Fase Nimis Integrated Amp Reviewed

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Fase_Nimis_amp.gifiMac, take a bow. However absurd I find the whole Apple Mac thing, I've gotta admit that Apple's no-brainer computer has influenced all manner of consumer electronics, and not just those which are computer-related. First, the blueberry version (which I believe is the most popular) made cream-coloured systems seem as old and boring as we know they were. Then, iMacs inspired or mobilised non-Apple printer, keyboard, mouse, scanner and monitor manufacturers to produce peripherals in the same colour. I recently saw examples of mobile phones and digital cameras in iMac blue, so who knows where it will end? Hi-fi, you say?

Did you honestly think it would be that long before an audio company saw the light?

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OK, so we're not talking clear plastics, but the colours have been emulated so unashamedly that FASE's new Nimis Na f is actually marketed with an image not unfamiliar to those who have seen iMac ads. One of the publicity shots shows five amps in five colours, photographed from overhead, the units arranged in a circle. And I don't think Apple should complain, having itself been cautioned by the Beatles and a certain hi-fi manufacturer in upstate New York. If anything, they should be flattered.

But colours and low pricing are where the similarities end, because Nimis is not aimed at people too stupid to live, as is iMac. While the latter combines style with the promise of easy computing for morons, Nimis Na f merely alters the presentation of hi-fi so that what is in reductio a loony tunes purist amplifier seems like a hi-fi system ideal for Barbie, the Teletubbies or the sort of hairdressers who drive Vauxhall Tigras in an attempt to look butch. And it's an absolute hoot, a deception which just has to be the niftiest audio gag since GAS named an amplifier Ampzilla.

Leaving aside for a moment the paintwork of the Na f version, the Nimis is the smallest model in a range normally finished in black with a deep reddish wood trim, with the knobs in natural metal. It's the lower-powered of two integrated amps and most assuredly an entry-level design by any standards. At £749 for an exotic Italian import, we are looking at a bargain which can only be likened to Fiat's Seicento. Even with the cost advantage of inland shipping, our native brands known for watching the pennies are hard-pressed to deliver an all-tube integrated amp for such a sum, and when they do, their offerings invariably look like <merda>. Nimis oozes style, even in its standard colour, and yet it doesn't compromise its true purpose anywhere bar the power output.

Offering four line inputs and one pair of outputs for tape, the ice-cream coloured Nimis contradicts its Toys'R'Us ambience by being not only all-valve but also true dual mono. As is Croft's wont, Nimis sports two source selectors and two volume controls, the two channels sharing only the mains transformer and the chassis. You can split it down the middle and you'll find mirror-imaging throughout. And while I still believe that this extreme adherence to dual-monoism gets a bit wearing, I have to accept that it is the True Path for absolute channel separation. I just get fed up with turning two of everything when ganged controls are hardly a cop-out.

FASE arranged the four rotaries on the top of the chassis plate, in front of the cage protecting two 12AU7/6189 and four 6BQ5/EL84 tubes, the latter operating in pentode mode and delivering 15W/ch into 6 ohms. (Input impedance is 100K ohms, output impedance is 6 ohm and the stated frequency response is 20Hz-20KHz.) Behind the cage are the mains transformer and two output transformers, followed by an array of gold-plated phono sockets with top entry. On the back panel are gold speaker binding posts, the on/off switch, fuse and IEC mains input.

Keep in mind that this thing is tiny and so pretty that you'll want it on a waist-height shelf so that you're always looking down on it for full effect. It occupies a space of only 320x220x120mm (WDH) and weighs a mere 10kg. It's so cute, so bijou, so chic and so absurdly non-tech that it upsets the entire silver-or-black/hard-edged/no-nonsense/take-me-seriously-or-die mien of traditional post-1965 hardware. In many ways, it's as much of a shock as Swatch was to watches or the Smart or the new VW Beetle are to cars. And it's not just the colours which create this break: transformer caps aside, there are no sharp edges or exposed metal corners

But the colours themselves do make the amp all warm'n'fuzzy, and therefore account for most of the perceived transition, especially if you place the Na f alongside the standard black-with-reddish-wood version. Every unit bears the same creamy top plate and valve cage, with the choice of contrasting colour applied to the chassis surround, knobs, transformer caps and legends. Attention to detail is such that, when you open the wooden case, you find the Nimis packed in a cloth pouch with the logo in the colour corresponding to the amplifier. The five colours on offer are orange, purple, blue, yellow and green, but the company resisted Ben'n'Jerry nomenclature. To be accurate, the purple is more of a plum colour, the green is a light mint and the blue is Bugatti-ish.

And everyone who's seen them has, at the very least, smiled.

Once you get past the novelty value - and you can't help but wonder what ancillaries you can use with Nimis, short of speakers a la B&W solids, which will not destroy the image - you still have to assess this as an amplifier. I fed it an SME 10 turntable/SME Series V arm/Lyra Lydian m-c front-end via Musical Fidelity X-LP phono stage, and a Krell KAC-300cd CD player, using Nimis to drive Tannoy R1s, Sonus Faber Concertinos and, yup, Wilson WATT Puppy 6.

Either this is one helluva powerful 15-watter, or I just listen too softly. As if to confirm that WATT Puppy 6 will work with, say, single-ended triodes of nominal wattage, the Nimis powered them to my preferred listening level in my 12x18ft room with the controls shy of the 12 o'clock position. I can assure you that levels were <not> an issue. Where you learn that you're using a genuinely small amp, literally and figuratively, are in two key areas. But they are areas only really thrown up by the likes of the WATT Puppies.

Read more about the Fase Nimis amp on Page 2.
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