room with an orchestra or a rock band and had a detailed sound that was relaxing with powerful dynamics. I have a set of Prima Luna pre/power amplifiers at home and they are really well built, easy to use and importantly give a sound quality that you can listen to all day. And I stayed there a bit longer than maybe I should, but I enjoyed the sound they were producing. All in all, it was a great day with a wide range of speakers and supporting equipment that had the magic mixture of being detailed and relaxing. It was a sound that you could listen to all day and still shock you with their dynamics. For me, the stars of the day were the Western Electric WE91Es amplifier and the DeVore O/96s speakers. These were some great systems put together by Hifi Lounge and they just worked. To follow on from this Open Day, Hifi Lounge is going to hold another Open Day on the 21st of October featuring Accuphase Audio. Tempted or what?
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Falcon LS3/5a (£2,475) vs Sound Artist LS3/5a (£495) Review by Martin Virgo Introduction A couple of years ago I decided that I needed a better pair of speakers for my nearfield system and naturally my thoughts turned to the BBC LS3/5a. I then noticed that the Chinese manufacturer Sound Artist had their version of the LS3/5a and looking at the modest, in LS3/5a terms, price decided to take a punt. Our editor asked if I fancied putting pen to paper about them, but I didn’t. The fact is that I have had damned little exposure to the LS3/5a and I felt for such a piece to be AT ALL worthwhile the elephant in the room had to be addressed, does it deserve the LS3/5a appellation at all. When I went over to Guildford Audio to listen to the SME Model 60 a few weeks ago I mentioned this to Trevor Martin, owner of Guildford Audio. He told me that he had a store of interesting equipment and thought he might have a pair of Falcons I could borrow …..and so it proved. THANK YOU Guildford Audio. I won’t retread the LS3/5s history, there are LOTS of articles covering this, including: Wikipedia; Stereophile Review; Falcon Acoustic LS3/5a. Falcon Acoustics sell speaker parts, kits and cabinets. They decided to build a fully licensed version of the BBC’s LS3/5a. At the other end of the spectrum, you have Sound Artist, they have produced something which echoes the size and the type of parts used by the BBC design, but not something that could be licensed in its current form, but it is 25% of the price. Is the extra eighteen hundred pounds worth spending? Of course, ANY speaker can only perform in the context of the system into which they are placed. It is here that many aficionados of these speakers may complain, a solid state amplifier system, perhaps even WORSE a CB Naim 140 power amp. Not a valve in sight! All I can say is that this is the near-field system that I use and I don’t currently have any valve amps at home. Test Tracks: The Good, The Bad and the Bright The tracks were selected to allow: Comparison of local and Qobuz sourced versions of the same tracks; Comparison of standard and remastered versions of the same track; Comparison of older and modern tracks, with their different mastering priorities; How problem tracks were presented. Qobuz Playlist: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/12708363 Problem Files: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/12623970 Falcon LS3/5a These are a nicely made pair of speakers that come in Baltic Birch Ply. The whole speaker looks and feels solid and well made. The specs: 2-way infinite baffle (sealed box) Freq Resp: 70Hz - 20kHz ± 3dB Sensitivity: 83dB. 2.83V, 1m Impedance: 15 ohm Dimensions (HWD): 305 x 190 x 165mm Weight: 5.35Kg each Sound Artist LS3/5a The Sound Artist certainly are presentable, just do not brush against the name on the speaker grill, you will find it is formed of multiple of sticky letters that quickly detach and form a jigsaw puzzle. You have three finish options, Rosewood (default and included in the base cost) and two premium finishes, Walnut and Macassar. I took the Rosewood. It is not robust, sitting on my desk next to my laptop the edge nearer the computer has lost bits of the dye. The speaker banana sockets look and feel robust. The overall construction seems perfectly reasonable, although my left-hand speaker has something inside that rattles when the speaker is turned over; I did mention this to Sound Artist who after an initial contact failed to reply. It doesn’t appear to affect the functioning of the speaker but hardly inspires confidence. The case itself is made of MDF, not the prescribed ply. For this reason, I tend to refer to the Sound Artists as a faux LS3/5a. The specs: 2-way infinite baffle (sealed box) Frequency response: 70Hz - 20KHz Sensitivity: 83db Max power: 50W - 150W Impedance: 11 ohms Dimensions(W×D×H/cm):19 × 17 × 30.5 x 2pcs Net weight:5.3kg x 2 Nearfield System The source was Roon, primarily Qobuz, with headroom enabled and sample rate NOT enabled. In effect this means that the music is send -3db down, this gives space to allow upscaling to occur without causing potential issues if 0db is crossed in the processing. I leave the headroom enabled in case I choose to turn on upscaling for a particular ‘problem’ recording. I set the LS3/5a up on acoustic foam wedges so that the tilted drive unit axes cross just in front of my sitting position. Let me address the Achilles of the LS3/5a immediately, all together now, the BASS. Yes, it is a small sealed box. To be really unkind I set up a playlist to ruthlessly expose this issue, there is NO point in avoiding a weakness, the question was how well did they cope? Falcon Listening Notes: The short answer is very well. They fail gracefully. Further than that, while they cannot project bass weight, they do allow you to hear the detail of what, for instance, an electric bass player is doing; there is enough bass to support and underpin the vast majority of music in an attractive and effective way, whilst being nimble enough to allow you to hear the technique being employed. You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker, Qobuz, 44.1/24 The track opens with a male voice ensemble that blossoms excellently through the Falcons, this draws you into the song. This is a superb track with some truly wonderful bass underpinning. The few repeated bass notes may not be as present as in a full-range speaker but they do their job, and a sense of tension is delivered. The voices are well formed, excellent verisimilitude. When I was younger I would have criticised Cohen’s inability to sing, now I am captured by the voice’s ability to project emotion. Hallelujah, Sarah McLachlan, Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, Qobuz, 96/24 An album of people who CAN sing; doesn’t mean that they are better. The band was co-ordinated by Larry Klein, a man with a long and varied career. Cohen often feels like poetry put to music. McLachlan has a lovely voice and her technique is on full display via the Falcons. The sparse instrumental support, including double bass, piano, guitars and alto sax, are nicely presented. The recording quality is excellent. Superstar, Elkie Brooks, Pearls, Qobuz, 44.1/16 An album on which I was brought up. This can be problematic on my CD rip through my main system and Linn Kazoo. Through the Falcons there were slight traces of spitting in places. The bass weight I am used to is reduced but where the player adds emphasis can still be heard, in fact the detail of the playing technique is fully on show. As crescendos are reached the increased urgency is well delivered. Train Song, Holly Cole, Temptation, Qobuz, 44.1/16 A superb piece of music absolutely leaning on a percussively plucked double bass. As her husky voice delivers the song Holly Cole’s vocalisations are surrounded by a host of percussive sounds and beats. Regardless of the attenuated bass depth this is simply MUSIC. The Falcons allow you to hear right into the music as the resonances roll over you. Rakim (Live), Dead Can Dance, In Concert (Live), Qobuz, 44.1/24 Amazing really. The players virtuosity are on fine display and the subterranean bass may be less present BUT you still get a feel for what is there. It is not just tone but timbre that is delivered. Mambo Sun (Album Version), T. Rex, Electric Warrior, Qobuz, 44.1/16 Another main system problem track when delivered via Minimserver/Linn Kazoo. Still has a touch of spitting, but the percussive elements are delivered with a startling attack. O Tannenbaum, Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Remastered & Expanded Edition) (2012 Remastered & Expanded Edition), Qobuz, 192/24 All sorts of subtlety going on here. Opens with a nice simple piano before being joined by the band. Simply drew me in and nicely deposited me out the other side – what, you expect me to write about this stuff when I am just enjoying it! From a HiFi perspective you can follow the individual instruments. On a macro level the tracks dynamics expand and contract beautifully. On a micro level you can hear, and almost feel, as each musician leans on particular notes. Back to the music! Das Rheingold, WWV 86A / Scene IV: Heda! Heda! Hedo! Zu mir, du Gedüft! (Edit / Remastered 2022), Eberhard Wächter, The Golden Ring: Great Scenes from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Qobuz, 192/24 As the bass delivers the libretto I can feels my chest muscle reacting in sympathy. The force and controlled passion on display here is infectious, as you await the clap of the hammer. The tension in the music as you build towards the crescendo. I think my last sentence is telling, I am not concentrating on the speakers but on the music. Sound Artist (SA) Listening Notes: In these speakers the bass is more present. But it is slower and fatter and masks the fast detail that pull you into the music with the Falcons. You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker, Qobuz, 44.1/24 This track plays to the Sound Artist strengths. The bass weight is more present. However, the imaging is not quite up to the Falcon and musical detail is masked and less readily heard or followed, as the mid-range is hidden behind the blossoming and imprecise bass. Hallelujah, Sarah McLachlan, Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, Qobuz, 96/24 The sparse instrumental support, which surprised and interested through the Falcons, is present and almost uninspired through the SA, the music is somewhat flat. There is nothing that offends, and McLachlan’s voice is present but her technique is a touch less apparent. Superstar, Elkie Brooks, Pearls, Qobuz, 44.1/16 Interestingly this track is on a par with the Falcons. the traces of spitting are less apparent. The bass is a touch more present, if not lithe or informative. Train Song, Holly Cole, Temptation, Qobuz, 44.1/16 The slight warmth of the SAs reduces information, such as brushed metal. The percussive way the double bass is played is not obvious. The husky voice loses some of its character. At this point my notes continue to repeat the points that I had already made and so add nothing to the review. Conclusion This has been an interesting comparison and I am very grateful to Trevor at Guildford Audio for the loan of the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a. The Falcons are the better built speakers, but does this make for a sensible purchase over the far cheaper Sound Artist (SA) LS3/5a? The Falcons keep control of the music and so project a detailed and musically infectious sound stage. The detail is superb and shines a light into the mix and the musicians performances. Yes, the bass weight is necessarily decreased from a bigger or open baffle speaker, but the grip and speed of the speaker keep you informed as to the bass line and the artists’ technique and intentions. The Sound Artist project a tad more bass heft, but that bass pollutes the mid-range and masks much of the detail that the Falcons delight you with. Music is simply a tad less interesting via these speakers. The Falcon LS3/5a show the Sound Artist a clean pair of heels, but the Sound Artist LS3/5a are not offensive. At £600 they are a perfectly respectable pair of speakers, just don’t kid yourself. So, are the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a worth the extra eighteen hundred pounds? There are a whole series of value judgements here, the first being, do you have the readies to hand? Assuming you do I would say that, depending on how much you use your nearfield system, you would be foolish not to do the demo. As a reviewer, these things are damned tempting! Round 2: Main System Qobuz Playlist: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/1448248 Qobuz Playlist: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/13492248 I moved downstairs and installed the LS3/5as in my main system. I wondered how the Sound Artists would fare in this environment, would the imaging be equalised and the Falcon’s fine detail still shine through? I used a pair of weighty stands positioned three feet from the rear wall and side walls. I have to say that in order to install the speakers badly I think you would have to actively TRY. Placed to form a triangle with your listening position and angled towards you these deliver. The speakers would now be powered by my Naim 300DR, in concert with my autoformer based Icon pre-amp. I started with the Falcons and opened with ‘Twist in my Sobriety’ by Tanita Tikaram. The singer was ‘in the room’, startling. This was aided and abetted by an excellent sound stage, this reminded me of when I used Focal 10008be. I followed this with Leather by Tori Amis and “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman. These repeated the strengths of the first track, which included a wealth of fine detail. What surprised me was the tonal similarity to my usual Naim SBLs. The Naim SBLs are an interesting speaker that can image well. With a digital source, they can be rather flat with rock and pop. Not so the Falcons. In fact when I later tried the speakers with my Oppo/Lexicon AV front in I was VERY pleasantly surprised. I moved on to some Telarc Qobuz sourced recordings. These are excellently recorded, including some wonderful resonant bass. I concentrated on a series of movie themes conducted by Erich Kunzel with the Boston Pops Orchestra, ‘Star Trek 1: The Klingon Battle’ uses a number of electronic effects that I found wholly distracting via my Chord Mojo2/Quad ERA-1s, not so here. The resonant bass sweeps worked far better. The orchestra was well presented in both width and depth and, as with the earlier pop music the various instruments were well differentiated, such that the detail of the strings and sound boards were very well produced, rosin rosin everywhere. I then moved back to modern fare with Roger Waters’ ‘Perfect Sense, Pt 1’ from ‘Amused to Death’. This was simply breathtaking, the sound field was holographic with the storm swirling around the listening room. When played through my Quad headphones the sound field is rather flat, as it is with the SBLs. I got a fresh connection to a track that I thought I knew well. ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ by Sam Cooke is a track that through the Naim SBLs can show a slight sibilant edge, as it does through the Falcons. As I wrote above, the tonal similarities between the speakers was surprising. However, their presentation is somewhat different, apart from the imaging. The Falcon LS3/5a reveal a mass of detail in the upper mid region, this is not thrown at you but it’s there if you listen for it. The Naim SBL mid/bass driver is larger and simply moves more air, this aids the mid bass and gives instruments in that area a touch more dynamic and present impetus. Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ is a real tour de force, and one with a fantastically inventive bass line, although one that is somewhat set back in the mix. The Naim SBLs have a phase coherence that clearly reveals the fine musicianship. The Falcons presents the bass as somewhat larger but a tad unfocussed, losing some of the detail of the playing. Swings and roundabouts. Now it was time to move on to the Sound Artists. I repeated the order of the tracks I listened to. The female singers again stood forward, but the voices had a very slight tendency to sound a little strained and the detailing was reduced. This slightly obscured presentation could work in their favour, as with the Sam Cooke track where the slight sibilant edge was gone, but then too was the magic from ‘Perfect Sense, Pt 1’. In terms of the sound staging they do not produce the music with the same magic as the Falcons, they tend to be slightly more bound to the speakers giving you more left, right and centre. These speakers are very presentable and do not plumb any depths of trouble, but neither do they soar. Having explored the digital I decided to move to the analogue. Here is where the true heart of my system lies. My Linn LP12, Naim ARO, Linn Troika, Naim Armageddon and Tron 7 G.T. Phono Stage form a hugely synergistic partnership with the Naim SBLs. The sound field, detailing and dynamics are superb. Could the LS3/5a compete? Well, certainly NOT the Sound Artists. Here the SBLs entered into the imaging territory of the Falcon LS3/5a and retained its phase capabilities in the bass, giving it a shade more transparency and punch; but the Falcons have a bit more upper mid detail. Conclusion When I moved into my main system, I wondered whether the Sound Artists would draw closer to the Falcons, in the event the gap grew. The compromises in constructing the Sound Artists LS3/5a hamper their ability to image, present detail and the human voice. The Falcon LS3/5a are not a cheap speaker by any definition. I was surprised by how much they echoed my Naim SBLs tonally. Their verisimilitude with the human voice and the construction of a sound stage is excellent. Were my Naim SBLs to die then I think I have found the speakers that I would be buying to replace them; that said I have a couple of well considered competitors lined up to review.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review Hifi Rose RS150B Streamer Preamp Review II. Please add to the discussion here.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review Sonus faber Lumina 1 (£799) Review. Please add to the discussion here.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review Chord Electronics Choral Etude Review (£4,500). Please add to the discussion here.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review Pro-ject Tube DS2 (£699). Please add to the discussion here.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review Benchmark HPA4 Pre-Amp (£3,499). Please add to the discussion here.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review EAT E-Glo Petit Phono Stage (£1,500). Please add to the discussion here.
This thread is for the general discussion of the Review Chord Electronics Symphonic MC Phono Stage (£2,995). Please add to the discussion here.
Audio Consultants Dealer Visit by George Sallit The UK is better off than the USA and most of Europe. Not politics but audio. The number of audio dealers in the UK is still fairly high and most people do not have to travel too far to find an audio dealer. But not all dealers are good and even rarer are the excellent dealers. The bad ones can be truly terrible with pressurised selling and pushing of their most expensive audio products with a real sneer for your system. After a session with them you feel like they see you as a walking wallet with as much money to be extracted as soon as possible. And then there are good dealers and of course the much rarer excellent dealers. And when I find them, I want to let you know. Audio Consultants fit that description. I have had dealings with Audio Consultants for some time but decided to renew our acquaintance following the De Vere Audio Show at Daventry. A lot of people thought their room at the Show was one of the, if not the, best sound at the show. Not only was the audio equipment top notch and very desirable but the sound produced in the room was excellent and they were amenable to playing your music. No enforced Peruvian nose flute music. I managed to talk to both Stephen Harper and Alex Tomlins and both were very knowledge about audio, willing to give great advice and demonstrate it with the audio systems in the room. The really desirable audio came from Luxman, AVM, Kudos with top supports and cables. Nothing was being left to chance. When Stephen played a Reference Recording of the blues singer Doug MacLeod the sound quality was amazing with a huge, realistic sound. No etched paper-thin sound stage, but one with detailed voices and a very smooth, natural guitar with the real bite of a steel strung guitar. I had to buy the album. Stephen said to me, if you like this then you must pay us a visit and hear what this system can do in a better room. An offer I could not refuse, and did not 😊 A few weeks later I was going to the Calleva Business Park of amorphous looking units to find Audio Consultants. I had brought along a Denafrips DAC and Jays CD2 Mk III transport for comparisons. After introductions we made our way into the main listening room and got the Denafrips/Jays wired up to allow their two internal ovens to warm up. Time for a discussion about Audio Consultants. I asked whether they were audio consultants or an audio shop or both. Stephen said both. He was happy to advise customers on their systems and how they can be improved and he would be prepared to demonstrate his advice using listening tests. To ensure customers get a full and proper demonstration he insists on people booking appointments, although they may entertain the odd few walk in customers. Although being in the middle of a set of modern commercial units it is unlikely people would casually walk by. Audio Consultants have a range of audio products at various prices but a £200 all in one system is probably not their forte. Their reasonable range of products come from AudioLab, Hegel, Amphion, Clearaudio and Wharfedale. At the more wallet stretching end is Luxman,, AVM, Kudos, Kerr Acoustics and Eggleston Works speakers with cables and supports coming from Gutwire, Audioquest and HRS. A broad range of equipment and prices. I had my eyes on one of their best systems consisting of a Luxman D-10X CD/SACD/DAC, Luxamn L-590-AX integrated amplifier, AVM A6.2 Master Editions integrated amplifier and Kudos Titan T707 loudspeakers. AVM Amplifier Lovely Luxman Close up photo of Kudos Titan T707 loudspeaker with Acustica Applicata DAAD room acoustics treatments and Luxman L-590. Gutwire cables were used throughout including grounding cables and a special Puritan Laboratories PSM1512 SE mains purifier unit designed exclusively for the Audio Consultant. Supporting this system was various HRS chassis noise reduction products including the SXR-1921 frame and M3X2-1921 Isolation Bases. Nice. Nottingham Analogue Ace Space Deck with Ace Space tonearm Audio Consultants carefully select their products to ensure they meet their high audio standards by exclusively using listening tests. They are mainly focused on 2 channel audio and with 25 years’ experience in synergising audio systems they ensure their systems give a natural presentation, which can be listened to over long periods without fatigue. They want to present this music in the most natural way, never bright or forward and with layering from the speakers rearwards, creating a deep soundstage. They have a strong preference for a holographic soundstage that is both wide and deep, with a good impression of respective heights. They want the soundstage to emulate the concert hall experience. A tall order. So how did the system fare? After a good discussion and some lunch, we got down to serious listening. Starting with the AVM amplifier in the system we played some of my CDs. I had brought some CD/SACDs of high sound quality and one that was less good to hear what the system did with not so good recordings. The first thing that struck me was the soundstage. It was the largest soundstage I have heard in both depth, width and where recorded height. We played Audio Consultants ECM recordings of piano and they gave a more mid-hall experience than my Mike Valentine recording. Both were high quality, but the ECM recordings showed off the depth and width better. This large soundstage had real sized instruments with a very natural and well-balanced tone. And from a German amplifier which I thought might be bright and forward. Not so. On jazz and pop/rock music the system showed that it could keep a great beat but more importantly it presented the music with a really natural smooth sound and one that kept great timing, which stayed on the beat. There was no slowing of pace. We then added my Denafrips/Jays combination. The Luxman D10X had a much better soundstage and presented the music more naturally. It was swings and roundabouts with the Luxman ahead in the overall sound quality stakes. However, my Denafrips was heard through RCA connections and I suspect it may fare better using XLRs. But I doubt the gap will be closed, maybe just altered a little. There is also a cost differential as the Denafrips is a direct sales product. Even so, the Luxman sounded superb and was a real luxury product that plays CD, SACD and a streamer such as the Innuous Audio Consultants stock. SACD did not fare so well, so if the Luxman was mine (I was only dreamin’) I would stick to CDs and streaming to assess new music’s worth. A reference player. And then I asked to hear the Luxman L-590 AX Mk2 amplifier which is a Class A amplifier with only 30w(?). Well it kept those huge Kudos speakers under control and easily drove them. I have to admit, ,good as the AVM amplifier is (and it is), the Luxman took my heart. It has a really large 3D soundstage with natural recordings and with modern music the layers are well separated with each instrument in its own space. Despite modern music being recorded in a studio it sounded so natural (when recorded that way) and what I really loved with this system is it communicated the music, with all the fine details in a singer’s voice, being easily heard and not forced on you. The small changes in intonation on certain words being heard in a very relaxed and natural way. Stephen said as our day ended that he was happy for me to return and really listen to Luxman amplifiers and hear what the Class A and the Class A/B give. And my answer back was you bet. And then it was all over. Audio Consultants: https://www.audioconsultants.co.uk/
  I have backed away from reviewing cables, particularly mains cables, not for any single reason but more because having tried a few I found them confusing with some making no difference, some adding positive and negatives and for the ones that were better they were too expensive. In some cases, very expensive. That forces the question, are they worth it? If you need 4/5 mains cables that can add up to a few £K and would it not be more worthwhile putting that money into the major components of the system and you would get bigger improvements. To get out of this dilemma I settled on two really good cables that were not prohibitively expensive, the Supra LoRad 2.5mm and the Audionote ISIS. The Supra Lo Rad 2.5mm is a good quality copper cable that does a better job than the freebie and is not prohibitively expensive. And as an improvement, the Audionote ISIS, which again is a good quality copper cable but to me sounded better than the Supra. The ISIS prices do not wander into those charged for AN silver mains cables at many £Ks.    Despite that, I do have one multi £K mains cable. So, when audio buddy Kevin Fiske wrote his review about the Puritan mains cables I was intrigued. Here were mains cables with claims made about dealing with RFI, EMI and microphony and not the usual nonsense you get with keywords to add ‘credibility’ like quantum and quantum tunnelling. Not only that these cables are not the usual buy a roll of standard Chinese mains cables, spin a yarn and then sell them at high prices. The description and make-up of the Puritan cables sounds credible. I also intend to add a ‘meet your maker’ article about the company because I am intrigued by what they do and they are only a few miles away from George 47 towers. I contacted Puritan and asked to borrow some of their mains cables. And they were generous, no I mean really generous, and I soon acquired enough mains cables to try them in a wide range of equipment. So I used them in my Vitus RI 101 Mk 2 amplifier, Transcription Audio 211 valve amplifier, an ARC Ref 5 preamp, an ARC Ref 110 power amplifier, a Nord NC500 power amplifier, an Audionote DAC, a Qutest DAC powered with an SBooster PSU, a Melco N10, a Plixir balanced mains PSU, a dCS Bridge streamer, a PS Audio phono preamplifier and the PSU for my Voyd Ref TT. Phew!!!! Add to that I had the Classic, the Classic + and the Ultimate mains cables to try and that made quite a set of combinations. Yep, a really big test that took some time. If the Puritan cables were going to make a big difference, I reasoned there would be a bigger impact with the power amplifiers than my Audionote CD 4 Transport (damn missed that off the list). And I was completely and utterly wrong. In my system, the biggest differences were with the mains cables on the front end of my digital system. The CD Transport, the dCS streamer and the DAC mains cables made the biggest differences. Oddly enough the mains cables on the TT front end did not make as much a difference. The preamplifier did not benefit that much and it was the least affected.  For the power amplifiers, the two valve amplifiers benefitted, but not enormously.  With the Vitus SS, I preferred the Ultimate to the very expensive mains cable. Now that for me was a surprise. This was a great achievement for the Ultimate (£460) as the expensive mains cable retails at £3.3K. However, on the valve power amplifiers, it was much closer and much more a draw based on preferences. I compared the Audionote ISIS against the Ultimate, the Classic + and the Classic and it was very close between the Ultimate and the ISIS. The ISIS provides a natural sound that is easy to relax into and always made most of my musical choices, sounding smooth and easy to listen to. The Ultimate reduced the background noise far more, making the music more 3D and dynamic. Musical note decays were easier to hear on the Ultimate and note fades lasted longer into what was a darker background. The Ultimate also did not ‘slightly alter’ the frequency response. The Ultimate had more sparkle, was more truthful and did not slightly reduce the higher frequencies. The Ultimate could make it less pleasant to listen to badly recorded music. Maybe the truth hurts a little.  The Classic and Classic+ are warmer sounding and returned some of that smoother sound, but they were less accurate and not as clean sounding. I could imagine people’s preference coming into a choice between the Classic and the ISIS. That for me is a great achievement as the ISIS has bettered many other mains cables. I then compared the differences between the Puritan cables. There was a clear gap between the Ultimate, the Classic and the Classic +. The Ultimate had a larger 3D sound stage that was wider, deeper and had more height. The frequency response was more even on the Ultimate with more sparkle and transients on musical instruments like cymbals. The Classic and Classic + were warmer and had a slightly smaller soundstage. This difference was not huge and some may prefer a slightly more forgiving cable.  My advice would be to steer you towards the Classic unless you have an expensive system. The difference between the Classic and the Classic + was small and on a lot of the components it was not easily discernible. I may have heard a difference with the DAC but I was not sure. What to conclude? Well for me the Classic and Classic + are excellent mains cables and made a worthwhile difference, for not a lot of money. At £75 and £115 they are brilliant value. The Ultimate is a significantly more expensive mains cable at £460 but it was worthwhile if you want the er…… Ultimate mains cable and do not want to pay the Ultimate price, especially for your digital front end. I would also recommend them for valve power amplifiers. So thanks to Kevin for guiding me to these cables and thanks to Puritan for making a mains cable that makes a real difference without killing your bank account.   I suspect this is going to cost me as I don’t want to remove them from my system.
Another review of the Gaia loudspeaker feet in a completely different set-up by Mr Underhill. A couple of years ago I was wrestling with a system that sounded good most of the time, less than optimal some of the time and execrable occasionally. If you have invested time on any of my reviews then you will have a feel for those tracks that I label ‘problems’, those are the tracks that made me cringe when played on my then system. In the event I found layers of issues, which included: Grounding; Power; Room acoustics; and, more latterly I suspect there was a slight mismatch between my push-pull EAR534 and my Focal 1008be beryllium tweeters. Whilst working my way through this list the way I was supporting my speakers bubbled into my thoughts In the late ‘70s the pervasive wisdom was to spike your speakers and place each spike into a Philips screw head judiciously positioned. I won’t enter into the debate about whether this is coupling or decoupling the speakers, a semantic discussion, but suffice it to say that this became my system M.O. for the next fifteen years. I revisited this by accident. I was using some ART Skibo speakers and was not satisfied that I was getting the best from them, this lead to their removal from the screw heads and gradual repositioning. These fractional moves had the spikes picking up the carpet during moves, only very slightly IRRITATING!!! So I placed the spikes in some Goldring pucks I had to hand. Well, blow me and knock me down with a feather! This was a not very subtle improvement. I was shocked and chagrined at my blind adherence to HiFi orthodoxy, what an idiot. I had tried the Focals in screw heads and moved to pucks in preference, but I really fancied trying some Townshend Seismic Isolation Podiums. However, in my house I suspected that this would lead to falls and breakages as family members missed the fact that the bases project that bit beyond the speakers. I started to track alternatives and became so frustrated with my system tuning issues that I decided to throw some money at the problem, the Gaias were purchased. The Gaias come in a range of models that work within varying weight categories, the threes were what I required. Nicely packaged they come with alternate threads to fit most speakers. I found them straightforward to fit and was up and running in half an hour. The effect was obvious and positive. I generally find that improvements of this type are most evident in the bass and so it proved here. What had been indistinct and approximated was nicely cleaned and honed. The Focals were delivering even more in terms if low level information and imaging, imaging that I was already very pleased with. A while later and a ‘friend’ led me on a system refresh. Out went the Focals and in came a pair of used Naim SBLs. This led to other wholesale changes, but that is another story. In setting up the SBLs I read many comments about the importance of siting the boxes and was very cautious about repeating the tried and true setup solutions. The Gaias were repurposed as equipment supports, where they also had a positive effect. Then a few weeks ago I was asked to listen to the Sonus faber Lumina IIIs. This proved to be an excellent bit of matching the reviewer to the equipment. My room is a bit of a pig and the SF Compact Tower worked very well, but this led to the SBLs being repositioned during auditioning. The effect of the Luminas was to make me feel a bit disgruntled with the SBLs in a few areas, this was the spur that I needed and so when replacing them I fitted the Gaias. The effect of the Gaias on the SBLs was more profound. Yes it focused the imaging and improved the bass as before, but it additionally sweetened and refined the treble. The mid-field of the SBLs can edge towards the lean, the Gaias warm and thicken it a tad. I am not talking about massive differences here, these are things that if you are reading this you will hear and understand .......you NERD! I’ll sell you a team t-shirt. I was rather grateful as this tilted the scales back in favour of the SBLs and saved me some sleepless cogitations. The IsoAcoustic Gaia get a hearty recommendation from me.
Nord Three SE 1ET400A Mk II By Alex Colburn Class D power amplifiers have been on the market for some time now, they seem to be the go-to solution in many of the audio-producing devices found in the home. Whether we like it or not, we all possess any number of class D audio devices be it only in our mobile phones or iPod players. The first class D amplifier commercially available was in the form of a kit from Sinclair Radionics called the X-10 back in 1964 but since the pinnacle product from that stable two decades later was the Sinclair C-5 I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusions as to its performance! Time and technological advances have been critical factors in the development of class D to the point that a few years ago true HiFi amplifiers started to appear on the market though mainly viewed as a novelty by the hard core audiophile community. Having had the opportunity to listen to some of the early incarnations of HiFi class D I had come to the conclusion that it had some merit if you were on a budget and needed a lot of power to drive some difficult speakers but wasn’t for me in sonic terms. When I started to hear good things about the Hypex Ncore based class D amplifiers appearing on the market my interest was re-kindled and I decided to seek out an audition or two at an upcoming show, and for the first time I thought class D was starting to offer some serious competition for the best linear amplifiers. In 2016 I was introduced to the Nord Acoustics flavour of Hypex Ncore class D with their custom input buffer and realised it was time to get into the market, class D had come of age and is here to stay! Having purchased the original Nord NC500 dual stereo power amplifier, I am now onto the MkII version with professional audio class A op-amp Rev D input buffer which I reviewed here: Link Removed The inventor of Ncore technology and designer of the Hypex amplifier modules is the very talented electronic engineer Bruno Putzeys. Following the launch of Ncore technology to much critical acclaim, Bruno was in great demand for interviews and talks. At the time he was asked what his next step would be in the development of class D and he is on record as saying Ncore was the best he could design and by implication as good as it needed to be. A few years and several projects later, Bruno co-founded PuriFi Audio along with fellow class D designer Lars Risbo and together they have developed new class D technology they’ve called “Eigentakt”. In a recent interview, Bruno was asked what had changed in light of his earlier statement that Ncore was the best he could design and he said the basic technology in terms of components had not changed significantly but the key step lay in the mathematics he had developed to analyse and define the operation of the amplifier. Having reviewed the technical specifications of both Ncore and Eigentakt I can see that Eigentakt is a significant improvement over Ncore in many respects. That said, we are talking about changes in figures at extremely low levels and that begs the question, can we really expect to hear these? To paraphrase a well-known expression, “it’s like hearing a gnat sneeze at 500 yards”. With the Eigentakt news very firmly tweaking my interest, I was quick to register my desire to conduct a review when Colin North from Nord Acoustics announced he was going to produce a power amplifier based on the Purifi 1ET400A module and the Nord Rev D class A input buffer. Following a few months development time, I received an email from Colin to expect a delivery and the following day the Nord Three SE 1ET400A Mk II arrived. The amplifier is a dual stereo design with two 1ET400A modules powered by two Hypex SMPS1200A400 switching power supplies and buffered by the Nord custom buffer boards fitted with Sparkos SS2590 op-amps. As the 1ET400A requires lower power supply voltages (±65V), the Hypex SMPS1200A400 is the lower voltage version of the power supply used in the NC500 amplifier. Internal layout of the Nord Three SE 1ET400A Mk II The rated output of the 1ET400A module is 227W into 8W rising to 425W into 4W and 450W into 2W at an output impedance <0.65mW across the full audio band (20 – 20kHz). Frequency response is from DC to somewhere in excess of 50kHz so any filtering of subsonics must take place in the input buffer. Total harmonic distortion plus noise at 100W output is a vanishingly small 0.0007% across the full audio band with a signal-to-noise ratio at full output power into 4W of 131dB. With a minimum efficiency specification of 94%, it was no surprise to find the case of the amplifier ran at a very modest 34 °C when idling. For the techies out there, the datasheet is a mine of information that you would not usually find for commercial amplifiers. Nord Rev D input buffer fitted with Sparkos SS2590 op amps Since the Nord 1ET400A is mechanically identical to my existing Nord NC500-based amplifier, it was a very quick and simple substitution into my system. Though it’s very tempting to jump straight in and start listening I almost never do this, preferring to let the unit have a significant period of time to “settle in” before any serious sessions. Nevertheless, as I use the HiFi system to listen to TV sound all the time the new arrival was not sat idle for long. Just from listening to the TV sound, which can be very good, it was apparent something had changed to the extent my better half commented on the perceived change. Whether I liked it or not would need to be determined! Over the following two weeks of intermittent auditions, it was clear the 1ET400A delivered everything the NC500 did but then something extra. I found the sound character of the Eigentakt technology very similar to Ncore but Eigentakt was adding significant nuances. Small cues to the sound stage became apparent painting instruments in greater detail and solidity. As a result, the sound stage gained depth and transparency with greater separation between instruments and voice. My speakers are not the most efficient at 88dB but the 1ET400A’s power delivery seemed totally effortless even at ear batteringly high volumes. What you get is unfettered accuracy and neutrality in spade loads which on the one hand can be ruthlessly revealing on poorly recorded material and on the other hand gloriously revealing on well-recorded material. None of your tone-control tinkering to be found here and some may not like it but personally I do! The Rev. D input buffers in my Nord NC500 are fitted with the Sonic Imagery 990Enh-Ticha op-amps as I preferred them to the Sparkos SS2590 op-amps so this raises the obvious question, does the 1ET400A sound better with the Sonic Imagery op-amps? Swapping the op-amps between amplifiers is a relatively straightforward matter, the sheer physical size and robustness of the pins on these professional op-amps lends itself to the comparison between Duplo and Lego, not that I’m suggesting you delegate the job to your two year old! The answer to this important question was not the one I was expecting, The Sparkos SS2590 was doing a better job of extracting ultimate performance from the Purifi 1ET400A than the Sonic Imagery 990Enh-Ticha op-amp was. One could argue that the Sparkos is more analytical and the Sonic Imagery warmer, not that it isn’t analytical just less so. But for me, if you go for a 1ET400A amplifier, the enhanced performance of the Sparkos SS2590 is the way to go. The question that remains is what to choose, NC500 or 1ET400A if you are in the market for a Nord in this price range? In terms of price, the 1ET400A is about 15% higher than the NC500 amplifier but I think this is unlikely to be a key factor in any decision. If your speakers have impedance characteristics more akin to a six-inch nail you may want to opt for the NC500 with its improved power delivery into low impedances. Anyone who is looking at buying one of Bruno Putzeys class D designs from Nord must be a fan of their analytically neutral presentation and will want to go for his latest incarnation the Purifi 1ET400A! The Nord Three SE 1ET400A Mk II in this configuration costs: £2014.80 including VAT. Associated review equipment: Source: Linn Klimax DSM Mk 3 Speakers: Modified Townshend Glastonbury Tor Mk1/Townshend Maximum Supertweeters Interconnects: Nordost Tyr 2 balanced XLR Speaker cables: Nordost Heimdall bi-wired Z-plugs https://www.nordacoustics.co.uk/
Visit to Guildford Audio By George Sallit I have written previously about a visit to Guildford Audio and Trevor (esteemed owner of Guildford Audio) suggested I might like a proper visit and spend the day in the demo room. Before he could say ‘possibly’ I had accepted the offer and was booking it into his diary! So, a week or so later I arrived at Guildford Audio towers. Guildford Audio have their normal ‘room’ sized demo room in the house and now it is accompanied by a new demo room in a purpose-built external building. So, we sidled up to the work area and having grabbed a coffee we ‘spun the wheel’ about how things were going and the audio business in general. Having had an exemplary career in the electrical / energy industry and having built a successful international business for other large organisations, Trevor decided to step out of the limelight for a while and spend time enjoying the finer things in life, primarily motorcycles and music. Being a radio amateur talented engineer, he became somewhat frustrated by the quality of the hifi dealer network. Consequently, he started his own business as he could not get anyone to provide the sort of service he wanted when buying audio equipment. He wanted personal service geared towards him, not what was easy to sell or gave the dealer the most commission. He wanted to compare audio products and select those that interested him and hear them at home in his system. Revolutionary at that time. And that was what he has set himself to achieve. His products had to sound great, last, and be easily serviced and well supported. Ambitious if nothing else as box selling was very common then. So, over the years Trevor has built up his dealership to provide high-quality service and sell some of the most desirable audio products around. The range is wide and although I will concentrate on two super systems Guildford Audio sell systems at a more achievable price from companies like Project, Harbeth and Lavardin. However, I had come to see and hear the big boys! Yes, both systems were super expensive and I can’t afford them but that is not a reason to avoid listening and enjoying them. I asked Trevor how business was doing and he said that with people trapped at home by Covid they wanted to improve their system’s sound quality. So, people were upgrading and business was brisk. Oddly enough the ‘super’ systems were also doing well with two systems based on Wilson Alexxs soon to go out of the doors. Add a sale of a pair of Wilson XVXs, as well as a Dan D’Agostino Relentless amplifiers and the usual Dan amps including the M300 and M400 monoblocks, sales were good. Trevor thought it was his best performance so far but I think Gavin was thinking about all that weight to carry around. Relentless amplifiers are a four-man lift as they weigh 0.26 tonnes!!! Oh, and if you like power they produce 1.5 Kw into 8 ohms, doubling down to 3 kW at 4 ohms and of course 6 kW at 2 ohms. Arc welding anyone? You will have to provide 10 kW of electricity to feed them as well. Yes, the prices are high but these systems are some of the best there are and are showpieces of what can be achieved when the cost is not a constraint. All of these companies make more affordable products that benefit from the knowledge and technology used in the cost no object equipment. Over to the new demo room. Designed and built in-house, this is a modern room with no perfectly parallel sides and different depths of plasterboards to reduce resonance. In addition, there are adjustable room treatments but they have avoided that dead, monitoring room sound. It felt and sounded more like a real room that human beings would live in. Big but this was for the big systems. So, what was the system? The speakers were the Wilson Audio Alexx, tall big and butch. These speakers look like they mean business and they do but in a surprising way as they have phenomenal power with great subtlety. Adding some scale here are the boys. The long of it (Wilson Alexx) and the short (LS3/5As). I just told Trevor I wanted a pair of Wilson Chronosonics hence his look of surprise! Feeding them was a pair of ARC 160M monoblocks, I heard the stereo version previously. The preamplifier was the ARC Ref 6 SE, the latest version and at last, the pre and power amplifiers have the same livery. And yes, we played louder than 8. On CD duties was the ARC Ref 9 SE player. For analogue duties, there was an ARC Ref 3 SE phono stage fed by a Tech Das Airforce 2 turntable with Graham Phantom Elite arm and a Koetsu Tiger Eye cartridge. For streaming duties, there was the dCS Vivaldi stack. The cables were supplied by Transparent Audio with Reference XL for the speakers and the interconnects. Feeding the electricity was a Shunyata Denali V2 Power Distributor Fed by Omega Power Cable. Shunyata digital cables were the Omega for Ethernet and Sigma V2 for digital interconnects and clock cables. So, what did this set-up sound like? In a word/two staggeringly good. It was beyond any previous references I had heard so a bit difficult to compare with other systems. Trevor gave me the Roon controller and said play what you want. So, I did. I started with a gentile track from Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker, the title track from the same-named album. The track starts with a male choir and the voices just appeared in the room. It was easy to hear the individual voices, their individual tones and characters as well as hearing how they all came together, floating in space. And then in comes Leonard. His voice is deep, as the years have taken their toll, whispered, close-miked and real. There is some delicate cymbal playing and it was clear how it was being played, although it was more a background instrument. Next, no restraint, Hans Zimmer Are you Serious from the Batman film. A great mixture of an orchestra and electronic effects. Best played LOUD and boy could this system play LOUD, VERY LOUD. Totally in control. And forget any ideas about valves having soft bass. This set-up had real impact and power and it did not change, no matter what the volume levels were. And so it went on for the next few hours. I was in audiophile heaven. It was then time to hear a great solid-state based system in the house in a more typical living room. Yes, Wilson Alexxs in a normal living room! The Wilson Audio Alexxs here were in a fetching silver. The preamplifier was the Dan D’Agostino HD preamplifier. Note the lovely copper and polished stainless steel and multiply by 10 to get the look of these amplifiers in real life. This fed the Dan D’Agostino monoblocks. Providing digital duties was the dCS Bartok streamer/DAC. This new baby from dCS is causing quite a stir based on its looks, build quality and most importantly its sound quality. No skimping on cables. Transparent Audio Opus cables were pressed into service for the speakers and balanced interconnects. And the sound quality? On the same Hans Zimmer track, the bass was deep and powerful but I preferred the ARC valves for sheer shock and awe. The Dan D’Agostino bass was tighter and probably more accurate but the ARC’s bass had real blood and guts. Neither was dry and both just ‘breathed’. Either system would satisfy and there were more similarities than differences. But the differences were preferences and I like what the valves did. But if you offered me the SS amplifiers I would not say go away…..more likely come in and do NOT expect me to help you schelp them around. And on the way back we had a look at their new Covid-safe demo room!!! In final discussions, Trevor said he always tries to ensure the customer gets exactly what ‘they’ want. Yes, some awkward people constantly change their minds and there are a few of the ‘give me a demo and I’ll buy from the internet’ but most people play fair and for Trevor, the main thing is to treat the customers as human beings and not walking wallets. That way they will want to return. He is more interested in long-term relationships, not a quick box-shifting deal. Prices: OK. Both systems cost about the same at £280K and £360K with the TT set up but that is not the point, this is what they can do without cost constraints. These companies have all the gains of this equipment and can use them on less costly equipment. For me, it was a new reference point. Great day and yes, I have a new amplifier from their used stock. https://guildfordaudio.co.uk/

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