Here at Dynamic Headroom we are big fans of British hi-fi; especially new companies that provide something new. In this article I give you my Nord One Pre-A preamplifier review.
Inspiration from the North
When Nord Acoustics began producing the Hypex nCore based power amplifiers the next logical step was to create a preamplifier. In this way a customer could have a complete end-to-end Nord Acoustics system (along with a pair of iQ speakers). For a new company to produce a complete range in such a short space of time is an impressive feat.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Nord looked to their relationship with Abrahamsen in order to produce a preamplifier. Within the Abrahamsen range is the V3.0 UP preamp; this is an upgraded version of the V3.0. Essentially what Nord have done is taken the innards of the V3.0 and transferred it into their own case. Bare in mind that the Abrahamsen itself is heavily based on earlier Electrocompaniet models. So here we have a distant relative of Electrocompaniet for a fraction of the price. Is this sneaky or inspired?
Unboxing the Nord One Pre-A
This preamplifier is imaginatively entitled the “Pre-A” – I don’t think Colin spent long thinking that up! Much like the Nord One UP NC500, the styling of the Nord preamplifier is pretty basic and its DIY origins are a tad obvious. The finish is not the best and is a little rough around the edges. The edges to the black case feel sharp, not quite sharp enough to cut skin but did leave me wondering if I should sand it down.
There are two large knobs on the front which look nice, but are a little bit wobbly. I’m not sure if wobbly knobs was the intention, but again it made me think the build quality is not great. Also on the front is an LED display, infra red sensor and a stuck on Nord logo.
Round the back are 1 pair of balanced XLR inputs, 3 pairs of unbalanced RCA inputs, 1 balanced XLR output and 1 unbalanced RCA output. The Nord One Pre-A is intended to go with one of the Nord Hypex power amplifiers and so the best way to connect them up is to use XLR cables.
Amusingly when you plug in and turn on the preamplifier the front display reads “V3.0 preamplifier” – so Nord are not trying to hide anything here – not sneaky after all! In tandem with it’s Abrahamsen step-brother, the Nord can switch one of its inputs into a home theatre bypass mode so you can hook it up to an AV receiver.
The remote is an all metal affair, quite heavy and feels like good quality. The Nord sticker looks like an after thought; strangely there are buttons for CD player functions (play, pause, scan, etc) and two lots of volume controls (only one of which works). I didn’t mind this but it was confusing for my other half.
Also in the box is a UK power lead and a remote control (again borrowed from Abrahamsen).
Listening to the Nord One Pre-A
I hooked up the preamplifier to its partnering Nord power amplifiers to give it a listen. I was fortunate to have a Linn DSM to hand which allowed me to compare the Nord preamplifier in isolation.
Let us first take a step back and think about the function of a preamplifier. All a preamplifier should do is provide input selection and volume control. The signal path should be as short and simple as possible allowing the sound to travel through unhindered and uncoloured.
In that respect, the Nord One Pre-A does its job perfectly. I would be hard pushed to say the preamplifier sounds like “this” or “that” – as far as I can tell it is very neutral and did not detect any “brightening” or “warming” of the sound.
The front dials on the preamplifier are not great. Volume is difficult to master: sometimes when you turn it, the volume shoots up too high while other times it goes up by 1 point but then goes back down again! Very frustrating experience, but thankfully the remote control works just fine and I imagine this is how most people would control it. You have to push in the source select knob to choose which input is in home theatre mode; this is not documented anywhere sadly.
Sat alongside the partnering Nord power amplifier, the Nord Pre-A looks decent enough from my sitting position. I had the silver facia which I think gives it a retro feel. Nord have recently provided a better quality case for their power amplifiers but sadly this is not available for the Pre-A (yet).
There are only 4 inputs on this preamplifier, which I found a bit limiting. There is no way to edit the names of the inputs either; this was a little annoying as my inputs were streamer, vinyl and PC which don’t match up to CD, DVD and Tuner. I was never able to remember which was which so had to scroll through all the available ones.
The subject of the build quality of the Nord Pre-A had me questioning myself several times – does it matter what hi-fi looks like? Surely it is all about the sound? I don’t think it is; sometimes I think you also listen with your eyes.
You may be thinking I am nuts, but look at the competition for the Pre-A: Abrahamsen’s own V3.0 is far more rugged and handsome, Naim’s (slight more expensive) NAC 152 XS is a fine machine, Cyrus’s (again slightly more expensive) Pre-2 DAC has solid build quality and also includes a DAC and finally what about the Yamaha WXC-50: small, smart, streaming preamplifier at only £270! Needless to say competitions is fierce. All of the above are built better and look better. You pays your money and takes your choice.
I imagine the people that would want this preamplifier are those who already have one of the Nord power amplifiers. In that respect this is a good match both in sound and in looks. It is not without its flaws but in the context of an all Nord system it makes perfect sense.