Well it has taken a while but I have finally gotten round to writing a review as promised, after taking advantage of the Doc's generous Black Friday deals.
I have owned quite a bit of hi-fi over the years, some of it cost me a fair bit but after losing interest for a while I currently have a modest NVA amp and speakers combination of P20 and old A60, driving a pair of Cubettes - along with various source equipment.
The reason I settled on NVA was the sense of realism, natural warmth and a solidity to the sound. By which I mean the instruments and singers I was listening to sounded 'real', as opposed to the 2 dimensional cardboard cut-outs I was hearing from other solid state gear. As mentioned many times on this forum the NVA stuff just sounded more musical and enjoyable.
I decided to try the above to replace LS1 and a DNM interconnect. I ordered speaker cable and a single run of SSP for digital duties but Doc sent me a stereo set in error, needless to say I ended up keeping both!
Short answer is that for the price, this is one of the biggest upgrades I have tried, which surprised me. All of the NVA musical qualities are retained but there is more space around the individual performers and it is possible to listen in to strands within the music. The soundstage seems to have gained more depth and I can hear much more detail. I don't have golden ears, and I am not going to lapse into reviewer speak about 'inky black silences' or noise floors but the changes are not subtle, even to me.
These really are a no brainer at the price (even full price) and tremendous value, highly recommended. My only issue is that I am already wondering (with the generous upgrade scheme)what LS6 brings to the party? Maybe after trading up to P50sa or mono-blocks or bigger Cubes? All good fun though, thanks for the cables Doc!!
Phono2 MC / Phono 3 MC
Originally (end of 2017), I had ordered the NVA phono 2 as mm version with one BBPSU. I loved what it did to my music (I used it with an excellent SUT I own and mc carts) and you can read the report Richard has posted under this review section at that time.
Richard was convinced that the mc version would be a further improvement, as he sees a SUT as a limiting factor paired with an mm stage in comparison to a dedicated NVA mc stage. So, I followed his advice and sent – a bit the mm version back to him early January 2018 to get it converted to the MC version.
Well two weeks later, the parcel arrived (and looked good), but when I had unpacked my phono 2 unit, it was obvious that a transport damage had happened. A part of the rear acryl case (near the input pair) was broken off!
I immediately phoned Richard and we agreed that I should test the phono 2 – he was assuming that besides the partly broken case the phono internally could be OK – and he would build me a new unit in the mean time. Great customer service, I have to say!
Unfortunately, when I tried the phono 2, the superb musicality I had enjoyed with the mm version was not present with the mc unit. I also noticed quite a lot of RFI noise, during replay and the reproduced music sounded somewhat uninvolving and by far not as fluid as I was used too, before. So, another phone call with Richard resulted in his feedback that the phono also internally must have had damage and it had to be returned. As my return shipment date coincided with Richard’s Cuba holiday at the end of January and his unfortunate health issues some time later, I waited patiently.
Well, it was worth the wait. Richard’s health fortunately improved quickly and in March he wrote an email and offered me to build a phono 3 mc unit, which I could use with my single BBPSU. I paid the asked upgrade price for the phono 3 and very impressed by Stu’s and Steve’s “inspiring experiences” with the NVA DIY amp build (two wonderful and very entertaining forum threads, by the way) I also ordered the new developed A20x for myself, which is the follow-up to the now discontinued A30 amp. And then, there was another parcel with an NVA P50sa on the way, as I bought Derek’s [Kimangelis] passive pre, some weeks ago.
So, this time my phono 3 (and the A20x) arrived safe in Austria and I immediately connected the phono 3 to my BBPSU and put the combo into my system. Wow, and this time the magic was back. Although, the phono 3 unit was brand new, vinyl played via the NVA phono combo immediately was very enjoyable. Simply put, there was more music coming from my system. There also was this special musical flow from vinyl, which makes it easy and fun to listen to your record collection. Very cool! My current favorite male singer, Chris Stapleton (both new LPs “From A Room Vol. 1 and 2” are fantastic, if you like your music bluesy and a bit country style, but definitely earthy, moving and raw!) seemed to be in the room with his incredible voice baring raw his soul.
Also with Jazz the phono 3 shines. Bill Evan’s famous “At the Montreux Jazz Festival” live recording has exceptional solos of Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack deJohnette on drums. The take “Nardis” is such a great piece of music, where both men can show their musical art. And the bass and deJohnette’s drum solo are very close to the real thing through the phono 3. This phono stage is lively and dynamic with realistic reproduction of the drums as well as sticks over hi-hat and cymbals. Hey, listening to music can be so much fun.
To me, the phono 3 differs from the phono 2 by showing a bit more of the music (a bit more atmosphere). This is apparent in live recordings and string recordings. Townes van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX is a good example, as this small concert room on an extremely hot night and fully packed, lets me be there front row - feeling the heat - and enjoy one of Townes most intimate live recordings through the phono 3. Strings are also something really special. There seems to be more of the “bow on / over strings” expression there, which is nearer to the real thing through the phono 3 than what my memory tells me I had experienced listening to the phono 2 some months ago.
The only minus is that there is still some RFI noise detectable when I listen at loud volume levels on my 98 dB efficient ls system. It is not a big issue as the musicality of the phono stage is more important to me than the RFI you can hear from the listening seat only during the seconds between two takes or in very quiet music passages, as in some pianissimo parts of classical music. I think my listening environment brings this out more, as I listen to high efficient speakers in a near field environment. And maybe, we also live near one of these mobile phone masts, which most likely then is the source of this noise.
Although clearly this RFI noise must be part of the signal and will most likely degrade it a tiny bit, you can’t hear it during normal levels of vinyl replay. As this RFI is most likely present due to the acrylic case, which doesn’t provide any protection against RFI noise, Richard suggested to DIY an extra earth wire with mains plug to be connected to the earth on one of my mains outlets (only earth connected, of course) and the other end to the ground pin of my phono 3. This, unfortunately, resulted in an additional slight hum and didn’t reduce the RFI noise. So, this extra earth wire didn’t help. With the lower sensitivity of the mm version, I couldn’t hear any RFI noise (but I would think, it was also there, just on a way lower level). Apparently, as I haven’t read comments about RFI on the forum, in other systems of forum members, the unshielded cases of the superb NVA phono stages do not cause any RFI issues.
So, I will experiment more to remove this RFI noise (maybe a bigger wooden case with copper foil as a protection shield fixed to it and then put over the phono unit will bring something… just an idea, I will try, when there is time…)
Anyway, MUSIC is pure fun to listen to with the phono 3 and that’s what really counts, for me!
More personal impressions (A20x and P50sa as well as the whole NVA system) to follow….
Tubes and Vinyl rule, Music rocks!
10 years ago a friend lent me a small NVA amp - must have been an AP10 of sorts - when I realised my budget home cinema amp (...) couldn't power some rather small Celestion speakers... At that time I was short on cash and wasn't in a place to think about new audio equipment so over the years NVA and the amp disappeared from memory.
In the last few years I've upgraded a few components - mostly budget end - and as a lover of music (really only what some would call 'classical', mostly solo piano, mostly historic recordings...) I decided I need to start building a decent system and am now in a better place to do so. I should also note I am an ex-professional flute player and would consider my ears fairly decent instruments, if not atuned to hifi as you lifelong advocates, and certainly without the technical knowledge.
Recently, that same friend this time lent me his AP20 integrated (running it for 3 weeks now) along with some NVA speaker cables (unsure which ones). Not only is this kit a clear, marked and TBH devastating upgrade on my Cambridge Audio Azur 351A (I can hear you all laughing) but I have fallen in love with the sound. It is utterly beautiful, natural, how I always thought hifi should sound (or not, as it were), and reproduces the old wax cylinder and 78s CD transfers wonderfully.
After reading up on nvahifi and trawling through this forum, i realise I've stumbled across something quite special and now intend pursuing what I imagine will be a years-long journey of NVA purchases.
by CycleCoach » Tue Apr 24, 2018 8:23 pm
My BMU review.
So what to say? Did it change things? Yes and no.
At certain times of the day it seemed to be making a huge difference, other times less so. At it's most obvious it was sort of "lifting a veil" and revealing something deep in the music - so for example the fret buzz on the mandolin in Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," suddenly became clearer, as did the metallic attack on the fiercely plucked strings. I could clearly hear every breath Melody Gardot took while performing "Baby I'm a Fool."
Not that these things became prominent you understand, just that there was less in the way of me hearing it, and it added to the sense that it was drawing me in and I was hearing a natural performance.
On going back to it without the BMU I could still hear those little things, so perhaps it would be fair to say that the effect was subtle.
Things were perhaps more edgy and ill defined without the BMU, particularly in late afternoon when I suspect a thousand electric kettles were being switched on in the village.
So the bottom line: will I be buying one. Yes. But.
Yes but not yet. As i think there are a few things to do first which will give me more "bang for my buck," but in the end I think that subtle loss of polish will bring me back to getting a BMU.