CYBERFi - Review, 1996

FOCUS ON NVA AP30

The paucity of controls and other external features is a significant clue to the nature of the NVA AP30. It has a volume, on/off switch and four-way rotary source selection control. Inputs through phono sockets mounted on the rear panel correspond with the fascia marks: CD, tape, tuner and disc. Normally the disc input is not a phono amplifier but another line level input. For those who want to play vinyl record using the AP30, a phono stage can be added, raising the price of the amplifier by about 20 per cent.

Clearly the AP30 is less comprehensive design than, say, the Quad 77, reviewed elsewhere in CYBERFi, and herein lies it appeal to audiophiles. Yet it's the very simplicity of this amplifiers design allied to the designer's careful choice of components that suggests it is capable of a high purity of sound. That, and NVA's track record. (If you want purity and earth shattering levels try investigating NVA's Statement series amplifiers culminating in the TDS (The Definitive Statement). The AP30 power output is rated at 30W per channel, though the nature of the design suggests a considerably higher peak output.

Here was an engaging and lifelike sound...

For the first week or two I used the NVA AP30 connected to my Snell Type J loudspeakers using Audio Note silver speaker cable. The resulting sound was not entirely satisfactory, there being a slightly raucous edge to the sound. When I mentioned the problem the NVA's designer Richard Dunn he berated himself for not insisting on supplying his own LS1 speaker cable. Replacing the Audio Note with LS1 cable made a colossal difference to the sound, bringing about a balance I could hardly have believed possible. Here was an engaging and lifelike sound with incisive, powerful projection yet without a hint of the previous overbearing brilliance. Complex instrumentation was easily discernible, yet there was no longer the slightest hint of glare.

Apart from the amplifiers sensitivity to cable type, my only other doubt about the AP30 concerns its volume control operating logic. The volume control, a cermet (ceramic/metal) passive attenuator of the sort using in NVA's Statement amplifiers, cannot be manufactured to give identical two channel logarithmic operating logic. Having auditioned it on the recommendations of audiophile colleagues within the hi-fi industry, the cermet pot turned out to sound in Richard Dunn's words, 'better than anything else' he'd tried. The quirky aspect of the volume control I had difficulty getting use to is that a high volume is reached rather earlier than usual. I found I rarely need to turn the volume control beyond 11 o'clock, though I suspect heavy metal, rap and grunge headbangers may want to push it round a bit further! My problem was that for the jazz, orchestral, instrumental and choral music I prefer, I sometimes found it difficult to make sufficiently fine level adjustments. Perhaps this difficulty was, to some extent, a psychological one. Often with volume controls, for example, not much happens in the first quarter to third of its travel. With the AP30, the gain is instant.

...the AP30 maintained a consistently astonishing capacity for musical insight...

Once installed, warmed up and connected with the correct cables, the AP30 maintained a consistently astonishing capacity for musical insight considering its comparatively low price. Time after time I was struck by the variety of acoustics captured on different CDs. Finely etched nuances were impressively detailed. Little mechanical noises on the Anne Sofie von Otter CD of Grieg Songs; the way she clears her voice midway though track 18; and the vocal purity and brilliantly characterised, intensely felt singing made its mark in a way you'd think impossible without listening to a much more expensive amplifier.

Bass weight was generally fine, drums and plucked double bass projecting powerfully without overwhelming and submerging the rest of the music. Some listeners might wish for a little more weight, in which case NVA's bigger, beefier Statement series could well be the answer. Yes switching to the AP30, having been using some expensive valve amplifiers, I felt the NVA amplifier held its own surprisingly well, sounding both solid, forceful and subtle. Perhaps the sound of the high hat cymbals was not as spine-tingling sumptuous. But for such magic definition you'd need to spend considerably more. Where the AP30 certainly did score was in its ability to grab your attention with the live feel of music. It's that all too rare quality of focus which, once heard in a hi-fi context, cannot be sacrificed.


ALBUM ANALYSIS

Yuri Bashmet: Glinka, Roslavets, Shostakovich Viola Sonatas (BMG Music RCA Red Seal 9026-61273-2)

The most intense, controlled, sublimely realised recording of the Shostakovich sonata was powerfully conveyed by the AP30. The balance between viola and piano was convincing and the drama, dynamics, tonal clarity and sense of occasion forcefully projected

Purcelli: Dido & Aeneas Taverner Choir and Players Parrott (BBC MM129)

A difficult disc for any system to reproduce. The soloist and choral sections sounded well delineated with a vibrant, crisp projection. The sense of acoustic space and depth was strong, but somewhat contrived. The amp revealed some of the balance difficulties with this recording without allowing them to intrude too grossly with the enjoyable performance

Greig: Sons Anne Sofe von Otter, Bengt Forsberg (DG 437 521-2)

A stunningly beautiful album, precisely reproduced through the AP30. At times von Otter seemed within the same room as me. Some of the tiny flawed details such as cleared throat and manuscript noise from the piano were also captured, heightening the sense of realism

Abdullah Ibrahim/Africa - Tears and Laughter (Enja 3039 2)

The sense of solidity and weight to the sound of this roughly hewn album, particularly in the track Ishmael, was impressively preserved by the AP30. The intensity of the vocal lines and the drama of the percussion was dramatically realised, though the AP30 did not hide some of the strident qualities of the recording.

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