I can’t really hold this sound against such amplifiers because I still can’t figure out if that signature is the result of an absence of artifacts or a lack of bloom. What I do know is that the Nagras sound extremely linear for two reasons: First, they seem to be almost grainless in their presentation; and second, they never exaggerate any part of the frequency spectrum, endowing the music with an almost seamless presentation.
Another thing that stood out was the superbly low noise floor. In tandem with Balanced Audio Technologies’ solidstate VK-42SE preamp, the Pyramids created a very finely etched soundstage in which details seemed to emerge from a black backdrop. This also contributed to a fine recreation of space. On the CD of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 with the Vienna Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan [Deutsche Grammophon], the soundstage was capacious and lifelike. And while listening to Thomas Quasthoff sing Schubert’s “Schwanengesang” [DG] with fervor and panache, I was struck by how the Nagras separated voice from piano.
In many ways, these two pieces from Nagra and BAT prompted me to muse that solid-state amplifiers and preamplifiers have not only come a long way, but also that they aren’t heading in the direction of a tube-like sound. Instead, they are making solid-state sound more solidstate—in the best sense possible. The Nagras had a precision when reproducing the initial attack of a note that I think tubes would find difficult to match.
Tube-lovers probably wouldn’t flinch at the all-solid-state sound of the Nagras coupled with the BAT, but they wouldn’t love it, either. They would complain about a lack of emotionality. Not me. The Nagra doesn’t provide sonic heft, let alone bloat, but a precise and sophisticated sound. In sum, this is a cerebral amplifier that dispassionately surveys the musical heights.
There’s no doubt that a powerful tube amplifier will supply a more visceral musical experience. ARC, VTL, and so on offer more sumptuous and regal fare. These Nagras are at the other end of the audiophile spectrum. They don’t want to be cuddled; they just want to be left alone. To go back and forth between the Nagras and VTLs is to be reminded of how superb both ends of the spectrum can sound, and, at the same time, the wackiness inherent in trying to reproduce the absolute sound—not that that’s stopping anybody, or should.
Indeed, with its release of new amplifiers and several CD players, Nagra is part of a high-end renaissance that’s been taking place for a while now. Its products provide superb performance at reasonable prices—at least by highend standards. The Nagra Pyramids are further evidence that good things really can come in small packages. Sure, some of your friends may take a look at the amplifier and think that you’ve joined a Masonic temple. But they, like you, are more than likely to be entranced by the sound. TAS