My NSL & BC208-NST Blog

nikki
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My NSL & BC208-NST Blog

Post by nikki » Sun Sep 29, 2013 9:42 am

There have been significant changes made to my audio room. It began with a renovation project to increase the ceiling height to 9' with integrated soffit bass traps. Even with a collection of GIK and ASC traps in the original configuration, the soffit traps have increased bass linearity in this room by a good margin. Previously, with all the acoustic panels and wall to wall carpeting, the room was a little over damped, so the carpet was tossed to the curb. I was a little nervous with this as I knew this would drastically alter the room acoustics and I wasn't certain it would be a good thing. After I re-installed all of the original acoustic panels, the room deflection between the maple floor and ceiling was still overwhelming. I knew I had to treat the ceiling, so I decided on Vicoustic Multifuser DC2 panels on the ceiling and a thick shag area rug on the floor. Fortunately, everything came together and the room is not only well controlled, but is airy, breathes and is alive.

Because the audio room renovation meant that my system was going to be disassembled for a while, I decided it was an ideal time to send my BC208 monoblocks back to Innerkip for some changes. I had read some comments on these forums about some people upgrading their amps with the NST input stage and it started to peak my interest. Truth is, I was getting tired of always being concerned about tubes going noisy, having to turn the amps off to preserve the tubes, the extra heat they generate, and general anxiety and fear that was always in the back of my mind. I was ready for a change so I asked Gilbert to replace the tube stage with the solid state NST. And while the amps were back in Innerkip, it made sense to have them "KQ readied" in case I decide to go with the KQ upgrade. Gilbert also recommended beefing up the power supply with the remaining free space so there's a lot packed under the hood now.

The 208 mods took a little longer than anticipated, but that's mostly because Gilbert is so damn busy, it has been one of the busiest summers in BC history. That was fine by me because my renovations took a lot longer than anticipated as well - figured it should only take me a few weeks, yeah right!

I've been bugging Gilbert for the NSL demo for a while now, and it so happened that when my 208 was ready for pick-up, the NSL was also available for a home audition if I was still interested ... well YES, in a heartbeat! I was skeptical about 28w driving my Martin Logan CLX, a difficult load to say the least and low sensitivity (although they claim 90dB, there is no way that they are as efficient as my Mezzo Utopia's). Gilbert insisted the NSL would be fine, but I was not convinced ... until I got home and hooked up the NSL. The first impression was overwhelming, it just shattered my preconceived notions about how this amp would perform in my system. The NSL has incredibly clarity and speed with finesse and musicality which is a difficult combination to achieve - no problem at all driving the stats.

At the same time, I was very curious to hear my new 208s, so I quickly unpacked them and hooked them up. Hmmm, not so good, it was lifeless, boring and congested - it didn't help that I just had a glimpse of the NSL sound. Like all of Gilbert's creations, I knew the 208s needed extensive break-in time and Gilbert had warned me to give it at least 100 hours. I quickly unhooked them from the CLX and left them running 24x7 for a week and returned to the NSL.

It took some time for me to wrap my head around the NSL. The sonic differences are night and day from what I am used to. The transparency of the NSL is incredible and the noise floor is non-existent. It's difficult to try to explain to a non-audiophile about sound having a black background but with the NSL, I think they would easily understand what you trying to describe. Have to apologize for overused clich

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Double D
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Post by Double D » Sun Sep 29, 2013 3:11 pm

Welcome to hell my friend... I kept a spot warm on the bench beside me.. LOL !!! :twisted: :lol:

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Double D
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Post by Double D » Sun Sep 29, 2013 3:47 pm

Ooops ! double posted :oops: Thanks CHROME ! :roll:

Ice Man
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Post by Ice Man » Mon Sep 30, 2013 8:11 am

Great write up, Nikki. Congrats on the new room and NST upgrade. Double D said it best: Welcome to hell. The NSL design produces such an intoxicating sound that is very hard to dismiss once you have it played through one's system. Like the both of you, I love my BC 200 Series amp. However, I was simply blown away with having the NSL Jr. control the mids and up, while having my amps control the mid bass and below.

Did you try bi-amping the two? That would have really messed you up! :-) I think the NSL Jr. bi-amped with a BC solid state would be a very good way to go. It would give you the magic of the NSL design coupled with the slam and authority of a BC solid state. As all three of us can attest, those watts are not to be underestimated-- they are "truly special watts."

You guys have extra room on that bench? :D

nikki
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Post by nikki » Mon Sep 30, 2013 1:00 pm

DD/IM
The tunes sound great in hell and there's lots of room - warm and cozy. :twisted:

Biamping is not possible with the CLX, but I do run subs through their hi-level inputs, so the sub does take on the signature of the amp. Suppose it would have been interesting to hook them up through their lo-level inputs to see if they take on a different sound, but then I would open up another can of worms.

I asked Gilbert if he could build a NSL on steroids. Right now he doesn't think so, and even if he did, it may not sound like the NSL anymore. Give him some time, I'm sure he will come up with something.

The NSL is special all right and it would have been interesting to hear it with speakers that are more ideally suited than my CLX.

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Post by Ice Man » Mon Sep 30, 2013 2:08 pm

Nikki,

If you really wanted more NSL slam, and didn't want to bi-amp with a BC solid state, I am pretty sure that Gilbert could build a NSL mono-bloc version. I would be curious how that would stack up against NSL + NSP.

However, as detailed as your write-up was, I was curious to know your thoughts regarding the changes between the pre/post NST upgrade, now that you have 300+hours on them. Do you miss any part of the tubes? I have heard the BC 1022, and it sounded very good. If you never heard the NSL , what more can you say to us about the NST upgrade.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

IM

nikki
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Post by nikki » Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:04 pm

Hmmm, you're right, I guess I never did talk about the before and after with the 208. Because I had the NSL here, it was never so much about the difference between 208 (with tubes) and 208-NST as much as how the 208-NST compared to the NSL. Also, because of the significant changes to my room acoustics, I can't say for certain that all of the improvements I hear are due to the room, the NST or both.

Just to be clear, my decision to change to the NST was NOT initiated because of sonic preferences. Tubes are a pain in the ass, it was just something else to constantly think about. With the 208-NST, I had no second thoughts about running them 24x7 for 3 weeks solid.

I had no issues with the way the original 208 sounded. The 208 has an uncanny ability to reproduce music with finesse and full of expression and textures - totally organic and lacking in any electronic signature.

With the NST mod, the 208 still retains its personality, but the sound is more incisive, cleaner, tighter and blacker. You might say that the NST gets you closer to the "NSL" sound, but don't read too much into that ... the signature is still closer to a 208 than the NSL. The soundstage with the 208-NST seems to have more of a boundary than before; whereas the tubes imparted a greater sense of space. The NST maintains the sense of continuity and flow that tubes seem to do so well - it certainly does not have any that dry solid state sound - can't imagine Gilbert would ever allow that. The overall sound has greater energy and more alive, but that could be a big part of the new room.

Do I miss the tubes - absolutely NOT. I like the NST and would certainly recommend it, just don't expect your amp to become an NSL and I'm sure you will be thrilled. Oh, and don't believe Gilbert when he says it only needs 100hrs :P .

BTW, it wasn't that I don't want to bi-amp, it is just not an option with my CLX ... but you are right, I don't like clutter either :-)

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Post by Ice Man » Tue Oct 01, 2013 9:04 am

Nikki,

Thanks for all that. It sounds like the NST is what I am looking for.

Earlier this month, I told Gilbert to put me in line for the upgrade.

I highly recommend you demo the BC 6020 and a BC DAC. Saw your new room pics. Beautiful set up.

IM

nikki
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Post by nikki » Tue Oct 01, 2013 12:38 pm

IM,

I'm not looking to move away from my MPS-5 anytime soon - it's pretty special as well, especially with DSD.

I do want to try the 60xx at some point however.

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Double D
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Post by Double D » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:23 pm

Hey Nikki, I actually had been wondering what your 208's had sounded like after the NST change as well. I certainly admire your courage in going for it on the 208. As you've indicated, the 208 is really a creature unto itself. I know the time I had them here made for some VERY fond memories of music in the room, as opposed to an exclusively "hi fi" technical situation. They seemed to have the ability to suspend belief in a truly unique way.
Very interesting that your own experience is quite similar to my own with the changeover to NST. 8)

nikki
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Post by nikki » Wed Oct 02, 2013 5:59 am

Let me tell you, I was starting to sweat after 150hrs because the sound just wasn't working. I wrote Gilbert and said that the 208 wasn't even close to the NSL. Luckily things began to change soon after.

I have taken leaps of faith with many audio decisions, I rely on opinions of people who I trust. And yes, I do recall someone who had gone through the NST route with their 206 and suggested I ask Gilbert about the same with the 208 ;-).

I think it was the GL 6922 that ultimately started turning me south on tubes. I loved their tone, but didn't like the fact that they were less durable than the EH, I just couldn't go back to that EH sound and $200 a pop every 4-6 months was annoying.

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Post by Double D » Wed Oct 02, 2013 9:42 am

Yup.. I was in love with the GL sound as well... and the way my 303 eats tubes, it's every 5-6 months max for a re-tube :roll: So, I've managed to learn to live with good old EH tubes. They actually seem more durable as well. :? $60 every few months.. that I can cope with. I've paid more for a bad pizza !
Glad the NST option worked out for you Nikki, NSL aside, it sure does help make for an interesting option on the 200 series.

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bjh
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Post by bjh » Fri Oct 04, 2013 3:21 pm

I've become a GL convert myself, in my BC3000-II.

But then I'm perfectly happy turning the pre on just before listening, I can't detect any warm up requirement, perhaps I'm just lucky in not being sensitive to the effect, or perhaps because the pre doesn't have one of those truly huge power supplies. In any case I expect to get many years out of tubes.

(I do keep my BC8-IIs on all the time, no tubes to worry about ... :)

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Tube mania!!

Post by masluck » Fri Oct 04, 2013 4:21 pm

Gents,

The re-tube commentary does bring up a question for me. I recently moved from my BC21-L2 to the BC3000 MKII. I leave my gear on 24X7 and with the 6SN7W's I used in that BC21 preamp, I never have witnessed tube failure, degradation, etc. Can anyone describe the "sound of that" so I can somehow be on the lookout?

In the BC3000 so far I have used Siemens, Matsushita 7DJ8, GL 6922 and now have Amperex Orange Globe 6DJ8's running in there now. To my ears, the Amperex sound the best. The Amperex married allot of what I liked in the Matsushita and GL sound - kind of like they had a "kid". 8)

As for having spare tubes of the flavor you like for re-tubing, I buy pairs and have a good stable of them in case.

Mark

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Post by bjh » Fri Oct 04, 2013 7:49 pm

"... be on the lookout?"

For me it is something I will not tolerate again. The 3000-II is gentle on tubes so you'll likely notice nothing for a long long time.

But if well over a year or just get a mild sense its just off a tad (if lucky) comparison with a brand new set of tubes will demonstrate the sound has gone down hill a bit. And thinking all along it was perfect that sort of pisses you off LOL

Great pre --- a keeper!

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