Delve into the exemplary sound quality and utility of Nuprime’s AMG DAC. Effectively two components in one – both a Digital to Analogue converter, but also a highly refined analogue preamplifier. The components of the NuPrime AMG series are, in my estimation, their best work to date and the addition of a DAC to the range is timely and complimentary. A quality preamplifier adds to sound quality in a positive way – enhancing scale, lucidity and involvement. This is what the AMG DAC does.
Be All Things
There’s a real emphasis on the ‘analogue’ sound qualities inherent in the AMG series yet the reality for many listeners is that digital sources constitute a significant part of our listening. NuPrime have already set themselves a high bar with both the AMG PRA preamp on the analogue side and the Evolution DAC on the digital. The AMG DAC brings elements of both to the party, but also has its own unique character.
The Chelsea Wolfe song – “Be All Things” – is dark and evocative, and beautiful and subtle at the same time, serving as both a metaphor for the qualities of the NuPrime and an ideal track with which to hear them. While I’d love to just sit you down, play this track and have you agree with me, there’s often a bit more going on with selecting components so let’s learn more about the NuPrime AMG DAC.
The AMG DAC is effectively two components in one – both (by definition) a Digital to Analogue converter, but also a highly refined analogue preamplifier. It’s the latter part that gives the AMG both it’s exemplary sound quality and utility.
What we do know is that there are huge resources poured into the production of DAC chips and given the competitive nature of that industry, there is a really high standard. NuPrime choose to use not one, but two of the premium Sabre ESS Technology 32-bit audio ESS9038Q2M DAC chips at the heart AMG. In an effectively balanced configuration this approach yields an analogue signal with exceptional detail and low noise. If this were all there was to the design, there would be a negligible difference between the DACs of any companies using the chipsets. But as you’ll be well aware, nothing is quite that simple.
If you know what you are looking for, when you lift the lid of the AMG DAC, you can see the work that has gone into this component. There’s a clear demarcation of the digital and analogue sections, input and output. You can see dedicated power supply sections for both which in turn are fed by a low noise, high capacity toroid. The entire layout is clean and logical and the extensive analogue preamp has obviously symmetrical sections with multiple discrete components. This is where the real magic happens.
An example of an analogue preamplifier, the NuPrime AMG PRA serves as a great benchmark which I’ve written about in depth. This design has obviously informed that of the AMG DAC but functionally they are quite distinct from one another. The PRA has 4 analogue inputs (1 Balanced + 3 RCA) whereas the AMG DAC has 5 Digital inputs and one Analogue (RCA). The digital inputs cover the ubiquitous Coax, Optical and USB B, but there is also a USB type A slot for dedicated extension devices, and one of the new IIS/DSD digital inputs for serious high resolution. So there is the capacity for up to 6 separate input components.
On the output side there are both balanced and RCA outputs which are continually active allowing you to easily connect both subwoofers and power amps simultaneously. And a 12v trigger to turn them on and off remotely.
The front panel is deceptively simple – the left hand knob turns the DAC on and selects inputs, the right controls volume, a mute function; there are also two small switches – one for gain and the other for fixed output – both of which are highly useful. The display lets you know what you need. The metal remote control is a quality item – while simple with just 8 buttons it’s designed and built to the same standard as the DAC. Cool feature: it’s got a button that turns the matching power amps on or off.
It’s visually clear that within the AMG DAC, the analogue path from input to output is completely isolated from the digital, and it’s from my own listening via turntable and phono stage that I’ve found the performance is very good indeed. There’s a real irony here – if you do have a well sorted analogue front end, it’s going to perform at a level that may well outstrip digital sources. All of this is due to the carefully constructed analogue stage within the AMG DAC.
What this also does is lay bare the difference between digital sources, formats and connections. The AMG makes the differences between USB cables readily apparent in a way I’ve not heard previously. While there is a magnification of differences that make the best recordings and sources sound fantastic, this doesn’t mean your more prosaic inputs are lacking – if anything the fluidity and easy going nature of the AMG series makes them sound a lot better than you’d expect.
So, the AMG DAC does a lot in terms of it’s operation. How does it stack up sound wise?
The arrival of the AMG DAC coincided with that of the similarly priced Lumin U2 Mini network transport, and the two components combined proved to be a revelation. It’s unarguable that Lumin are at the top of their game and as a digital source the U2 Mini is one of the best regardless of cost.
While it’s a simple metric, when you hear stuff on recordings that you’ve never heard before in any setting, you know you’re on the right track and so it is with the AMG DAC. There’s insight, clarity and an easy sound that is both involving and relaxing. As with the other AMG components, the sound has a real fluidity. But I also found that how you operate the AMG DAC makes a real difference.
Lumin use the Leedh digital processing for volume control and this works . So in the first instance I set the AMG DAC to fixed output and allowed the Lumin to determine volume. The sound was wonderful.
However going the other way and using the full capabilities of the AMG DACs analogue section is, from my listening, better again. At lower levels especially, the sound, when controlled by the AMG, is silkier, warmer and smoother. No-one ever suggests the Lumin sound is analytical yet the Nuprime seems to show us an even more musical, yet just as detailed rendition. In the past I’ve found many volume controlled DACs to fall short of analogue preamplifiers (it’s an important distinction to make), but in this case the character and abilities of the AMG are literally the best of both worlds.
There seems to be significant design similarities between the analogue preamp section of the AMG DAC and NuPrime’s new PRA-9X Balanced analogue preamplifier which is a remarkable component in it’s own right. This would make sense and goes a long way in explaining why the AMG DAC has such a high level of performance when running directly into a power amplifier – it’s very much designed to do this.
A quality preamplifier adds to sound quality in a positive way – enhancing scale, lucidity and involvement. This is what the AMG DAC does.
While I’m happy to let the AMG stand on it’s own merits we do have the Evolution DAC on hand for comparison. There’s a definite difference in character despite being from the same brand – the Evolution seems more architectural in the way it builds sound – it’s more solid and grounded. But the AMG gets the fine details and is more open – while maybe more subtle initially, the lighter touch and flow really appeals to me. And here’s where we really push the proverbial boat out: Good as the AMG DAC is, Nuprime’s AMG PRA makes it even better and the two together are near on unbeatable.
In this context, the AMG DAC + AMG PRA + AMG STA stereo power amplifier is an absolute winner of a combination; comprehensively featured and powerful with a fluid and transparent sound that is genuinely high end. The compact dimensions of the components and cool running nature of the STA power amplifier mean you can stack or sit them side by side and they still take up less from than most single box integrated amplifiers. And you get the myriad benefits of a pre/power combination.
Having been lucky enough to finally see Chelsea Wolfe live in Wellington earlier this year, it was stunning to see and hear her take command of the room of 500 people; with her band they balancing subtlety and power swinging from sludge metal to acoustic. Let’s just say it was right up my particular musical alley.
Listening to some of the songs from that night at home transports me back, and the way in which the NuPrime AMG DAC contributes to this has proved to be highly enjoyable. That it can do this and so much on several levels – multiple digital sources, analogue inputs and output, ease of use and relative affordability does in fact come close to the ideal of ‘Be All Things’