When it comes to amplifiers, Musical Fidelity can probably claim a unique authority over almost all their rivals, past and present, having offered just about every option known to man. So it was perhaps unsurprising that in 1999 the company launched a range of audio products using the fabled nuvistor – a thermionic device that offered all the benefits of tubes with added toughness, reduced noise, lower microphony, higher reliability, and extremely compact size.
Musical Fidelity’s earlier Nu-Vista designs are now discontinued, due to a lack of nuvistor bases. Fortunately, Musical Fidelity supremo Antony Michaelson was able to track down a new supply, making it possible to manufacture a range of Nu-Vista components for those of us who missed out first time.
The Nu-Vista 800 is a stereo line-level integrated amplifier offering around 300W per channel. The thick, brushed aluminium fascia has an exquisite feel to it. The two large knobs, for volume and input selection, feel impressively weighty and solid. The illuminated feet (which change colour three times to denote the amp’s status) and the valve glow adds a touch of ‘theatre’. It’s big, measuring around 50cm square, and about 18cm tall, and it’s a hernia-inducing 38 kilos, thanks in part to two huge power transformers.
Given that it’s 2016, I was slightly surprised not to see a USB input being offered. But the omission of any digital inputs is intentional – Antony wanted to keep the Nu-Vista 800 purely analogue. Fortunately, there is a matching Nu-Vista CD player, which provides pretty much everything you’re likely to need from a digital hub. According to Antony Michaelson, CD is not dead: in fact, the company’s CD players are proving extremely popular.
The signal paths in the Nu-Vista 800 amp are very short. The amp makes use of Surface Mount PCB design, with improved track layouts. The nuvistors themselves are mounted very close to the preamp circuits, with tracks at right-angles to minimise induced field effects. The net result is a sound hair-trigger sharp and immediate
The Nu-Vista 800 is a pleasure to use, and I particularly liked the volume control with its precise readout in decibels. The volume goes in fine 0.5dB steps, but the design of the Nu-Vista 800’s volume control allows fast changes in level – if required.
Normally, with electronic volume controls such as this, the change in level as you spin the knob is quite slow and measured. Since the control revolves continuously, you might have to turn it three or four times to get (say) a 10dB change. However, the volume control on the Nu-Vista 800 is sensitive to the speed at which you turn it.
Move it quickly, and it increases or decreases volume by a larger margin than turning it slowly. Great! The knob on the left controls input selection, and has soft indent points for each setting – CD, Tuner, Balanced, and Aux 1 and Aux 2. There’s also a by-pass option for home cinema use. The preamp offers unbalanced and balanced inputs and outputs
During use, the Nu-Vista 800 gets mildly warm to the touch. Unless you push it really hard, it doesn’t get hot. Nor is there any mechanical sound, despite the use of two monster transformers. Even with my ear literally right by the unit I could hear no transformer hum or buzz, and no residual noise whatsoever from the loudspeakers. In effect, the amp is effectively silent.
My regular amplifier is a Musical Fidelity Kw-750 partnered with a Classé CP-800. From time to time I’ve dallied with low-powered tube amps, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but I always go back to the Kw-750 with a sense of relief because it’s utterly bomb-proof. No matter what music I play, no matter how loud, it never bottoms out. It has endless headroom, and I like that.