You can't get much further from a conventional black box than these gleaming new power amps from Nene Valley Audio... effortless, graceful and convincing.
The obvious surprise is that NVA, of all UK companies, has created such a spectacle. NVA's managing director, Richard Dunn, is an outspoken critic of conspicuous visual aesthetics in hi-fi design. NVA products are normally as inconspicuous as they come: simple, black metal cases glued together. A more minimalist manufacturer I've yet to encounter.
Less obvious, expect to professional NVA watchers, is that The Definitive Statement doesn't really signify a change of heart. Far from abandoning its conventional way of making amplifiers in favor of gloss and high tech complexity, NVA has retained the same simple circuit it has relied on for the past decade.
The main difference between TDS and previous NVA power amps is the extent to which each section of the new monoblocks has its own power supply complete with toroidal transformer and smoothing capacitors. There are no fewer than four sets per monoblock. The fact that all the power supplies are on the power amp's chassis is a further departure from the NVA norm of remove supplies.
To avoid any risk of incompatibility and to ensure that The Definitive Statement amplifiers supplied for review performed optimally they were installed with a number of other NVA products: a prototype passive preamp, a phono amplifier and the DACon D/A converter. NVA's copper tubing Sound Pipe interconnects and loudspeaker cable linked every component. CDs played on a Roksan Rok-DP1 transport fed the DACon while LPs played on a Linn LP12/Lingo/Ekos/Troika fed the phono stage.
Bulls in china shops, couch potatoes, those of a faint-hearted, paranoid or highly sceptical nature had better turn the page now. This NVA system isn't for any of you. Actually, if I'm scrupulously honest, I'd own up to all the above traits. So why did I persevere with The Definitive Statements when using them meant risking life an limb tiptoeing over and around Sound Pipe cable arched across my living room, and having to walk half a mile between CD player, amps and sofa every time I wanted to change disc? (How I'd have killed for a remove volume control). The answer lies in the same reason that I'm still listening to the amps well after midnight. They have that rarest of qualities: the ability to bring music to life, effortlessly, gracefully and utterly convincingly.
The Definitive Statements aren't the most powerful, most explicitly detailed, smoothest, tonally most authentically faithful amplifiers I've ever heard. They sometimes do strange things to the stereo perspective, and they're far from kind to anemic, dynamically challenged recordings. These amps can make boxy, tubby recordings unbearable, and they can draw you attention to the speakers as sound sources by hiving off either bass or treble from the music and then unceremoniously highlighting the individual speaker drive units.
But when the signal is clean, dynamic, refined and consistent these amps create a quite majestic aural spectacle that transcends the whole business of hi-fi hardware. Suddenly you're into a sequence of different worlds. Why, for instance, did Deutsche Grammophon's editors fail to spot the errant cougher persisting through the second movement of the wonderfully recorded Jarvi Shostakovich 15th Symphony? Surely the way the NVA amps reproduced the atmospheric acoustic of The Snape Maltings from Mitsuko Uchida's recording of Debussy Etudes could not be bettered. And how utterly compelling the amps made the fretless bass, sax and percussion conjured up by ECM's engineers on the classic Jan Garbarek recording I Took Up The Runes!
The NVA amps reproduced excellent recording with such vitality that they raised my listening expectations. But by the same token it came as a shock listening to the way the spotlit recorded flaws of less than immaculate discs. I had to pick my way through my albums with care.
Partnering the Snell J/II speakers I normally use, the TDS amps were in their element. I enjoyed the way they coped with Tannoy D700s, but would never suggest they brought them to life as effectively. Using Dawn Audio Symphony speakers I was far less happy. The key factor isn't so much the inherent strength or weakness of each speaker as the speakers' electrical complexity. The Dawns were the most complex load I tried, so I hate to think what horrendous mismatches could be on the cards. The Snells proved to be by far the easiest, thanks to their high sensitivity and shallow rolloff rate passive crossover network. The lesson is simple: make sure that The Definitive Statements are used with straight forward, simple loudspeakers.
Over the month or so I've been using The Definitive Statements I've grown to take much of what they do for granted. Switching to other amplifiers I've missed their amazing transient clarity, stunning depth and space, and most of all the sense of freedom and range of musical colour and expression they can capture.
The amps' susceptibility to external factors ranging from partnering speakers, cable, source components and quality of disc leaves the impression that these robust-looking, architecturally conceived amplifiers are a touch temperamental. But just as any diva needs to be pampered like a prima donna before they'll sing their heart out, so these NVA amps have to be fed the best signal and cossetted with suitable partnering equipment to work at full strength. When they do, you know you're listening to the next best thing to live music. They'll get the adrenalin going, the foot tapping and before you know it they'll be tempting you into a CD or LP buying spree. What better justification for their £6000 price tag could there be?
Size: w400 x d350 x h140mm
Power Output: 80wpc
Inputs: One SMA
Speakers: One Pair
- Monoblock power amplifier
- Four discrete power supplies in chromed case
- For toroidal transformers and associated set of polypropylene and paper capacitors per amps
- Minimalist circuit visible through top-plate accepts SMA screw terminal input.
- Magnificently transparent, free flowing sound when partnered with minimalist speakers
- Arresting definition, delicacy and dynamics
- Does no favours to rough or dynamically challenged recordings.
Here they are. The no-compromise NVA amps I've been waiting for. If you've ever felt like complaining about the Bauhausian black simplicity of the rest of the company's range of products, then you're in for quite a shock.
These amps are the most breathtakingly beautiful I've ever clapped eyes on - but function still follows form. The deep chromed finish, however; is definitely artifice. But you're gonna want to show off your good taste to your friends, aren't you?
Let's skip over all the usual hi-fi yardsticks. Of course they're clean. They're so neutral that they never seem to get in the way of the music. Of course they're seamlessly integrated right across the range from the lowest rumble to the highest treble. Of course they're powerful and sure-footed. They have foundation-shaking power for rock, luxurious acoustic abilities for classical music, timing subtleties like none you've heard before for jazz...
But it's on the level of sheet communication that the TDS amplifier comes into its own. I work on a computer in my living room, and for the two months or so that I've had these beauties in my possession, I've had repeatedly to stop what I've been doing. I've been halted in my tracks by particular pieces of musicianship that cause my hair to stand on end. All the energy and intent of the music comes flowing through. There's real magic here. Where other so-called analytical equipment reduces a performance to an engineering drawing, the TDS effortlessly conveys the electricity of the performance. Mere resolution takes no part in it. Just as similar concepts are applied to camera lenses rather than the human eye, resolution is much too inadequate a concept - indeed, the wrong concept entirely - for these monoblock amps then they're in full cry.
These amps are The Definitive Statement of what Nene Valley Audio is all about. And as a user of NVA products for the last two years or so, they give me more of everything I value from the company. These amplifiers are an overwhelming argument for the rightness of the company's radical view on all things audio. If you're in the market for the very best in power amps, give yourself a treat and make sure you audition them. At these high echelons, £5000 is really excellent value. – Dave Wiley
Source: Audiophile (August 1993)
Right of Reply
If you are expecting the usual PR-based clap-trap that abounds on this page, I'm afraid you will be disappointed (come back Andy Giles, all is forgiven). The comments that we are usually subjected to - `thank you, you're wonderfully perceptive' if the reviewer likes a product; `you're cloth-eared and deaf' if he doesn't - have undermined the purpose of this page, which should be used as an unbiased vehicle for a manufacturer's viewpoint.
Regarding the review, I accept and respect the views expressed, apart from the comment from `a highly respected amplifier designer' who either hasn't understood the concept and application or is exercising the wrong orifice. You no more need to match transformers on the TDS (Avel Lindberg's wall-to-wall Essex girl will love to be described as continental) than you need to match them on a pre/power amp: we just take the concept of splitting the cicuit up to the ultimate. A hi-fi amplifier is not a single amplifier, it's a series of amplifiers (gain stages) that have subtly different requirements that are not necessarily mutually compatible. As to being a new concept, we have been using a lesser version of it for eight years in the current A80 and previous A50TDS, so it is well proved and understood (at least by us!). I believe the comments about loudspeaker compatibility are misleading, the amplifier will not be phased by any loudspeaker, unless if has a high frequency notch filter, a crowbar protection circuit or a predominantly 2ohm or lower impedance. What it will do is show them up for what they are and accentuate the prevalent characteristics. I am not sure I agree with the comment about us avoiding high impedances, this is too simplistic. Basically, impedances have to be matched between stages, whether high or low. But within stages the circuit has to be clean and simple. Power supplies do need to be very low impedance. Low capacitance loudspeaker cable is a must and you really won't know what these amps are capable of unless you use Sound Pipe interconnect. Bi- and tri-wiring are out and will invalidate our guarantee (which is for the life of this product). NVA amplifiers do not need artificially contrived high frequency boost in order to perform, and a passive preamp is also essential due to the gain and matching requirements of our power amplifiers.
If you wish to listen to these amplifiers you will probably have difficulty finding them. This is not an indictment of the quality of the amplifier but an indictment of the quality of the majority of UK hi-fi dealers. I spend a lot of time abroad as over 80 percent of our turnover is exported and to see the amount of choice customers have in a country such as Taiwan is incredible: products we have not even heard of, and good products too. The profit margins are the same and yet customers are not led by the nose or treated as unqualified oafs if they can't hear the tunes! In this country you are lucky if you can find more than two products to compare at a price point, whereas in Taiwan, France, Germany, USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore anything up to ten is the norm and the market is not controlled by Linn tunes, Naim balls or valve sweetness. Take a selection of Audiophile reviewers' reference amplifiers: Malcolm Steward - Naim: Alvin Gold - mostly Audio Research: Jonathan Kettle - Audio Note (perhaps NVA now): Dave Wiley - NVA: Jimmy Hughes - Audio Innovations. If you can find a dealer where you can compare these products at the moment in the UK I will give you a set of these amps FREE! In fact, you are unlikely to find a dealer where you can hear even two or three of them. But I know of at least four dealers in Taiwan where you can hear them all. Do you hi-fi enthusiasts get the dealers you deserve? Only you can change it. Vote with your pockets.
Richard Dunn – NVA