I want to post a combination thank-you note and user report about my new NOH. First of all, hats off to our fearless leader, John. He was a pleasure to deal with from beginning to end, and even the delay for VSAC delay was handled with grace and professionalism. You’re a class act, John. I’d heard for years that the land of high-end audio designers is populated by guys with continent-sized egos, whose modus operandi is “My way or the highway.” Running into people like John makes me realize just how skewed those perceptions are.
After a discussion with John, I selected copper transformers. I bought the unit pre-assembled. The reason for that is that my only previous experience with soldering was with my only other “passive” preamp – a Corey Greenberg BUF-03 unit that I built over ten years ago. Though the thing worked on the first try, I realized that I have no business even holding a soldering iron.
The design of the new case is just gorgeous. It exudes a sense of quiet understated elegance that is supported both by the solid feel of the case and the BMW precision of the knobs and switches. All in all it’s a fully realized package.
The remote works just as it should. My only quibble was that there wasn’t an instruction sheet included to tell you how to set it up so the LED in the volume knob goes out when the unit is idle. No problem, a quick email to John cleared up the mystery. The Zapper that John uses is a very slick little unit that my GF calls “The Star Trek remote”.
Set-up and installation was trivial, though you do need to pay attention to your gazintas and gazoutas because of the asymmetrical layout of the back panel. The quality of the connectors is, of course, beyond reproach. Being able to hard-connect or float the grounds via two switches on the back panel is very handy. It made a big difference in my system, especially with the volume cranked right up.
After all that physical description, the description of the sound is almost anticlimactic. Anyone who has been reading about the TX-102 for a while knows what’s coming next. Holy Whackdoodle, I’m gob-smacked! The clarity! The neutrality! The dynamics! The coherence! The richness! No matter what sonic attribute I listened for, it was better than anything I’d previously heard. This was evident whether I was running it into my KR 18 BSI integrated or into my new Wavelength Triton Blues. Eventually I simply stopped listening for “sonic attributes” and started just listening to music. That transition was easier and more complete than I’d ever experienced before as well.
After I’d let the NOH run in for a couple of weeks I compared it head to head against my previous preamp, a SimAudio P-5. You guessed it - yet another active preamp fails to clear the bar… In comparison to the NOH, the P-5 sounded tonally bleached, a bit slow, a touch hazy, a bit rougher and less dimensional.
The only thing that might have been a problem in this whole exercise is the amp’s input sensitivity. The Wavelengths have a sensitivity of about 1.75Vac RMS, so I’m running the transformers fairly close to the top of the range. Luckily my DAC puts out a nominal 3V in single-ended mode, and 6V balanced, so I’ve got enough headroom in either case. BTW, the number of volume control steps on the transformers is simply a non-issue.
The NOH is one of the nicest surprises I’ve had recently. Talk about your giant-killers – in my system this thing makes more music for less money than I ever dreamed possible.
Ye’ll NOH be takin’ this one away from me, laddie!
For reference, the rest of the system consists of:
- Audio Note 3.1x Balanced DAC and CDT-2 transport, linked by Nirvana’s DC-110 AES/EBU cable
- Wavelength Audio Triton Blue monoblocks (300B, 18W)
- Coincident Total Victory speakers
- Interconnects and speaker cable are Argent Audio’s new Pursang, a cable that shares all the attributes of the NOH.
- Power cords are all Nirvana – Source for the amps, PC Plus for the digital stuff