On guitarist Alex de Grassi’s album Special Event 19 (DSD64/DFF, Blue Coast Records), the cut “Shenandoah” sounded unstrained and pure. Perhaps I’ve heard the leading-edge transients of de Grassi’s guitar defined a little better on much more expensive systems, but it was a close call.
Shelby Lynne’s album Just a Little Lovin’ (DSD64/DSF, Acoustic Sounds) starts off with the eponymous track recorded with plenty of deep bass. (Once again, the IDA-16 extracted surprising low end from the KEFs on this track; I hardly missed the contribution usually made by the subwoofer. OK, maybe I missed it a little.) Lynne’s voice was rich and resonant, as usual.
I love Claude Debussy’s orchestral music, but one of my favorite Debussy orchestral pieces, Petite Suite, was actually orchestrated from Debussy’s piano work by someone else, a gentleman named Henri Busser. To see how the IDA-16 performed with orchestral music, I used a recent download of Debussy’s complete orchestral music played by the Orchestre National de L’O.R.T.F. under the direction of Jean Martinon (96/24 AIF, HDTracks). In the second movement of Petite Suite, the bubbly “Menuet,” the IDA-16 captured the woodwinds with fine detail and harmonic accuracy, and the music sprang forth with infectious spirit. It’s no wonder this piece has been in heavy rotation here recently.
I used a $2995 Belles Soloist 1 integrated amplifier to drive the KEF speakers for comparison. Although rated at “only” 125 watts/channel, in power the Class AB Belles amplifier has more than adequate power. It doesn’t have a built-in DAC, so I had to use an external DAC. It didn’t seem fair to use my normal $5995 DAC for the comparison, so I used the amazing iFi nano iDSD DAC/headphone amplifier, which is designed to plug into a computer’s USB output. You might think it’s equally unfair to use a $189 DAC for comparison, but it’s the only DAC in my collection that plays DSD256 files—my other, more expensive DACs are limited to DSD128 playback, if they play DSD at all.
Through the Belles amplifier/iFi DAC combination, the Howard Hanson/An American Romantic album sounded forceful, with well-defined macro- and micro-dynamics. The Belles/iFis’ high frequencies were slightly less pronounced than the IDA-16, which made the mids and midbass frequencies slightly more prominent. I never thought the Belles/iFi combination lacked highs, but the IDA-16’s highs were slightly more elevated.
“Folia Rodrigo Martinez” exhibited the same frequency balance as the Hanson album, with the Belles/iFi providing more detail and texture in the reproduction of the viola da gamba. The differences were slight, but observing them is what reviewers do for a living. The IDA-16 produced deeper bass than the Belles/iFi combination; with the IDA-16, I could feel more impact when percussionist Pedro Estevan whacked the bass drum.
On the “Miserere” track, the IDA-16 sounded slightly purer, with less distortion than the Belles/iFi combination. As a result, the IDA-16 produced a more believable sense of depth between the main choral group and the distant solo group.
On Just a Little Lovin’ the Belles/iFi combination’s midbass was a tiny bit more prominent than the IDA-16’s. If that seems to contradict the findings from “Folia Rodrigo Martinez,” where I found the IDA-16’s bass deeper, keep in mind that the low frequencies in “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” are deeper than those in Just a Little Lovin’. Lynne’s voice was just as buttery smooth with the Belles/iFi combo as with the IDA-16.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call $2350 cheap, but for a 200Wpc integrated amplifier, it’s on the reasonable end of the high-end price spectrum. And when you consider the NuPrime IDA-16 has an advanced DAC built in, which will play virtually any digital recording available today, it’s an even better value. Of course, if it didn’t sound good, it wouldn’t be a good value, no matter how low the price was, but it sounds excellent. I’ve picked a few nits about its performance, but in context these were quite minor. Plus the unit looks good, too; I wouldn’t be ashamed to put it on a shelf next to the fanciest component. Remote controls don’t always get the attention they deserve, but the IDA-16’s remote is very easy to use, with enough flexibility to operate the amplifier without offering a plethora of confusing options.
The NuPrime IDA-16 DAC/amplifier along with the KEF LS50 speakers made a system that, if you’ll pardon a tired reviewer cliché, punched far above its weight. So to return to the question left open in the first paragraph: Yes, the NuPrime IDA-16 DAC/amplifier can indeed be called a bargain. Highly recommended.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 200Wpc into 8 ohms
Peak output power: 400W
Frequency response: 10Hz–80kHz
Dimensions: 17" x 1.97" x 15"
Weight: 16 lbs.
USB sampling rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz, 352.8kHz, 384kHz, and DSD 2.8MHz, 5.6MHz, 11.2MHz
SPDIF sampling rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz
Bit resolution: 16–24 bits
NuPrime Audio, inc.
1712 Pioneer Ave, Suite 1817
Cheyenne, WY 82001