2 + 2 equals 22 – Rants & Raves by Dyslexia Victoria Online

The NWO-Master has an unique tube output stage, which uses a high quality output transformer instead of a typical capacitor and even has a novel method for signal attenuation. It also has the rare capability to drive any conceivable load, the requirement of an active line stage. Building such a high quality and versatile output stage, including an appropriate power supply, is relatively costly, and can not be done in an economical manner without some noticeable sonic compromises.

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I believe that I have mentioned Lamplighter Publishers in the past

The music server used in the test is sold direct from the manufacturer, and costs $5,000, and is considered by many as state of the art. Its identity is reluctantly being concealed as part of the agreement in being able to use it in the comparison. The manufacturer of the unit optimized it implementing all the upgraded audiophile options available. He personally burned the CDs supplied to him, and downloaded the hi rez files. He downloaded all the finest music programs currently being used, and proclaimed his system absolute state of the art, and easily capable of outperforming any CD transport in existence. An ipad was used as the monitor and remote.

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To analog devotees, listening to music using a CD/SACD player is sufficiently difficult to reconcile, but actually having music processed through a computer is tantamount to heresy. Conversely, the generation brought up with computers not only completely embraces the concept, it proclaims its inherent superiority. So much so, that the compelling sentiment is that CD/SACD players are on the brink of extinction since they are obsolete technology.

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There were numerous anecdotal raves on the APL Forum about the players and the details of their various improvements over the years (plus plenty more on Audiogon). I soon became enthusiastic myself until I discovered that the latest NWO-Master modification cost $ 25,000, and that was on top of the $ 10,000 cost to first purchase the required Esoteric UX-1 or X-01, which meant the entire package was around $ 35,000, much more than the stock K-01 and, needless to say, ridiculously unaffordable for me. However, I still felt the need to investigate further, and the first issue was obvious: Whether or not the extra $ 15,000 for the "Master" was worth it? To answer this question to my satisfaction (with no direct listening comparison possible), I broke down the two players into three sections; The Transport, the DAC and the Output Stage.

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What started with the Krell SACD Standard, and continued with the Esoteric X-03SE, has now culminated in the combo. SACD, as experienced with the Krell, provided a glimpse into the capabilities of this medium. Suddenly, the broader standard, with its wider bandwidth, showed promise when playing back symphonic material. For an analog enthusiast, this music almost entered the realm of enjoyability. The X-03SE, took that another step forward. Finally, Heifetz playing the Beethoven and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos (RCA Living Stereo) were not only listenable, but get this, enjoyable. One could actually sit through both works consecutively and not become nauseated. This was a shocking experience. SACD after well recorded SACD (the other RCAs, Mercuries, Water Lillys) provided hours of endless musical satisfaction, without the ubiquitous digital deharmonicization. No, it still did not equal the best analog, but it was rewarding in and of itself.

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The best sound was achieved when the Audio Request was connected to the Benchmark. It easily surpassed the performance of all the other combinations. It sounded superb in all the audiophile categories while exhibiting very few obvious shortcomings. The flexibility afforded the Audio Request made it an attractive option. It burns CDs within 3 minutes in FLAC and WAV file formats, which make the burned CD indistinguishable from the original. Playback from the unit's hard drive definitely was more transparent than when the disc itself was used. While I did not have the opportunity to listen to the Audio Request with any other DACs, I had the nagging feeling that its ultimate performance capabilities were being held back by the DAC PRE 1, because with all the combinations tested, a pervasive sonic signature was evident. I had to conclude that this 'signature' was the 'contribution' being made by the Benchmark.