While at the most recent Hi-Fi News & Record Review show one could not help but notice the Italian made Nimis integrated amplifiers. They were on display in five glorious MAC-like colors. If the look of them was not enough to sell you, the touch and feel of the unit surely is. For only around $1,500 USD it was a "done deal" and i ordered one. Ok, being a Ferrari lover i did not want one of those MAC-like colors, but that of the great Ferrari Red. The folks a Nimis said they can do it and it seemed all was great. Meanwhile Ken Kessler (HFN&RR and Robb Report fame and Myles & Lisa Astor were also impressed with the Nimis). Me? i wanted something special... in Ferrari red.
So like in good Italian time the unit eventually arrived here in my humble abode in the USA. Stunning! Absolutely gorgeous! In fact the folks at Nimis felt the Ferrari red color was so good they made it a normal production color (so much for the prestige of having a special one-off integrated amplifier). Regardless, the sound was so good for the money i bought one for my parents (see Eli Rochlin's Viewpoint article in this issue). Ya see, dad has wanted a new tube amplifier for a long time, but mom, well... Anyway, let's get to the formal review of the FASE Nimis amplifier.
While the owner's manual is mainly in Italian, there is an amusing English section that, well, has the usual small misinterpretations that make for good reading. An example would be "FASE s.n.c. don't assume nobody responsibility if the product come handled badly." Personally, i like this humor. Reminds me of when Forté had on their circuit boards "Mars Needs Women" or those fun early Theta owner's manuals. Of course what really matters is how the unit performs.
The Nimis is of the integrated stereo preamplifier/amplifier variety with four line level inputs and one record output. The entire unit is like that of monoblock design with only the main power transport being shared between both channels. In fact the right and left channels are so independent of each other that there is a separate right and left channel input selector and volume adjusters. Using one 12AX7 and two 6BQ5/EL 84 per channel it produces 15 watts per channel. The output tubes are operated in pentode mode. Original output tubes were from JJ Electronics while the 12AX7 were JAN Philips ECG USA.
Looks Even My Mother Can Love
After initial burn in the unit worked flawlessly during everything from small jazz to high energy techno. Problem was, it also sounded a bit cloudy. As if the imaging was being smeared while also some "dirt" was thrust upon the music. Sovtek to the rescue! Not being one to keep his head in the sand, word spread quickly about the new Sovtek 12AX7LPS. A real world tube that some feel come close to the fabled Telefunken at realistic pricing. In for a penny, in for a pound. i was not convinced the JJ Electronics EL84 output tubes were that great as one of them eventually started to give me problems. So while talking to the dudes at Sovtek for review samples of their 12AX7LPS i also asked for a matched quad of their EL 84.
While the Nimis does not have the amazing dynamics or low end punch of the Manley Labs Stingray ($2,250) and does not even come close to the mind boggling good VAC Avatar ($3,590), but for only $1,500 it seems to be a fair deal once you change out the tubes. The build quality is very solid and the music does flow. During hard rock the unit does seem to not offer the best of low frequency support. During more audiophile recordings the highs might not be the most extended and pristine. But the midrange and overall musical feel seems to be well fleshed out.
Resolution with the Sovtek tubes is vastly improved over the stock units by adding a good portion of clarity and better resolution. The only advantage of the stock JJ/Philips tubes seem to be that they add a more rosy-colored rendition. They seem to overly color the music past the point of simply romantic while also clouding the music. Nice sound if you want a mellow and mushy sound, but not what i prefer... even when in a romantic mood.
Ends = Means?
(All the below is with the non-stock Sovek tubes)
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