NSI G, First Report

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Bob Neill
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NSI G, First Report

Post by Bob Neill » Tue Nov 13, 2018 10:30 am

Despite the fact that very few of you have heard Gilbert’s basic 002i integrated amplifier, let alone that amp with its External Power Supply, it remains the best reference for describing the new NSI amp(s). The higher powered 022i has different roots, resulting in a somewhat meatier, more romantic presentation that has made many friends. Along with the stereo amp it is based on, the BC 1022, it has earned its proper place in the world and has nothing to fear from these newcomers, which, as my mother would have said, have different fish to fry.


The stand-alone OO2i is a lovely, slightly euphonic, even sweet, amp that in my house is a very good match for JMR’s basic and middle range speakers which match its goals: to please. With its optional EPS, the 002i wakes up and has more clarity and dynamic energy, transforming it into a considerably better machine ready to take on more ambitious speakers. And then, with an NSC preamplifier in place of its own preamp stage, it becomes a magically wonderful amp with no conspicuous limitations, sufficient, I should think, for most of us. The magnificent NSC adds refinement, ease, and even more clarity, qualities we associate with the considerably less powerful NSL. Coupled with the 002i-ESP, it transforms that combination into what is essentially a basic NSI, without the newcomer’s tube stage. Gilbert has said he would make a basic NSI available without a tube stage on demand, for $8000 less than the amp with the tube, making it an attractive midpoint between the 002i-EPS and tubed NSI. An NSI NT, if you will. This may be where many of us finally settle out. It has what strikes me as a perfect overall balance of clarity and the highly sought after ‘natural warmth.’ So feel free to stop reading here!

No? Okay, enter the NSI G. Read what follows alongside what George wrote and you should end up with a fairly balanced assessment. I’m not bringing the NSL into the conversation as he did because, with the withdrawal of the JMR Offrande from that company’s line, the NSL has nothing suitable to drive in my house. The NSL is a special product which coupled with the right speakers is pure eloquence. Not the last word in scale or power but as refined as any amp I know of. It gets absolutely all there is to get from JMR Offrandes.

The NSI G reveals the essentially invisible limitations of its less ambitious little 002i based brothers. It maintains the smaller amps’ perfect balance but adds what struck me immediately as nearly unlimited scale and an ability to reach all the way into recordings. It makes the smaller amps, for all of their unquestionable quality, sound modest and restrained. That’s the way it is in audio. Perfection trumps excellence. The G’s sound is absolutely true to instruments and voices but it can also, when appropriate, be utterly beautiful. If the EPS wakes up the O02i and the NSC refines and fleshes it out, the NSI G shows us that even a perfectly balanced, alert, and refined amplifier isn’t quite all there is. I keep coming back to the sense that the G unleashes recordings. I was only occasionally aware that the NSC/002i-ESP was restrained, under any sort of leash. But it is now clear that for all of its wonderful charm, it is. Through the NSI G, violins are more brilliant and penetrating but without a trace of a loss of liquidity; pianos are larger, both clearer and more powerful -- a bass chord can rock you. Percussion is more visceral; brass flash like golden lightening; instrumental ensembles fill the room with power and with the complexity of their timbral detail. And surprise, even a new LP of Nordic tunes, “Last Leaf,” arranged and performed by the Danish Quartet on ECM, which sounds fine on the smaller rigs, becomes absolutely bewitching through a BC phono stage running into the G. 


Old audiophiles become jaded the older they get. We’re not that hard to please but it takes a lot to excite us after we think we’ve ‘heard it all.’ The NSI G excites this old audiophile. It excites me more than live music because it exceeds my expectations. When we go to a concert, we tend to take the sound for granted because it is, of course, perfect. We expect that and so we don’t much notice it. And there is a whole lot going on around us to distract! Audio in the home, where there is nothing visible to distract us, has the potential to make us more aware of what music actually sounds like. The NSI G realizes this potential extraordinarily. I’m hearing everything and it’s knocking me out. This is absolutely the best audio I’ve ever heard. You’re right, George.


The tube, ah yes, the tube. As Gilbert has said, it will forgive the faults of old recordings. Turning the tube knob up to ten o’clock fleshes out my old, somewhat dry sounding Stravinsky LP’s that the composer recorded for CBS many years ago. To be fair, it saves them, and makes them more listenable. I’ve got a handful of other old LP’s I’m looking forward to saving.  On good recordings, CD’s and LP’s, to my ears, the tube domesticates the proceedings, reducing excitement and enhancing atmosphere by slightly darkening and enriching the sound overall. If you want that, you got it. But it will limit, apply restraints to the G’s power to do all that it has been designed to do. Or to sound less opinionated, it will change the G. And as Nature and Gilbert tell us, we are free to choose.


You don’t need an NSI G. Very few of you will acquire one. If you are in this silly game of audiophilia for the music but enjoy superb audio equipment’s ability to deliver a pleasing amount of genuine verisimilitude, a basic NSI, with or without its tube stage, will do you fine. More than fine. As I say, it has no conspicuous flaws or limitations. But if you are at heart as much of an audiophile as music lover, if the state of the art excites you more than it ought, more than a family of four (or five) can afford to have it do, the NSI G now exists to tempt you to proceed beyond reason into a whole new world. Sorry about that.

System used: Resolution Audio 3.0 digital front end; Blue Circle NSI G; JM Reynaud Abscissa Jubilees; Crimson cabling throughout; Mapleshade Samson equipment stand.

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Clave
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Re: NSI G, First Report

Post by Clave » Tue Nov 20, 2018 12:24 pm

As always, Bob, you set a high bar for precisely describing your subjective experience of audio equipment. I enjoy reading your descriptions even though I'm not in the market for new (and really really expensive) gear. Perhaps if I heard this new amp I would feel my life incomplete without it, so it's probably good that I only experience it vicariously through text.

Bob Neill
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Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2003 5:44 pm
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Response to Clave

Post by Bob Neill » Tue Nov 20, 2018 3:59 pm

As you know or at least can deduce from my writings over time, I believe that 'subjective' descriptions of what we hear are the only ones worth attending to. No one I've ever read has ever been able to account for what gear sounds like with 'objective' descriptions; and what gear sounds like is the only thing that matters. You can't stand outside yourself and report from 'the view from nowhere' in any way that's of use to us. Of course that means that the value of subjective reports depends entirely on the ears, experience, and writing skills of the writer. We all get too make our own judgments of such writers, and I've had as many rotten vegetables thrown at me as bouquets. Robert Greene and I used to argue this whole case on the Harbeth Forum years ago. Anyway, thanks for the bouquet but you'll need to read some more reports before deciding whether or not to sell your home for an NSI. If you read between the lines, you'll see that even George and I, who both love this amp, don't hear exactly the same thing. Nor would you.

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