When I compared the signal coming from the NuForce analog board with that coming from its S/PDIF digital outs to my Anthem AVM-20 processor, I preferred the Nuforce feed, due to its much lower noise floor and superior dimensionality. Also the Oppo/Nuforce was able to handle all the newer multi-channel formats that aren’t supported by the AVM-20.
I have a small collection of CD doubles, which allows me to play the same selections on two players simultaneously. For this review I used these two recordings in particularly heavy rotation: William De Rosa’s Cellist’s Holiday (Audiofon CD 72046) recorded by Peter McGrath, and Begona Olavide’s Saltero (MA MO 25A) made by Todd Garfinkle. Both employ acoustic instruments and were made in natural acoustic environments. They also exhibit wide dynamic ranges, accurate dimensional recreations, and are among a small handful of recordings that are both highly revealing and musically involving.
From early on in my listening sessions it was obvious that the two NuForce boards do not sound identical. The NXE delivers a more logical soundstage. Through the NXE I could locate each player’s exact location in space with much greater confidence than through the NE. Acoustic details, such as how the sound of William De Rosa’s cello reflects off the side of Noreen Cassidy Polera’s piano, were more obvious, as were the dimensions of the instruments themselves.
The NE board also failed to deliver as much low-level detail as the NXE. Room sounds on both recordings were more obvious and more easily separated from the instruments through the NXE. In the lower midrange I could hear more information and additional detail from Saltero. This subtle yet pervasive difference added to the NXE’s believability.
The NXE board also generates greater dynamic contrast than the NE version. Percussion instruments’ dynamic peaks on Saltero seemed louder and also measured louder even though the levels between the two players had been carefully matched using steady-state test tones. The piano’s forte passages on Cellist’s Holiday also displayed greater contrast through the NXE.
Part of the NXE’s “more modern sound” involves superior low bass extension. And by low bass I mean signals below 60 Hz. The four subwoofers in my system displayed far more subsonic movement when reproducing the sound of the recording venue’s ventilation systems when fed from the NXE board. On music this added low bass extension translated into a more solid and firmly rooted overall presentation.
Despite the NE’s supposedly more triode-like sound and less extended treble presentation, I found the NE had a bright zone that made the lower treble region sound tinnier through the NE than the NXE. Bells, cymbals, and other high-pitched percussion instruments on Saltero had a slight edge that wasn’t quite as natural or relaxed. On Cellist’s Holiday when De Rosa’s plays upper harmonics on his cello they sound substantially harsher and thinner through the NE. Some listeners might find the NXE sounds “too dark” when compared to the NE, but I felt the NXE smoothness across the full frequency range gave it a less artificial character.
The NE’s bright zone also emphasized a slight amount of grain in the overall texture of the music. On Cellist’s Holiday De Rosa’s cello had a rosiny edge through the NE that gave it a more nasal harmonic balance. Through the NXE this grain was gone, as well as the slightly nasal character in the cello’s upper registers.
When I compared the two units using the Ole Bull Violin Concertos (2L, SACD) I heard all the same differences as with standard definition discs. Once more I was struck by how “logical” the soundstage was through the NXE and how easy it was to locate instruments in the mix and to sense their actual physical dimensions.
How did the NuForce NXE board fare against the Oppo BDP-95? For two-channel material I used the BDP-95’s dedicated balanced two-channel output, but I also listened to the single-ended RCAs. After many hours using CDs, SACDs, and Blu-Ray music discs, I declared a tie. The “best” sounding unit depended on the source. For two-channel-only material the BDP-95 delivered the best sonics. It combined slightly better low-level detail with superior low-frequency weight and definition. But on multi-channel sources, such as music Blu-Rays and movies, the BDP-93 NXE multi-channel outputs had superior fidelity to the BDP-95’s standard 5.1 outputs.