Your guide to the NuPrime range, and how to select the right component or system. Rather than a general ‘how to’ article about audio in general we’re going to focus on one brand – NuPrime – not just to illustrate the selection process and priorities but to also provide some insight as to where things are heading. And at the end of this article you’ll also find a series of recommended systems and package deals…
Listening to music should be fun and relaxing so why can it sometimes be so hard to choose the right system to do this? On one hand there has been no better time to be a music lover – through both digital and analogue there has never been a greater choice of available music and the quality just keeps getting better. But on the other there seems to be a proliferation of competing formats, brands, and models that can literally do your head in. It should be simple, so let’s see if we can help you.
The NuPrime range has grown at a frenetic pace – from the original single model of integrated amplifier the IDA-16 which first arrived here in November 2014. The choice was simple – the IDA-16 did pretty much everything we wanted in an amplifier and DAC and sounded better with every speaker we attached than any other amplifier we could find at the price, and there was even the option of black or silver finishes. We wrote lots of nice things about it.
Today in 2019 the Nuprime IDA-16 is still a current model and at the present pricing is even better value now than it was then. Apple started with just one model too…
So what makes NuPrime different – and by implication better?
If we keep on doing things the same way we always have, eventually change comes along and leaves us behind. Most audio companies have been really bad at seeing this and have ignored innovative alternatives. As a reseller, I’ll admit to having been attached to brands in the past but we all live and learn.
NuPrime do things differently on a number of levels. Their innovative amplifier designs are the most obvious place to start and they have a really good explanation here.
Older audio companies inevitably have their roots deep in analogue design. While this may be seen as a virtue, it’s in the digital domain that we’re seeing the greatest progress and NuPrime are very much a digitally oriented brand – so their DACs, disc players and upcoming streaming solutions are right at the cutting edge of performance.
Likewise with manufacturing, the old way of doing things with an entity designing and building everything in one place is no longer the best way – Nuprime draw on many resources to produce the best possible product while keeping costs as tight as possible so you get the best value – learn more here.
With NuPrime we bypass the established distribution structure and bring the products straight from NuPrime to you – again, it means we keep the pricing sharp but also it’s really fast. If we don’t have something in stock it’s usually only 7 working days away so you’re always assured of the latest version and New Zealand releases are often before the US or Europe!
While there are other companies that do one or two similar things, it’s the combination of all these parts that makes Nuprime special.
The breadth of the NuPrime range can be daunting – from the entry level uDSD right up to their flagship Evolution DAC and One mono amplifiers there is a factor of over 50x in cost. Yet each component is dedicated to better performance and there is clear proportionality in terms of materials and internal components. So rather than applying the oft quoted ‘law of diminishing returns’ Nuprime demonstrably maintain value right across the range. This means that whatever level you choose to settle at, you’ll get the best possible performance.
But with almost 20 different models and a much greater matrix of combinations it can get confusing. NuPrime have produced a comparison page which is a good place to start with amplifier choices. As you might imagine we have our own take – it’s informed by not just a lot of listening, but also much experience with other brands and systems over the years and infused with an enthusiasm for music itself which is something that sometimes gets left behind.
The pursuit of the new should be enjoyable, and from the perspective of both our clients and ourselves, the anticipation of enhanced performance should be not just met but exceeded in ways that we often don’t expect. In other words we like happy surprises.
Everyone has different expectations and budgets and just because the very best products may be out of reach doesn’t mean you should ever feel shortchanged. My own first experiences with NuForce were with their lowest cost models and I’ve always been inspired by just how good the entry level NuPrime components have proved to be.
No matter where you start in the range, you can expect a NuPrime model to be appreciably better than anything you have heard before. Which then leads on to the question of what will you get if you look further up the range and is it worthwhile…?
So let’s look at some specific examples to help you in the right direction.
Amplifiers are at the heart of the NuPrime range. The two integrated models – the compact entry level IDA-8 and larger IDA-16 are perfect for most systems. They are quite similar in terms of what you can connect to them, so what are the real differences?
The IDA-8 is a remarkably powerful and great sounding amplifier – You’d never believe given the size and lack of obvious heat-sinking that it produces a genuine 100 watts per channel but this is part of the NuPrime magic. The IDA-8 connects to all your digital sources – including wirelessly via an excellent Bluetooth input. You’ll also see an input for turntables and other analogue sources. There’s remote control, an intuitive front panel control and display.
The features are all there but it’s the sound that makes the IDA-8 special – you’ll simply hear things that you have never heard before from your favourite recordings. Your speakers, large or small, will take on a whole new life and the longer it’s running, the better it will sound. Compared to older amplifiers you’ll also find the IDA-8 quiet – when you turn it up without music playing there’s very little background noise and it’s this quality that allows more music to come through when you want it.
Power is often the first specification people consider when thinking about audio but it’s only a small part of the story. While the IDA-16 at 200 watts per channel has twice the rated output of the IDA-8, this doesn’t mean it goes twice as loud. Yes, it sounds much bigger but there is more to what you hear than just volume.
The ‘bigger’ sound is also a product of more detail and definition – there is simply more information coming through and it’s a more realistic and immersive sound. The bass is deeper and more controlled at any volume level and every speaker can produce a more expansive and room filling performance. The IDA-16 is perfect for larger rooms and speakers.
While it’s difficult to imagine, the fidelity and quality of the better model shines through when you actually hear it. On one hand the quantitative aspects like volume, detail and transparency (simply hearing things that weren’t there before) are easy to hear. But the improvements of more subtle aspects like tonality and sound-staging can be just as striking.
So there is a lot going on here and taken together, many small improvements made to numerous aspects add up a really big and compelling difference. While you may not initially be able to pin down every aspect, over a little time you most certainly will appreciate choosing the better option. Remember this choice could apply equally well at both ends of the range and much depends on where your baseline for comparison lies.
Separates – the next step.
The logic behind pre and power amplifiers is to provide better sound quality and more flexibility in terms of system matching and NuPrime have 3 tiers of performance.
Before we go any further let’s have a quick look at the Nuprime model names which are often acronyms – once you understand what these mean, you’ll be able to more easily select the right model.
The IDA-8 is an Integrated Digital Amplifier – that means it integrates the pre and power sections in a single box and it also has an in built DAC – Digital to Analogue Conversion section inside.
By way of contrast, the STA-9 is a Stereo power Amplifier and the matching DAC-9 is a Digital to Analogue converter and preamplifier. As you’d expect the 9 denotes a performance level a step up from the IDA-8.
The CDP-9 is a CD Player, the CDT-8 is a CD Transport.
You will note that in all 3 cases when we talk about the preamplifiers, they can also be classified as DACs – digital to analogue converters. The key to note is that in each case they have full volume control and source switching so are intended to be matched directly with power amplifiers (and active speakers).
The 10 Series – DAC-10 and ST-10 are a level above the IDA-16 although the distinction is subtle. But the new ST10M mono amplifiers are another story – these elevate both the sound quality and power to a completely different level. As a combination with the DAC-10, the mono amplifiers are a compact, cool running and awesomely powerful system yet still cost less than many so called ‘super integrated’ amplifier models.
NuPrime originally targeted the new NuPrimeX MCX series at the home cinema and gaming market. And I have no doubt that anyone looking to use any of the models will be blown away – they are that good. We’ve looked at them more in the context of systems that are primarily set up to play music first reviewing the MCX-2 stereo power amplifier which had me looking forward to the MCX-1s. But even with the foreknowledge of both the stereo model and a number of other power amplifiers that have both stereo and mono versions, I was stunned by what I heard. The MCX-2 stereo power amplifier is impressive but these babies are something else again. The identifiable character of the MCX-2, which I described as a ‘live’ sound is present and correct yet the MCX-1 is unarguably better, as much in terms of quality as much as quantity. Despite the massive power rating, this is an amplifier of considerable subtlety and refinement. But perhaps we shouldn’t use the phase ‘despite the massive power rating’ because I’m starting to think that the power might be the key… The MCX-1 is all about the concept of headroom – this is having more power than you need so you don’t have this as a limiting factor. Which makes the MCX-1 the perfect amplifier those with large speakers and who really want to push things along.
The Evolution models are the pinnacle of NuPrime’s range – The Evolution DAC, despite the name, is not a revised version of the DAC-10; it’s a completely new product and vastly better. The Evolution One mono power amplifiers are a continuation and extension of many key parts of the NuPrime Reference level amplifier design story.
Here’s where it gets tricky – with 3 preamplifier choices, and 5 power amplifiers options (noting the STA-9s can be bridged to mono operation). And there is nothing to stop you running these in any combination but some are going to make more sense than others.
In their comparison chart NuPrime have tried to ascribe particular characters of sound to their amplifiers such as accurate, warm or tube like but I prefer not place too much on this as after much listening I believe it’s the overall quality that matters. Yes, this is made up of many smaller constituents but as we go up the model range, each component tends to be better than the lower cost option in most if not all parameters by a good margin and taken together these present a compelling advantage.
NuPrime amplifiers are remarkably powerful – not just in rating but in the way in which they energise music and really get any speaker going. Yet never forget that the quality of sound you put into a power amplifier is the main contributor to what you hear. This is why the DAC-9 and STA-9 combination sounds appreciably better than the IDA-8 integrated. The power difference (20 watts) is negligible but both the digital conversion and preamplifier sections are markedly better than with the integrated model. For analogue fans the performance via this path is also significantly improved. So when looking at separates, always first consider the preamplifier/DAC.
The big plus with this combination is the ability, at any stage, to add another STA-9 and bridge. This more than doubles the power and there is no question that this is a highly effective upgrade that sounds better in every way.
From this point the permutations start to spiral – and that’s why you should talk to us. If you stand back and take a good look at the system as a whole there will be a combination that makes the most sense. We have the experience – both within our own listening and from feedback from other clients that will enable us to come up with the best solution for you.
Our choice will always be to listen to the best we can but there is a remarkable continuity of sound with NuPrime and I’m still perfectly happy listening to the entry level IDA-8 and am still struck by how good it can sound with appropriately chosen speakers – while the Evolutions are expansive and immersive in a way that drops your jaw, the tonality and presentation of the IDA-8 is consistent and the scale while reduced is still far ahead of many more costly amplifiers we’ve heard in the past.
The key point to understand is that with any of these amplifier options it’s highly likely that you’ll gain a great and immediate improvement over whatever you have been listening to before. The thrill of the new applies just as much at NuPrime’s entry level as it does for the flagship models. So work at the level you are happy with – always remember it’s about enjoying music.
Your music can come via multiple routes. Never underestimate the smartphone – it’s a great place to start and opens the door to streaming and storage. Laptops and desktops provide more capacity and the advantage of direct USB connection.
Yet both these options are compromised and once you have heard better quality replay of disc or dedicated storage and streaming systems, you’ll understand.
The two NuPrime disc players – the CDT-8 Pro transport and CDP-9 are convincingly better. The CDT-8 is the best solution with most NuPrime models being a dedicated transport that feeds a highly stable data stream into the digital conversion within the amplifier.
The CDP-9 has a very good DAC section built-in and analogue output – this makes it the ideal choice for many existing systems. Do note that it’s also the perfect way to introduce digital to your analogue system as not only will it play CDs but it has multiple inputs for other sources and the performance level is actually even better than the DAC-9.
For streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal, and multi-room we have the easy answer D-Stream are a French company with links to NuPrime – their Primo HD streamer is the ideal model to connect any Nuprime DAC or integrated amplifier. You’ll immediately gain full streaming, access to all the music on your network and smartphone, operation via the free Ap and sparkling sound quality.
Above both the disc players and D-Stream, the new Nativ Vita touchscreen/server/streamer connected via USB is our preferred option with the very best sound quality, ease of use and effectively unlimited storage capacity.
You’ll note that I’m not going into analogue options here – many NuPrime models incorporate analogue inputs and we most certainly advocate for the inherent qualities of vinyl replay. To learn more about analogue with us start here…
The D-Stream WAMP-200.
D-Stream have their own distinctive product range and way of doing things. Their little WAMP-200 is a marvellous entry level amplifier that fills the sub NZ$800 niche perfectly – in many ways it’s more modern and design led than the NuPrime integrated models yet is shares many of the sonic qualities – clarity and transparency and ample power in a sleek cool running case.
If you like the idea of NuPrime but the cost is getting in the way, make a point of checking out the D-Stream – you’ll be glad you did.
The road ahead.
The NuPrime-X MCX power amplifiers are a new range of affordable, full-width modular power amplifiers with very high ratings – up to 750 watts! These are an alternative to their high-end lines and are intended for use in a wider variety of settings.
There are 4 models – all at the same price (NZ$2350 including GST) and identical in physical size. From a 4 channel (4x 300w per channel into 8 ohms) to stereo (550 watts) and mono (750 watts) they will deliver an unmatched fun factor with awesome bass and frightening volume levels on demand. There is absolutely a place for this, and if combined with a better source or preamp that might have otherwise have been the case at this price, you’ll be able to run both larger speakers and rooms right up to the levels you want and then some.
We’ll have more up on these shortly.
Nuprime have also just introduced the first of a series of power supply products – the Pure AC-4. With their background in Switched Mode Power Supplies (SMPS) which were used in almost all NuForce models and some NuPrime products, their amplifier designs – again switching analogue – and the advanced AC filtering which features in the new Evolution DAC you can see there is plenty of scope to do some very cool things that will benefit not just existing Nuprime owners.
I see the Pure AC-4 and products that follow as being complimentary to our line of high quality AC power cables from KLEI – the AC-4 is about filtering and reducing interference – the KLEI cables about better transmission and grounding performance. Certainly the cost of the pure AC 4 when attached to 3 or 4 components and the potential improvement made to the performance of all of them makes a lot of sense so I’ll shortly be evaluating the Pure AC-4 and reporting back.
NuPrime Pricelist – March 2019 All in NZ$ including GST and Delivery.
uDSD portable DAC NZ$350 including GST and delivery
IDA-8 Integrated Digital integrated amplifier NZ$1850
IDA-16 High end Digital amplifier $3350
DAC-9 DAC and Preamplifier $1450
STA-9 120w stereo power amplifier $1250
HPA 9 All analogue preamplifier $1250
DAC-10 DAC and Preamplifier $2500
ST-10 150w Stereo Power amplifier $2750
ST10M 23w Mono power amplifiers $2750 each
Evolution DAC & Digital preamplifier $6000
Evolution Reference One Mono amplifiers $6700
CDT-8 Pro Transport $1350
CDP-9 CD player & DAC $2850
D-Stream WAMP-200 $795
NEW – MCX series amplifiers – 4 models $2350 each
NEW – Pure AC-4 (US & Euro plugs only) $1450
Combination deals and specials
IDA-16 NuPrime’s first model and still it’s best integrated amplifier won’t be around forever but right now it may well be the best value component in the range – it’s powerful and controlled with a full array of digital inputs and a very good analogue one to boot. $3350
DAC-9 + MCX 2 (550 watt per channel into 8 ohms) stereo power amp. Want to have the most fun possible? Combine the very good DAC-9 preamp with the new MCX for a massively powerful system that will run the biggest speakers and rooms. It’s no slouch on the quality side either with the smooth sounding AK conversion of the DAC-9 being the perfect foil for the muscularity of the new MCX series. $3800 complete with KLEI gZero1 Interconnect for even better sound.
Evolution DAC + ST10Ms Here’s where the quality of the preamplifier/DAC really kicks in and we come up another level. While the ST-10Ms are less powerful on paper than the MCX series, they are Reference level in their quality and the effective replacement for the previous 20s with linear power supplies and a host of other small refinements. Combine them with the Evolution DAC and you’ll only be one step away from the ultimate. Our introductory special – $10,000 (save $1,500 on normal separate pricing)
Evolution DAC + Evolution Ones. The Evolution One power amplifiers stand apart from all the other Nuprime models in their technology and specification. $17,000 (save $2400)
Talk to us about trade-in options on existing NuForce and Nuprime models.