I looked long and hard for a British made DAC and amp combo and stumbled across NJC Audio. The limited reviews I could find were all very positive, but I couldn't find anything in-depth about this company (least of all any pictures) so thought I'd try my hand at a first proper head-fi review.
Firstly, a browse of their website had me liking this small (2 guys in Cornwall!) company's ethos.For example, the DAC chip can technically run at 24/192khz but Nick keeps it limited to 24/96khz because he thinks it sounds better. This willingness to focus on musicality and not chase sales straplines really appeals to me.
I have to say that is a refreshing change compared to the usual hype and some pleasant e-mail exchanges with the responsive Nick (the designer and builder) were reassuring...so I took the plunge.
Two weeks and several e-mail updates from Nick personally later, and it all arrived beautifully - you might almost say lovingly - packaged.
Very solid units, and a really quality feel to everything. What I was particularly impressed with was the instructions - not just comprehensive, but personalised with my name and the test results of my amp direct from Nick's bench!
I thought that was a nice touch - a small thing but it really underlines the fact that every product out of NJC is handmade to order. Of course the technical results actually mean very little to me but it's reassuring nonetheless
Another thing I liked about NJC is the avoidance of any attempt for after-market sales of power supply upgrades etc. The amp comes with its own supply that is also designed and built by Nick:
And here is the complete package : DAC, amp, 2 power supplies, interconnects, an optical cable and a very nice-looking USB cable. The interconnects, also handmade by Nick, are an optional extra but one I'm glad I went with as they have the same solid quality feel as everything else. NJC talk about "hand made, not home made" and that is pretty spot on as far as I can see.
The solid aluminium faceplates remind me of my first ever piece of hi-fi kit, a Creek 5050 integrated. Everything is hand-turned, not CNC machined, and overall I have a real pride of ownership already - this stuff has the feel of being put together by a dedicated craftsman and not rolling off an assembly line.
You can just about make out the Beresford Caiman here that the units are replacing...the Beyer DT880s (250 ohm) that I will be using, and my Mac Mini with lossless AAC files. I'm using a Beresford TOSlink to hook it all up and will probably link it to my Squeezeox touch. The whole lot is plugged into a Tacima mains conditioner.
The rear panels - you get a choice of optical, coax, USB and analogue into the DAC as well as 3 different DAC filter settings. The amp also has 3 gain settings for various impedance cans, so plenty of flexibility. I guess the pre-outs on the amp also allow it to be used as a pre-amp but I'm not planning to do that.
And here it is all hooked up. Sorry it's upside down, not sure why that has happened. Anyway, nice soft orange and green LEDs - no glaring blue here which is a nice change from the Caiman and my other amp, the Little Dot mk3, and looks way better late at night!
Onto the test and how it actually sounds. I'm going to be using Grado SR325is (the gold edition), the Beyers above, and a newly acquired pair of HiFiMan HE-6s which Nick tells me were the headphones he used to design the amp and DAC combo. I've read these are hard to power but the high gain setting specifically mentions the HiFiMan HE series so I reckon that is all good.
So far so good. Next post in a few days!