Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 Preamp Reviewed

Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 Preamp Reviewed

Musical Fidelity is one of those brands that seems to go in and out of fashion with American audiophiles, one minute Musical Fidelity is here and the next it isn't, still there's one Music Fidelity product line all audiophiles can agree is simply awesome and that is their Nu-Vista line, anchored by the 300 Preamp reviewed here.

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OK, so I lied: here's yet another review of a Musical Fidelity product. We simply hadn't reckoned on the speed at which Antony Michaelson turns dreams into reality, but it's with more delight than distress that I report on the most hotly-anticipated (by me, that is) British power amplifier since the reissued Quad II. Yes, dear readers, the Nu-Vista 300, betrothed at conception to the Nu-Vista pre-amplifier, has arrived. This review was pre-arranged as a sequel to the Nu-Vista, which I assessed with Paul Miller in the August 1998 issue. I just didn't expect it before next September.

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• Read more stereo preamplifier reviews by HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore amplifier pairing options in our Amplifier Review section.

Of the 497 delighted Nu-Vista owners (apparently three of them think I'm full of crap), a substantial number beseeched MF to release an ideal mate for it. So Antony got to thinkin', and it didn't take him that long to conceive of a hybrid using nuvistors to drive a transistor output stage. But the nuvistor element is (literally and figuratively) only a small part of the package, the company having gone completely overboard on the power supply, the topology, the styling and the details.

What will be familiar to Nu-Vista owners is the back-up drill: Musical Fidelity bought up as many mint nuvistors as it could find and allocated them in such a way that every Nu-Vista 300, like the Nu-Vista pre-amp, has a set of replacements ear-marked for it. Despite some grumbles on the 'Net, the general consensus is that nuvistors have a pretty long working life, so it's not unreasonable to expect a Nu-Vista 300 to have potential longevity of 20-30 years with two sets - original and replacement - of nuvistors.

Although a two-box design, the '300 is not a pair of monoblocks but a dual-mono power amplifier with separate outboard power supply. The two units are housed in the lozenge-shaped aluminium extrusions with the same styling and proportions as the X-RAY, the X-A1 and numerous other X-Series items which don't fit into cylinders. The difference, though, is the size. Without some small object to show the scale, you'd be forgiven for thinking that these enjoy the same dimensions as the X-RAY, et al. Uh, not quite. Each section measures 330x700x490 (WHD) including feet and terminals. Total weight figure hasn't been supplied, but the heat-sinks alone tip the scales at 15kg, so I'm guessing that the two weigh in at 60kg; suffice to say, they'll flex your muscles.

'Including feet and terminals', is no mere conceit because the speaker terminals (two sets, for bi-wiring) are truly something special: custom-made and massive, gold-over-solid brass, and with plenty to grip for extra tightening. The feet are massive, too, gold-plated discs that look like pre-1900 pocket watches. of the fittings are pretty substantial, not surprising when you consider that the two primary feeds from the power supply to the power amp are made via genuinely professional, multi-way connectors, while a third DIN-like connector deals with the control signal.

The mil-spec, aluminium-billet front panels look identical until you get up close, as both feature symmetrical arrays of five countersunk apertures containing LEDs to indicate power-on status and, from switch on, the sequence of switch-on-to-operate event monitoring. On the power amplifier fascia, the five lamps include separate left-and-right stand-by and protection plus 'operate', while the corresponding lights on the power supply read left-and-right 'PSU' and 'Control', the four lamps running through a sequence until all is settled. The middle aperture on the power supply is the power-on press button.

At the back'n' sides, though, it's a different story. The power supply's case is horizontally-grooved but fundamentally solid, while the power amp section's sides are made up entirely of deep, vertical slits to form the heat sinks. At the rear, the power supply contains the three outputs to the power amplifier and fuse holders, while the power amplifier's rear panel contains the aforementioned speaker terminals, the phono-style inputs to accept the signal from the pre-amp and the array of connections to accept the massive braided cables from the power supply.

Four nuvistors inhabit the '300, two per channel driving what was described precisely as 'ultra-low-noise, super-matched pairs of bi-polars, FETs!'. They're good for 300w/ch into 8 ohms, 600 into 4 ohms or 1000W into 2 ohms. As my long-thought-lost Apogee Scintillas have only just returned from the USA, and my listening room is not yet operational, I was not able to test the latter. (Suffice to say, one day...) Inside the power supply are three transformers, one for each power amplifier and one for the control circuits.

What else could I possibly use with the '300 beside the Nu-Vista and an X-RAY? Nuthin', that's what, though I did dabble with a couple of pieces of Krell, the luscious (but now sadly-departed) Vimak CD transport/DAC, the Pioneer DV-414 DVD player and the Myryad T-10 CD player. Interconnects were Musical Fidelity, while speakers included Wilson WATT/Puppy V.1, Apogee Ribbon Monitor, Tannoy R-1, ALR-Jordan Entry 2M and Diapason Karis, using either Kimber or Harmonix speaker wire.

While 300W/channel amplifiers are expected to meet all and any challenges with aplomb, especially after the anti-low-impedance/low sensitivity back-lash of the post-single-ended triode era has made high-sensitivity the norm, the Nu-Vista 300 both hides and emphasises its power rating. F'r'instance, you never get the feeling that the amp could easily take out your speakers and scare the cat into a permanent raised-fur situation; at the same time, you never hear a trace of clipping, a shred of strain. For some time now (precisely, since he founded Kelly Transducers), Antony has been beating everyone over the head with his unshakeable belief that even sensitive speakers need bucket-loads of power for realistic dynamics, e.g. a middle-sensitivity speaker of 89dB/1W needs 200W minimum. So, perversely, I didn't find it even remotely unusual to try the '300 with small speakers of above-average sensitivity.

Read more about the Nu-Vista 300 on Page 2.

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Which is good news for you who own hungry speakers. Think of the '300 as you would any American high-end monster, and rest assured that one thing you won't have to assess in a retailer's showroom is its output capability. What you might be tempted to think, though, given that the '300 is a brute, is that it lacks finesse. And it's precisely its delicacy which makes its power rating such a red herring. Quite clearly, the Nu-Vista 300 handles fine detail and - especially - low-level information with the grace of small, single-ended triode amp. But unlike an SET, it demonstrates dynamic swings which no 300B-based amplifier could ever exhibit with anything less sensitive than some absurd horn of the 100dB-plus variety.

Again, this gracefulness is to be expected, as Antony is about as un-rocking an individual as you'd ever meet; his forte is clarinet and his predilections are almost entirely classical. The trick was marrying the sort of subtlety that earmarked an entire generation of low-power classics (the Quad II, the better Leaks, the Radford MA15 and one or two wee Rogers) with the seemingly incompatible need for bags of power. But the Nu-Vista 300 works so well precisely because Antony wouldn't sign it off until this balancing act was achieved. And, in my experience, the only amplifiers which do it with the same ease and consistency all cost over 30,000-plus and are made in the USA.

Veering from the massive to the intimate, from the recent Hendrix-at-the-Fillmore release (containing what was left off the original album) to some acoustic Rory Block, from dusty mono doo-wop to pristine Doris Day transfers, from DCC's sublime live Sinatra/Martin/Davis Jr to Castle's Status Quo reissues, the Nu-Vista 300 treated everything the way an ideal employee approaches a job: professionally, slightly matter-of-fact, absolutely unruffled, never putting a foot wrong. If this were the 1920s and the '300 came to life, it would be Jeeves.

Amusingly, it can also be as brash and coarse and raw as the music demanded, coping with the textures and sheer weight of Lenny Kravitz's last album and two channels' worth of on DVD as easily as it dealt with soft vocals. Best of all, it created a palpable, dimensionally correct 3D stage with the prowess of an American amplifier - something which most British amplifier manufacturers of a certain breed refuse to address. But the single overriding characteristic, the one undeniable strength which the '300 possesses which could grace it with future classic status is its sheer slam. When so required, the '300 delivers the kind of mass and transient speed (from the deepest bass up to the crispest treble) which separates the high-end from mid-fi. And if there's anything at all worth criticising, I suppose you could day that it's a bit cool in the mid-band.

That's it.

With the deepest respect for Chord, whose biggest amps I have yet to try in my system, I state without qualms that the Nu-Vista 300 is the only UK-made, solid-state amplifier I can name which bears comparison with the best on the planet: yup, the big Yankee rigs. Until this moment, the British have - valves aside - pretty much restricted themselves to weenie, humble, doff-your-cap, sorry-about-that-Guv, obsequious mid-fi amplifiers. At last, here's a British amplifier which you can liken to Aston-Martin, not Austin Mini.

What a shame that there'll only ever be 500 of them.

Musical Fidelity, 15-17 Olympic Trading Estate, Fulton Road, Wembley, Middlesex HA9 0TF. Tel 0181 900 2866, FAX 0181 900 2983.

SIDEBAR:
To ensure that Nu-Vista pre-amplifier owners get first refusal on Nu-Vista 300s, with matching serial numbers, accommodating whatever percentage of the 500 decide to opt for the matching amplifier, Nu-Vista 300s will be numbered in two series. Matching numbers will obviously be between 001 and 500, corresponding to the customer's pre-amp. Independent purchases to non-Nu-Vista pre-amp owners (and Nu-Vista pre-amp owners who choose to buy two Nu-Vista 300s) will start with 501. Naturally, this will cause confusion for future historians, but it makes sense. If, for example, the
owner of Nu-Vista pre-amp no. 338 decides not to buy a Nu-Vista 300, then there will never be a Nu-Vista 300 with the serial number of 338. Conversely, any Nu-Vista 300 with a number higher than 500 was definitely not purchased by an original Nu-Vista owner for number-matching purposes. Got that?

Furthermore, given that a Nu-Vista only cost 1200 while a Nu-Vista 300 sells for 3300, Musical Fidelity came up with a scheme to assist Nu-Vista owners (UK-only, that is) who desperately wanted the matching '300 but were a bit short of cash. The first is interest-free credit: 1320 deposit and 20 monthly payments of 99, or exactly 3300. The other is a part-exchange scheme on X-A200s, X-A50s or X-AS100s purchased within the last year. If proof of purchase and the amplifier are returned to Musical Fidelity, the company will send a 'part-exchange authority letter' to your retailer for the full value of the amplifier. Note: Only one amplifier part-exchanged per customer, so too bad if you're bi-amping, and orders must be placed before 31 July.

Additional Resources
• Read more stereo preamplifier reviews by HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore amplifier pairing options in our Amplifier Review section.

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