REVIEW: AUDIO-GD NFB-7 DAC
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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