By Lam Seng Fatt
Soon after this year’s Kuala Lumpur International AV Show had ended, I was sufficiently impressed by the performance of Nagra’s HD pre and monoblock power amps in Perfect Hi-Fi’s room that I quickly contacted Alvin Tan and asked to review the Classic range.
That was how the Nagra Classic pre and power amp landed in my house. I have to state here that these are the most expensive components that have been loaned to me. The Classic preamp has a recommended retail price of RM75,000 while the Classic power amp costs RM72,000.
With components of such quality, I decided to be more thorough and test them separately first before teaming them up in the combination they were designed for.
I used a YS Encore CD transport which features a Philips CDM4 mechanism with a van den Hul Digi-Coupler coaxial cable and a van den Hul AES-EBU Professional cable connected to the Wyred4Sound DAC2. From the DAC, I used a pair of WyWires Platinum interconnects and a pair of Oyaide QAC-212R (which uses the much-praised Hitachi LC-OFC copper) XLR interconnects to connect to the Nagra Classic preamp.
From the Nagra preamp, I used a pair of Mogami 2803 terminated with KLEI Absolute RCA plugs interconnects and a pair of Mogami 2534 XLR cables connected to the Bryston 4B SST power amp. Speakers were the ATC SCM50 floorstanders and speaker cables were the Kimber 12TC. All power cables were plugged into the MIT Z-Strip power conditioner. I was told by Bill of Perfect Hi-Fi to use the supplied power cable and I used that plus a sLAM Tenaga power cable (which is my own design).
Thus I was ready to test the Nagra Classic preamp in single-ended and balanced modes with the flick of a few switches and turns of the selector knob.
Overall, the Nagra Classic preamp sounded extremely neutral and natural with a very even tonal balance. These qualities are to be expected given Nagra’s history in professional audio and studio recordings.
In single-ended mode, the sound was congested. A quick comparison with the resident Lamm LL2 Deluxe preamp revealed that the all-tube Lamm, which only features single-ended outputs, is strong in creating a spacious soundstage and the images were spread out while the Nagra’s soundstage was narrow and the sound was shut-in.
The Nagra Classic preamp also has tubes – 2 12AX7/ECC83 and 1 12AT7/ECC81. Nagra chose these tubes because they were readily available, but those that came with the preamp were selected by Nagra.
Though the Nagra Classic preamp has tubes, it does not have the classic romantic tube sound and it can be quite hard-hitting when required.
However, in balanced mode, the soundstage opened up and became wide and deep with the musicians and singer/s well spread out.
In balanced mode, listening to music with the Nagra Classic preamp and Bryston 4B SST was thoroughly enjoyable. If you own a Nagra Classic preamp, you must exploit its qualities to the maximum and using the balanced mode is mandatory.
I also tested the headphone output with two pairs of headphones – the Sennheiser HD600 and the Audio Technica ATH-M50x. Once again the Nagra qualities of neutrality and naturalness shine through and the headphones output, which is the same as the headphones module in the Nagra HD DAC, is good enough for studio work.
As it is the Nagra Classic preamp is an excellent performer, but there is an option to attain even higher sound quality. Optional input and output transformers are available separately to create a fully symmetrical floating signal that will further enhance performance. These transformers are hand-wound in-house by Nagra in order to meeting the exacting standards of the design brief, according to Nagra’s website.
On top of that the Classic preamp can be powered by Nagra’s dedicated MPS power supply via the 12 V DC Lemo connector on the rear panel to provide additional performance gains.
The Nagra Classic preamp retails at RM75,000. For more details, contact Perfect Hi-Fi (Kuala Lumpur branch) at 03-2142-1693.