I've been involved in this audiophile pursuit long enough to remember an era when solid-state power amplifiers were judged solely on their specifications. At that time it was widely accepted that one should consider purchasing an amp with as much power as one could afford, but not before reading up on the product's specs -- since one isn't going to hear much difference between amps that have the same power rating if they both have decent and similar specifications. When I began to power my system with transistors rather than tubes in the late 1980s/early 1990s I heard this hogwash so many times I started believing it myself. Another reason I started believing this was that even though some of the differences made one amp preferable to another, these differences weren't huge as long as the power rating was the same. This remained true, at least in my system, that is, until I heard what could be done with a circuit in a power amplifier designed and manufactured with no cost restraints, or at least less restraints than with the more affordable species of solid-state power amplifiers that I was accustomed to. My power amplifier epiphany, of sorts, arrived via a Krell, but I'm sure that it could have happened with another brand of equipment with the same aspirations (and talented designers). Things have never been the same ever since. Of course throughout the years things have sonically gotten even better, and (spoiler alert) this has reached a pinnacle with the state-of-the-art design that is the 225 Watts per channel Edge NL 10.2. I will humbly recount the best I can the experiences I've had over the past 60 or so days living with this amplifier.
I guess that it is more than a coincidence that Edge was founded in 1987, more or less the same time I "discovered" that there was more to an amp than proclaimed by the large audio retailers and mainstream audio magazines. With its base just outside of Chicago, Edge was purchased in 2001 by RB Manufacturing and Electronics, but the site that makes the Edge gear still employs about 12 people dedicated to designing and making Edge's top-flight preamplifiers and preamplifiers.
The NL 10.2 is housed in 0.5" thick aluminum which is secured with marine-grade stainless steel machine screws. The NL 10.2's heat sinks are machined from bar stock as the same type of aluminum as the cabinet which enables the amp to operate without the use of cooling fans. Other than what I just shard above there isn't much other technical information regarding Edges amps on their website, which is odd given the outstanding performance of this amplifier. I guess they let the sound of the amps speak for themselves, which after hearing this amp perform in my system I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with their approach. And if someone has the chance to audition this amp at an Edge dealer, I doubt they will, either.
Edge outfits their line of amps and preamps with unbalanced RCA jacks owing to the fact that they are not balanced circuits, because of this and other reasons Edge feels strongly that they sound better with unbalanced inputs and outputs. My sample of the NL 10.2 did have balanced XLR inputs along with the standard RCA, but as I assumed that many if not all Edge amps are going to be used with a matching Edge preamplifier. I only used the RCA inputs on the amp throughout the review. And although I used a tubed Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) preamplifier for much of the review using its RCA outputs, I also used Edge's own G2 preamplifier for a time. I decided not include my thoughts about the performance of the AC/DC powered G2 in this review. Even though the G2 has much of the "family" sound as the NL 10.2 amplifier, its performance and ergonomics are idiosyncratic enough (largely in a good way), not to mention that it costs about one-fourth as much as the NL 10.2, that it deserves its own review.
There were so many sonic traits of the 10.2 that made the album come alive as never before, it was almost a mind-bending experience listening to the four sides of this album. Instrument separation is one thing, but the 10.2 was able to place each instrument and voice of the multi-track recording in a separate space of the soundstage, yet at the same time integrate the music into a complete whole. I know this sounds a bit abstract, and I'm well aware this must seem paradoxical – separate but whole, but the 10.2, despite its ability to make each instrument recorded on the album stand out from the others, was simultaneously adept at enabling all of these sounds to contribute to the organic wholeness of the music. I've never heard an amplifier perform this feat so marvelously. This is because I've never heard a solid-state component competent enough to take advantage of its ability to dissect a recording, and at the same time convey its meaning in such a way. It was as if I could hear behind the sound being recorded, with not only the details within the sound of the instrument or voice, but the sonic illusion that there was a human being responsible for its sound.
But to be honest (and at the same time less abstract), the first thing I noticed when playing this album through the NL 10.2 was its slamming bass and its macro-dynamic heft. The album opens with "Freedom", beginning with Jimi playing the chordal riff a few times after the stylus enters after the silence of the lead-in groove, and then...BLAM!, the band enters directly into my brain and body. The way the Edge was able to sort out all the sounds on this crowded recording (Jimi wasn't afraid to fill up all 16 tracks and more) and yet it sounded as if the amp still transferred every iota of transient information that was on the recording to the speakers. The tune "Room Full Of Mirrors" always seemed like an odd song to me. The high-pitched slightly out-of-tune slide guitar over the twisted electric blues was always a Jimi-type thing that I couldn't fully understand. But this pressing of the album finally pulls it together for me, and now it finally makes sense. I know the bass is credited to Billy Cox, and apologies go out to him if it is indeed him playing the instrument on this track, but I have my doubts. It sounds as if the bass is played by Hendrix through a Marshall stack with the volume turned up to 11, the playing too virtuosic to be Mr. Cox. The combination of the new pressing and the Edge NL 10.2 making the bass line now sounds as if it is driving the song. Very cool. Every other instrument recorded over and under the bass, other than the lead vocal of course, seems practically superfluous but at the same time necessary to Hendrix's vision (there is that paradox thing again). What I previously thought of as a throwaway tune on the album is now one of my favorites.
As much as I love my pair of Sound Labs speakers (and I do), I always thought that they sound somewhat forward on some material, though this is something that I am just going to have to live with. Perhaps it is due to my listening room not being as large as the speakers deserve. Along with this slight forwardness there is also a slight harshness, especially in the upper mids when the volume is pushed very high, and I suspected that this was because I often enjoy listening to the music louder than most folks do, and electrostatic speakers, as a rule, were never famous for their high-dB abilities. With the NL 10.2 in the system these negative traits in the midrange frequencies simply did not exist. At all. The midrange response of the the Edge NL 10.2 is amazing. I have no other recourse than to declare the quality of the midrange of this Edge amplifier as silky smooth, well aware that this expression is usually associated with the treble. Combined with the NL 10.2's deep, wide, tall, and immeasurably layered soundstage, the midrange enabled instruments and voices to sound spooky real, and this includes sounds on the Hendrix album that were created both acoustically and electrically. As Jimi was wont to do, he often recorded his lead vocals while he was laying down either a rhythm or lead guitar track. Often this vocal take was eventually replaced, but more often than not it was left as is. This is especially so on this album since many of the tunes on this LP set are not "finished". Somehow engineer Eddie Kramer was able to minimize bleeding of the guitar track onto the vocal track, but still, the ambiance of the studio often remains and there are many times during these songs that the midrange purity of the Edge enables my mind's ear to picture Jimi standing there in front of the mic and delivering his often strained vocals. Not only that, even though there are often multiple tracks of guitar laid down, each one can be clearly heard. During the ripping guitar solo on "Izabella", the guitar can be heard pressurizing the air in the room in which the guitar was recorded. No amplifier during the short time before the Edge arrived was able to separate the lead from the rest of the tracks with such precision and searing emotion, and no amp since the Edge amp has been returned to the manufacture has done so since.
To demonstrate the NL 10.2's prowess with real instruments recorded in a real space I chose Manuel de Falla's ballet score for The Three-Cornered Hat featuring Rafael Frubeck de Burgos conducting the Philharmonia, which was as good as any, and better than most. This record was originally issued in 1964 as EMI [ASD 608], the Alto 180g re-issue I played for this evaluation boasts quieter surfaces than the original (although I'm sure there is a collector out there that would disagree with me). This album was able to establish that the 10.2 was not only a champ at macro-dynamics, but also micro-dynamic detail as well. And the life-like reproduction of every instrument and group of instruments did not only occupy a distinct space in the soundstage, but was patently real sounding as well. When it comes down to it, that's what it's all about, isn't it (real instruments in a real space? Remember?). That also goes for soprano Victoria De Los Angeles voice which was placed between the speakers front and center, but a bit forward of the orchestra most likely because of a spot microphone, both faithful to the original recording and so true to life, listening to it was as if viewing her with some sort of auricular time machine.
Kudos must go out to the 10.2's reproduction of the treble, and this piece was a perfect excuse to revel in the way the 10.2 was able to naturally replicate these frequencies. The score of The Three-Cornered Hat borrows liberally from Andalusian folk music, and requires castanets, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, and xylophone – with every percussive instrument involved in this score reproduced so magnificently I can only think of using the oft misused term "high-fidelity", yet in this case the definition in regards to the reproduction of sound through the NL 10.2, "fidelity" is according to the strictest sense of the term. The cymbals, in particular, were extraordinary, as if one could hear the sound of the cymbal in slow motion – first the sound of the air compressing between the two alloyed objects, the initial strike of the instrument, the metallic rise, peak, and decay of the sizzling chime of the percussive instrument's sound, combined with the air molecules around the cymbals reacting to ultra-quick vibrations of the bronze alloy. And this added to the humanness of all the sounds on this album, it was as if I could picture in my mind a wind player's breath rising in strength to produce an audible tone, the tone of the instrument, and the air around each instrument reacting to the instrument. Wow.