– John Ransley, totallywired.nz
All about the NuPrime Omnia A-300 SE integrated streaming amplifier.
One of the most feature rich and modern designs you’ll find, minimalist, cool running and compact aesthetic. The A-300SE delivers on sound; it’s subtle yet powerful, taking cues from NuPrime’s accomplished separate components, combining their attributes in an accessible and easy to use package with understated ease.
The A-300SE is compact, user friendly and relatively affordable, especially when compared to the alternative of trying to achieve the same functionality with separate components. We’re not going to call it entry level – the A-300SE is a genuinely audiophile component but it’s designed for the modern world.
No-one said it would be easy…
There is no other NuPrime component that has had such a protracted development process. And as Nuprime products go, the Omnia A-300SE is easily the most complex and fully featured model to date.
Trying to launch an amplifier like this in the midst of a global pandemic, dealing with parts and supply disruptions, accommodating the continually changing requirements of various streaming services and navigating a raft of evolving standards for both physical and wifi connectivity is a huge and daunting task. To finally have the A-300 here – and now in SE form just 6 months after the initial release is a minor miracle. And there’s a lot to like.
The knurled aluminium volume control gives the immediate impression that this is a precision instrument, carefully calibrated and purposeful. The A-300SE is a complete package – just add speakers and you’ve got access to an entire world of music and can connect to almost any source within your own home.
How the Omina fits into the NuPrime ecoverse is a story in itself. As NuPrime has evolved, many of the models have become increasingly specialist and diverse – there’s the all-analogue AMG PRA preamp, the flagship Evolution models, the insanely powerful MCX series, the new Stream 9 and even power supply components. Being an integrated amplifier the most immediate comparison is with NuPrime’s own models.
The Omnia A-300SE is the effective replacement reference level IDA-16 which has had a long and successful run. But it’s a completely different conception, for while being similar in output power and some elements of internal design, it does much more. The clue really is in the name and somehow the Omnia lives up to this – it does almost everything, and does it very well while still maintaining a character all of its own.
NuForce, and more lately, NuPrime have always been about doing things differently to get a better sonic result and the Omnia A-300SE continues down this path. Before we dissect all the features let me state this – it sounds great and is an absolute truckload of fun. The A-300SE is in the middle ground price-wise, where it could be seen as an aspirational component but is also good enough value for money that the owners of many seriously high end could listen to one happily in a second system and never feel short changed.
It’s been said that many digital components have their sound defined by the particular DAC chipset that they are based on. While there is a lot more to design and end sound quality than just one internal component, the more I listen, the more obvious it’s becoming that there are significantly different renditions of what should be the same performance (or in completely bloodless terms, file) coming from a range of components and brands using a variety of chipsets.
Even within one brand you’ll find different DACs being used for individual components – NuPrime use Sabre, AKM and in the A-300SE a Cirrus Logic unit. There will be a series of reasons for each choice – sound quality, price, features and availability.
Yet once you account for the characteristics of the DAC, there’s still plenty of room to establish the personality of an amplifier and there are definite sonic trade marks present that we associate with NuPrime.
The A-300SE has a relaxed and easy going sound with an agreeable midrange presence – there are no hard edges or aggression despite the 150 watt per channel power rating. Given the small physical size of the amplifier many would just team it with similarly compact speakers yet the ample power means it can really open out with large floor standing speakers.
NuPrime have previously made a point of emphasising that their amplifiers are not just Class D – they have various hybrid topologies designed to gain the best from each and actively compliment each other. And like different DAC’s each type of amplifier design gets ascribed a particular sound but this is often rooted in very old example or brands that may be far from ‘best of breed’.
What we can tell you is that the A-300SE is easily the smallest and coolest running 150 watt per channel amplifier you’ll find. And the only way to do this is Class D because it’s so much more efficient.
There really are 3 major things going on within the little Nuprime. The preamp and DAC, the power amp and the control. Let’s look more closely at these…
On the input side, or preamp, you’ve got both physical and wireless connections feeding into the DAC – the Cirrus Logic DAC was chosen because it’s worked so well in NuPrime’s Hi-mDAC, is very clean sounding and simple, and is a great physical fit within the high density of the A-300s internals. A multi-functional streaming media player which deals with all the different services and sound adjustment feeds into this. There are also a selection of outputs – both digital and analogue including a very nice headphone section that NuPrime describes in some detail.
The engine room of the A-300 is a tightly packed section – we can see common elements from other NuPrime designs with filtering, a switched mode power supply and the actual amplifier. There’s no wasted space and this explains that while small and not having a conventional transformer, the A300 is still a chunky 3kg. The amplifier section is wide bandwidth design running up to 100kHz. The A-300 confirms our previous experience that the combination of the SMPS and Class D delivers an agile and engaging sound that has been a characteristic of both NuForce and NuPrime designs.
The control firmware and software is manifested in the display you see on the front panel, the free App and operation of the A-300SE and the very solid remote control. There is a lot going on here. The App is based on the well established LinkPlay platform. Both this and the internal firmware are being frequently revised especially at this early stage of production but are proving to be stable and comprehensive. There is a new version of the due out shortly.
Developing an App from scratch is akin the reinventing the wheel and so the adaption of LinkPlay makes sense. It covers off all the streaming services, deals with multi-room and speaker options and offers a good degree of customisation, and works across multiple platforms and devices.
Although not intended, we have found the Vifa speakers, which also use a version of LinkPlay, pop up and are controllable via the NuPrime App. Given the number of major brands that use the same software base this is rather useful. We’ve also found it seamlessly accesses everything on our Nativ allowing it to be used as a server, and this certainly delivers excellent sound quality.
So you can see there is a lot going on inside. To put this in perspective just 10 years ago when we first encountered NuForce via their Icon series we were stunned at just how great sounding these small, cool running products were. But each of the Icon components only did a couple of things. The A-300SE isn’t much larger but is vastly more powerful, does much more than all the Icon models put together and has made an equally favourable sonic impression, especially taking into account our expectations are much higher now than they were in 2011.
The introduction of the Omnia A300SE doesn’t render any other NuPrime models redundant. For owners of existing integrated amps such as the IDA-8 & IDA-16, and DACs such as the DAC-9 and 10 there is a route forward that achieves all that A300SE has in functionality and delivers even better sound with the new Stream 9.
So the A-300SE is really designed to introduce a completely new set of music lovers to the NuPrime sound. That’s why it’s so comprehensively featured. For many people their first experience of component audio with be some form of cheap AV receiver – these are sold on features but as everyone finds out soon enough there’s no such thing as a free lunch and most AVR’s fall far short when it comes to playing music. The A-300SE will cover most of the features they have become familiar with but because it’s stereo and music only, it’s a lot simpler to set up and use.
As Apple users we have been waiting for the SE version primarily because it includes AirPlay 2. So we’re as guilty as any of placing a value on features over just sound. But we’ve also had a few of the first run of A-300s through. These have found their way into a variety of systems – with both rather large, demanding speakers and smaller high quality shelf mounts. The owners have been thrilled with the performance and we’ve had no problems at all. I also enjoyed some time with one in my office system and really missed it when we sold out and had to wait for the SE version to come through production.
Exploring the sound
Our critical listening has been informed by the Lumin Network Players – these are unarguably some of the best streaming products available regardless of cost and while it may seem a bit unfair to put the little A-300SE up against them, the NuPrime proves to be in the hunt.
What NuPrime brings to the party is greater connectivity, and by being a complete package of streamer, DAC and amplifier all together, there is the ability to build simpler, more affordable systems with a higher degree of certainty when it comes to the end sound.
The A-300SE really responds well to better speakers and cabling. In making our comparisons with Lumin, we’ve retained the higher end cables and speakers, simply substituting the A300SE in the same system. That we’ve been so pleased with the result speaks volumes to the quality of NuPrime despite being an order of magnitude less in cost.
As with all serious new components this amplifier does sound better with use. NuPrime suggest at least 50 hours for the sound to open up and gain an extra degree of tonal richness, but in a more transparent system it’s obvious that this process extends over several weeks.
There are compromises made but they are all about maintaining listenability. The almost hallucinogenic detail and precision of the Lumin is replaced by a smoother and diffuse presentation with the NuPrime which treats different genres and productions more even handedly. There’s a rounding of rough edges, a warmth and relaxation of the bass which is less edge of the seat, and more easy going.
No-one would expect the little Cirrus Logic DAC in the A-300SE to compete with state of the art implementation of the best Sabre DACs within the Lumin X-1 for resolution and sound staging, but as we’ve alluded, there’s a different character and presentation in play reflecting the internal algorithms, so it doesn’t feel like you’re comparing like with like.
What you do have with the A-300SE is the ability to tailor the sound to your own preference via two complimentary settings.
Most audiophile products make a point of not having any tonal adjustment. NuPrime broke from this recently with the inclusion of a refined form of bass adjustment in their AMG PRA preamplifier and the A300 takes this a step further. It’s mimicked in a software form which, for better or worse, has been given the label ‘Loudness’. This does lead to a disconnect between features and nomenclature. ..I’d normally run a mile from encouraging a conventional ‘loudness’ button.
The NuPrime adjustment is in 4 quite subtle steps from a nominal ‘Flat’ setting to ‘Loudness++’ This offers a worthwhile option for use with smaller or brighter sound speakers and in room settings that are more reflective with hard surfaces. The same adjustment also cycles through a series of generic ‘rock, pop and classical’ settings. While not everyone will use these, they are there on the remote control so let’s just take them as a bonus and follow NuPrimes suggestion that it is entirely worth experimenting with optimal system matching in different setups.
The A-300 also features a switch for 8 and 4 ohm settings on the back that’s rather unusual in how it works. In every other amplifier we’ve seen with this, it’s tended to be a simple compensation for the amps inability to safely deal with lower impedance speakers. The NuPrime approach is different in that it actively alters the working voltage within the amp and you have to do the switching when the amplifier is off. But it makes a significant difference sound wise with the 4 ohm setting being noticeably more dynamic with a sound that echoes the MCX series power amplifier. And you don’t have to match the speaker impedance with the amp – rather you set it for what sounds best.
Once you combine these features, the enhancements of better cabling and the choice of speakers, you can see that the A-300SE can be a bit of a chameleon in terms of what you’ll hear. But through all the various options, there’s a bias towards warmth and ease. The healthy power rating does imply that the A-300SE can go seriously loud and it will certainly do this with larger more efficient speakers in a way that’s rather impressive for it’s size. You just have to be a little realistic when also goosing up the bass options at the same time.
So it’s also reassuring that the A-300SE does include a level of protection. I’ve managed to activate this by not reading the manual and doing dumb things but the NuPrime came back up faultlessly after giving it a little time to compose itself.
No component is without it’s limitations but the inclusion of pre out sockets on the A-300SE go a long way towards solving any issues people might have with it’s power. You can either connect an active subwoofer if you want some serious bass or a much more powerful amplifier such as the 550 watts of the MCX-2 if you really want to show the neighbourhood how it’s done.
The relative simplicity of the A-300SE makes it an ideal introduction to quality streaming for many. It’s making that fundamental step from using a smartphone as the source to having a dedicated component that has accesses the streaming platforms such as Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify directly and can make the most of their potential quality. And does likewise with stored digital files in your own home. We’ve also found it seamlessly accesses everything on our Nativ allowing it to be used as a server and this certainly delivers excellent sound quality.
Yet the connectivity of the A-300SE still allows many other sources, both old and new. The continual evolution of Bluetooth and it’s ubiquity in every smartphone means it’s a welcome inclusion in the A-300SE and while wifi is better, the gap is closing.
The USB, Optical, ethernet and analogue inputs are all self explanatory and will most likely be used for laptop, TV, network and turntable connections. It’s also worth noting that the A-300 will re-stream some of these in a multi-room setting. While it looks like an HDMI connection the IIS socket is intended to make the most of NuPrime’s CD transports.
So in many ways the question is not what the Omnia does but what it doesn’t. And it isn’t much. Yes, we absolutely have components from Nuprime and others that do offer higher performance and we literally have cables that cost more than the A-300SE. Yet to try and achieve the same level of sound quality and outright fun from streaming sources via any other means at this price level is remarkably difficult. And this is before we look at the broad range of sources that the A-300SE caters for, it’s headphone section and the benefits of having a single component that effectively does it all.
To illustrate this let’s put together 4 different systems with the Omnia A-300SE…
1. With the Monitor Audio Bronze 6G 100s for $4000 – and we’ll throw in a terminated 2m set of some nice Kimber. This system will make the most of Monitor Audio’s best selling shelf mount speaker and is a great all-round option with generous sound.
2. With the Sonus faber Lumina 1 $4600 – these speakers are much smaller but really take things up a step in quality. But you always expected that with going to a hand made Italian speaker. What you might not expect is the bass performance they deliver. By deftly balancing out slightly lower efficiency with some very cunning porting and a rather special driver you get both Sonus faber’s un-matched midrange clarity and a low end that combine with the A-300SEs warm signature to give a warm and involving sound. This is the system you want for vocals, acoustic guitars and jazz, especially in smaller rooms. Include a 2m set of the Kimber 4VS to really let the quality come through.
3. A pair of Monitor Audio Bronze 200 Floor standing speakers with the A-300SE also at $4600 provides a completely different perspective from the Sonus faber system above. Being a floor standing model you’ll want a bit more room around them and so we’d provide a longer set of Kimber 4PR speakers cable to enable you to do this. The sound will scale up from both the Bronze 100s and Lumina’s and you’ll get much more speed and pace to the music. Now you can start to open out the 150 watts of the NuPrime and explore more challenging musical genres.
4. Want to really hear what the NuPrime is capable of? Jump up to the biggest and best of Monitor Audio’s Silver series – the 500s. Now we’ve got a really interesting option for you. Monitor Audio have just released the 7th Generation of the Silver series but they’ll take some time to get here and we’ve got a ripper of a special going on the few pairs of the 6G Silver 500s left. Here’s the deal – select the Silver 500s, get the special pricing plus a set of 3m Kimber 4VS and you’ll save almost $800 – Total price including delivery $6500.
The NuPrime Omnia A-300SE is not your every day amplifier. It’s one of the most feature rich and modern designs you’ll find and fits into any lifestyle with its minimalist, cool running and compact aesthetic. Most importantly the A-300SE delivers on sound; it’s subtle yet powerful, taking cues from NuPrime’s accomplished separate components, combining their attributes in an accessible and easy to use package with understated ease.
Link to the review --> https://totallywired.nz/nuprime-2/nuprime-omnia-a-300se/