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pete_mac

audio-gd NFB-3(2014) with ES9018 chip

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So... I recently resolved to sell my Resonessence Labs Concero DAC to fund exciting things like plants, cement, ag pipe etc for our new house. Back to Squeezebox Touch DAC land for me.


 


Bloody Kingwa, true to form, posted details of the new audio-gd NFB-3(2014) on his website. Me, being a Kingwa fanboy, took the bait. So much for my well-made plans!!


 


This DAC has the ES9018 DAC chip compared to the previous NFB-3 iterations with the dual WM8741 chips. The casework has also been updated to an all aluminium case, with no pressed steel cover.


 


I've put about 200 hours on this DAC now (background listening whilst setting up our new house) and have had the opportunity to have a decent listen to it.


 


These impressions are via speakers and are not ideal, as I have only just set up my gear in a new house and new dedicated listening room. The room is quite 'live' and needs some treatment to tame a bit of mild slap echo.


 


That said, I'm VERY happy with the sonic signature of this DAC. Detail retrieval is excellent without becoming etched and artificial, and the tonality and timbral reproduction ain't half bad either. The sound is entirely believable. I do think that I subjectively prefer the PCM1704UK DACs in this regard (particularly with string-based instruments and pianos for example) but the NFB-3(2014) has better detail retrieval than the Reference 5, DAC3SE and DAC19DSP that I've previously owned, and certainly more than the original NFB-3 that I owned, so this is where it edges ahead. I guess you can't have your cake and eat it too, not at this price point anyway! These impressions are all based upon my audio memory, and should be taken with a grain of salt until I have the chance to compare this DAC back-to-back with a PCM1704UK-equipped example.


 


Sound staging is also very good, but the very slight reverb in my existing room configuration is hindering sound staging I feel. I've achieved better imaging from this same gear (albeit with the onboard SB Touch DAC) in my old house, and I've tested the same configuration in the new room and achieved worse results. Given that the NFB-3(2014) trumps the onboard SBT DAC based upon my comparisons, I can't wait to improve the acoustics of the room (adding some room treatments and soft furnishings) to really let this gear shine.


 


The USB32 works flawlessly with the Squeezebox Touch. I applied tape to the +5V pin as the USB32 is internally powered, and some members have reported sonic improvments when severing the +5V connection.


 


I ordered the DIR9001 SPDIF receiver board as well as the WM8805. The DIR9001 sounds more like the USB32, whereas the WM8805 is a bit more laid back, smoother and a tad warmer. I look forward to experimenting with these SPDIF boards in future.


 


The new casework is a marked improvement over the older NFB-2/3 DACs. It is thinner than the kind used on the Reference 5 etc, but is still much better than the pressed steel casing on these earlier models. The recessed screws are a nice touch, although one of mine had a slightly stripped head from the factory, and this made removal a real pain. The input selector knob on the front panel is also slightly askew. I will try to adjust this, but I am likely to be at the mercy of the knob and splines on the switch itself.


 


In addition to the free TCXO upgrade and the optional OCC wire upgrade, I had the ACSS outputs replaced with RCA outputs, as I have no intention of going 'all audio-gd' in my system, so these connections are unwarranted. The RCA jacks are all nice CMC branded items.


 


Compared to my former Resonessence Labs Concero, the audio-gd is slightly more resolving and has slightly wider sound stage. In terms of overall tonality, they are pretty similar I feel. They are not bare-boned detail freaks - they have soul. I could easily live with either of these DACs, and it just goes to show how good the Concero is. It packs a mighty punch into a tiny package!


 


Overall, I consider this DAC to be brilliant bang for buck, and a worthwhile upgrade over the old NFB-3 with the dual WM8741s. 


 


I hope that I can tee up a get-together with Senor Darko in the near future to undertake some comparisons on his rig vs some decent DACs. 


 


http://audio-gd.com/Pro/dac/NFB32014/NFB32014EN.htm


 


 


NFB320146_zps3fd8909b.jpg


 


NFB320141_zpsf6a9557b.jpg


 


NFB320142_zpsa81e11b7.jpg


 


NFB320143_zpsfa814600.jpg


 


NFB320144_zpsc12f7afa.jpg


 


NFB320145_zpseaf1b8a5.jpg


 


newroom1_zps87cec2b3.jpg


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Hi Pete,

I ordered one last week, couldn't resist mate.

Interesting to hear how it sounds compared to my Accuphase dac40 and also the IFi idsd.

Have you tried any dsd music through the nfb3 yet?

Cheers

Liam

Edited by Conch Blowa

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Hi Liam,

Nicely done!

I don't have any DSD tracks as yet, but will keep my eyes peeled for something that tickles my musical fancy.

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Pete. Gimme a yell and we'll organise something. :)

Will do! I have a further three weeks off work so I'm fairly well poised for a visit soon. I'll give you a call soon.

Edited by pete_mac

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These impressions are via speakers and are not ideal, as I have only just set up my gear in a new house and new dedicated listening room. The room is quite 'live' and needs some treatment to tame a bit of mild slap echo.

 

 

Well, a bit of experimentation today with speaker toe-in, listening chair placement and temporary acoustic panels and egg-crate foam has made a world of difference to the sound of the room. This has allowed me to focus more on what this DAC can do, rather than cursing the short-comings of the new room and poor setup.

 

I'm impressed... mucho impressed!

 

I'm hoping to rendesvous with Lord Darko this week, where the NFB-3(2014) will go toe-to-toe with a few similarly-priced DACs like the Bifrost Uber and the Concero HD.

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nice one Pete -- he does a nice job on that Sabre chip installation. Found that my NFB 1.32 sabre is similar. detailed and very deep bass extension..-quick one -- does audio-dg make spinners or transports any more?. 

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nice one Pete -- he does a nice job on that Sabre chip installation. Found that my NFB 1.32 sabre is similar. detailed and very deep bass extension..-quick one -- does audio-dg make spinners or transports any more?.

AFAIK no, they don't. Second-hand is the only option. :(

Re: your bass comments, I agree wholeheartedly! I partook in a quick listen-off with the NFB-3(2014) and the Concero last night at Darko's Dungeon.

The NFB-3 reached both higher and lower than the Concero, with greater depth to the bass and superior detail and sparkle in the treble. The sound stage was also noticeably taller, wider and deeper with the NFB-3. Switching between the two DACs revealed an immediate shrinking of the soundstage when the Concero was playing. The NFB-3 threw out a very nicely detailed sound stage for a DAC in this price range.

We listened via the SPDIF input on the NFB-3 (with the optional DIR9001 SPDIF receiver board installed). I feel that this board sounds similar to the USB32 input on the DAC. The WM8805 sounds a tad smoother and a bit warmer, and a bit more mucking around today at home reveals that it's an excellent option if you want to add a smidgen of warmth to the sound of this DAC. I wish I had installed the WM8805 last night!

The Concero is still a cracker of a DAC - it is so damn easy to listen to, and depending upon your system, you may prefer this DAC over the NFB-3 as it is less likely to offend if your system borders on the bright side.

In my rig, I reckon the NFB-3 is a great match for the vintage Sansuis that I run. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the Concero too.

I guess it comes down to what your preferences are! Are you trying to add spark, illumination and detail retrieval to your rig, or do you want something that is a bit more subdued?

It was fantastic to hear the DAC in someone else's rig, given that my new room still errs on the reverberant side, and it has been a tad tricky to get a really good feel for this DAC. I think the addition of room treatments and lounges will help to tame the room, and the NFB-3 will then show it's true colours.

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