Random Noise 21



Heís writing about what?!

I freelance for NuForce, editing and such. Consequently whatever I have to say about NuForce products Ė in this case, the top ampís third iteration Ė is easily dismissed. Highly suspect. Unethical. Just plain wrong!

    

Fair enough. Iím composing these remarks before the Special Editionís arrival. If, farther along, I should happen to say the new mono pairís the greatest thing since oxygen, Iíll surprise no one. Again, fair enough. But would you settle for a prediction? My good opinion will be shared by a great many others with no NuForce connection. Iíd bet an eardrum.

Whence the optimism? Now and again I check out NuForce.com to see what needs tidying up Ė one of my responsibilities. Recently, more as a matter of curiosity, I skimmed a pack of amp reviews posted on the site and was struck by a unanimity of opinion, with particular regard to what qualities set NuForce amps apart. NuForce has had a lot of good press. I doubt the reviewers conferred. From what Iíve heard about the V3 amplifier board, itís better than the very, very good V2. But audibly better? We shall see. (Again your suspicions go on the alert. As they should. I understand. I do.)

And also this. Iíve largely declined offers to cover products for which NuForce has equivalents. By my admittedly curious standards, that would be improper. To explain ďlargelyĒ: NuForce makes audio cables. Iíve not tried them. My system is cabled with Acoustic Revive, which Iím disinclined to replace. Iíve covered a lot of AR products here, enthusiastically by and large. Youíre still skeptical. But of course you are. Read on, anyway, just for the hell of it.

As mentioned, the ďV3Ē tag on the R9V3SE (R for Reference) mono identifies a revised amplifier board, thus Version 3. I was offered the opportunity to send in my V2 pair for a board replacement, but that would have meant living with the old case. Having fallen in love with a photo of the new look, I chose to hold out. Also, I felt it prudent to have the V2 amps on hand for comparison.

So, again, before the SEís V3 arrival, Iíll briefly restate my opinion of the R9V2SE as a remarkable accomplishment Ė so remarkable, in fact, that I wonder how it can be improved upon. As is only fitting, Iíll operate the R9V3SE under listening conditions identical to those of its predecessor, to wit:

Wilson Audio WATT / Puppy 8 speakers, Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP (a too well kept secret), and a raft of Acoustic Revive products: virtual grounds for the amps and CDP, five power cords, one pair of balanced interconnects, two pairs of speaker cables, two passive power-distribution boxes, four cable lifters, dark and clear quartz-crystal pucks, two quartz-crystal-based isolation platforms, dummy plugs in vacant outlets, outputs and inputs, two room-acoustic panels, a disc demagnetizer, a negative-ion generator, and a Schumann Resonance generator. (A partridge in a pear tree is due any day.) Nordost Quantum footers substitute for the ampsí original feet. Iíve covered a lot of this in Random Noise and elsewhere.

The R9V3SE is en route. Meanwhile, impressions of the R9V2SE monos: dead quiet, exquisitely dynamic, texturally pristine, harmonically luxuriant, feather-touch subtle, gracefully muscular, yin-rich, likewise yang, and as green a product as exists in high-end audio Ė a pleasure in every dimension, including the fifth and maybe even the sixth. I mentioned when I first wrote about NuForce amps Ė and had no connection with the company Ė that they sounded better than the power-devouring, 200-pound-per Mark Levinson 33H pair Iíd been using for several years. And that was NuForceís V1 version! (As an audiophile in semi-good standing, I kept the elephantine Levinsons in standby and only understood what damage this luxury inflicted after their departure. I still shudder when I think of those utility bills.)


Have a cigar! Identical twins!

The R9V3SE duo is here. In muted, matte silver. (The alternative is black.) The handsomely sculpted faÁade is the work of a London design firm, Kiwi and Pom. To remain with predictions, this little beautyís bound to show up in a museumís industrial design section. (If anyone from MoMA is reading thisÖ)

I thought the price would be higher. Not so. Still $5k / pair. NuForceís Jason Lim was quick to mention that, at $2300, the 200-watt-per-channel Stereo 8.5V3 is a viable contender. I should think that anything with the V3 board occupies that category.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves.

This is a different beast. Itís the R9V3SEís midrange that initially commands oneís attention. Iíve done a good deal of listening. Early impressions have only grown stronger. The V3 presents a gorgeously textured midrange. Sweeter, certainly, and a little warmer, that too perhaps, but my overriding impression is one of harmonic and timbral enrichment Ė easy, unforced qualities that create a soundstage I can best describe as the difference between a good 3-D image and reality. Given the right recording Ė always! Ė the presentation is alive.

The midrangeís near-palpable textures extend in both directions. Nothing about the low or high end seems distinct from the middle. And I donít mean to imply a sense of gentility or homogenization. The ampís character is that of the recording. Good orchestral recordings, ranging as symphonic music will do from mellow to raucous, remain intact however loud the tuttis and crescendos. The big moments donít congeal Ė no mean accomplishment! When I do hear congestion, the blame lies with the production. Brasses blare in their white-hot way, strings do their silken thing, pianos sound as big as life, vocalists stand there in your roomÖ

For us sub-billionaires, $5k is an attention-getting figure. Even so, Audiophilia occupies a terrain wherein amplifiers costing from several to many times as much are as common as dandelions. I wouldnít hesitate to compare R9V3SE with the best of them. I suspect that tubeniks might be especially surprised, not to say enchanted.

No need to go on. You probably donít believe a word of this. Just you waitÖ


Acoustic Revive platforms, again but different

                           

                         
Like so many of Ken Ishiguroís conceptions, the manís quartz-based isolation platforms are unusual, and that puts it softly. Other than size and recommended application, the 8-1/2Ē x 13-1/2Ē TB-38 and 15Ē x 19-1/2Ē RST-38 are identical: a nicely designed base framing a shallow depression, a bag of smooth-edged quartz-crystal gravel of varying size, and a lid. One empties the gravel into the base, smoothes it over, and applies the lid.
                   

                                             

(Photos of and information about the quartz-based isolation platforms have not yet appeared on ARís Web site. The recently discontinued YST-64 speaker underboard pictured here is identical in appearance to the RST-38 and TB-38. Polypropylene and quartz-crystal fill comprise the difference between the YST-64 and RST-38.)

Ken Ishiguro wanted me to try two of the large quartz platforms under my WATT / Puppies. Eight hardy spikes separate the Wilson pair from our carpeted, pumpkin-pine floor (itís an 1842 house). The spikes face into small brass discs Wilson provides for his fastidious clientŤle. Dave and crew would prefer to see customers set up their speakers as intended, i.e., with spikes. My guess is they frown upon gainsayers and apostates. I didnít exactly ask.

Iíve never had my WATT / Puppies at other than their minimum recommended elevation, which is to say that Iíve used none of the speakersí provided spacers. If I wanted to check out the quartz platforms (I do! I do!), Iíd need to remove the spikes and their locking nuts, leaving the plump tapered pucks in place. The platformís total height (about 1-3/4Ē) is close to that of the spikes. The blunt pucks would make harmless contact with the platformsí lids.

So thatís what I did. As a one-geezer operation, getting the heavy Puppies on to the platforms without inflicting damage or popping a gut posed no challenge. Nary a scratch nor ding, and my innards are where they were. (Iíll describe the maneuver if youíre interested. Email me.) With the speakersí top units replaced and cables reconnected, I was ready to cringe or at the very least send Wilson an apology for departing the reservation.

Hallelujah! Amen and gesundheit! No need! The speakers never sounded better. As a bonus, Iím able to fuss about with separation and toe-in with an ease the spikes denied me, and that, my fellow wingnuts, is a very big deal. Having angled the speakers in from where they stood on spikes, Iím getting a much more solid image. And Iíve only just begun!

Which brings us to procedure, or better, its absence. An A/B comparison Ė spikes versus platforms Ė is impractical. Enough that Iím familiar with the room and the new amps and hear nothing going on I could possibly describe as a diminution. Quite the contrary, matters have improved, and if quartz has anything to do with it, thatís just peachy. Overall, Ken Ishiguroís ideas about good sound have made their mark here. While I hesitate to describe myself as a true believer, Iíd certainly plead guilty to being an enthusiast.


Inventory and epilogue

One TB-38 platform supports two AR power-distribution boxes behind the low cabinet on which the systemís electronics sit. Two more TB-38 platforms and a quartet each of Nordost Quasar points hold the NuForce monos aloft. The CDP reposes on an RST-38 platform. And under the speakers two more of the same, for a total of six quartz isolation platforms, three small, three large.

I donít understand much about physics or electronics, less about the exotica that populates the fringe. I do understand that Iím getting great sound. How to itemize what accounts for oneís sweet-spot delight is a challenge Iíll never be up to. And Iíll never go back to spikes.

US prices: TB-38, $725 / RST-38, $1100. For information, LotusGroupUSA.com.


Postscript

To return briefly to Acoustic Reviveís RR-77 Schumann Resonance Generator and the KingRex power supply I recommend as an improvement over the RR-77ís provided wall wart: I mentioned that the PSUís North American distributor, Audio Magus (AudioMagus.com), will replace the basic PSUís flimsy 3.5mm output fitting with a sturdier equivalent. I didnít include the fee, $35. (The more expensive Mk II version includes a Neutrik XLR output fitting as a welcome bit of overkill.)