I'm a closet tube freak and, while much of my day may be spent extolling the virtues of solid state devices and/or the latest video technology, I jump on any chance I get to spend time with tubes. Following this year's CES show
in Vegas, I came away with two such tube products that I had to review, the first being Napa Acoustic's NA-208A Integrated Amplifier. At $399 direct, the NA-208A was among the most affordable products I laid eyes on at the show and, if I'm honest, one of the more impressive, too. Additional Resources
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The NA-208A is a desktop integrated amp, if you will, in that it sports a rather compact footprint, measuring seven inches wide by nine-and-a-half inches deep and a mere five inches in tall. The weight of the NA-208A is not given, but it's substantial enough to exude a sense of quality despite its compact stature and Made in China pedigree. The NA-208A is a hybrid vacuum tube design, as it uses two 6N1 tubes in its input stage coupled with a solid state output or power stage, making it good for 25 watts into six ohms. The tubes are auto-biasing and come already installed in their appropriate sockets, encased in thin plastic that helps guide the orange accent light upward. The front of the NA-208A is clad in thick aluminum, with controls for power, bass boost and input selection, not to mention volume, which is located dead center of the front panel by way of a large polished dial. Below the aluminum façade rests what appears to be nothing more than a matte black platform, except for the fact that it houses the unit's mini-aux input. Speaking of inputs, the NA-208A has several, the first being its mini-aux jack, followed by two pairs of unbalanced analog audio inputs -one for CD, the other for aux. Below the two analog inputs rests a single USB input for connecting your iPod, iPhone or iPad. The NA-208A comes complete with a USB-to-iProduct cable, as well as a rubber cradle of sorts to hold said iDevice. Resting in the middle of the NA-208A's back panel are its two pairs of five-way-like binding posts. I say five-way-like, because they're not large enough to accept anything short of very narrow gauge bare wire or wire terminated with old-school pin adaptors. There is an attached power cord, but no remote.
As I stated earlier, the NA-208A's rated power output is said to be 25 watts into six ohms, with total harmonic distortion coming in at less than one percent. Its bass boost feature is reported to give a plus-six dB boost in the lower frequencies, though its frequency response is listed at 20Hz to 20kHz. So while the NA-208A isn't a juggernaut in terms of power, it should drive a pair of inexpensive bookshelf or floor-standing speakers just fine, provided a) they're relatively efficient and b) your room isn't on the large side. For the purposes of my demo, I used the NA-208A to drive a pair of Episode 900 Series monitor loudspeakers
with satisfactory results.
In terms of sound, I must say the NA-208A is surprising, possessing all the traits one normally associates with tubes - liquidity, texture, warmth and dimension - without seeming lush or overly warm. In fact, I was quite surprised by the NA-208A's speed. While I wouldn't classify it as hugely dynamic, which may have more to do with my speaker choice than the amp's ability, its resolution, specifically in the leading and trailing edges of notes, was surprising. My reference standard for neutrality, speed and effortless musicality at or near the NA-208A's price is still Decware's single-ended triode amplifiers
. While the NA-208A didn't quite best the Decware's sound, its increased power and ability to connect to a wider variety of source components more than made up for what it lacked sonically. In all truthfulness, there were a number of similarities between the two amplifiers' sound that I wasn't expecting and both were enjoyable, provided I didn't crank the volume too much. As part of a desktop or nearfield setup, the NA-208A should be enough amplifier for anyone, but if you plan on installing it into a more traditional system in a room of average to moderate size, I'm afraid the NA-208A is going to disappoint. I paired it with Napa Acoustic's NA-208C CD player, which just so happens to share the same chassis and compact footprint, and found the two to be a match made in affordable audiophile heaven. Read about the high points and low points of the Napa Acoustic NA-208A on Page 2.