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  • Writer's pictureJim Cathey

A new listening journey with Nagra HD Preamplifier.

Updated: May 8, 2022

The vintage Macintosh C22, although legendary, was a suspect in limiting performance when paired with the Reference 160M’s. It exhibited actual limits that could be heard or not heard by the revolving nature of the 160M’s; enter the Nagra HD Preamplifier. The Nagra is a heavyweight contender regarding Preamps and an unfair comparison. Still, I needed to see how far we could push the system and free up additional performance paired with the Reference 160M’s.

For 30 days, I was able to evaluate a demo unit from Alma Audio and in that period, ran through what seemed to be endless tests, including making adjustments to the room and speakers. The balance and precision of the Nagra made me think I had a speaker driver issue. After testing the speaker drivers and room acoustics, the obvious solution was to move the speakers, seating and room acoustic treatments. The speakers and the room were set to the C22, which did not have the same perfected balance of the left and right channels and required adjustments; I did not see that coming and tore everything else apart first.

A new Nagra HD Preamp now sits in the system, replacing the vintage Mcintosh C22. Pulling the C22 out of the primary system was not enjoyable; I learned a lot from that component and was a big part of the original system developed while living overseas. But the maintenance like the vintage MC275 is eternal and the performance gains are impossible to ignore. The vintage system will be re-setup in another location so it does not disappear and I will definitely not sell it off. It stays and will find a different floor to perform on. After all, that vintage system reached performances not expected by many audiophiles globally and audio reviewers; it will RETURN.

As for the Nagra, it is stunningly transparent as if it is not there in the system. Sure it has tubes, which I prefer, but it does not colour the sounds as one may expect. However, it does provide outstanding contrast, imaging, and sound stage, far more than the C22 was capable of. The digital source materials made it evident that backup singers were more identifiable in position and clarity. As for vinyl, the performance again showed the same improvements as the digital sources but superior regarding less typical TT noise and background interference from a vintage C22. Sure, the PS Audio Stellar Phono preamp played a role by replacing the SUT from Bob’s Devices. I will come back to write about testing the SUT from Bob’s Devices and other Phono preamplifiers shortly.

@jimcathey new system setup with Nagra HD preamp
New system setup with Nagra HD preamp

For the final review, I reached back to some of my earlier reference records like Songbird by Eva Cassidy, Chuck Mangione's Children of Sanchez, Graciela Susana Adoro, Eric Clapton's Unplugged, and the list goes on with all improved in performance with one surprise. There always seemed to be some distortion in the ending crescendo of the Children of Sanchez Overture. I always thought that was in the recording or mastering of the piece because you can often find poor mastering of an album with an excellent resolving system. It was not the recording or the mastering because it was gone with the Nagra; a pleasant surprise. I should also mention the new pressing of 30 by Adele was hair raising; thank you, @Adele. A very relaxing and smooth soulful release highlighted by real musical talent by Lis Wessberg playing the Trombone on the Yellow Map album. I would like to see Bernie Grundman cut one of her vinyl albums in the future where her talent is more exposed; thank you, Lis. And Anette Askvik with the Liberty Album and track that gently demonstrates great detail and vocalists, including the backup singer on her left shoulder; it is simply awesome.

I may be exaggerating here, but each listening session with Nagra HD Preamplifier has been like a ceremony that is magical and pure. I will share more experiences on this and other phono preamplifiers in my next blog.

Music brings magic into our life, not just ears.


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