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Review: Audio-gd NFB-9.2 DAC

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

 

This is my reiew of Audio-gd NFB-9.2. After having sold my modded Museatex Bitstream, I have been in search for the perfect dac (or a more perfect dac), which could replace it for its believable tonality, its wonderful sense of colour and reality given to instruments, possibly offering better versatility (bitrate, inputs, general usability) than the Bitstream could.

I have tried Assemblage DAC2.7, for example, but I found its stock form a bit underwhelming. The Assemblage was a clean source, but it lacked the sense of power, analogue tonality and spaciousness that the Bitstream was offering.

The Assemblage lacked any real top digital glare, but it was a grey sounding source, not so alive.

As of late, I have acquired the Audio-gd NFB-9.2, and Eximus DP-1 (under suggestion of the buyer of said Bitstream), which I am still evaluating.

I also had been loaned a Burson HA-160DS (with purchasing option, but I wasn't interested in keeping it), so I could also compare its dac section.

 

Headphones I have been testing the NFB-9.2 with, are:

 

AKG K501

Yuin PK1

Apuresound Etymotic ER4P/S

Etymotic HF5 (with and without PtoS adapter)

Audio-Technica AD2000

 

I will receive Audio Technica AD2000 soon, which I hope will end up being my go-to headphone, after being intrigued by Asr's review. I will add comparisons on it.

 

Amplification:

Burson HA-160DS amp part.

Eximus DP-1 amp part.

 

Interconnects:

VH Audio RCA

Moray James analogue cables

Some random Fudao cables

 

 

Sonic thoughts:

 

The Audio-gd uses dual Wolfson WM8741 dac chips, has several inputs (including usb with its newer Tenor TE8802 chip, whose upgrade marks the model change from the former 9.1), and offers both single ended and balanced output.

The dac comes with a remote for digital volume control. It works well, with no apparent sq degradation for slight volume changes, although as a rule I prefer to regulate volume through the amplifier.

The general character of the DAC is spacious, powerful, weighty; offers big images through headphone listening. It's transparent, there is a bit of edge in the highest frequencies. The detail reproduction is very high. The bass is pretty tight, there is sense of power. Images in the midrange are big, although not as focused as the Eximus DP-1.

 

 

The DAC is miles better than the one offered with Burson HA-160DS. The Burson's dac is targeted to the 200-300$ range. I have described it as a bit empty sounding. Switching to the NFB-9.2 provides improvements in every area: the sound gets much more spacious, detailed, powerful. The midrange gets more neutral. Using Burson HA-160 DAC/amp makes the listener feel like the DAC is the weakest part in the chaing. Switching to an Audio-gd NFB-9.2 -> HA-160 (amp only), the "values" are switched, and the NFB-9.2 takes the part of the "star" in the system.

With some upper treble energy excess, the Audio-gd DAC makes the detail rendition pretty uprfont, enhancing its role to convey emotions.

I have had some fun trying two different systems against each other: the Eximus DP-1 dac/amp combo alone, versus the Audio-gd 9.2 + Burson HA-160 amp. The first one costs around 3000$, the second combo (with VH Audio cables) would be around 2400$.

While the level of resolution is in a similar scale, the Eximus had tighter bass (with much better definition) and treble refinement. Also the sense of coherence in the music was better.

The sense of blurriness in the bass, though, is given by the Burson amplifier. Ruling it out, and using the NFB-9.2 through Eximus DAC, the difference in bass reproduction becomes much smaller, with close degree of definition and precision. The Audio-gd flavour comes out as flatter and more transparent than using Burson amplifier, with (comparatively to the Eximus) more energy in the upper register.

If I had to make the differences between the two sources, using the same Eximus amp (with its own character of being delicate, transparent, smooth and refined) larger than they are, stretching them, I would trace two distinct profiles, where the Eximus has the capability to render notes with a deep, intense colour, giving headphone listening a focused, romantic listening.

The Audio-gd NFB-9.2's puts its strength on a balance of neutral timbre, bass weight, large sense of space, underlining certain trebly effects, while offering a believable, correct midrange reproduction. Such midrange trait is confirmed by listening to AKG K501, one of the few headphones I have heard which reproduces midrange correctly, which sounds sweet with the Audio-gd even if its mids aren't forward sounding like happens on sources like Bitstream.

 

 

Matching suggestions:

 

Among the headphones I could test, I especially liked AKG K501 with the Audio-gd. Apuresound ER4P were also a good pairing. With ER4S (and HF5 with PtoS adapter) there was a bit too much crispiness in the upper treble region and microdetail retrieval.

The Audio-gd is very pleasing with headphones having good midrange reproduction, being them correct reproducing ones (AKG K501, or Sennheiser HD600... or Stax  SR-X Mk3 Pro and SR-003, for that matter), or forward sounding ones (my bias: Etymotic variants, Grado's), and I'd be also curious to use it with HD650, which sounded great with Eximus when I could try the combo in a shop.

I feel that, out of all my three sources (NFB-9.2, Eximus DP-1, Halide DAC HD), the NFB-9.2 is probably the best match for my Audio Technica AD2000: The AD2000 has very prominent midrange, often crossing the border of being peaky in the upper midrange / lower treble. Such exaggerated frequency response also makes the bass sound leaner than it actually is. The pairing takes the advantage offered by the Audio-gd DAC's bass weight, expansive sound and flat midrange, which basically enhances all the sonic characteristics of the AD2000. I would strongly advise towards this combo, especially for Audio Technica lovers.

As far as amps go, I'd use either a very smooth and transparent solid-state amplifier (being it, as an example, the amp section in Eximus DP-1), or neutral tube amplifier. The Burson amp gives some justice to the NFB-9.2 DAC already, but the dac can scale much more.

 

 

 

Other thougths (mostly USB related):

 

Using it through USB, I have noticed that, at times, my computer needs to be rebooted, otherwise Foobar2000 would start producing glitches when reproducing the music. The same doesn't occur when using other digital inputs. I have noticed, that artifacts happened more when my Laptop was "resurrected" from Hibernation state (basically, when Windows 7 freezes the session and the computer switches off).

I will have to try other USB cables at some point, and I am going to install the drivers (which can be found on Audio-gd website) on other USB ports as well.

I wish I had a Stello U3 at hand, to see how the Tenor Chip fares against high quality external converters. I'd be expecting much also from Art Veloce (as soon as it comes out), or the future 192 kHz version of Halide Bridge.

 

 

Thanks for reading,

Tony

 


Edited by antonyfirst - 6/12/12 at 4:44pm
post #2 of 8

Nicely written review Tony. I'm definitely interested in reading updates as you try it with other amps and headphones.

post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 

I'll do so very soon. :)

post #4 of 8

Great review, i really enjoyed that read.


I have owned 3 Audio-gd DACS now (NFB3, NFB10-SE and NFB3.1 which i currently own)

I have really enjoyed the sound of all 3 and would like to try one of their higher end DAC's like the NFB-9 or REF7.1.

I havent really seen a review of the NFB-9 until yours so its greatly appreciated.

 

maybe when i have some extra cash ill spring for the NFB9.2 to try, good to know you are happy with it.

Id be interested in hearing your on-going impressions as well :)

 

subbed...

post #5 of 8
Nice review - thanks!

For the TE8802 USB driver stability, I have experienced similar but in JRiver using ASIO mode rather than WASAPI cleared all issues and I think souded better as well (although it could have very well just been psychological). With ASIO it is much more stable without random crashes.

Let us know if this improves things for you! Personally on my NFB-1WM I prefer the TE8802 over SPDIF fed by Audiophilleo into the WM8805... For me the direct USB-->I2S was timbrally (?) much more upfront, the SPDIF method sounded more relaxed and veiled in comparison. Haven't tried the DIR9001 yet, have the module though so will see how much better that is.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

I have just got JRiver... I will check it out. :)

post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 

I have done the following:

 

- with JRiver, I have the exact same issues with foobar. Nothing different, at all.

 

I have reinstalled the drivers, being sure that I had installed the correct version (64 bit computer). I thought that I had already done that correctly, but who knows....

Anyway, now I am using foobar2000 -> asio4all -> Audiogd drivers, and I have no problems. By the way, at the moment I am comparing my newest Moray James cables with VH Audio cables... I will report back as to the results. The Moray's are very high end, at the moment the sound is superb. Tomorrow, or by the beginning of the week, I espect to receive my AD2000. We'll see. :P

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

Update: this post marks the review as complete, as I have rewritten parts of it. I have received the AD2000, my comments are in the updated first post. The NFB-9.2 pairs the best with AD2000 out of all the other headphone/dac combination I have been trying. The match is wonderful.

 

For anyone interested in interconnects' pairings, the VH Audio end up being better balanced than the Moray's. The latters are more focused on microdetail retrieval and would work better with NOS dac's, like Museatex' ones for which they've been designed. With the Audio-gd dac, and its strong focus on microdetail retrieva, the VH are overall the best match and more balanced.

 

I'll likely write my own take of Audio Technica AD2000 at some point, although it won't be as huge as Asr' wonderful write up (but I feel I can still add some insightful thoughts!!!) :D

 

Cheers!

Tony

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