NuPrime DAC-9 DAC, STA-9 Stereo Amp, and HPA-9 Phono Preamp and Headphone Amp

A Bargain?

Equipment report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters,
NuPrime Audio DAC-9,
NuPrime Audio HPA-9,
NuPrime Audio STA-9
NuPrime DAC-9 DAC, STA-9 Stereo Amp, and HPA-9 Phono Preamp and Headphone Amp

I considered comparing the NuPrime gear to my reference system, which consists of an Audio Research VS115 amplifier (115Wpc, $6495), Audio Research SP20 ($9000), connected by a Clarity Cables balanced interconnect ($1400/meter), a PS Audio Directstream DAC ($5995) connected by an Audience Au24 SE USB cable ($980)—and that doesn’t even include power cords, which average around $1000 per component. But it struck me as pretty goofy to compare a $23,870 system to the $2696 NuPrime system. It seemed a lot more useful to compare the NuPrime gear to the $899 Yamaha A-S801 integrated amplifier I recently reviewed, but it had been returned to the importer. So I’ll draw from that review of the Yamaha I wrote (Issue 263).

The Yamaha A-S801 integrated amplifier had a similarly advanced DAC, although it only played DSD files up to DSD128—not a big drawback. It had an internal mm phono section for which I took some (justified) flack for not reviewing, an amazing assortment of controls for tone, loudness, and balance, all of which were operable from the remote control. The A-S801 was rated at 100Wpc and came in a full-sized chassis with typical Yamaha styling. And there was a headphone output, which sounded quite good. So although there’s less output power, the A-S801 provided lots of flexibility in a single, very reasonably priced chassis. And 100 watts per channel isn’t chopped liver—it drove the KEF speakers quite loudly, although I don’t enjoy extreme volumes (I need my ears). Because it was conceived as a single unit, the controls on the Yamaha were easier to use and far more flexible than the rudimentary ones on the HPA-9 and DAC-9; whether that matters to you is a personal decision.

So let’s address the most contentious area: the treble. The Yamaha showed not a smidgen of the HF emphasis of the NuPrime STA-9. Although it wasn’t as suave as some gear I’ve heard, including NuPrime’s excellent IDA-16 integrated amplifier/DAC (reviewed in Issue 252), it was always pleasantly listenable. About “Folia Rodrigo, villancico” I wrote, “the cascabels which open the piece were very clearly delineated, though without as much detail as I’ve heard on the best systems. The bass, which descends into the mid-20Hz range, was, of course, not fully developed on the small KEF speakers (with subwoofer off), but had plenty of impact, and the upper bass was quite detailed…Percussion instruments sounded harmonically accurate, but blurred into the background a bit more than they do with top-of-the-line systems…The A-S801 had plenty of microdynamic verve, so the music sounded quite lively.”

I went into more detail about the Yamaha’s sonic characteristics because listening was a pleasure, not marred by brightness. About “Miserere” I wrote, “The main group was reproduced with plenty of detail and clarity, without any trace of the distortion that some components impose on the piece. I’ve heard the main (front) choir distributed more widely across the soundstage, but singers within the group were well localized. The distant solo group was reproduced in a wash of reverberation, but the singers there were still understandable. I’ve heard this piece reproduced better, but by systems costing multiples of what the review system costs.” Again, there was absolutely no brightness in the sonic character. So if the much cheaper Yamaha’s 100 watts per channel is adequate for your needs, it offers better sound, more flexible controls, a DAC that’s only very slightly less flexible than the NuPrime’s, and a phono section that only supports mm cartridges. But it costs $899 as opposed to $2047 for the NuPrime gear system with a single 120Wpc STA-9 amplifier. And in my view, the Yamaha integrated amplifier was much more attractive, with nicer build-quality.

Bottom Line
Let’s do the math: As a system, the NuPrime 9-series components are quite reasonably priced—$2047 with a single 120Wpc STA-9 amplifier, or $2696 for the HPA-9, DAC-9, and two STA-9s in monoblock configuration. If you don’t want the headphone amp/phono preamp, a system with the DAC-9 and a single STA-9 could be had for $1398. And if you’re not into digital, a basic system with the HPA-9 headphone amp/phono preamp and a single STA-9 would cost $1298. This modular approach makes it possible to choose just the features you need/want at prices that in today’s audio market are fairly low. But to be a bargain, the NuPrime components must also sound good, and I’m sad to say, the sonic problems I heard prevent me from fully recommending them. The STA-9 power amplifiers sounded rather bright to me, making several pieces unpleasant to listen to, so they are only recommendable if you have speakers with rolled-off high frequencies. I wished I could have heard them without the added distortion component. The headphone amplifier in the HPA-9 sounded quite good, but the phono preamplifier was a bit noisy. I found it rather nice to listen to, but some might not. The DAC-9 seemed to have no significant flaws, so at its price, it’s easy to fully recommend.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Full-featured DAC/preamp
Inputs: 1 x USB PCM/DSD digital (PCM up to 384kHz & DSD up to DSD256); 1 x coaxial digital SPDIF (PCM up to 384kHz); 1 x optical digital SPDIF (PCM up to 192KHz); 1 x Bluetooth or WiFi receiver module (optional); 1 x AES balanced XLR; 1 x analog stereo RCA (does not go through A/D conversion, analog input is selected by the preamp directly to analog outputs)
Formats supported: FLAC, AIFF, PCM up to 384kHz, DSD up to DSD256
Output: 1 x pair of stereo RCA out (max output 4V); 1 x pair of stereo XLR balanced out (max output 8V); 1 x optical SPDIF out
Dimensions: 9.25" x  2.17" x 11.06" including feet
Weight: 5.1 lbs.
Price: $749

STA-9 Stereo Amplifier
Type: Solid-state, Class D output stage
Output power: 120Wpc into 8 and 4 ohms
Inputs: 1 x RCA unbalanced input; 1 x XLR balanced input
Input impedance: 47k ohms
Dimensions:  9.25" x  2.17" x 11.06" including feet
Weight: 10.5 lbs.
Price: $649

HPA-9 Headphone amplifier/phono preamplifier/preamplifier
Type: Solid-state, Class A
Inputs: 1 x phono (mc, mm); 2 x analog stereo RCA
Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm earphone; 2 x 6.3mm headphones; 2 x pair of stereo RCA 
Max. output power: 450mW into 32 ohms; 100mW into 600 ohms
Output impedance: 16–1000 ohms
Phono input loading: 47k ohms for mm; 100 ohms for mc
Dimensions: 9.25" x  2.17" x 11.06" including feet
Weight: 5.5 lbs.
Price: $649

Taiwan Service Center
No.33 Chiu Kan Kou Road
Ray Fong Town, Taipei 224

NuPrime Support Center
709 Plaza Drive, Suite 2-179
Chesterton, IN 46304
(219) 370-6549

Brand Uprise (U.S. Distributor)
Anna Zhao
205 Autrey Street
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408) 807-0216

Manufacturer Comment

NuPrime Series 9

We have confirmed in our lab that the KEF LS50 does not work well with the warmer NuPrime Class A+D STA-9. The high frequency extension for which the LS50 is best known emphasizes the even-order harmonics of the STA-9 that ended up sounding harsh. We further note that the reviewer has previously reviewed the NuPrime IDA-16 with the LS50 with very satisfactory results. The IDA-16 was based on a NuPrime pure Class-D design and was able to bring out the best in the LS50.

Jason Lim, NuPrime

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