|NuForce Reference 9 V2 Special Edition Mono Power Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers|
|Written by Jim Swantko|
|Friday, 01 February 2008|
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First, the amps have the blackest background I have ever heard. I’m talking super-massive, black-hole black. In fact, it was a bit disorienting until I became accustomed to it. It was as if the outputs knew when a break in the music was coming and turned themselves off until they were asked to make another sound. This is not to say that notes didn’t have natural decay, because they did – it’s just that there was nothing else there besides the music, and I mean nothing. I was not accustomed to this added a sense of depth and separation.
If you have ever listened to the first track on disc two of Alison Krauss and Union Stations Live (Rounder/UMGD), you know how enchanting the dobra can sound, especially when played by someone as skilled as Jerry Douglas. Playing it through the Ref 9s re-created that feeling of “being there” better than my system ever has before. Each note, no matter how quickly they were played, and Jerry can play fast, was clearly distinguishable and had a life of its own. Never did the strings sound compressed or smeared on top of each other, as I have heard from lesser amps.
The absolute silence of the background was also obvious as I listened to Alan Jackson’s album Drive (Arista). Alan likes to stack backing vocals on top of his lead vocals, which are sometimes very difficult to separate from one another. “Bring on the Night” is a track that illustrates this well throughout the chorus. I have played this on various systems and it is always obvious that something changes during the chorus, but it’s hard to tell if it’s another vocalist, or simply a little reverb or delay on Jackson’s vocals. With the Ref 9s, it was obvious that it was indeed another voice, but there was also such separation that now each voice was clearly distinguishable from another, which was very impressive.
Secondly, the bass these little amps produced was nothing short of astounding. I was not prepared for just how completely and effortlessly they controlled my Aerial 10Ts. I should note that my Aerials are not the most efficient speakers, with their 86dB efficiency rating, and pairing them with an amplifier without an iron grip on the 10-or-so-inch woofer will result in sloppy and boomy bass. This was a non-issue with the Ref 9s; in fact, I have never heard better bass from them. Drum impacts were lighting fast, with fantastic weight and impact.
I found myself listening to the opening bass lines of Diana Krall’s “Temptation” from her album The Girl in the Other Room (Verve) over and over again, marveling at the speed and depth that the NuForces recreated. The strings created a snap with each pluck of the strings, which was not only heard, but also felt. My No. 336 was clearly outclassed and I have never had a complaint with its bass performance before.
Vocals through the Ref 9s were very natural and textured. On Mark Knopfler’s “Back to Tupelo” from the album Shangri-La (Universal), his voice is alone through most of the track. It came through with texture and grit and floated at the front of the soundstage. There is a nice touch of warmth, but not too much.
Shangri-la is one of those albums that I have on constant rotation, so I know it well. I felt myself drawn more into the music with the NuForce amps than with any other amp that has passed through my system. I also picked out new details, such as the distinct sound of Knopfler’s lips separating and a breath before he begins to sing on “Back to Tupelo.” Acoustic cues abound and it was quite easy for my mind’s eye to virtually recreate the recording studio.
The upper frequencies were where I expected to hear a chink in the armor of these little amps. Expecting to hear a rolled-off top end and a loss of detail, I was relieved when I listened to “Songs for Sonny Liston” off the same Knopfler disc. It’s a bluesy track with a rhythm that will get anyone’s feet tapping. However, there are several instances where lone cymbal strikes are played. These were natural and shimmered for what seemed like an eternity, decaying naturally.
Miles Davis’ trumpet on “Kind of Blue” from his album of the same name (Sony) makes huge dynamic swings throughout the disk. At times, it is soft and sweet and at others, it genuinely rips the air, such as on “Flamenco Sketches.” The Ref 9s never got out of line and became harsh; they simply passed the music with all its textures and resonances. The cymbal work in “All Blues” was wide open, lifelike and occupied its own distinct space. The saxophones growled and the wonderful reed work came through clearly.