My efforts to bring my children up to do the right things - like not compromising the music and not paying dealer margins if you can avoid it - have recently led to several bits of my office kit being nabbed by them there pesky kids, for their bedrooms and Uni digs. I don't need an excuse to try out another bit of NVA kit, but now I had one, and so the AP10P duly arrived. The second part of this review will be about how it sounds in my office system (it's intended long term home) with Cube 3's, but, in the meantime, I've just acquired a nearly new pair of Klipsch Heresy Mk3's and had read a couple of Italian forums recommending the AP10P with them. Hence, AP10P review, part one...
The AP10 is a one input headphone amp that can also drive a pair of speakers. When you want to use headphones only, you disconnect the speaker leads. Fit and finish of the case are flawless. Heavier than it looks. No hum or hiss. Nicely understated looks, quality feel. I don't see this level of quality, at this price, anywhere else. I left the AP10 powered up all the time (and for about 2 hours before I started playing tunes). The Heresys are high effiency at 99db so the 15w of the AP10 is more than enough for the average British living room. In fact, listening to digital, I would have liked some more adjustment on the volume control - I didn't get much past 8 'o' clock - but the 3v output of my Chord Dac is the culprit, there.
First listening impressions? It's a proper NVA amp. It's part of the NVA family. It has the same purity, natural tone and even handedness that I hear from the bigger amps. It keeps time with the rhythm section very well without limiting bandwidth (in the way that my old Naim amps used to). It's no headbanger, nor immediately 'impressive', but it creeps up on you in a rather charming way. 5 hours passed by one afternoon and evening without me getting bored or fatigued. The Heresys have a perceived presence lift in the upper mids / lower treble and this had an obvious but pleasant effect on projection of voices and definition of the leading edges of notes. Playing two of my favourite genres of music - country and western - the AP10 gave an engaging performance with Willie Nelson, John Prine, James Hand and Dale Watson, giving enough body to their smokey voices without losing clarity or openness. Martin Simpson's beautiful slide guitar playing had all the colour it should. The AP10 played without distortion at low to medium volumes then gently, but obviously, ran out of steam thereafter.
Staying in single wired mode I then plugged in my A80 monoblocks. An obvious uplift in scale, layering of instruments and 'up and down' dynamic swing of percussive passages. Then biamped by plugging my A70s in to power the tweeters...more ease, a sense of effortless power without loudness. The whoosh that makes hairs stand up on your arms and neck.
Part 2 to follow in a couple of days...near field listening in a working office via Cube 3s.
In some ways, this review has been easy to write - I'll say now: I love this kit.
I'll start by briefly setting the scene...
I listen mostly to dead pianists on crackly old recordings. I'm used to substandard sound, trying to pick out what is intended to be heard, in realtime, among the sound of eggs frying and through the many decades, since they were recorded in a very different audio-tech world.
The first thing to say is that NVA brings these recordings and great artists so much closer, out of the shadows of wax cylinder and 78-rpm transfers, offering more insight and reality and emphasising that there's a human creating something amazing, rather than requiring me to strain to hear what might have been happening. This has made me so happy, it's difficult to describe.
Until now, I have owned what the HiFi industry would call 'budget' gear: a Cambridge Audio Azur 351A amp (a gift from my wife which was a huge step up in quality from the home cinema amp I owned at the time), Marantz 5003 CD player (this I still use), cheapo copper (but are they...?) cables, etc. Therefore it’s very easy to say that the A40, P50sa and LS6 cables destroy any comparative notion. It's simply better.
I received this kit as a package, so the heart of the system was replaced in one go.
Here's what I hear.
- Detail. Not plastic, studio monitor detail. Just, perhaps, more information retrieval. In live recordings of solo piano I can hear the creak of the piano stool and the intangible mass of the instrument on a concert stage, and a sense of the occasion and atmosphere unique to a/that live event. Details I'd not heard before on recordings well known to me: Shura Cherkassky live at the Salzburg Festival in 1968; Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau and Gerald Moore at the same festival during seasons spanning 1956 - 1965. These were supreme, God-like artists. And now I can really hear just how great they were.
- A large depth of sound, front to back, side to side, top to bottom. It's the space around instruments - there is an acoustic dimension, be it the venue of recording or how an engineer has staged things at the desk.
- The timbre of instruments is more apparent. Acoustic instruments do not simply present the tones of a scale or the harmonies of chords, but instead they sound like they should: analogue and with physicality, as if they are in the room. It's far more natural. It sounds and feels real. There is more musical impact because of this.
- Bad recordings have variably sounded better or worse than I have heard. This has been a very difficult thing to pinpoint. But the revelation of detail, as mentioned, has been enlightening and maybe there lies the problem with bad recordings: things are laid bare. My perspective is that this is an overall improvement - more of the good with more of the bad.
- Source material is now a consideration whereas before it wasn't so apparent or even a conscious thought for me. I use Spotify. I'm happy with it. It contains a lot of the grand old master pianist recordings I love and although CDs sound generally better (I've compared my CDs to the same recording on Spotify), and no doubt larger, lossless files even more so (I've yet to find out), but this world has now been opened up to me. A new CD player and some research into better or different source formats is now ahead of me.
The pleasure I get as a music lover with the NVA gear is not something easy to put into words. And I don't really care how other kit out there sounds because this, for me, is beyond what I expected from any audio at home solution. I have always wanted good audio reproduction at home when the day came that I could afford it, and this is it. And to be fair to Richard, it's far more affordable than I thought it would be.
I'm so happy!
Lastly, to anyone reading this and considering purchasing NVA equipment, I recommend taking advantage of the precious loan scheme. I expected to buy, having experienced the AP20 integrated amp on loan from a friend. However, aside from cost factors, where to start for my own NVA kit was confirmed for me via the loan scheme, alongside the huge amounts of information available via this forum.
ARCAM irDACII, SSP dig-int, Marantz CD5003
NVA P50sa (48 step), NVA A40 mk3 monoblocks, NVA LS6
Music lover and piano dork.
The AP10 replaces an SMSL5 combined dac / amplifier (£80) that has a new home in my daughter's Uni digs. DAC is an SMSL8 with Chinese LPSU that I just picked up s/h for a total of £140. Speakers are Cube 3s. The fit and finish of the AP10 is flawless, it is silent in use and runs cool at normal volumes. It's a good size for the office and the headphone facility makes it usefully versatile.
Given the jump in price you'd expect an obvious uplift...and there is, with one caveat. The AP10 shows the little SMSL to be quite crude; timbre and tone are obviously better with acoustic instruments becoming far more clear, accurate and enjoyable. Listening to Courtney Marie Andrews new album 'May Your Kindness Remain' on Spotify premium it was impossible to concentrate on anything else. That one caveat...the amp is not for headbangers, it will not convincingly reproduce the guttural depths of Rammstein's 'Du Hast' at high volumes. If I ever end up craving more power then I know that I can benefit from the 100% trade in scheme at any time within 2 years.
With headphones, the AP10 comfortably drives my Grado sr225e (volume at around 9 o' clock) and Audeze LCD-2 (volume at around 12 o' clock). Sonic signature is, as expected, very similar to the AP10H with 2nd supply that I use at home. The 2nd supply adds more headroom (no pun intended) and 'swing'. I reckon the budget Grados are an excellent match with the AP10, btw.
HiFi Foo Fight Blog NVA BMU / WTL Versalex / Transfiguration Axia /NVA Phono2 w/ 2nd PSU / GSP Revelation C / Vortexbox Appliance NAS Server / Sonore microRendu USB streamer w/ LPSU / Chord 2Qute USB dac / NVA P90sa / NVA A80MK2 (bass) / NVA A70 MK2 (tweeters) / NVA Cube 1 / NVA TIS MK1 / NVA SSPMK2 / NVA LS6 / NVA AP10H (& 1x additional PS) / Audeze LCD-2
It’s your customer in Denmark. Just wanted to say how pleased I am with the “starter set”. I like simplicity and good sound.
I’ve just sold a 150 watt Vincent amp and my Leben because of them. Not bad for a starter set. (And no it isn’t perfect - but it is that good.)
by davjam13 » Sun Aug 05, 2018 6:06 pm
Hi Doc , I am being a bit slow with this reviewing thing as tbh I'm not very good at expressing what I mean however in the couple of weeks I have had my mini BMU I have noticed a much more relaxed type of sound, I am listening much more than I have for a long time but I am not listening for faults or stand out instruments just the music, Donald Fagan the Nightfly album for example (lp) bass lines are so much more distinct but not in your face you just actually hear the notes being played, it is also very noticeable on woodwind etc I don't think that it makes the instrument stand out from the rest it's just that if you want to you can choose to follow that particular strand James Taylor's Gaia (cd) from the hourglass album the weight of the drums had the hairs on my arms on end (I have an a30 mk 11) but It felt like the floor was falling away.Just the fact that I'm actually playing cd's means to me it's value for money as most of them have sat unused for years. I don't think I have a particular problem with my mains by the way which is one of the reasons I thought I would try the Mini rather than the BMU, I believe it has helped both LP and CD in my particular system, I haven't yet tried my computer based stuff so that may well be another treat.
This review has taken a while because the sound got better and better and I wanted to wait until the cable was fully burnt in. I have played a lot of albums, from Motorhead to Motown, in the process and as more and more music came through I found I had to change settings on the Chord Qutest DAC to optimise the sound.
I bought this top of the range cable because of my very positive experience with TIS, what I had read on the forum about cables being integral to the performance of NVA amplifiers and the full trade in on my LS6. The refund arrived promptly following its return. The TSCS certainly looks the business and the silver finish blends in well with the room décor. It is slightly thicker than LS6, and quite a bit heavier.
I was immediately struck by an increase in the weight and authority of the music, it seemed as if the Cube 3s had grown bigger. The bass on “Radio Ga Ga” had an impact which was not produced before. Shortly after purchasing the Cube 3s I dispensed with the subwoofer as it detracted from the sound. Now it seemed that it was back, but with a huge difference. Lower bass was now clearly focussed and precise, becoming more so as the cable burned in.
Initially I had to turn the volume up a couple of notches to achieve the same level. Following a day or so of use this was not the case. I can only surmise that burn in was required for the full dynamics to be realised. I found that on some high quality recordings I turned the volume down from an initial setting when things get louder. There was a detectable increase in dynamic range and after a few days I detected some harshness on peaks. This was rectified by reducing the line level output on the DAC from 2V RMS to 1V RMS, ehich also improved the overall sound. Not long afterwards I discovered that things improved by activating the Incisive neutral HF roll-off filter on the DAC. There was obviously more high frequency information coming through as well as at low frequencies.
Improvement in the upper bass is pronounced and this was very apparent on Iron Maiden’s “Number of the beast” album. For the first time I am fully appreciating what an accomplished bass player Steve Harris is. Most of his bass lines are fast and in the upper bass register. They can easily be submerged beneath the wall of guitar sound, but are clear with TSCS. Likewise, through the increased transparency, I have gained an even greater appreciation of the bass playing talents of Geddy Lee who has a different style.
This brings me to his vocals, playing “2112”. His screeching on the heavy parts, when he takes on the part of the priests, comes through with more intensity and harshness whilst his singing on the soft parts, when he assumes the role of the discoverer of the “strange device”, is conveyed with even more feeling. The contrast between the two is increased and with it the emotional impact of the album side which made the band.
The cable is very revealing where vocals are concerned. Comparing “Ziggy Stardust” with “Aladdin Sane” shows that Bowie was not able to reach the previous high notes as a result of his intense touring schedule. The contrast in his vocals on the two albums is definitely more noticeable with TSCS.
The Spiders from Mars were a band who performed together as a unit to great effect which is enhanced by Mick Ronson’s skills as an arranger. The integration of the band came through even more, especially on the rockier tracks. What Mike Garson added on piano is portrayed with greater feeling and impact, notably on the title track of “Aladdin Sane”. The naturalness and purity of piano and also acoustic guitar are big plus points.
There is a lot of the latter on Neil Young’s “Comes a time” album which are very forward in the mix. What the TSCS produces to a greater extent than previously are the electric guitars and strings which are much lower in the mix and contribute a lot to the music experience. On the same album Nicolet Larson’s superb harmony vocals take on a new dimension. Female vocals are a strong point and are reproduced with increased clarity and feeling on the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss “Raising Sand” album. The acoustic bass takes on an added sense of realism on this album.
Backing and double tracked vocals are easier to distinguish, especially noticable when the double tracking is only on some selected lines. I have found that the cable can be extremely revealing of the abilities of singers. Roger Waters’s limitations in this department are exposed on Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album, his voice coming over as more nasal than before. Freddy Mercury, though still excellent, does not come through as so silky smooth on Queen’s post 70s albums as I had become used to. Throughout the band’s catalogue the assistance he received from Roger Taylor with some of the higher notes, e.g. on “Tie your mother down” is more noticeable. (This is aside from the Freddy, Roger, Brian backing chorus on many Queen tracks.)
What struck me is the tonal variations between different makes of electric guitar. Solos from Richie Blackmore (Strat), Jimmy Page (Les Paul) and Michael Schenker (Flying V) are markedly more different than what I had become used to. This is coupled with a greater insight into the finger work of these excellent musicians and their different styles.
Listening was via Qobuz 16 and 24 Bit streams and ripped CDs via the BubbleUp App on my phone to the Sonore microRendu streamer. I also played a couple of vinyl albums and found that the sound through this medium was better than I had experienced before. However, the gap between my digital and analogue front ends has widened, reflecting their respective cost.
I think that some of the things I have tried to describe in terms of bands playing together and clarity of bass lines and backing instrumentation and vocals are a result of an expanded sound stage. The increased realism of electric guitar tones, vocals, acoustic guitar and piano are in addition.
I am very pleased with the addition of the cable because of what it adds to the listening experience in terms of transparency, dynamics, realism and emotion. It seems as if the A80s have now been completely let off the leash. I see TSCS more in terms of a major component upgrade than simply a cable upgrade. LS6 is very good, but in the context of an NVA system, with a quality source, the upgrade is worthwhile. It is expensive but I‘m sure it would cost at least three times as much if sold through a dealer. It is worth bearing in mind that because of the expanded dynamic range there could be compatibility issues with the output of some DACs.
And northwest of Pegasus
Flew into the light of Deneb
Sailed across the Milky Way
NVA BMU, Sonore microRendu/McRU PS, AQ J-bug, Wirewold Ultraviolet, Chord Qutest, NVA P50SA, NVA A80sMk2, NVA Cube 3s, NVA TSCS, NVA TIS mk2. Rega Planar 3, Denon DL-110, NVA Phono 1, NVA SSP Mk2, Grado SR 325e, headphones, Chord Mojo.
Arcam Miniblink Bluetooth DAC, Marantz pm 5004, Wharfdale Diamond 121, NVA LS2.
Out and about
Oppo PM3, Audioquest Dragonfly Red.
A bit of background first. I am, or hopefully have been, a box swapper over the last 15 years or so. Nothing too exotic or expensive (apart from a brief flirtation with a Naim Uniti when they first came out) but too many brands to mention or that I can remember. I've dabbled with one box units, pre/power combos, integrateds, bookshelves, floorstanders and so on. You name it etc.etc. A couple of years ago I started with NVA and thoroughly enjoyed it all. However, the box swapping bug kicked in and I rather foolishly moved away from NVA to the next "best thing". Big mistake.
Anyway the NW Audio show came around a couple of months ago and I went along with the main intention of listening to the Doc's A20/P20/Cubettes starter kit. I listened to quite a few systems that day but the Doc's set-up blew me away. It sounded superb fed by an old Sony CDP and one of the £5 cheapo Chinese Dacs. I can't say that I didn't hear other great systems that day, but the other ones I liked cost upwards of 10 times the NVA system. I decided that day that I'd go back to NVA and was going to go with the A20/P20. When the Doc was selling a "B" stock pair of Cubettes at the same time I jumped in ordered all three, and set about flogging off my old system.
When they arrived I was eager to check out the Cubettes in my front room. They might be B stock but I couldn't see any issues, and the sound was not compromised in any way. It took me a while to source a nice pair of Atacama SL700i speaker stands to sit the Cubettes on, but a mint pair came up on Ebay nearby and I bought them for a meagre £36. They are perfect and just the right height (70 cms). The 2 mtr LS2 speaker cables that came with the kit were just a little short for my needs so I bought a 3 mtr pair of LS3 cables off the classifieds on HFS, sorted!
I have an all digital set-up. Firstly there is an old Squeezebox Touch that I've had for years now, and that handles my internet radio, Spotify Premium, and streaming from my Synology NAS. I also have a wonderful Oppo BDP-83 that I picked up for a song from PFM and that handles my CD/SDACD/DVD/BluRay needs. For £80 it was a minter and highly recommended. Finally I picked up a Yiang Sheng DAC-01 off AOS and that handles my occasional headphone needs plus acts as a DAC for my SBT and TV. £90 and again a minter, another bargain. So all in all a nice mixture of new and old, and the whole system coming in at less than £1K.
How does it all sound? Bloody good is the simple answer. I don't play my music at room shaking levels, certainly not as loud as the Doc, so I'm always keen to see how equipment works at lower levels. I'm glad to say that this starter kit has no problems in that respect. I'd moved from larger floorstanders to the smaller Cubettes, so would there be sufficient bass, would the soundscale match up, would they be detailed etc. in my front room. I'd heard them in a hotel room but how would they perform in my home? My front room is I suppose a typical 30's semi front room. Speakers to be positioned approx 2 metres apart either side of a chimney breast, right up to the wall. My listening position approx 3 metres away slap bang in the middle. Well I need not have worried, the Cubettes surpassed my hopes big time. They sound huge, is this sound coming from such small boxes? Up against the wall they produce a very full, dynamic, and tuneful sound. Sorry that's the best I can describe how they sound. Finally, I was moving from a 90W amp to a 20W amp, would I notice the difference. Nope, I can't say I can. Plenty powerful enough for me, goes loud when I need to. Would I like a pair of A80's? Yes of course I would, but this A20/P20 combo is eye and ear opening, it really is.
OK that's it for me, but if anyone is reading this and contemplating the starter kit then go for it, you wont be disappointed, in fact you'll be staggered at the value for money. Here's a few pics of my system, I think it all looks pretty good too