Sorry for the long wait. Just wanted to be thorough.
First of all, thanks Jason for allowing your amps to zip around the US and be heard by the people lucky enough to make the tour cut. I am truly grateful.
A little background before I continue. I played drums for 57 years in orchestras, concert bands, rock, country, and jazz groups. I also managed and owned a stereo shop for about 20 years in the late 70s to mid 90s. Not high end, but upper mid-fi. Yamaha, Denon, Luxman, Bryston, Acoustat, B&W, ADS, Energy . . . you get the idea. I spent a lot of time in the shop trying to identify differences between different pieces of gear, cables, rooms, speaker position, etc. Some of the differences were close to none, some immediately apparent. What all this experience did was teach me to listen.
Over the last 8 or 9 years I have owned:
McCormack Smc modded to the max, DNA 1, TLC pre and DAC
Maxed out Musical Concepts amp, pre, DAC
Meadowlark Blue Herons
Conrad Johnson modded SA 400
Highly modded Acoustat 2+2s
And a bunch of other stuff that emptied my check book. But it’s been fun!
Concerning the balanced verses single ended cables that link the pre to the amps. I started with single ended with the adaptors that TomS was so kind to send along with the amps. With everything on and no disc spinning, there was no noise until I cranked the W4S pre up to levels that would have overloaded the amp; all I heard was a soft background hum At any volume lower, no noise. I tried the B1 and cranked it to the max. Dead silent. The only difference I could discern was the difference between the qualities of the cables. The balanced cable had not been used in years and does not have the same quality conductors. It was just slightly harsh in the mids and highs, but not enough to be a distraction.
So this brings me to what I own now and the NCores. I spent the better part of today listening to my tube amp, Tripath amp, and the NCores. All were very listenable to my ears. I used the single ended cables for all comparisons.
Bass on the tube amp was not as well defined as either of the solid state pieces, but it swung if you know what I mean. The SS amps swung too and dug a bit deeper. Although deeper may be an illusion of tighter and cleaner. The NCores on stand up bass sounded the most like a stand up bass. And I’ve sat next to many a stand up bass in the various jazz groups I’ve played with. Why did it sound more like a bass to me? I could hear the instrument. There was no muffling, bloating or hyper detailing.
I was amazed at how good the low level resolution was with all the amps. Maggies are not known for their resolving prowess at low volumes. The NCores were the clear winner. I kept turning it down and down and kept hearing nuance that disappeared with the other amps. I could clearly hear what I believe was distortion in the other amps that covered the music at low levels. In fact I could hear the distortion, in comparison, at any level.
Staging was incredible with the NCores. More air around voices and instruments than I have heard before which resulted in layer upon layer of different sounds each occupying their own space. I didn’t notice that the stage had changed in size. There was just more going on inside it.
Bottom line, the NCores let me hear more of what was on each disc. If the disc was lean, it sounded lean, if round and fat, that’s what I got. They didn’t warm things up or cool them off. I heard each disc as distinctly different from one another. That’s the biggest difference. Whether I’m listening to the tube amp or the Tripath there is a similarity to each disc when compared to the NCores. There is less similarity to each disc with the NCores. It just lets what is there come through. It tamed some of the sibilance because it either didn’t add, or added less, distortion to it. Discs that caused me to cringe slightly at times with the other amps, were remarkably clear with the NCores. I put on a couple of discs I have listened to many, many times over the years. And I knew what I was going to hear. Not! I swear some of them sounded totally different. I sat there with my mouth open listening to music I had never heard before.
The only other time I have heard something similar was when I auditioned a Decware single ended SE34I with a pair of Decware High Definition Towers. That was a while ago so my memory is fuzzy but I remember that system clearly out of many. I’m not suggesting the NCores sounded like the Decware, but the clarity I heard is the clarity I hear with the NCores. The difference is, the NCores have balls and can drive any speaker you want. Imagine something as clear and clean as that with balls that will drive any speaker you attach it to.
Needless to say, I’m sold. I am, however going to wait and see what Bruno has up his sleeve with the Mola-Mola product. I don’t really need the extra power of the NC1200 but am curious to hear reviews. And if Bruno can design a pre and dac that sound, or rather have no sound, like the NC400 then I’m on board.
Obviously, as with any review, YMMV.