When it comes to amplifiers, Musical Fidelity can probably claim a unique authority over almost all their rivals, past and present, having offered just about every option known to man. So it was perhaps unsurprising that in 1999 the company launched a range of audio products using the fabled nuvistor – a thermionic device that offered all the benefits of tubes with added toughness, reduced noise, lower microphony, higher reliability, and extremely compact size.
Musical Fidelity’s earlier Nu-Vista designs are now discontinued, due to a lack of nuvistor bases. Fortunately, Musical Fidelity supremo Antony Michaelson was able to track down a new supply, making it possible to manufacture a range of Nu-Vista components for those of us who missed out first time.
The Nu-Vista 800 is a stereo line-level integrated amplifier offering around 300W per channel. The thick, brushed aluminium fascia has an exquisite feel to it. The two large knobs, for volume and input selection, feel impressively weighty and solid. The illuminated feet (which change colour three times to denote the amp’s status) and the valve glow adds a touch of ‘theatre’. It’s big, measuring around 50cm square, and about 18cm tall, and it’s a hernia-inducing 38 kilos, thanks in part to two huge power transformers.
Given that it’s 2016, I was slightly surprised not to see a USB input being offered. But the omission of any digital inputs is intentional – Antony wanted to keep the Nu-Vista 800 purely analogue. Fortunately, there is a matching Nu-Vista CD player, which provides pretty much everything you’re likely to need from a digital hub. According to Antony Michaelson, CD is not dead: in fact, the company’s CD players are proving extremely popular.
The signal paths in the Nu-Vista 800 amp are very short. The amp makes use of Surface Mount PCB design, with improved track layouts. The nuvistors themselves are mounted very close to the preamp circuits, with tracks at right-angles to minimise induced field effects. The net result is a sound hair-trigger sharp and immediate
The Nu-Vista 800 is a pleasure to use, and I particularly liked the volume control with its precise readout in decibels. The volume goes in fine 0.5dB steps, but the design of the Nu-Vista 800’s volume control allows fast changes in level – if required.
Normally, with electronic volume controls such as this, the change in level as you spin the knob is quite slow and measured. Since the control revolves continuously, you might have to turn it three or four times to get (say) a 10dB change. However, the volume control on the Nu-Vista 800 is sensitive to the speed at which you turn it.
Move it quickly, and it increases or decreases volume by a larger margin than turning it slowly. Great! The knob on the left controls input selection, and has soft indent points for each setting – CD, Tuner, Balanced, and Aux 1 and Aux 2. There’s also a by-pass option for home cinema use. The preamp offers unbalanced and balanced inputs and outputs
During use, the Nu-Vista 800 gets mildly warm to the touch. Unless you push it really hard, it doesn’t get hot. Nor is there any mechanical sound, despite the use of two monster transformers. Even with my ear literally right by the unit I could hear no transformer hum or buzz, and no residual noise whatsoever from the loudspeakers. In effect, the amp is effectively silent.
My regular amplifier is a Musical Fidelity Kw-750 partnered with a Classé CP-800. From time to time I’ve dallied with low-powered tube amps, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but I always go back to the Kw-750 with a sense of relief because it’s utterly bomb-proof. No matter what music I play, no matter how loud, it never bottoms out. It has endless headroom, and I like that.
On paper at least, the Nu-Vista 800 isn’t quite as powerful as the Kw-750. But it has the same sort of muscle and drive; subjectively, even more so, perhaps. How? Well, the Nu-Vista 800 delivers music with an attack that’s almost fearsome. It produces an immediacy and bite that really is quite exceptional. The sense of presence and focus is amazing…
This amp is an interesting mix of opposites. On the one hand it’s exceptionally clean and very tactile. Transients have impressive attack, and the whole presentation exudes an ‘abruptness’ that makes the music sound crisp and alert. At the same time, there’s a lovely rich/sweet tonal sheen and liquidity that createsa very relaxed and flowing impression.
And then there’s the bass… The very first track I listened to was the scherzo movement from Leonard Bernstein’s DG recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. It sounded wonderfully spacious and airy, with a very holographic ‘out of the speaker boxes’ soundstage. I really felt I could listen right through the sound of the orchestra, so that even the tiniest detail was audible.
But, as well as the music, I was aware of some distant traffic rumble, and also some rostrum thumps from the energetic Bernstein. These spurious sounds were not obtrusive; they simply added to the experience of being there in the hall. The traffic noise almost seemed disembodied – as though it really was coming from the distant ringstrasse…
No question; the Nu-Vista 800’s bass is quite exceptional. It has impressive depth and weight, while at the same time being unusually clear, very solid, and powerful. It almost seemed to add an extra octave; I hardly exaggerate. It really does seem to extend the low frequencies. And the extra bass weight has a reciprocal effect at the top-end, making the treble sound sweeter and airier.
Even my wife noticed the difference. Over the following few weeks, she’d spontaneously remark that things were sounding good – meaning, ‘better than usual’. It was true; my thoughts were exactly the same! Not that everything played via the Nu-Vista 800 was all sweetness and light. It’s actually a very revealing amplifier – one that shows small differences quite clearly.
The use of Nu-Vista tubes might impart a certain sweetness and liquidity, but there’s nothing falsely euphonic or rose-tinted about the overall presentation. The Nu-Vista 800 can sound lean and mean when it needs to, and doesn’t pull its sonic punches. In comparison, my own regular Classé/Musical Fidelity combination proved kinder and more accommodating.
However, by not pointing-up differences as keenly, although the Classé/Kw-750 combination was perhaps more forgiving, it was also more generalised and less distinct. It was definitely less special! Going back, I really missed the immediacy of the Nu-Vista 800, and its ability to create a holographic soundstage. It produces vivid stereo imagery, with crisp ‘placement’ of voices and instruments.
I used the new amplifier more or less straight from the box, without giving it much ‘burn in’ time. It sounded great, but after a few weeks’ solid use, I definitely felt the Nu-Vista 800 seemed to ease-up a bit, and become a bit more relaxed. There was still no lack of that crisp immediacy, but the overall presentation seemed more supple and flowing.
At £8,000 the Nu-Vista 800 is not exactly cheap. But you undoubtedly get a lot for your money; solid build quality and a very high standard of finish. If you doubt the quality, just try to lift the amp! My old Kw-750 was very well finished, but the Nu‑Vista 800 is on an altogether different level. It oozes quality.
But, don’t be fooled; the Nu-Vista 800 is absolutely the genuine article in all the areas where it really counts; sound quality, build quality, and finish. It’s an amp to invest in, secure in the knowledge that it’s built to last a lifetime. Antony himself believes it’s quite possibly the best-sounding amp MF has ever made, and on balance I think he may be right.
The Nu-Vista 800 offers a winning combination of speed, dynamics, bandwidth, headroom, and attack – plus brilliance and warmth. Yet such words only scratch the surface. With this amp, the total effect is greater than the sum of the parts – even though the parts themselves are superlative. It’s certainly made a deep impression on me, and undoubtedly raises the bar a good few notches.
Inputs: 4x Line Level RCA / Phono, 1× Line Level XLR Balanced
Outputs: 1 pair line level RCA connectors, constant level Line outputs, 1 pair line level RCA connectors, preamp outputs for e.g. bi-amping
Power output: 330 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms
THD+N: < 0.005 % typical 20Hz–20 kHz
Signal to Noise Ratio: >107dB ‘A’ – weighted
Frequency Response: +0, - 0.1dB, 10Hz to 30 kHz
Dimensions (W×H×D): 48.3 × 18.7 × 51cm
Weight: 39 kg
Manufactured by: Musical Fidelity Ltd
Tel: +44(0)20 8900 2866
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