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.
(this is a review for both, because I have no other speaker cables except Litz to the try with the amp and the other way round banana plugs don't fit in my former amp to try if there's an improvement with LS3 only)
As I wrote in my review to the Phono2 I came to NVA over being disappointed with my Cambridge phono stage (before and after the Arkless modifications). Completely happy with this item, I decided to buy a NVA amp because my Braun R4 is so old now, that it has to be repaired too often during the last years. Comparing the Braun with the equipment of my friends it always sounded best of the heard amps. So I expected a lot when ordering an AP70 with LS3. My main source is vinyl. I have a DL103 running on a Pioneer SPL-40 with heavier headshell and counterweight. Speakers are Braun LS150. Having doubts if a 70 watt amp would be strong enough to drive them, I asked Richard if I should better go for an AP80. He told me AP70 would be fine, and he was right! It's driving the speakers very powerful. Even when the amp was new, it sounded more pronounced and clear than the Braun. Joan Baez for example could be a bit nerving for me when climbing heights with her voice. Not so with the AP70. It's a pleasure to listen to the clarity of her voice. We, my family and me, where deeply impressed from the start on. Now the amp is up for four weeks and the bass increased. Not that I missed it before, but now it's nice and deep without sounding dull or affecting the heights. Even with records where I used the equalizer before, for example Deuce by Rory Gallagher or Aqualung by Jethro Tull, because they sounded a bit dull or bright, I don't feel the need to do so with the AP70, so don't miss the equalizer at all. I never thought that listening to music in such a clear and lively way would be possible. Instruments and voices are coming up in front right in the moment and with the intensity they should do. Our living room has turned to a concert hall now. The only complain is that listening at very low levels leads to channel imbalance with the standard volume pot, but most of the time could be corrected by turning the knob slowly in both directions. So thank you Richard for bringing lots more listening fun to my live than I ever had before. And thanks to AOS for making me curious about NVA with their rant about it.
by Stemcor1990 » Tue May 01, 2018 8:48 am
Ok it’s time for a proper review.....
The TSS looks like a giant A80. It’s large and measures 20” x 14” x 7” so no good for a rack - not that a rack would be recommended. I keep mine on a sideboard/cabinet.
It’s heavy. I have commented on this earlier so if you can’t be bothered to go to the gym, just pick up the box a couple of times each day.
The amp has been used for long enough for me to be able to give my opinion. It is certainly the big brother of the A20 that I was previously using. The difference is that the TSS is able to dig deeper into the music and subtle nuances of musicianship become much more obvious. I keep saying to myself “so that’s how he plays it”. There is also a lot more “power” which makes bands and orchestras sound more like a real performance. The bottom line is that it does fulfil my 2 requirements. It makes musical instruments sound they are being played and groups of musicians playing together sounds like bands or orchestras. One “bonus” is the tone of guitars. It’s a lot easier to distinguish between single coil and hum bucking pickups and acoustic guitars have a real sense of weight and body. It’s difficult for me to describe but you know it when you hear it ! I cannot say that I have more bass or higher highs or middier mids. Apologies if this all sounds a bit odd but it’s the best that I can offer.
The only downside that I have encountered is some buzzing from the transformers. This is purely down the the crappy mains we have. I have borrowed a BMU and will write another review shortly.
The TSS is not cheap but is would be very interesting to do a bake-off against a Naim 500 or something similar. I suspect that on a performance per pound basis the TSS is impossible to beat.
Just to put the whole thing into some sort of context. I am currently using a PL71 with a Denon 103, Phono 2 with 2 x psu, P90SA and a pair of Cube 3s on stands. Interconnect cables are SSP throughout with LS6 between the amp and speakers. There is room for improvement so still plenty to look forward to.
by George Hincapie » Thu Apr 05, 2018 11:02 pm
Thanks for the loan of the BMU.
I tried it a few years ago as I was starting my NVA journey and at that time my experience was that it made no difference. Since then I have spent a fortune and am at the top of the NVA black box ladder, with Statement cabling throughout. Having recently upgraded my DAC, my system is now incredibly resolving. I was keen to give the BMU another go.
Long story short, I thought there was a very, very slight increase in musicality on some tracks, but it was difficult to be sure. I felt I could hear it, then I'd listen to the same track again later and didn't have the same perception. There wasn't a consistent, substantive improvement on my system, in my home, that'd make a purchasing decision easy.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to scratch that itch, thank you Richard.
post by scotty38 » Tue May 01, 2018 12:16 pm
I'm not that great on extolling the virtues, or otherwise, of any kit that I have.
I borrowed the starter kit with my intention that I'd go P90sa/A40 as a replacement for my Meridian kit that I'd had for ages as part of an AV setup. I'd not used it as such for ages and wanted to simplify what I had. The NVA kit performed very well indeed and, as said above, I'm not comfortable using fancy words to describe what I think I'm hearing but to use the phrase often heard here everything was musical.
I'm not saying my old kit was bad or that this was a night and day revelation but there was something making me want to listen to more music and that's what I did. Take into account the cost differentials starts another story.....
On top of this, in conversations with The Doc, I was told my speakers weren't a particularly easy load, I think the term used was "horrid" but even so the little boxes seemed to have no issues as far as I could tell.
To cut a long story short circumstances at home have put the P90sa etc on the back burner although I am wanting to sort my 2nd system out so that will be using the P20/A20.
Big thumbs up from me and apologies for lack of flouncy words....
Post by Stemcor1990 » Mon May 07, 2018 4:32 pm
It’s been in my system for a week now so time to go public on my thoughts......
Firstly, it’s a typical NVA black acrylic box 14” x 11 1/2” x 5 1/4”. Four plug sockets on the top which allowed me to use a PL71, Phono 2 with 2 x psu and a TSS into a pair of cube 3s.
The TSS has an ability to let you know the quality of your mains ie if the mains is not very good then the TSS hums. My great hope was that the BMU would cure the humming. Sadly this has not proved to be the case.
I would have bought a BMU if the only thing it could do was to stop the humming. Although not successful in killing the hum I’m still interested. Why ? Because the BMU added an extra “rightness” to the music. Just like my review of the TSS there were no higher highs, no extra octave of bass and no middier mids. What it did do was to make guitars sound more like guitars, drums more like drums etc etc.
I need a BMU type device with 6 mains plugs and I’ll start a separate thread to discuss but if you are in looking to do something about your mains or want to improve your system then the BMU is well worth investigating. Perhaps my mains is beyond help !
Have had the A40 almost 2 months now and thoroughly enjoying it.
The amp is connected directly to a Jolida Glass FX DAC III which has volume control.
I immediately noticed the airiness in the sound. The ease of flow of the music. Like a veil completely lifted from the sound.
The music just sounds right. Nothing singularly stands out. Vocals sounds natural and with texture in the voice. Again, the system just sounds musical and right.
Reminds me of my first amp, the AP20 which I had in the early 90s, but my system was rather budget then. So the set up now sounds that little more refined. The A40s power the speakers with absolute ease and just works so well with the Jolida. Should really have come back to NVA sooner.
Source is Cambridge Audio CXC to the Jolida via Profigold coaxial.
Metaxas Audio Enosis interconnects to the A40s.
LS5 to Tannoy Mini Autograph sitting on Target R4 stands.
NVA A40/Metaxas Audio Enosis interconnect
Tannoy Mini Autograph/Target R4 stands/NVA LS5