In filing this first, early report on the new NSW 300, as there is only one speaker in my house that is its natural mate, the new Jean Marie Reynaud Orféo Jubilees, I have no way yet of separating what this amp sounds like from what its mates sound like. So take the following as a flawed first report on the amp. I felt it was time to say at least something. I’ll follow up when I consider break-in of the amp (and speakers) nearer to completion, if necessary.
If you are one of those who crave the full and natural weight of an orchestra or jazz band...or of a bassoon...or of bass baritone Matthias Goerne, you will need large, full-range speakers like the new Orféo Jubilees and a powerful amp like the new 300 watt Blue Circle NSW to drive them. These new Orféos are what the NSW was born to drive. In combination, even with fewer than fifty hours on both, this is the best (clearest, weightiest) deep bass I’ve yet to hear coupled to a wonderfully fleshed out, saturated -- not artificially warm -- mid-range that gives new life to cellos and organs, strong reserves of dynamic energy. And no doubt thanks to the NSW’s seemingly unlimited power reserve (600 watts into their 4 ohms), there is a degree of overall ease not heard here since I had the 3-way JMR Concordes (which the new Orféos have driven from the product line).
The NSW doesn’t do anything special for the somewhat smaller, far less demanding JMR Abscissas. That is not the game they were designed to play. That game belongs to the nearly four times less powerful and more suave BC 002i/EPS. The NSW & Orféos combination is more confident and effortlessly full-range. Everything feels larger and more substantial through them. They will cause some listeners to feel that the less powerful amp and smaller speakers sound incomplete. There is no question that the NSW & Orféos get more of a piano than an 002i/ESP gets from Abscissas, especially its low end. The sheer physicality of the combination can be stunning. Even subtleties and nuances are more bold and forthright, if that makes any sense. Clear but less delicate. The NSW & Orféos are not notable for delicacy, grace and air. Are they darker than an 002i/ESP and Abscissas? In an A-B comparison, yes some; but on their own, from their own point of view, perhaps not. Dark or light compared with what? Both pairings convince us they are telling the truth in this matter. The 002i/ESP and Abscissas, with less deep bass energy, seem more open, articulate, and graceful; but they would. That is the nature of moderate power on less than full range speakers, if both are good enough. All instruments have more body through the NSW and Orféos: a Shostakovich string quartet is bolder, less insinuating. A harpsichord is larger and more resonant -- but again less delicate. It will be interesting to hear how this powerful duo changes as the amp and speakers break in together. Both are still pretty young beasts.
Powerful amps paired with large speakers are different from moderately powered amps and small speakers, we must remind ourselves. The best of both can challenge our established ideas about what is true. In my college room my roommate’s 30 watt Fisher tube amp and Janszen/AR1-W fought out this issue with my 55 watt Fisher tube amp and Altec Lansing horns. Some 002i/ESP & Abscissa lovers may find the new NSW with its proper large speaker mates insufficiently deft and lithe. Some lovers of large, full-range speakers will doubtless find the 80 watt integrated and Abscissas insufficiently substantial. There is no absolute better or worse here. Until we have the impossible ideal amp/speaker combination that can do all that live music does, we must make choices. Suffice it to say at the Neill house that I have yet to hear any amp, by Blue Circle or anyone else, that can drive speakers as demanding as these new Orféo Jubilees as well as the new NSW. Stay tuned.
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This morning the NSW/Orféos pairing turned a corner. I have never heard a cello sound as beautiful and complete as Sol Gabetta's performance of Peteris Vasks' new Cello Concerto did today. I heard this same recording a week ago and while good, it was nowhere near as wonderful as it was this morning. Patience rewarded.