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Review: Audio-gd NFB-7

post #1 of 77
Thread Starter 

REVIEW: AUDIO-GD NFB-7 DAC

 

Intro:

 

I don't normally write reviews, always too many variables for a single review to be meaningful.

My system,my ears,my tastes etc. etc. A review, in isolation, can never be taken literally as the 'truth', that's why I always give more weight to general comments from different people than one extensive review by one person.

So why am I writing this review? Basically because no one else has written a review on this DAC and it seems to be ignored compared to other Audio-gd DAC's and in my opinion that is a mistake.

 

I think its also important that any reviewer states their tastes with regards the music they listen too and what attributes they value when listening to music. I listen primarily to rock and metal and value speed, detail, clarity, dynamics and a deep tight bass as my priorities. Any component that does not give me these attributes does not usually stay for long.

 

Note: I do not use a computer as a source so USB will not be tested.

 

System:

Source: Cyrus CD8SE (used as transport to DAC)

Amps: Audio-gd Roc, Woo6se

Phones: Beyer T1, Hifiman HE6 (stock balanced cable), LCD-2r1 (Twag2 balanced cable)

Cables: Q.E.D Performance Co-axial, Artisan Ultimate Silver Dream (balanced & single ended),

Stock power cord on NFB-7

 

SA400333.JPG

 

I did a lot of reading on different DAC chips and designs before my purchase. I had almost made my mind up on what type of DAC I wanted but I sent Kingwa an e-mail and asked him, given my values stated above, which of his TOTL DAC's he recommended. He clearly stated that the NFB-7 would suit me better as it had better dynamics and a faster more detailed and lively sound.

It was then obvious to me that a Sabre32 chipped DAC would be the way to go.

The NFB-7's two main price competitors were the Anedio D1 and the EE Minimax. I ruled out the Minimax because I did not want a tube in the source. So I decided to go with the balanced unit because I already had a balanced amp and wanted the option to go with another balanced amp in the future that needs a balanced source.

 

 

Listening:

 

I was hoping to hear the speed, detail, dynamics and bass that I wanted but wanted to avoid an overly bright analytical sound that had no soul or musicality. I fault that Sabre32 DAC's are often described as.

As soon as I switched the NFB-7 on I got a full bodied powerful and purposeful and vivid sound with excellent dynamics with decent warmth and this was after dac & amp (Roc) had been switched on literally seconds earlier and running RCA inputs (balanced cables had not arrived yet).

The NFB-7 had a similar neutral tonal balance to my Cyrus. Certainly not bright or lean.

 

I have had it in my system for 1 month now and it must have had 250 – 300 hours of burn in so I expect it to be burnt in (or close enough)

 

So finally what does it sound like, well pretty spectacular really.

I expected excellent detail but, as detail is one of strengths of my Cyrus, I was not prepared for the differences I hear. The NFB-7 has significantly more detail that's layered at different depths in the sound stage.

Masses of detail are presented (which does show how good my Cyrus is as a transport) but are never forced on you. I have never had a situation where I have been forced to listen to the detail and not the music. You can easily choose what to listen to in a recording and everything is accurate, precise and very clear. Ambience is clearly evident, background instruments make more of an impression and I find myself noticing different riffs and melodies that I have not noticed before.

The extra detail just produces another layer of realism to the sound.

The detail does mean that any sibilance is not smoothed over but neither is it emphasized. Vocals have great presence and low level detail giving excellent intelligibility which can give some songs more meaning.

 

The NFB-7 is very fast. Speed is one of the strengths of the Cyrus and the NFB-7 easily matches it.

Transient rich music is simply stunning with its speed, impact, dynamics and precision. I am not really into electronica but playing some 80's Ultravox or OMD was stunning. The Cyrus is also excellent with this type of music and the NFB-7 sounds similar but with more body, weight, detail and definition to the sound.

 

Sound staging and imagery are excellent and instruments and vocals are locked in their own space no matter how complicated or heavy the music gets. Music seems as wide & deep as it should be.

 

Bass is superb. Very deep and powerful and distinct. Its also tight and dynamic with excellent PRaT. Its just impossible to keep,not just your feet or fingers, but my whole body still when it lets rip with an fast rhythmic track. I have also noticed I have started singing and humming a lot more while listening, much to my missus annoyance and the neighbours cat has not been seen for 2 weeks!

 

The midrange is also exceptional with a full and weighty feel, full of texture and with realistic timbre and tone, but not lush or thick sounding. Attack is very well defined and decay is extended. On simple piano runs the decay can go on for ages and can still be noticed fading off into the distance even when other notes are being played due to the excellent low level detail and clarity.

I also feel that the midrange is slightly forward but as none of my amps or phones have a recessed midrange it could be more of the character of my system and not the NFB-7 itself. I am positive though the the midrange is definitely not recessed. I hate recessed midranges.

 

The high frequency's are extended and clean. No harshness or brittleness I can detect. Cymbals are slightly better defined and more realistic than my Cyrus. The highs seem very well produced and are not exaggerated in any way.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

 

I have heard a number of cheaper DAC's in various systems and none has come close to replacing my Cyrus or even my previous CD8x version.

I have listened to a number of CD players valued up to £4000 in systems costing in excess of £10000 and none provided the quality and the character to replace the Cyrus either although some were probably as good just not to my taste.

The Cyrus CD8se is a £1300/$2000 CD player that I feel performs,especially in it areas of strength, 1 or 2 levels above that price point.

However the NFB-7 is clearly the better performer. Bass is deeper,fuller and has more presence while maintaining excellent definition and speed.

The midrange is more 3 dimensional with more body, weight and power but also has better sound staging and imaging.

The NFB-7 also has significantly more detail, greater clarity, air/space and resolution.

The treble is similar to the Cyrus being fully extended, fast and smooth but with slightly better definition.

 

So IMO the NFB-7 is a top class DAC that is the best digital source I have heard to date.

It also makes me glad that I did not go for the Wolfson or the Reference series.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

PS

I have noticed that the NFB-7 is no longer listed on the Audio-gd website, in fact no Sabre32 chip dac's are currently listed.

If this is a permanent decision then it is IMO a very disappointing development.

The Sabre32 chip range of dac's provide the same level of sound quality with a different sound signature than the PCM1704UK or Wolfson with a more energetic, dynamic and exciting sound which may suit a lot of people better than the darker more laid back sound of its Wolfson or PCM1704 rivals.

 

The Anedio D1 and EE Minimax, both Sabre32 chipped, have sold very well and there is no reason the NFB-7 could not do the same given more exposer and opinions.


Edited by nigeljames - 1/8/13 at 4:32am
post #2 of 77

Hi Nigel. Thanks for your review and congrats for your DAC acquisition.

 

Firmly camped in R2R part of the DAC field, but... I've always wandered about different Sabre implementations and, specifically for my case - how the top A-GD Sabre machine stacks up to A-GD PCM1704 flagships... but let's leave that for the moment and go for something slightly OT: how do you find your Roc handling HE-6?

post #3 of 77
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by FauDrei View Post

Hi Nigel. Thanks for your review and congrats for your DAC acquisition.

 

Firmly camped in R2R part of the DAC field, but... I've always wandered about different Sabre implementations and, specifically for my case - how the top A-GD Sabre machine stacks up to A-GD PCM1704 flagships... but let's leave that for the moment and go for something slightly OT: how do you find your Roc handling HE-6?


Thanks for the comments.

 

Its actually become quite difficult to form an opinion on whether the Roc is performing well with the HE6's or not.

One the one hand it shows none of the normal areas where you normally hear an amp struggling. It still has plenty of dynamics and detail. Bass still goes deep and is well controlled. No clipping or any signs of distortion and with the greater output voltage of the NFB-7 compared to the 2.1v output of the Cyrus I rearly need to go above 12' on the dial.

 

However the NFB-7 sounds at least as good if not better unbalanced through the Woo6se into the T1's or LCD-2's. Also the T1's unbalanced through the Roc sound as good as the HE-6's balanced!!

The only conclusion I can make from this is that the Roc is not powering the HE6's fully even though they still sound very good.

 

post #4 of 77

Nice review. Thanks for taking the time. I wish I could hear Audio-GD's ToTL gear.

post #5 of 77

You should try the Phoenix (or Master-5 now) as I went from the Roc to the Phoenix and the soundstage widens with sound more 3 dimensional (or distinct in placement). It really surprised me actually as I was quite happy with the Roc. Good review.

post #6 of 77
Thread Starter 

Yes I am looking at upgrading my balanced amp, even though I really like the Roc,  but I am looking for something with a lot more power for the HE6's.

I was disappointed when I read the specs of the Master-5. I was hoping for something alot more powerful than the Roc. It actually has less power and less gain via XLR outputs.

Never really interested in the Phoenix to be honest. Too many features that I did not want or need and I have read that it is darker sounding than  the Roc which I don't want.

So I am looking further a field for a decent speaker amp or powerful headamp. I am not really into vintage gear.

The Taboo with vCaps is still on my shorlist although there are doubts that it can power the HE6's fully as I don't know the output into 50ohms and other people have mentioned clipping.

 

The EF6 and the balanced Schilt amps (if they have enough power) are possibilities.

 

At least I know my source will not be a weak link biggrin.gif


Edited by nigeljames - 10/11/11 at 8:38am
post #7 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by nigeljames View Post

 

I have noticed that the NFB-7 is no longer listed on the Audio-gd website, in fact no Sabre32 chip dac's are currently listed.

If this is a permanent decision then it is IMO a very disappointing development.

The Sabre32 chip range of dac's provide the same level of sound quality with a different sound signature than the PCM1704UK or Wolfson with a more energetic, dynamic and exciting sound which may suit a lot of people better than the darker more laid back sound of its Wolfson or PCM1704 rivals.

 


My experience has been very different. The PCM1704UK isn't dark or laid back - it is very neutral in good implementations. The strength of good DACs based on this chip is the large soundstage and precise imaging. I haven't heard any DACs based on Sigma-Delta chips that can match the 1704 in creating a holographic soundstage with a sense of space and strong instrument separation and definition. The Sabre32 chip is comparable to other good Sigma-Delta chips is this area - it doesn't match the 1704. I haven't heard Wolfson-based DACs.

 

post #8 of 77
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by visualguy View Post




My experience has been very different. The PCM1704UK isn't dark or laid back - it is very neutral in good implementations. The strength of good DACs based on this chip is the large soundstage and precise imaging. I haven't heard any DACs based on Sigma-Delta chips that can match the 1704 in creating a holographic soundstage with a sense of space and strong instrument separation and definition. The Sabre32 chip is comparable to other good Sigma-Delta chips is this area - it doesn't match the 1704. I haven't heard Wolfson-based DACs.

 


Many people who have reviewed 1704 chipped dacs have commented on a slightly dark and/or laid back sound. They even included the current Naim dacs which use the same chip.

I don't know if you have heard the NFB-7 but it has an excellent soundstage and superb definition. Instrument seperation is also top notch IMO and in my system.

 


Edited by nigeljames - 9/23/11 at 7:56am
post #9 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by nigeljames View Post

Many people who have reviewed 1704 chipped dacs have commented on a slightly dark and/or laid back sound. Thei even included the current Naim dacs which use the same chip.

I don't know if you have heard the NFB-7 but it has an excellent soundstage and superb definition. Instrument seperation is also top notch IMO and in my system.

 


You'll find some people saying one thing and others saying the opposite. There's no substitute to listening yourself. I'm reporting what I hear from the DACs that I own.

 

I haven't heard the NFB-7, but I heard the W4S DAC-2 and the Oppo BDP-95 with the same DAC chip, and neither had the good qualities of the 1704.

 

The thing with high-end audio is that you think that what you have is great until you hear something better...

 

post #10 of 77

The analog side must be at least as important as the chip used, and this is where the AGD dac's are amazing IMO.

post #11 of 77

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tim3320070 View Post

The analog side must be at least as important as the chip used, and this is where the AGD dac's are amazing IMO.


Not being an audio electroncs engineer, I can't tell one way or the other. When looking at the internals, I was struck by the complexity and the part count - I don't know if that's a good thing or not in this case. I was also struck by the massive power supplies with 3 R-core transfomers. I was wondering if this overbuilt power supply section could be a source of excessive noise since it's in the same chassis as the rest of the DAC - it would seem natural to put this beast of a power supply in a separate chassis. Anyway, like I said, I can't assess the design, just the sound when I get a chance to listen to one of these.

 

post #12 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by visualguy View Post

 


Not being an audio electroncs engineer, I can't tell one way or the other. When looking at the internals, I was struck by the complexity and the part count - I don't know if that's a good thing or not in this case. I was also struck by the massive power supplies with 3 R-core transfomers. I was wondering if this overbuilt power supply section could be a source of excessive noise since it's in the same chassis as the rest of the DAC - it would seem natural to put this beast of a power supply in a separate chassis. Anyway, like I said, I can't assess the design, just the sound when I get a chance to listen to one of these.

 


Noise?? He does everything in there to eliminate noise, create a black background. It's the whole point of all those parts. Read up!

 

post #13 of 77


It seems Kingwa read your mind... perhaps the Master 6 is more to your liking? :)

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by nigeljames View Post

Yes I am looking at upgrading my balanced amp, even though I really like the Roc,  but I am looking for something with a lot more power for the HE6's.

I was disappointed when I read the specs of the Master-5. I was hoping for something alot more powerful than the Roc. It actually has less power and less gain via XLR outputs.

Never really interested in the Phoenix to be honest. Too many features that I did not want or need and I have read that it is darker sounding than  the Roc which I don't want.

So I am looking further a field for a decent speaker amp or powerful headamp. I am really into vintage gear.

The Taboo with vCaps is still on my shorlist although there are doubts that it can power the HE6's fully as I don't know the output into 50ohms and other people have mentioned clipping.

 

The EF6 and the balanced Schilt amps (if they have enough power) are possibilities.

 

At least I know my source will not be a weak link biggrin.gif



 

post #14 of 77

I see that martook beat me to it...

 

Yes Nigel, I had the same "potential problem" with Master-5: underpowered headphone outputs for my orthos.

 

...but now there is Master-6, and my "excuses" just went out of the window... Damn! wink.gif

post #15 of 77
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by visualguy View Post




You'll find some people saying one thing and others saying the opposite. There's no substitute to listening yourself. I'm reporting what I hear from the DACs that I own.

 

I haven't heard the NFB-7, but I heard the W4S DAC-2 and the Oppo BDP-95 with the same DAC chip, and neither had the good qualities of the 1704.

 

The thing with high-end audio is that you think that what you have is great until you hear something better...

 


I totally agree with people having different opinions about the same product that is why, as I mentioned in my review, that I put more weight on a number of general comments than I do on one long review by one reviewer in one system.

Maybe you should take your own advice and listen yourself to the NFB7 because, after all the reading I did regards different dac chips and their characteristics, it sounds nothing like I expected a Sabre32 chipped dac to sound like.

You don't state which dac's you own so I will assume its one of the Ref series. The Ref 7 shares many similarities to the NFB7 in design and function even Kingwa has stated that they sound similar.

Of the Sabre32 dacs you have heard, the Oppo does not really play in the same ball park as its not designed to be an top class audio player. I almost bought the WFS Dac1 some months ago but I did read that some people say thats its a bit detached and sterile which is what a non optimised Sabre32 implementation could sound like although I do think thats system dependent.

 

You talk about the good qualities of the 1704 chip but what about the good qualities of the Sabre32 chip. The Sabre32 chip is a more detailed and dynamic chip. All other things being equal it will also give greater percieved speed and a tighter bass.

 

The Sabre32 chip will appeal more to someone who favours a more vivid, exciting and dynamic sound. If thats not you then thats fine but it is me! biggrin.gif

 

As regards to hearing better, well so far I havent managed it. I could not find a CD player up to £4000 thats showed any real improvement on my Cyrus but the NFB7 clearly does.

I have heard a couple of expensive Naim cd players that use the 1704 chip. I used to own a £10000 Naim system many years ago so I generally like the Naim sound but I disliked the CD players.

I would fully expect the Ref 7.1 to sound much better than amy Naim cd player or Dac but it brings me to my point that implementation is whats important. You telling me that the NFB7 is not 'great' is basically a slur on Audio-gd and you are obviously putting ALL Sabre32 dacs in the same boat.

 


Edited by nigeljames - 10/11/11 at 8:40am
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