NVA Phono 2 Phono Stage

It’s strange where some journeys take you. I recently sold one of my high end valve phono stages to fund some important music purchases and concert tickets. Sometimes in life one has to make some tough choices. This left a gap as i run two turntables so i connected my remaining valve phono stage to my main turntable and started looking for a second phono stage for my heavily modified Technics 1210 equipped with a Rega RB300/ingognito re-wire and a Denon DL103 MC cartridge. It wasn’t long before i had a short list of reasonably priced options  which fast became an annoying work in progress. This changed somewhat when i received a visit from fellow audiophile Rich Britton who brought with him a pair of NVA A40 monoblock power amplifiers to play with. NVA (Nene Vally Audio) are hardly new kids on the block having been around for over 30 years or so. I decided to have a punt on an NVA Phono 2 and duly placed my order.

Nene Vally Audio is headed up by Richard Dunn who sells his equipment via his e-bay shop and offers a fabulous thirty day money back scheme should you not like what you have bought. My view is that it has to be a mad man or a fool to do such a thing in this dog eat dog age and Richard Dunn is certainly no fool. His NVA equipment is no nonsense well designed and attractive with most of the money spent at the business end of his designs  giving his customers maximum value for their hard earned.  After placing my order i communicated with Richard via email explaining which cartridge i would be using the phono stage or head amp as he prefers to call it. Richard configured my Phono 2 precisely to match my Denon DL103 cartridge. The basic Phono 2 comes with one separate power supply with the option of adding a second power supply which i decided to go for from the off.

It took a couple of weeks to arrive as NVA do state that orders will be dispatched depending on their work load which i was more than happy with. When the Phono two arrived it was well packaged and when unwrapped looked very nice indeed. The three black acrylic boxes  reminded me so much of the Tom Evans devices for which i have a lot of admiration. Placing them in my rack i was faced with numerous XLR cables dangling in the breeze and just a little unsure how to configure the second power supply. A quickly answered email to NVA soon got that sorted though albeit with the caveat that i try the Phono 2 with only one power supply first which i duly obliged.

The first thing i found out about this device is that the actual phono stage must be kept well away from power supplies, not least it’s own. I did encounter a lot of hum until i had found the optimum position. Having laboured intensively i was ready to play some tunes. First up was Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain. I was worried that after listening to this album via my high end valve phono stage it may not have the depth and sonority i was used to. How wrong i was! The NVA took the reins from the outset and completely controlled every nuance of the production. The atmosphere was caught perfectly as if framed between the speakers albeit in widescreen. Dynamics are exemplary and something i simply didn’t get with either valve or solid state units costing over £3,000. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice was captured beautifully and projected straight out into the room. Will Gregory’s synthesizer textures and string/brass arrangements seemed to bound into life having been over polished previously. I honestly thought i was listening to this album properly for the very first time.

Moving onto Supertramp’s Brother Where You Bound and opening track Cannonball came at me like a train. The 80’s keyboard sounds were crisp and finely etched as were the drums and sax. Rick Davies voice came across as full with an almost live feel to them. Elsewhere songs like Better Days and title track Brother Where You Bound took on a more authoritative stance with more punch and zeal than i had heard before. The whole album was far more acceptable with all of it’s excessive traits via the NVA Phono 2 and honed it’s presentation into a true musical event. No mean feat i have to say. Turning back the clock just a little further i put to the sword the rather splendid Street Life by The Crusaders. Many seventies recordings suffered from dreadful recording of bass and bass drum in particular. I thoroughly enjoyed the authenticity of this album via my valve phono stage though listening to it via the phono 2 gives the impression of being cleaned and made respectable. The title track took on a new verve, gone was the plumby bass and overall compression and a faster, deeper resolution brought about a more powerful and pleasing picture, an almost rescue operation for a recording showing it’s age. Randy Crawford’s voice on the title track seemed clearer and more natural whilst Joe Samples percussive Fender Rhodes piano became much easier to follow right throughout the album even when it wasn’t featured as the solo instrument.

After a few days i decided to connect the second power supply to see just how much more it would bring to the party. I had it in my head that it would be subtle, it wasn’t! Starting with the same play list i was gob smacked by the widening of the soundstage both side to side and back to back. The whole picture doubled in size and dynamics improved yet again. In fairness this was more noticeable with my big Tannoy D900’s than my smaller Ruark Crusader III’s. Playing Phil Collins Hello I Must Be Going album sounded like i was listening to it in a club. Rim shot, ride cymbal and tom easily separated above the vibrancy of brass and other horns. The almost live presentation now becoming live injecting realism into the now massive soundstage.

Wanting to hear how the Phono 2 handled strings and orchestra i was tempted to play some classical. However, i decided instead to spin Elton John’s Carla Etude from his 1981 The Fox album. James Newton Howard’s arrangement and conducting of the London symphony orchestra here is astonishing and i really wanted to hear what the NVA would make of it. Well, pretty much how i expected really. The NVA’s grip and musical nature majored on detail and conveying structure, scale and pace. The timbre of Elton John’s piano was natural, crisp and presented nicely as the lead instrument. The rasp of cello in the left hand channel growled like an angry mountain cat and the whole episode had me questioning the whole high end phono stage ethos.

Usually the sonic signature of a any piece of equipment is easy to describe. Detailed, punchy,dynamic,neutral, coloured or a mix of all these adjectives. I would describe the NVA Phono 2 with twin power supplies  as a musical conduit, a no bull piece of engineering that simply breaks all the rules of convention. Richard Dunn’s careful attention to detail, choice of materials and components along with his conviction to stray away from fashionable concepts such as IEC mains leads in favour of captive leads and none magnetic structures really make for a rather special outcome. How would i describe the Phono 2? Simples, music music music. It does beg a massive question however, If Richard Dunn can design,build and ship equipment of this quality at the price it is? Answers on a post card please. If you dare venture past what is written about in the Hi-fi press and willing to look beyond perceived wisdom then don’t just consider the NVA Phono 2 make it a priority.


NVA Phono 2 + power supply ÂŁ495

NVA power supply ÂŁ200

System used ………….

Modified Technics 1210 turntable with upgraded baring/Rega RB300/custom brass counterwight/Incognito Cardas re-wire/ Long Dog Audio Power Supply.

Avondale Audio Grad 1 pre-amp with TPX2 power supply

Avondale Audio x2 Voyager monoblock power amplifiers.

Tannoy D900 speakers

Speaker cable NVA LS 3 Interconnects ACE Audio (source) Mark Grant GHD1000 (between pre and power amps.)

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