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Audio-gd NFB-10ES2 balanced desktop amp/DAC

Posted

Pros: Clean sounding, EXTRAS, Powerful

Cons: Heavy, Large, Headphones Need Re-termination

Schiit Audio - Vali )[$119 New]  VS Audio GD NFB10 ES2 Balanced Amp (SE Out) [$600 New (Unit is a Dac/Amp Combo)

 

Personal Back-Story  

 

I’ve enjoyed both Tube and solid state amplifiers over the years, although I prefer solid states. That said, there’s still something magical about tubes for me, thus I owned two before the Vali, both where attempts to find that perfect tube sound, the right mix of warm mids and taught bass and airy treble. That said, I got the Vali, with hopes it would bring the balanced I was looking for. That said, though I’m still undecided about wheather I like a solid state amp or a tube… so it’s time for a comparison!

 

 

Notes on the NFB10ES2 Dac

          The NFB10ES2 balanced dac uses a ESS 9018 chipset, that said the unit has a very clean sound. Ton’s of detail and virtually no audible noise in both the internal headphone amp and Fixed Line Out. Micro Details are phenomenal and the ability to opt for a low or high gain Line out makes feeding the Dac into multiple amps very easy, not to mention the incredibly clean sound from the dac. Sound stage is also phenomenal as well, and to reiterate this for the third time, this unit has very clean sound!

         

Vali

 

Pros: Airy sound, smooth mids, taught heavy bass, scales well

 

Cons : noisy,  needs high end Pre Amp for optimal performance

 

Build [4/5]

 

Schiit… well the know their schiit! The Vali is built very nicely,  sporting a metal case with a silver coat. The RCA jacks, and volume knob are both very sturdy. Each has a nice solid feel to it, though I will admit the Power Switch feels a little flimsy. Thankfully I’m only touching it once every few hours! Still it’s a very attractive unit, and thus far I’ve had no mechanical issues, and frankly I’m not too concerned that I will!

 

Specs

Sub-Miniature Hybrid Headphone Amplifier

Frequency Response 20-20k, -0.2db, 5-100kHz -3db

Maximum Power 32Ohms: 650 mW RMS per Channel

Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 115mW RMS per Channel

THD <.04%

SNR >93db

OutPut Impedance 6.5ohms

Gain 12db

Power Consumption 8W

Size 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”

 

 

Extra Features

The Vali doesn’t have any extra features, it simply does exactly what you paid for it to do! Meaning, it’s an amp with only one input and one output. That said, for the price it’s easy to understand the lack of Extra’s.

 

Price to Performance : [5/5]

          Excellent! Performs far beyond many similarly priced competitors such as the Indeed G3 and Millet Hybrid Tubes.

 

NFB10ES2

 

          Pros; Clean sounding, EXTRAS, Powerful

 

Cons; Heavy, Large, Headphones Need Re-termination

 

 

Build [5/5]

The unit is built rock solid and weighs around 15 or so pounds! While I do not recommend you drop it… chances are it could take the hit. No flaws to the build what so ever in my opinion.

 

 

 

Extras

The Audio GD NFB 10ES2 offers 2 headphone outs, a SE and balanced. On the negative side how ever, the Balanced out is much cleaner and more dynamic than the SE out. While this review was done with the SE, everything that applies to the SE can be said for the Balanced as well. Think of the balanced out as a complete upgrade over the already excellent SE out.

 

 

 

       Price to Performance : [4/5]

For the price there is not a better balanced Solid State amp, however if you only need a SE Amp there may be better options, again the Audio GD NFB 10ES2 is a Dac/Amp combo unit and the amp cannot be purchased separately.  Additionally, to get the most out of your headphones you will need a recable to 4pin Balanced XLR.

 

Specs

Frequency Response

Maximum Power 50 Ohms: 5950MW [Balanced Out] 1650MW [SE Out]

Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 590MW[Balanced Out] 150Mw [SE Out]

THD <0.0005%

SNR >120DB  

OutPut Impedance 2

Gain: Adjustable

Power Consumption 22W

Size W240 X L360 X H80 (MM, Fully aluminium )

 

 

Sonic Test Process

 

Vali

Source Win 7[Foobar2000 WASAPI] -> NFB 10ES 2  SE Fixed Line Out [Low Gain] -> Schiit Vali -> w1000x

 

NFb10ES2

Source Win 7[Foobar2000 WASAPI] -> NFB 10ES 2  SE Headphone Out   -> w1000x

 

 

 

 

Sound

Bold Italic is final preference

Italic Text is NFB10ES2

Standard Text is Vali

 

           

Vali         

Sound Signature- Very clean, a slight bump on the mids and a small dip from upper mids to highs. Maintains a touch of sparkle, with lush mids. I’d call it the reference sound signature for a hybrid tube, tubey mids and bass with the details of a solid state. The Heart and Soul of a tube, with the detail of a solid state!  

 

Dynamics- quick and effortless

Timbre-  Very Natural  

Speed- Sufficiently quick, yet has very minimal smoothness.  

 

          Sound Stage:  A  wide sound stage, great instrument separation, and good 3D  and 2D placement of instruments.

 

 

It should be noted as well, that the Vali does have a slight hum of noise in the background, as well as being prone to micro-phonics or ringing in response to external vibrations acting on the internal PCB.

Audio GD NFB10ES2

Sound Signature- Very clean, flawless neutral sounding. No color or noise to be found!  Perfectly Pure Sound

 

Dynamics- Well extended and fast and natural.

Timbre-  Flawless  

Speed- Lighting fast

 

          Sound Stage:  Very accurate sound stage, depth is wonderful and 2D sound stage is top notch! Sonically, the sound stage presents instruments realistically enough to differentiate the space between each in inches! The NFB 10ES2 is a very neutral sounding amp! It is lacking completely in any color what so ever! Crystal and uncompressed clarity with a JET BLACK presentation, no noise what so ever.

 

 

Song by Song Comparisons (Click to show)

Songs

 

Kool Keith (Black Elvis/Lost In Space) 07 I’m Seein’ Robots {16bit Flac}

 

          BIG tight thumping bass, and crystal clear lyrics.  The Schiit valis is sounding very enjoyable with this tune! Keith has a few whispered lyrics in this track as well, and the Vali does an excellent job of maintaining each of the little details Keith’s mastered into the track! A very smooth sound for a lyrically Smooth MC!

 

Sub Bass isn’t quite as heavy on the NFB 10ES2. The sound is a little dry as well. In addition there’s a touch of grain in Keith’s voice…

 

The Vali is the clear winner in this track. While the NFB 10ES2 presents the sound faultlessly… the added color of the Vali brings a nice smooth sound to the track, not only smooth but it retains even the littlest detail as well! That said I enjoy the Vali’s sound very much!

 

Daiqing Tana & Haya Band [Silent Sky CD#1] 08 Golden Bracelet {16 bit}

 

Vocals are perfect for my on the Vali, Daiqing’s voice has just the perfect mix of body and airy presentation. Her lows and powerful, and her higher notes are gentle and very light and airy. This track is a duet of sorts, a piano and Daiqing dominate the track, there is sufficient space between each, however a touch more separation in the mids for this track would be nice. The highs are also very enjoyable; Daiqing hits most of the higher notes as well, which the Vali presents wonderfully.  

 

Upper mids have a touch more energy with the NFB 10ES2, cleaner and more balance presentation of the mids as well. Lower notes, are not as powerful… yet are presented more delicately. The NFB10ES2 has a touch more air up top as well. Micro details, are also a touch better with the NFB10ES2. Most notably the sound of footsteps in the opening of the track.

 

For this track, I’d have to say the Vali was enjoyable, each individual instrument was perfect in it’s own right. However when presented at the same time, the Vali lacked the balance to perfectly pair the Paino and vocals.

 

 

David Chesky [Jazz in the New Harmonic] 08 Transcendental Tripping {16bit Flac}

 

          Right off the bat, I’m really liking the dynamics of the Vali in this tune, the quiet bursts of the piano are not lost, despite having two brass horns front and center. The sound stage is very nice as well, 3D and 2D placement are really nice. The 2 previous hybrid tubes I had, tended to squash the music. This one does not! The w1000x is a bright headphone, that said slight smoothness of the treble further compliments the sound of the W1000x. The Vali gives me all the details, without any of the occasional grain. Bass is nice as well, a touch thicker than neutral, there’s an extra bit of both body and decay. However this extra thickness to the bass isn’t flabby, or overly thick. Vali is really bringing a lot of enjoyment to this jazz piece!

 

The NFb10ES2 has noticeable less coloration, and has a slightly deeper 3D presentation. The piano stands a little more ground on the NFb10ES., While  it was never lost with the Vali the NFb10ES2 does a better job balancing all the instruments. Also there’s the touch of grain in the trumpet with the NFB10ES2 that the Vali does not have. Also worth noting is the bass, this tune places the Double Bass pretty far back, the NFB10ES2 maintains this withdrawn placement of the bass

 

I enjoyed the Vali more for jazz, the extra color to the mids and bass was very pleasant. The Vali’s color also… created a sense of “psudeo depth” that I did enjoy. Meaning  the mids and bass where bumped up,  and Upper mids and highs dipped down, this in turn created a sense of depth due to the coloration and not  the mastering of the track. Either way, I enjoyed it!

 

Anne Gastinel, François-Frédéric Guy [Beethoven: Cello & Piano Sonatas # 2, 4 & 5]  Sonata for Cello & Piano No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2 - III. Rondo (Allegro) {16bit Flac}

 

          Another duet, classical Beethoven performed with the cello and piano. The Vali has a lovely presentation; neither seem to be fighting for my attention. The low notes again have a touch more power to them, there is also a tad more body to the Cello, which I find to be very enjoyable. Details and speed are a touch lacking, but there is lushness… a rich grandeur to the presentation that’s very much enjoyable.

 

          Upper mids are better on the NFB10ES2, however the lows lack a touch of power. There is noticeably better speed and details as well, yet as a whole the track lacks a touch of the grandeur that the Vali had. It is almost a touch to polite and delicate.

 

          Still unsure, there is the richness and grandeur of the Vali for this classical tune, as well as the finesse and speed of the NFB10ES2… not sure which I like better.

         

 

 

 There is no clear winner in my book, the choice of solid state or tube is up to the listener. Both are very capable options! How ever I do think the Vali steals the show here, at $119 dollars it proves it self a worth while compliment to my $600 Audio GD NFB 10ES2

Posted

Pros: Details! It sounds 10X better than Schiit's Bifrost Uber, Neutral, but not boring, powerful, drives the LCD-2 to heaven!

Cons: Plastic Casing. Headphone(s) need to be terminated to balanced. Difference is sound between single ended and Balanced

Well not much to say here. Audio-GD kicks as(s). Seriously this amp/dac combo has details, neutral, but not boring, powerful, has a remote control, preamp functions, low and high gain, balanced output, etc, all at $580 promo price. I cannot recommend more. It sounds better than the Schiit Bifrost, and the amp in this NFB-10ES2 is better in every way than the M^3 with ADA4627 opamps. For rock music, reggae, and jazz this thing wins. Seriously I don't care if this is made in China or US, it sounds amazing. I compare this to the Beta22, my uncle had a beta22 2 channel, and it was so similar sounding. 

 

Honestly this unit should be priced at $750 maybe even $1000. Hell I'd pay $1000 for it. NFB-10ES2 is that good. 

 

The only downside is the casing is plastic, and the amp outputs more power and sounds better out of the balanced output. I went with a Charleston Cable Company LCD-2 4 pin XLR cable, but you could DIY a cable easily as well. This amp should be on anybody's list. This unit sounds good with basically everything since its neutral. I love the Sabre ES9018, and this is coming from a warm and musical music loving freak. If you want a warmer amp, then NFB-10.33 should go on your list as well, it costs the same, is balanced, but uses 2X WM8741 (warmer sounding chips). 

 

For Rock (J-Rock too), Daft Punk, Jazz etc this amp is perfect. Buy it without hesitation if you have the funds for it. I don't think I need a Beta22 anymore.

 

 

 

Conclusion:

I highly recommend Audio-GD's NGB-10ES2. Loving it with my LCD-2 Rev 1. 

Audio-gd NFB-10ES2 balanced desktop amp/DAC
Description:

A fully balanced design built with discrete analog stages without any opamps or coupling caps in the signal channels It has a built in balanced DAC and can act as a headphone amp, a DAC (with fixed output) and preamp (with variable output ) Non-feedback ACSS analog output stage . Applied LED display which avoids RF interference inside the unit. R-core transformers and Hi-fi grade parts like DALE resistors, WIMA caps . A total of 6 PSU groups are used to purify the power supply and the analog amp has its own discrete power supply. A four-channel digitally controlled relay-based volume control to avoid channel imbalance and improve sound quality. The NFB-10ES2 has an 80-step volume level control in both high gain mode and low gain mode. The total 160-step volume control ensures smooth control of the volume level. 3 digital inputs: coaxial S/PDIF, Optical and USB DAC output : XLR / RCA / ACSS (User can setting with either variable and fixed output level) Headphone output : 4 pins XLR / 6.3MM SE USB Audio Class 2 High-speed Input from Windows / MAC / Linux Supports High / full speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode up to 384K / 32Bit ability . Resolutions support 16 / 24 / 32 Bit with sampling rate support 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz Memorizes all settings and it could resume the last settings when power on.

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