Setting Up And Using The IDA-16
The amplifier fit easily on my equipment rack, taking up an entire shelf. I used it to drive KEF LS50 speakers. The LS50s’ sensitivity is specified at 85dB, so they need a powerful amplifier to perform at their best. I normally use a subwoofer in a 2.1-configuration to extend the bottom end of the KEFs, but since I needed to assess the amplifier’s lower octaves, I disabled the subwoofer for the review. (Otherwise, I’d be listening to the subwoofer’s internal amplifier in the low end.) For actual use, I’d connect the analog output jacks to the subwoofer.
As a source I used my HP laptop computer running the J. River Media Center Version 20 server program. Since my laptop runs Windows 7, I had to install the Windows driver so it would work with the IDA-16’s DAC. I used a Paul Pang TZ YUN Red II USB cable to connect the laptop to the IDA-16’s USB input, and Audience Au-24 e speaker cables between the IDA-16 and the KEFs. Since the power cable NuPrime supplied with this integrated looked as if a lot of thought had gone into its design, I stuck with it for the AC power connection.
The 13-page owner’s manual, a PDF file on an included USB flash drive, was very well-written, with lots of illustrations. You’ll appreciate the brevity of the manual if you decide to print it out. I wish more manuals were like this.
The Windows driver installed easily, and set up in J. River with no hassle. Unlike some Windows drivers I’ve used, the IDA-16 driver never crashed during use. NuPrime recommended 100–150 hour break-in time, so I gave the IDA-16 at least 200 hours of break-in before listening critically. Right out of the box, the IDA-16 sounded OK, but somewhat lifeless; however, after break-in it sounded a bit more dynamic, and the treble, which had been disappointing in some switching amplifiers I’d tried, became delicate and detailed.
The IDA-16 lived up to its claim of near-silence. The old ear-to-the-speaker-driver test produced—nothing. Nada. Zip. Total silence. And the control buttons produced no pops or clicks when operated, either on the front panel or on the remote. I could blather on about music “emerging from the blackest background ever,” but I won’t, although it did. Even the on/off button produced no clicks or pops.
When I changed the volume, the display changed to show a relative (0–100) volume level, then switched back to the sampling rate. The display was big enough to read from my listening seat about ten feet from the amplifier. When I muted the IDA-16, the volume display blinked. When I turned muting off, the volume started at a low level and gradually increased to the original level, so I wasn’t blasted out of my chair. That’s a cool touch.
Switching amplifiers have come a long way. NuPrime brags about the IDA-16’s bass performance, and although the LS50s don’t have extended bass response, what I heard was a punchy, powerful low end. A couple of times, I felt compelled to check to be sure the subwoofer was off, so deep and powerful was the bass. Some switching amplifiers I’ve heard have had high frequencies that were a bit discontinuous—i. e., they sounded different than the midrange—but the IDA-16’s highs were smooth, continuous, and detailed. They were also very extended. I wouldn’t call them bright, because they weren’t peaky; but they were a defining characteristic of the IDA-16’s sound.
Since the IDA-16 plays DSD256 files, I had to try the unit with one of them. So I cued up the only DSD256 I had available, Howard Hanson/An American Romantic, from High Definition Tape Transfers (highdeftapetransfers.com). On the first selection, “Nymphs And Satyr Ballet Suite,” performed by the Rochester Chamber Orchestra with David Fetler conducting, the recording of this attractive tonal music showed very well developed instrumental harmonics and punchy dynamics. If the notion of 20th century American music sounds scary, fear not; this music is well-crafted and (to my ears) actually pretty.
Turning to more familiar material, I cued up Jordi Savall and his band’s La Folia 1490–1701 (44.1/16 AIF, ripped from Alia Vox AFA 9805), specifically the first cut “Folia Rodrigo Martinez.” The first thing that stood out was the bass power and impact the IDA-16 coaxed out of the small KEF speakers. Although the KEFs can’t reproduce the mid-20Hz frequencies on this cut, they still went surprisingly deep, and I felt the impact as the bass drum was struck. On the other end of the frequency spectrum, the IDA-16 reproduced the high frequencies with plenty of transient detail so that the very active percussion instruments were very clearly reproduced. In the midrange, Savall’s viola da gamba lacked a smidgen of the detail present in the recording. The soundstage was quite wide, with instruments realistically distributed between the speakers.
On to The Tallis Scholars’ Allegri’s Miserere & Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli (96/24 FLAC, Gimell), where the first cut “Miserere” sounded unusually pure and free from distortion. While the soundstage was slightly narrower than usual, the depth was realistic. On this choral recording, a main group is at the front of the stage, while a smaller solo group is some distance behind it. Through the IDA-16, the solo group sounded appropriately distant. Sometimes room echoes from the solo group are smeared and incoherent, but the IDA-16 pretty well nailed the reverberation that surrounds the solo group’s sound. The tenor soloist’s voice in the main group was also free from the glassiness I sometimes hear.