At a time when micro-apartments are popping up in major cities around the world, it should come as no surprise that an enterprising audio company would begin making micro-sized high-performance audio components. Olasonic, whose first product was a very nice and quite compact egg-shaped powered desktop speaker, has a new line of gear that is designed to fit nicely into even the smallest miniaturized urban environment. The NanoCompo line of components includes the Nano-D1 digital preamp and DAC, Nano-CD1 CD transport, and Nano-UA1 integrated amplifier with USB DAC. This review will concentrate on the integrated amplifier. All three components in Olasonic's NanoCompo line are priced the same: each is $799.
The Nano-UA1 is less than 6 inches long, 6 inches wide, and only 1.5 inches tall, and it weighs slightly less than two pounds. Although it is bigger than a CD jewel case, placing a jewel case next to it makes one realize just how petite this entire package is. While it's small, the Nano-UA1 is packed with features. Multiple inputs include a USB connection, one digital Toslink, one digital RCA S/PDIF connection, and finally one 3.5mm analog stereo input. Although it does not support DSD or DXD, the Nano-UA1 does support up to 24/192 via its Toslink and S/PDIF digital inputs. Unfortunately its USB is limited to 24/96 because it uses the USB 1.0 rather than 2.0 spec. Output options include one pair of miniature five-way binding posts for a pair of speakers (although miniature in size, these connectors can take anything, including full-sized spade lugs), a headphone output on the front panel, and a single pair of RCA single-ended variable level outputs. The chassis of the Nano-UA1, like the other components in the Nano line, currently comes in one color: white.
While the Nano-UA1 doesn't exactly have a powerhouse power amplifier – it only puts out 13 watts of "dynamic power" into eight ohms and 26 watts "dynamic power" into four ohms – it should have enough juice to power an efficient pair of small speakers to adequate levels for a small room or desktop system. Olasonic calls their amp section a "super charged drive system" which, according to the company, is "similar to the drive system in a hybrid car: the SCDS stores USB power during periods of low signal output in order to deliver greater peak power output. The result is a high speaker-driving capability with low power consumption." The digital heart of the Nano-UA1 is a Burr-Brown PCM 1792 chip coupled with a Burr-Brown SCR-4392 sample-rate converter chip. Re-clocking is done via a temperature-compensated crystal oscillator commonly called a TXCO. The Nano-UA1's power amplifier section uses a Texas Instruments TPA3118 Class D that uses a 1.2MHz power supply switching frequency, while a Burr-Brown OPA2132 dual op amp chip drives the headphone amplifier.
The Nano-UA1's front-panel controls consist of an on/off button on the extreme left side, with a four-position input selector button to its right. Centered on the front panel is a mini-stereo headphone connector, and on the right side of the front panel is a volume knob. The Nano-UA1 comes with a credit-card-sized remote control that duplicates all the available functions of the front panel. It can also be used to control the Olasonic Nano-CD1 transport.
Setting up the Olasonic Nano-UA1 was very straightforward: Just hook up your input sources, connect a pair of speakers, and you're off to the races. Since the Nano-UA1 is a USB 1.0-compliant device, it doesn't require special drivers, even with a Windows PC - plug and play, and you're good for anything up to 24/96. I used three different pairs of speakers with the Nano-UA1, including the ATC SCM7 rev3, Silverline Minuet Supreme, and Audience Clair Audient 1+1. With most commercial recordings, the Nano-UA1 had sufficient power to drive the Audience Clair Audient 1+1 with no problems, but the ATC SCM7s proved to be a different story. The Nano-AU1's volume control was at 12 o'clock (starting at eight o'clock) before I heard much more than a whisper from the ATCs. The Silverline speakers produced a very similar volume level. So, if playing loud is important, look for something with a sensitivity of at least 90 dB at one meter if you require anything approaching earthshaking levels.
Speaking of earthshaking, if you want to use a subwoofer with the Nano-UA1, you're going to have to use one that has its own built-in crossover or has provisions for a speaker-level input – since the Nano-UA1 lacks a dedicated subwoofer output. On some DAC/PREs, you can gain a subwoofer output by using the headphone connection on the front panel, but most (including the Nano-UA1) mute their speaker-level outputs when a headphone is plugged into the headphone jack, so that isn't an option.
During day-to-day use, I found the Nano-UA1's remote to be especially useful. It includes a volume control that employs a mechanical stepper motor to adjust the level. During critical listening sessions, I didn't need to be within arm's reach of the Nano-UA1 to adjust its volume levels.
Click on over to Page 2 for Sonic Impressions, High Points and Low Points, Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .
When used in the right-sized room with efficient speakers, the Olasonic Nano-UA1 player can deliver very high-performance sound. Its primary limitations are its small amplifier section and inability to play 24/192 tracks except when routed through its S/PDIF input. During my listening sessions, I used a variety of sources, including a Squeezebox Duet for streaming from Internet radio and my computer's music library, the Olasonic Nano-CD1 CD transport for CDs, and my MacBook Pro running iTunes, Amarra, Pure Music, and Audirvana for higher-definition digital music sources (with 24/192 files routed into an Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 5 to convert USB to S/PDIF).
As long as the device was operated within its comfort zone (with the volume level set below two o'clock), the sound from the Nano-UA1 was worthy of being called "high performance." Most of my listing via speakers was done through the Audience Clair Audient 1+1 speakers since they were the best match, sensitivity-wise. I was impressed by the Nano-UA1's ability to project a convincing three-dimensional soundstage with an excellent feeling of depth and well-localized spatial cues. While the spaces between instruments weren't quite as well defined as through the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi (review coming soon), the Nano-UA1 did match the Minx Xi in terms of inner detail and lack of extraneous low-level grain or electronic texture.
Using headphones with the Nano-UA1, I found that most, but not all, worked well. With the ultra-sensitive Westone ES5, the Nano-UA1 did generate some low-level hiss that could intrude on quiet passages. With the 600-ohm-impedance Beyer-Dynamic DT990 headphones, I would have liked more gain and the ability to play louder with the Nano-UA1. But some headphones, such as the new 32-ohm Oppo PM-1 open-ear headphones, had no background noise or hiss and could play loudly enough that I never felt that I needed more power.
• The Nano-UA1 is compact and very nicely finished.
• The sound quality is excellent.
• The built-in headphone amplifier will drive most headphones.
• The integrated amp offers trouble-free setup and operation.
• The amplifier is not very powerful.
• The USB connection is 1.0, so it supports up to only a 24/96 sample and bit rate.
• The Nano-UA1 lacks a dedicated subwoofer output.
Competition and Comparison
Although there are much less-expensive small integrated all-analog integrated amplifiers, such as the Trends 10.2, components with a similar feature set and miniature footprint are rare. For slightly more money, you can get the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi ($995), which includes more inputs, a bigger power amplifier, and streaming capabilities, but it is also a noticeably larger component. Like the Nano-UA1, the Minx is limited to 24/96 via USB due to its USB 1.0 implementation.
The new Sony HAP-S1 ($999) has most of the capabilities of the Minx Xi; but, instead of streaming from an external drive, the Sony has a built-in 500GB hard drive to hold your music, as well as an APP to transfer it from your computer's music library to the HAP-S1. The Sony also supports 24/192 and DSD music files and has an Internet radio tuner built in.
If you need a micro-sized integrated amplifier with a built-in DAC, the Olasonic Nano-UA1 could be the perfect choice. It sounds very good when used within its optimal operating parameters, but you will need a pair of power-efficient speakers, since the Nano-UA1 only has 13 watts of power into eight ohms. With an input for computer USB plus two digital inputs and one analog input, the Nano-UA1 can accommodate most sources. Its primary limitation is that it is a USB 1.0-compliant device that only supports up to 24/96 via USB. For higher-resolution music files at 24/192, the Nano-UA1 requires use of the S/PDIF digital input.
If desire truly miniaturized audio components, I suggest you take a look at Olasonic's NanoCompo line. These components offer fine sound in micro-sized packages.