Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click here.
“Musical Fidelity” must be the perfect name for an audio manufacturer. While many companies are named after their founders or places of business, how relevant is that name when the founder leaves or the company moves? And forget acronyms or initials. What meaning do they convey? “Musical Fidelity” says it all. It beats “ClearAudio,” “Living Voice,” and “Definitive Audio”—my runners-up. At the bottom of my list come “Schitt Audio,” “Monster Cable,” and “Fried Products.”
Musical Fidelity was founded in 1982 by Antony Michaelson, a fine musician who had been previously involved in the hi-fi industry. In 2018, after three successful decades, Michaelson retired and sold his company to Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH, the parent company of Pro-Ject Audio Systems. I remember first hearing a Musical Fidelity A1 integrated amp at my brother’s home in 1985—a remarkably small class-A amplifier that produced 25Wpc and enough heat to fry an egg. But its sound was relaxed and colorful. More than 100,000 units sold over the years, an astonishing achievement for an audio start-up.
In the years leading up to the sale, Musical Fidelity expanded its product range and built a healthy export market. Under Audio Tuning’s ownership, there has been a flurry of updates to the company’s products, including the top-of-the-line Nu-Vista series, in July of this year. First out of the gate were the Nu-Vista PRE preamp, the Nu-Vista PAM mono power amp, and the Nu-Vista PAS stereo power amp, each with its own external power supply. There was also a new budget DAC, the M3x, a somewhat simpler version of the award-winning and almost twice-as-expensive M6x DAC. Recently, Musical Fidelity has launched its own version of the classic BBC-developed LS3/5A loudspeaker along with an updated version of the A1 integrated amp. It’s very much the same as the original apart from having a slightly larger case with additional ventilation to help keep the temperature down and a small remote to adjust the volume.
In my last review, covering the M6x DAC, I found a lot to like. This time, I’m looking at a new integrated amplifier from Musical Fidelity, the Nu-Vista 800.2. Priced at $10,999 (all prices in USD), this amp has four unusual tubes inside, all in the preamp section. Integrated amplifiers with tubed preamp sections and solid-state power amp sections are quite common, as there are certain advantages to this hybrid approach. The McIntosh MA252, Magnum Dynalab MD 309, PrimaLuna Evo 300, and ModWright KWH 225i are all examples of such hybrid integrated amplifiers. One standout example, though, is the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800.2.
Unique to Musical Fidelity is the use of Nuvistor triode tubes, which the company uses in the Nu-Vista series of high-end components instead of the typical glass vacuum tubes. Musical Fidelity snapped up a good supply of this rare tube in the late 1990s, after its production ceased.
Nuvistor tubes were introduced in 1959 by RCA, claiming they were the future of electronics. These small metal-cased tubes were highly consistent in quality, and they were rugged and reliable. RCA also claimed they had unusually low noise, low distortion, and a wide bandwidth. Initially, Nuvistor tubes found a home inside television sets of the 1960s and some high-end microphones, as well as in the Ampex MR-70 studio tape recorder. Sadly, their success was short-lived. They came out too late.
The metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET), also introduced in 1959, soon swept all before it. Apart from limited military use, the Nuvistor tube could not hold its place in the market. RCA ceased production in the 1970s, and Nuvistor tubes are now available only as NOS (new old stock). Russia still makes its own version of Nuvistor tubes, using wire leads rather than fixed pins.
Seven years before Antony Michaelson introduced the first Nu-Vista amp, Conrad-Johnson had dabbled with Nuvistor tubes in their Premier Seven preamp, but currently, to my knowledge, no one else is using them in high-end audio.
When I was young, the received wisdom was that the loudspeaker was the key determinant of how Hi the Fi was. Then along came Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn Products, touting the garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) concept with evangelical zeal, and kicked that notion to the curb. The source, he asserted, primarily the turntable, determined quality. A more modern view is that the system as a whole as well as the interplay of its parts determine quality. It is now also recognized that the room itself plays an important part in a system’s performance.
Recently, I’ve been hearing that it’s the amplifier that is the most important component, a view I’m more receptive to now than I have been. In the light of recent reviews and my own findings with the Nu-Vista 800.2, I lean more in that direction. I have listened to amps, some quite expensive, that drained the life out of my system; I’ve heard others—three different Soulution amps, for instance, and some more modestly priced amps from Copland and Electrocompaniet—that were perfectly satisfying. The amp plays a bigger role now that excellent digital and analog sources are so readily available. Moreover, many excellent low-distortion speakers are now available that are capable of throwing a large soundfield at realistic volume levels over a wide bandwidth. These speakers are crying out for great amplification.
The Nu-Vista 800.2 was first shown at the High End Show in Munich this past May alongside the revised A1 integrated amplifier. It replaces the venerable Nu-Vista 800 integrated amp, first introduced in 2013. Production of the Nu-Vista 800 ceased in 2021 when the information display panel and some other parts became unavailable.
While the amplification stages haven’t been changed in this update, Musical Fidelity has increased the size of the power transformers and rewound them for lower noise, and also revised the power-supply circuits. With the cooling fins at the sides now gone, the front panel looks much cleaner. The display has also been changed: it is much larger now, shows more information, and offers a range of viewing and lighting options. It is now navigated and controlled by two buttons, not one.
The substantial aluminum remote control has also been redesigned. The buttons are better arranged now and include an On/Standby button. I was not entirely happy with the volume control on this remote, though; I found it hard to adjust the volume in 0.5dB steps. I have no such problems with the volume adjustments on my EMM Labs DV2’s remote control, so there is room for improvement.
Unchanged from the Nu-Vista 800 are the locally decoupled output stage, dual mono power amps, home-theater bypass, and fixed and variable preamp outputs. The massive aluminum chassis is constructed with thick front and side panels to eliminate vibration. It also acts as a Faraday cage, protecting the circuits from stray electromagnetic fields and keeping any internally generated fields away from nearby components and cables.
The spec sheet reads the same as the earlier model apart from the weight, which has increased by about four pounds. This amp is specified to output 330Wpc into 8 ohms or 500Wpc into 4 ohms, with vanishingly low distortion across the audioband: THD+N < 0.005% from 20Hz to 20kHz. It is also a very quiet amp: A-weighted S/N ratio > 107dB. The claimed frequency response is flat within 0.1dB from 10Hz to 30kHz.
One change I wish Musical Fidelity had made would have benefited many North American consumers: the two sets of two-way speaker binding posts are designed to accommodate either bare wire or banana plugs, but many prefer to use spades. You can use spade terminations with this amp but only by inserting one arm of the spade lug into the binding post. The sharp metal edges of the binding-post fasteners, however, make tightening difficult.
The Nu-Vista 800.2 is a beast, and it looks like one too—especially the black version I tested; the silver version looks a bit less intimidating. Mind your back because this thing weighs 90 pounds and measures 7.4″H × 19.0″W × 20.1″D. Luckily, I had the assistance of Doug Schneider to unpack it and shift it into position.
The Nu-Vista 800.2 is a well-built, nicely finished beast and quite a tame one in use. A large rotary control on the left selects the source, and a matching control on the right sets the volume. Rotating the volume control slowly adjusts the level in 0.5dB increments; rotating it quickly adjusts the level in larger steps. It was a joy to use. Volume level in dB is clearly indicated on the new front-panel display, which I found helpful. The display of the two power meters, less so. They worked well, but I found them distracting. You can always turn them off.
Turning to the back panel, aside from the speaker binding posts, there are four pairs of unbalanced inputs and one pair of balanced inputs as well as two pairs of unbalanced outputs, one fixed and one variable, which you can use for biamping or to feed a subwoofer. The power input is a standard 15A IEC receptacle. There’s no power toggle switch.
The unit came with standard rubberized footers, but included in the box was a set of metal footer cones with floor protecting cups that could be used instead.
This is a good old-fashioned muscle amp, so you won’t find any digital inputs or even an input for a phono cartridge. You are paying for the high output power, the ability to drive a wide variety of speakers, and the sound quality. No frills. Only thrills.
I inserted the 800.2 into my reference system. The digital sources were an EMM Labs XDS1 CD/SACD player ($25,000), used only as a transport, and an exaSound Delta Server ($3000). The DAC was an EMM Labs DV2 ($30,000), used with a fixed output level to feed the amp. The speakers were YG Hailey 2.2s ($46,800 per pair), rated at a nominal 4-ohm impedance and sensitivity of 87dB (2.83V/1m). Cabling was all Nordost Valhalla 2, with two exceptions: the connection from the XDS1 to the DV2 was a proprietary EMM Link glass cable, which can transfer DSD streams directly, and the USB cable from the Delta Server to the DV2 was a Nordost Tyr 2. For comparison, I used a Soulution 511 stereo power amp ($32,000) and the variable output of the DV2 DAC for volume adjustment.
Would the 800.2 perform well in this system? Would it hold a candle to the Soulution amp, which costs almost three times as much? The answers to these questions, it turned out, depended very much on the source material.
At no time during this audition did the Nu-Vista 800.2 exhibit any sign of stress or low-level noise. Portrait in Jazz by the Bill Evans Trio (SACD, Riverside RISA-1162-6), recorded in 1959, was immediately impressive. On “Autumn Leaves,” the sound was forward, aggressive, and detailed, with a noticeably fast and full bass. The piano was rather prominent and hard-edged, while the percussion sat well back in the mix. The image was wide but shallow. The piano was less hard on “When I Fall in Love” and more beautiful in tone.
From that same golden year, I switched to The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco (SACD, Riverside RISA 1157-6). “Spontaneous Combustion” came across as a better recording. The image was more spacious, though still forward, and the percussion was more open. The tuneful bass sounded alive and dynamic. But I found the treble slightly thin.
As good as those two recordings are, nothing prepares you for the sensational sound of Mingus Ah Um, also recorded in 1959. I listened to a 24-bit/192kHz FLAC file of this recording from the hard disk on my exaSound Delta server. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” sounded evocative, relaxed, rich, present, and open. The image was huge, and the musicians were located distinctly within it. “Fables of Faubus” offered sweet, clear tones, fine detail, and strong imaging but lacked the full measure of excitement. It’s a musical portrait, possibly the inspiration for Sonny Rollins’s “Alfie’s Theme,” from 1966.
It’s hard to believe, but the world’s top banjo player, Béla Fleck, plays an instrument he bought when he was young for about $40. What a sound he produces out of that banjo! It’s unfair to pigeonhole him as a jazz musician, because he crosses musical genres so seamlessly. On “Whitewater,” from the Drive album (SACD, MoFi 7003), he plays bluegrass on steroids. The sound, in a deep wide image, was forward, open, both detailed and atmospheric. Full marks here for the 800.2.
For all his recent legal struggles, Ed Sheeran has certainly not lost his touch. On “Dusty,” from his album Subtract (24/48 FLAC, Asylum-Atlantic / Qobuz), the 800.2 delivered deep bass that could be felt as much as heard. While slightly closed on top, the midrange was strong, and the dynamics were fully resolved in a fine image. However, when the bass got louder, some information was lost.
Giles Martin, working hand in hand with his father, the renowned Sir George Martin, producer of the Beatles’ original recordings at Abbey Road studios, has been diligently making his way through the Beatles catalog. He started in 2006 with the remarkable Love album, which was used as the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil extravaganza of the same name in Las Vegas. That show, presented in a purpose-built theater with sound piped individually to each seat, was the experience of a lifetime.
George Martin passed away in 2016 at the age of 90. Two years later, Giles Martin released his remixed and remastered version of the White Album, officially called The Beatles and Escher Demos. This album, as the name suggests, includes the original home recording demo tracks for the White Album. The release was timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original, 1968, double album. The sound on the 2018 CD (Apple 0602567571230) is significantly cleaner and clearer than the original, improvements most notable in the bass and percussion. On “Birthday,” the sheer energy was thrilling. On the quieter track “Mother Nature’s Son,” Paul sounded slightly nasal, and the bass could have been more solid. The guitar sound was ideal, the imaging and dynamics strong, but Ringo’s drums were a bit soft. “Honey Pie” was superb, offering perfect integration and a plethora of detail.
Keb’ Mo’ albums have always been fantastically well recorded, showing a full dynamic range and powerful bass. His first album, Keb’ Mo’ (SACD, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2054), may be his best. “Every Morning” has a heartbeat driving the action, and the 800.2 captured it well. The color, though, was not as rich as it might have been, perhaps due to a subtle treble rolloff. But the next track, “Tell Everybody I Know,” conveyed syncopated rhythms, a laid-back percussion, a strong bass, and a pitch-perfect, tight sound in a spacious image.
The Best of Laura Nyro (CD, Columbia C2K 48880) is an old favorite of mine. It includes “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “And When I Die,” and “Eli’s Comin’,” to name but a few classics. Nyro’s voice was somewhat indefinite within the image, and the dynamic range was not as full as it should have been.
Just for fun, I rounded out my pop listening with Barry White’s Love Songs (16/44.1 FLAC, Island Def Jam / Qobuz). “Love’s Theme” proved a promising start, offering strong color and a punchy beat in a wide image. “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby” was even better, tighter, more intimate, and more open.
Montreal’s Bruce Liu brought home the first prize in the Chopin International Piano Competition in 2021. In his debut at Toronto’s Koerner Hall two years later, I heard him perform Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” (the famous duet from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni), the same work that clinched the big win for Liu in Warsaw. When you hear his poetic interpretation and beautiful piano sound, his left-hand power and articulation, and his all-round virtuosity that is wholly unmarred by showmanship, you know this is a musician of the highest caliber.
I listened to Liu’s competition performance on Winner of the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition Warsaw 2021 Live (24/96 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon / Qobuz). Having heard Liu perform this work live, I had a good perspective on this recording. I found it clear and powerful, with strong deep bass, good sustain, and quick attack. Frequency response seemed even across the board.
I love Haydn’s string quartets, though I’m not familiar with all 68. They are full of humor, quirkiness, great tunes, and surprises. They sound best to me on period instruments, particularly when played by the Quotuor Mosaïques. A superb example is Haydn: String Quartets Opus 20 (CD, Astrée E8787). I found the sound of this 1990 CD lively, rich, forward, and with good detail and a strong attack. For gut strings, though, the tone seemed overly smooth. On track 2, the instruments were blending together, and the viola was somewhat lacking in leading edge. Still, this was a strong and involving sound.
No test of a big, powerful amp is complete for me without a full-scale orchestral work. This time it was Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” played by the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer (SACD, Channel Classics CCS SA 23506). In a concert hall, this 80-minute work is a thrilling experience; but the 800.2 did not thrill. I found the attack a bit soft, the bass a tad slow, and the dynamics limited.
Not surprisingly, most of these selections sounded better through my EMM Labs/Soulution setup, as you’d expect given the vast difference in price. My reference system was overwhelmingly superior on the Mahler symphony, delivering more powerful dynamics, a bigger and deeper image, improved color, and greater detail, and never showing strain.
With other selections, the differences were less dramatic. The Nu-Vista amplifier turned in fine performances with the Chopin and Haydn recordings. But through my reference system, the sound of Bruce Liu’s piano exhibited even faster attack and longer sustain, and the image had added width and solidity. On the recording of the Haydn string quartet, the EMM Labs/Soulution combo restored the viola’s leading edge, increasing transparency and differentiation between the instruments, and placing each instrument more precisely in a larger image.
On “When I Fall in Love” by the Bill Evans Trio, the EMM Labs/Soulution pairing performed similarly to the Musical Fidelity, except that it opened up the percussion a little, not so much raising its level as improving its clarity. The slightly thin treble I noticed in the Nu-Vista’s rendering of “Spontaneous Combustion” by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet was not evident with my reference components.
My reference amp had even more power and control in the bass in the eponymous debut album by Keb’ Mo’, with no hint of the treble rolloff I heard with the Musical Fidelity amplifier. It sounded quite similar to the Nu-Vista 800.2 on Barry White’s Love Songs, but presented a wider image with greater separation between musicians. On The Best of Laura Nyro, the sound delivered by the EMM Labs/Soulution combination had greater dynamic range, and hence more excitement.
Let’s keep this in perspective. I was listening to an integrated amp that sells for $10,999 and comparing it to a power amp driven by a DAC-preamp whose combined cost is several times higher. This comparison hardly seems fair, but it wasn’t meant to be. My purpose was to see how the Nu-Vista 800.2 measures up to the very best components—in this case, the EMM Labs DV2 digital preamp and the Soulution 511 stereo power amp, both regarded as among the finest in their class.
The 800.2 is far more powerful than most integrated amps and most power amps in its price range—or any price range for that matter. Where the 800.2 fell short of ultimate performance was primarily at the frequency extremes. At the high end, I found it slightly rolled off. Its transient response was below that of the best integrated amplifiers, as was its resolution. Despite a high damping factor of 200, the bass was not as fully articulated or as speedy as it could have been—not slow by any means, but not as agile as I would have wished. The imaging was wide but not deeply layered, and instruments and voices were not always distinctly located within the image. These findings were made possible by using components of the greatest transparency, which ruthlessly exposed any shortcomings. Others’ impressions may differ.
Still, the Nu-Vista 800.2 has a great deal going for it. It was never fatiguing to listen to, and it had exemplary bass extension and power. If it erred at all, it was on the warm side of neutral. Few recordings capture a level of detail and dynamic range that can challenge this amp.
Your choice of musical material, as well as the makeup of the rest of your system, will have a strong impact on how well this amp performs for you. Despite my minor reservations, the Nu-Vista 800.2 did well with jazz across the board. On pop and rock, it performed very well too, provided the recording itself was not compressed. Even through the EMM Labs/Soulution combination, compressed material disappointed—garbage in, garbage out. The 800.2 excelled on classical recordings of solo piano, a challenging test for any component. It may not have matched my reference components in any of these genres, but it put up a damn good fight.
You get a lot for your money here. At $10,999, the Nu-Vista 800.2 will drive almost any speakers with ease, which is exactly what Musical Fidelity set out to achieve. It will particularly appeal if you prefer a forward presentation, and a touch of the warmth of tubes without the fragility and short lifespan normally associated with them.
Contrary to current market trends, the Nu-Vista 800.2 offers no digital or streaming input nor headphone output. But if you have your digital needs already taken care of, or if you’re analog all the way, this may not be relevant to you.
Since so much depends on your choice of music and partnering equipment, my advice is simple. Do try this at home!
. . . Phil Gold
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click here.
- Digital sources: exaSound Delta streaming server, EMM Labs XDS1 SACD player.
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2.
- Preamplifier: EMM Labs Pre2.
- Power amplifier: Soulution 511.
- Loudspeakers: YG Hailey 2.2.
- Power, interconnect, and speaker cables: Nordost Valhalla.
- USB link: Nordost Tyr 2.
Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800.2 Integrated Amp
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor with registration.
Phone: +43 1-5448580