For obvious reasons , many audiophiles -in -the -making begin their quests for great sound with modestly priced integrated amplifiers or receivers. However, as they gain experience and develop a passion for more revealing sound, there often comes a time to take the plunge into the world of separate components. When that happy moment arrives, listeners naturally seek out the best entry-level (or near-entry-level) preamplifiers they can find. Over the years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to live with some excellent affordable preamps, but two in particular stand out in my mind. The first is the award-winning Rogue Audio Metis, a tube-powered unit that I reviewed in Issue 160. The second is the solid-state NuForce P8, which is the subject of this review. Both the Metis and P8 are sonic overachievers that offer different but complementary interpretations of the absolute sound. I’ll first recount the sound of the Rogue Audio Metis as a means of setting the stage for discussion of the NuForce P8.
The Metis, like many good vacuum-tube-powered preamps, offers almost magical harmonic richness and rightness in the midrange. However, unlike tube designs that sound rolled-off or softly focused at the frequency extremes, the Metis exhibits evenly balanced frequency response and nearly the level of control you might expect from a good solid-state preamp. But if the Metis is a tube preamp with some solid state-like qualities, then the NuForce P8 is its complementary opposite—a solid-state preamp that offers certain tube-like virtues.
The P8’s sonic signature centers around traditional solid-state clarity, definition, tonal balance, and control, but with a twist. Unlike solid-state designs marred by a cold, sterile, or hyper-analytical sound, the P8 instead exhibits an extremely subtle and engaging touch of warmth, which affects the preamp’s presentation from top to bottom, but is most noticeable through the bass and lower midrange. As the P8 breaks in, this quality of warmth evolves, imparting some of the refined harmonic complexity associated with tube preamplifiers. At the same time, the P8 maintains the sort of sharp focus and taut control that are the hallmarks of good solid-state designs. I should also mention that the P8 proved as quiet as the proverbial tomb (though nowhere near as, er, dead sounding), offering a noticeably lower noise floor than the Metis.