APL Hi-Fi NWO-4.0SE CD Player Review



I've enjoyed several of Alex Peychev's creative digital designs in the past five years, including two excellent APL 3910 upgrades and five cutting-edge versions in the NWO series. Each succeeding iteration was a significant improvement over the previous one. I have now lived with the upgrade from the NWO-3.0SE to the NWO-4.0SE for eight months and I feel that it deserves a more careful comprehensive review. In its time, my 3.0SE was first-rate. But the spectacular 4.0SE surpasses it now in every major sonic characteristic and, in my opinion, represents the new digital milestone.

The set up for this review is my current primary system (2 channel only) consisting of Wilson Audio Maxx2, Boulder 2060 amp, APL Hi-Fi NWO-4.0SE CD player connected directly to the amp, Pure Power 2000 AC re-generator, Nordost QX4, Kubala-Sosna Elation interconnects and speaker cables, three Elrod Statement Gold power cords and one regular Statement, Critical Mass Systems Diamond rack and a Platinum* QXK amp platform, dedicated AC lines, and a dedicated Rives level 2 listening room which was featured (along with two other Rives rooms) in the October 2008 issue of Home Entertainment. The 23.5'x21'x9'H room has thick carpet/pad on a concrete floor, built-in floor-to-ceiling bass traps in each corner, angled side bookcase complexes that deflect first reflections and serve as additional bass traps, panels to control slap echoes, and columns and RPG devices on walls and ceiling for diffusion. The electronic equipment is in a separate adjoining room. Speaker cables run through "mouse holes" in the baseboard, and three small cabinet-style glass doors between the two rooms provide easy access to the equipment.

What is most unique about the 4.0SE is the "aliveness" of its reproductions.....its startling realism. By that I mean something more than its life-like rhythm, pace and its inspiration to get up and dance. I'm referring to the perception of a visceral experience that accompanies every note.....Not just the chest-crushing bass notes. When a note is struck, it is not confined to a flat plane. Instead, you have the sense that the air is being projected outward from the 3-dimensional instrument.....The sense of a sonic burst that propels pulsating ripples that cause the air molecules to sway in sync with the music. Every note is a spray of sonic nectar that is as captivating as a visual explosion of sparkling lights at a Fourth of July celebration.

This quality of "aliveness" of the 4.0SE is made possible by Mr. Peychev's effective implementation of twenty (20) 32-bit AKM DACs per channel, proprietary circuit boards, tube output stage, and power supplies. The enormous resolving power inherent in the 4.0SE is capable of superb resolution of harmonic textures, dynamic shadings and gradations, transient peaks and decays.

Reproducing transients is a challenge. It is all too common in high end components for the peaks to be abnormally sharp points that appear to "enhance" the resolution artificially, and sound piercing. That is not what I hear at live jazz or classical concerts. In real life, a transient peak has a vibratory texture, not a sharp or blunt point. With the 4.0SE, I hear natural sharp peaks without the unpleasant piercing quality.

Equally important in the anatomy of an attack, is the rise before the peak. Lesser components are not able to handle rapid dynamic changes effectively. Consequently, a rapid rise of a crisp transient is compressed.....producing a "slow" smeared rise, an unnaturally sharp or blunt peak, compromised transient agility and clarity, and a characteristic electronic signature. The 4.0SE's linearity of dynamic gradations is impressive. (Obviously, the quality of amp and speaker drivers plays a role here as well.) The rise is reproduced cleanly without perceptible compression. Quick clean rises together with highly resolved peaks contribute significantly to the startling realism. For example, I've listened to track #1 on The All Star Percussion Ensemble (FIM, GS DXD 002) numerous times. Although I know what's coming, nonetheless, I'm pleasantly startled again and again.

What is even more outstanding is the NWO-4.0SE's resolving power when reproducing super-rapid sequences of notes. You experience the rise and peak of each individual note before you hear it blend with the subsequent notes. My favorite test for this resolution is the dazzling performance by pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis of Frantz Liszt's Campanella (LINN, CKD 282, SACD, track #4). Even when the pianist is going a hundred miles a minute, with the 4.0SE each note is clean, clear and crisp.....and the decays are absolutely glorious.

For me, how a component reproduces the decay of a note is just as vital as how it renders the attack and its peak. The 3.0SE excelled with decays, but the 4.0SE raises this performance a notch or two. One test that I use for decays of high frequency notes is the first 2 minutes of track #11 on Super Sound II (FIM XR24 067). With the 4.0SE in the system, each and every strike on the triangles and xylophones is crystal clear. The rise is fast and the peaks are clearly defined. The extended highs are open and airy, pure and sweet, sparkling and mesmerizing. The decays are stronger, perceptibly longer, and more transparent. The resolution and clarity of the tonal texture is phenomenal. The notes burst into a rainbow of delicate decays that linger long enough to interweave and form a rich tapestry of colors, and then slowly fade and merge into silence.

For a dramatic display of decays on rapid runs on the piano, listen to track #4 of the above LINN disc. The decays are clean and transparent. You can "see" into their harmonic texture and easily hear the interaction between the decays of different notes as they float and linger, merge and mingle, ebb and flow, to create kaleidoscopic changes of tonal colors.....an exquisite symphony of ethereal tones and their subtle dynamics. Simply sublime.

Over the years, with dozens of changes of tweaks and components, I've experienced changes in the relative emphasis between the attack and decay of notes. Some components/tweaks emphasize the attack more, while others favor the decay. With the 4.0SE in the system, I get a more natural balance between the two. Similarly, there is now a better and more natural relationship between the notes and their ambiant reflections within the recording venue, due largely to the increased resolution of ambiance.

Note: While evaluating the top octave, I was not hearing as clear of a sparkle as I expected. I first suspected that the 4.0SE might be rolling off the highs. After exhaustive testing, I discovered that the reflections and/or slap echoes off the top of the wall behind the listening position were masking the highs. With some RPG devices installed, I now have my sparkle.

All of the above elements, taken together, contribute to the "aliveness" quality of the 4.0SE. Not far behind, is another remarkable quality: its immense sound stage and convincing imaging.

In a review of a previous version of the NWO, I wrote "the sound stage became explosive; it grabs your attention. On excellent recordings of large orchestras or choral groups (e.g., The Sound of Glory, Telarc, SACD), the side walls disappear creating a perceived stage width greater than 21 feet (the width of the front wall). The front wall disappears revealing a perceived stage depth that can extend at least 30 feet from the listening position; with the instruments at the rear of the stage clearly lit like they have never been before. This is spectacular! The huge sound stage is enhanced by the spot-on focused images of instruments and voices, with clean space between them. The pristine images appear and disappear in choreographed fashion on the stage. These visual images are like the ghosts of Muses dancing in perfect synchrony with the music."

How did the 4.0SE improve on this description? The sound stage is even more expansive in both width and depth. Its sides are uniformly lit.....eliminating the previous truncation. The instruments are clearly delineated and separated left to right. For example, you can hear the individual violins clearly separated in an orchestra (track #1, Super Sound, FIM XR24 066). The back of the stage is now better lit, creating a more transparent see-through clarity for the depth dimension. The front-to-back depth resolution is phenomenal. It is absolutely dramatic on track #1 of The All Star Percussion Ensemble. It appears to me that this front-to-back dimension is aided in no small measure by the sense that each note is projected outward from the instrument including in the front-to-back direction. Instrumental images are now more finely focused, are more solid and stable, have 3-D bodies in 3-dimensional space with ample air around them, and appear to propel their sound 3-dimensionally. The 3-D experience is fantastic. It's not just a wall of sound, but an ocean of sound. It's not like the 3-dimensional illusion of film on a flat screen, but more like a holographic landscape. This was innocently recognized by my 8-year old grand daughter when she visited me recently and heard the 4.0SE for the first time. After playing a short piece, with her seated in the sweet spot, I asked what she thought of it.Without any further input from me, she immediately replied: "I not only hear it, I'm in it."

Another exciting characteristic of the 4.0SE is its stunning bass. Let's start with Master of Chinese Percussion (LIM K2HD 033). When I first heard this CD on my 3.0SE, I wrote in my notes: "When the drum is struck, I feel the powerful impact of the waveform hitting my chest; and I hear the mallet contact the drum membrane, the response of the membrane, the resulting musical waveform, the resonance of the drum's body, and the changes in the tautness of the membrane depending on how close to its boundary the drum was struck. All are distinct events, unfolding sequentially in real time...in a split second!"

What can the 4.0SE add to such magnificent achievement? To begin with: superior pitch and punch. Added weight, drive and power produce a more palpable punch. With better definition, the pitch of the bass notes is more easily discerned; so is room ambiance, and the texture of the drum membrane. Second, the exemplary resolution of rapid runs that I noted above for mid and high frequency notes, is also manifested for bass notes. It's now easier to hear the closely bunched strikes on the drum membrane by multiple drummers as a rapid succession of individual strikes instead of a mash. Third, the quality of bass extends deeper with the 4.0SE. For example, on track #7 on Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (Rykodisc RCD 10206), there is a very low frequency note that is struck several times. It's so low, I feel it more than I hear it. It is now more impactful and I can feel the cycles of its vibration more clearly.

Note: While I was evaluating its bass performance, I had thought for a while that the 4.0SE is a bit soft and slightly bloated in a particular region of the bass. However, when I played test tones at different frequencies, I discovered that the two semi-circular columns that I use for diffusion were vibrating much more intensely than the wall in the 65Hz to 75Hz region. They were like two activated organ pipes that were skewing the frequency spectrum. When I pulled the columns one and a half inches away from the wall, thereby opening up their enclosed cavity, they quieted down. The bass improved and the rest of the spectrum gained some added clarity. The moral of the story: Check the rest of the set-up before faulting an individual component.

In addition to the above qualities and achievements, the 4.0SE displays many others, in large orchestral works as well as small ensemble and solo recordings: Huge dynamic range.....from a wispy decays merging with silence to spectacular orchestral climaxes (Holst, The Planets, Mehta, JVCXR-0228-2); The naturalness, ease and effortlessness in reproducing a complex of textures and intensities; Amazing ambiance that transports you in time and space to the original performance (Cantate Domino, PRSACD 7762); Resolving enough to reproduce the subtle waves that undulate within the cymbal's decaying shimmer (Quality of Silence, DMP, SACD-04); The dance-like agility and fluidity to capture the magical flow of music; Refinement and grace to delight the senses and the heart; A pallet rich enough to convey the artistic aesthetic of the composer and performer; A balance of frequencies, intensities, timings, and all ingredients so that nothing calls undue attention to itself.....All in the service of creating a wonderful seamless organic wholeness, a soundscape that is alive and pulsating as one. Serving music. Soothing the soul.

In the end, it's all about experiencing pure music. The NWO-4.0SE has proven itself to be an effective means to that end. It doesn't seem to have an obvious flaw or a character of its own. Like a chameleon, it reflects the character of the encoded musical impulses. In short, it's a magnificent instrument that enables me to melt into my music, pure sublime music! Congratulations and kudos to Alex Peychev, its creator.
puremusic
Thank you Puremusic. Extremely intriguing findings. What you describe on NWO 4.0 matches what I hope to hear in state of the art CDps, including the so rare texturing of transients. Will Alex's device be shown/heard at the upcoming RMAF in October? Thanks, G.
Thank you, great review. I own Alex's NWO-S1 SACD Player which is more modest impementation of NWO-4.0SE and based on Esoteric SA-50.

It took literally centuries for it to break-in but at the end I have immensely satisfying digital front end which easily bit my expectation. I don;t need to describe the sound your review has it (I presume better then mine but wording would be identical)

Cannot recommend it highly enough !
Guidocorona,

You're absolutely right about the rarity of textured transients in digital gear. Perhaps, that is why the subject does not get discussed as much as other topics like sound stage and imaging.

Although the NWO-4.0SE has spectacular sound staging and imaging, what I personally appreciate the most about it is its ability to resolve the nuances of harmonic textures and dynamic shadings and gradations.

I do not know if Alex's gear will be at this years RMAF. Perhaps, he will chime in with an answer.

Best Regards,
John
Simontju,

I haven't heard the NWO-S1. If, as you say, you would use similar words to mine to describe its sonics, then it must be superb.

It took about 500 hours for the NWO-4.0SE to fully break in.....before its ultra-refined levels of texturing bloomed. But it is well worth the wait.

I have found that is the case with all the components that I have burned-in. If a manufacturer says it takes 200 hours to burn-in their unit, yes it will sound good at 200 hours. But it won't unlock its full potential until at least 400-500 hours.

Best Regards,
John
Thank you so much John, I hope Alex can be persuaded soon to participate to RMAF, and with matching components that are synergistic with his CDp.... He may need to hurry... it looks like industry bookings may be up approximately 50% since last year, and good suites may be running scarce. I will be attending of course... In spite of having retired from IBM, I'll be hunting for rare gems as always.

Saluti,

Guido
How much?
Problems with APL in the past have been long delays or even years to get an order after paying and constant upgrades that makes one wonder if it is the best. You always have to wonder if your unit will be supplanted by another "better" version in less than a year after plopping tens of thousands on a unit you can't even audition. I'm sure for the money the unit sounds spectacular but when each of the previous unit got spectacular reviews, you have to take another spectacular review with a grain of salt. Afterall, law of diminishng returns applies at this price level. It would have been nice to have a side by side cmparison with simlar priced units but I realize this is an Audiogon review. Thanks for the write up.
Dracule1,

The company streamlined its operation couple of years ago: After I requested an upgrade, I was asked to send in my player only when it was ready to be worked on. Consequently, the turn around for each of my last two upgrades was less than 2 weeks, including shipping time. I have not read about any delay problems in the past 2 years.

Usually, when a major manufacturer comes out with an improvement, you are forced to buy a new "box" if you want that improvement. What I especially like about APL Hi-Fi's upgrade program is that you don't have to buy a new unit. Instead, for a fraction of the cost, you only pay for the upgrade modifications to your current component. This is especially important for digital, because developments are fast and furious. Such an upgrade program is also a partial antidote to the "law of diminishing returns". To upgrade or not, of course, is the client's choice.

Best Regards.
John
"...constant upgrades that makes one wonder if it is the best."

I agree with you in priciple. Some audio company like APL, Spectron etc are trying to be on the cutting edge of the very rapidly changing digital technology and every few years (not days or months years) are coming with an upgrade. They believe that by doing it they PRESERVE YOUR FINANCIAL INVESTMENT so your component is equal in performance to the best current standards

You have two choices: a) you are happy with what you have and you don;t want any upgarde and its great or b) you do want this upgarde and you get it and its great too

But you are not forced to go one way or another.

If you don;t want to be even tempted then don;t buy from such companies. I frequently read in reviews that company X or Y created its component 12-15 years ago and believe its the best and never changed it since not will it in future and when it will be something new then it will be new "box" with... new price.

I personally believe that this is BULL S..T. The design on the paper may be unique and good but at very, very least parts are becaming better and better and every few months (not years, months) there is some micro revolutionary part which does improve performance or..... degrade it - so you MUST TRUST your manufacturer and ... AND just READ owners reviews and then gamble or not

In this specific case new 32 bit D/A chips (potentially, if done right) will outperform old, say "21 bit" chip. Plus, Alex did a few not unimportant changes to his older design - as good engineer should, I believe

I heard some of Alex early pieces and always felt it was amazing. He came to my house once lugging a huge tube amp that stomped my Conrad Johnson Premier 12 mono-blocks with their superb authority and natural sound. Then he just vanished, rumors he was in Eastern Europe either sorting out family issues, or setting up production there, or both. ANYWAY, where is he now? If back in business, EXCELLENT! Welcome back! Is there a current web site?
Thanks,
Art
Unfortunately, I have yet to hear the latest 24 bit player (I don't think there is a true 32 bit DAC out there despite manufacturers claims) that outperforms a properly designed NOS 16 bit player (TDA1541 and the like). The newer players designed around the latest chips sound cleaner, hyperdetailed, and maybe more airy but not more natural to my ears. But I haven't heard the APL stuff. I have heard Meitner, Playback Design, dCs, etc, but not in my system. So I still have more listening to do to confirm my obversations. May be it just my preference.
Has the earlier question about price been overlooked"

APL doesn't list the price on the website.

Is it the old, "If you have to ask the price, then it's not for you?"
Lokie,
"How much?"
As far as I know, it's $25,000 plus your Esoteric UX-1 or X-01; add $10,000 if you don't provide one. The NWO-4.0SE uses the Esoteric chassis and its VRDS-NEO transport, but Alex guts most of the innards and replaces them with his original design which includes 20 AKM 32-bit DACs per channel, transformer coupled output stage, etc. "Everything is hand-made, including the population of the PCBoards with surface mount components, and is point-to-point wired." It's not just a modification of the Esoteric, it's a cost-no-object design.

Artmaltman,
"Is there a current web site?"
The web address is still the same (aplhifi.com), but the site got a face lift recently.

Tvad, Not overlooked.....Just absorbed in pure music....Time stands still.....And before you know it, it's 1:00am.

Peace,
John
Very nice.
John,

Thank you for the comprehensive review, it is much appreciated!

Guido,

We can't make it to the RMAF this year; we’ve been busy with the new DAC-S development and several other projects we are working on. I am hoping we can attend CES early next year.

Dracule1,

I know what you mean. Many audiophiles prefer the lush/rich sonic character of NOS DACs and are ready to live with the top-end (high frequency reproduction) problems of such designs (except GTE Audio). In my opinion, the AKM DACs we use have some advantages over NOS DACs and other 24 bit examples you are talking about. Of course, you need to audition one of our products before final judgment.

Art,

The big hybrid amp (HA-1) I brought to you is still my reference. The website is here: APL Hi-Fi

Tvad,

The NWO-4.0-SE is our cost-no-object statement digital product; it is boutique.
Since we discontinued Denon re-designs, we have been working on a similarly priced digital product that will satisfy the demands of today’s audiophile needs in the $5000 price-range, so the new DAC-S was born.

Audiofeil,

Location is European Union. More details here: Contact Us

Best,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
APL Hi Fi Operate in USA - please check his side. I believe some production facilities are in Bulgaria

Also NWO-S1 is 3-4 times cheaper then NWO-4SE. Its based on $5k Esoteric SA-50, has 4-6 DACs per channel (not 20) and output stage is transformer based ( I have Joule-Electra top tube preamp so I needed less Alex tube output). Alex made his own ultracheap IC with very low capacitance and all together work fantasticly well. Again, the break-in took a number of months and it was a torture!
Simontju. Alex used to reside in Calif. but has been in Bulgaria for some time. Alex is from Bulgaria and has many talented engineer friends and contacts in his homeland. This enables him to produce a quality product at a very reasonable cost.
Go to his website and check out the specification's on his new DAC-S. At $5000.00 it offers many high quality parts and design features that you won't find in other dac's regardless of price. For instance, notice that the design is built around the SECOND generation AKM 32 bit dac. Eight per side. One feature of all his products that dosn't get any attention but is very important, is that he loads his boards by hand. They are not machine made. Machine made boards are much cheaper but do not sound as good. This is controversial but it's believed that the high temperatures that machined boards are subjected to degrade quality. To hand load a board is very labor intensive.
I'm not sure what you're referring to by the NWO-S1. If it's the DAC version of the NWO 4.0SE (not in production yet) it has 20 DAC's per side and is not based on the Esoteric SA-50. It's a completely new product. However you you may be referring to an earlier modded SA-50 that was offered. Not sure.

Regards,
Frank
Lokie,
"How much?"
As far as I know, it's $25,000 plus your Esoteric UX-1 or X-01; add $10,000 if you don't provide one. The NWO-4.0SE uses the Esoteric chassis and its VRDS-NEO transport, but Alex guts most of the innards and replaces them with his original design which includes 20 AKM 32-bit DACs per channel, transformer coupled output stage, etc. "Everything is hand-made, including the population of the PCBoards with surface mount components, and is point-to-point wired." It's not just a modification of the Esoteric, it's a cost-no-object design.

Artmaltman,
"Is there a current web site?"
The web address is still the same (aplhifi.com), but the site got a face lift recently.

Tvad, Not overlooked.....Just absorbed in pure music....Time stands still.....And before you know it, it's 1:00am.

Peace,
John
"I'm not sure what you're referring to by the NWO-S1. "

Hello Frank.

This is "light" NWO-SS and its based not on X-01 but SA-50 model. It also has less DACs per channel and I am sure some other changes. So, it is SACD/CD Player with high quality digital input(s) to use its DAC for any music server.

Its not "modded" SA-50 as 80-90% of electronics is that of Alex. He basically use here Esoteric VOSR transport and may be something else. The D/A section inclusing new clocks is completetly his own.

While, I know that NWO-4.0SE is better it costs much, much more. Alex believes that NWO-SS is also better and, IMO, it has its basis in better transport of X-01, more DAC chips etc and probably for this (or any other) reason Alex does not offer NWO-S1 to public. Plus, unless you have a large SACD collection, as I do, you will be better off, financially, with his stand alone DAC. As you noted, such DAC for $5k is just a bargain !!!!

Still NWO-S1 is extraordinarey digital front end per my and my friends opinion. My hat off to Alex for his creativity, hard work and honesty.
Can anyone comment on the output stage. I think that's where allot of high end digital gear is lacking in priority. After all, analogue is what we're actually listening to.
I think it uses a class A tube output stage. Not sure if transformer or capacitor coupled. 6moons did a review awhile back that has the info you seek.
Quoting from the APL web site "Fully differential, transformer coupled tube output stage featuring the vintage E182CC tubes and Lundahl Audio transformers."
Can anyone comment on the output stage. I think that's where allot of high end digital gear is lacking in priority.

Agreed! Output stage is a very important part of the equation. In the NWO-4.0-SE case, the output stage is differential (balanced), class A, transformer coupled design using Lundahl output transformers and vintage E182CC tubes.

After all, analogue is what we're actually listening to.

Sure, this is what we are listening to, but to get as close to the original analog domain, the digital processing is also very important. For example, the AKM DACs in the NWO process audio data at 141 times higher than the regular 44.1kHz CD sampling rate. This results in close-to-analog signal at the DAC outputs. It is interesting that the NWO-4.0-SE seems to be free from the usual negative “upsampling effects”.

Best,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
For example, the AKM DACs in the NWO process audio data at 141 times higher than the regular 44.1kHz CD sampling rate.
WOW! That means the NWO DACs are outputting more than 6,000,000 samples per second (141x44,100=6,218,100). That would explain, at least in part, NWO-4.0SE's extraordinary resolution, smoothness, and realism that I hear. Alex, what is the output rate for the SACD format?
Alex Peychev writes:
For example, the AKM DACs in the NWO process audio data at 141 times higher than the regular 44.1kHz CD sampling rate
It's hard for an amateur such as myself to know what this statement really means.

(SACD - 1 bit representation at 2.8224 Mbs)

Regards,
John,

That is correct; NWO final sampling rate is 6,249MHz.

The SACD is sampling rate is 2,822.4MHz at 1 bit. Some DSD machines upsample this to 5.6MHz (twice the rate) which helps filtering-out the noise.

Metralla,

This means that CD is being re-sampled to 195kHz/32bit, then, inside the AKM DACs, is being further upsampled another 32 times. The AKM DACs feature higher-order modulators (5 or 8 bit, not 1 bit), resulting in dramatically reduced out-of-band noise that is comparable to the performance of non-Delta/Sigma R2R DACs (AKM holds various patents on their unique D/S modulators).

Best,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
Besides the transport, what are the differences between the 4.0SE and tthe DAC S? After a quick look at your website, the output stage, w the Luhndall Transformers, look the same.

You mentioned for USB input, that you like PC best. What's your favorite MAC configuration.

What's your thoughts/recommendation/options on adding a transport at a later date (mainly for SACD playback)?

One last thought- I have been skeptical in considering your products due to your disappearing acts in the past. Have you ever heard the saying, "it's easy to forgive but hard forget?", or," it takes a lifetime to earn a good reputation and a second to loose one." I'm not trying to lecture here, just trying to take you seriously as an option for my very hard earned money. Your products are impressive and I hope you continue with your focus on customer satisfaction.
Based on my on-going evaluation of my own NWO-4.0SE, I think that Puremusic's review hits the nail right on the head, and provides a level of detail that is rarely achieved by product reviewers, either professional or users.

I have be an APL customer for seven years, progressing from Alex's original Phillips SACD 1000, to the APL Denon 3910 (three versions), and now to the latest NWO. Although I felt that the NWO-3.0SE was as good as it gets (particularly after it won the controlled blind shoot-out we conducted here in San Diego), I was amazed at the magnitude of the improvement after I upgraded to the 4.0. Using my set of thirteen criteria, I had felt that the 3.0 was well neigh perfect. It score at the max on all my key measurements -- accurate tonality, detail resolution, instrumental differentiation, sound staging, quality of the bass, etc. And after burning in the 4.0 I heard all of those as before. Yet there was something different about the 4.0 that that went beyond this and defied my traditional listening criteria.

First of all, the bass extention was unbelieveably improved, beyond what I have ever heard on any player of any make. Second, the soundstage was not only broad, but much deeper, giving a true sense of realism to ensemble play. And third and most important, the sense of realism -- the sense of being in the presence of live music -- reached a whole new deminsion. The combination of accurately reproduced transients, the realism of the attack and decay of struck notes, and the sense of the impact each of the instruments had on its surrounding "air" all came together to produce a sense of naturalness that redefined the term "reproduced sonics".

Let me make two concluding comments.

As wonderful as RDCDs sound, the improvement between the 3.0 and 4.0 is even more amazing when it comes to SACDs.

And finally, although I have over 400 hours on my system, its performance keeps on improving. As I mentioned in a review I did on the APL web site, my 3.0 did not finally hit its peak until after 550 hours on burn-in.

Congradulations Alex, and congradulations Puremusic on an outstanding review.

Pete Watt
Lokie- A more detailed look at the APL website would have answered your question. The DAC-s is a "lite" version of some of the 4.0 architecture. The 4.0 is a 1-box solution that competes with basically anything out there at any price. The DAC-s is a standalone DAC with a fraction of the performance, however is meant to compete with other DACs costing 2-3x more.

The more accurate comparison would be between the 4.0 and the standalone "cost-no-object" APL Super-DAC, which is also mentioned on the site, but is not yet available. I currently have the prototype for this and along with my upgraded Esoteric UX-1 I am getting very, very close to 4.0 performance.

I have also been an APL customer for 5 years or so, going through the different versions of the Denon 3910, etc. I have always found Alex to be honest and true to his word. He went through a bit of a rough patch several years ago with family issues, etc., but has emerged relatively unscathed.

New products have been developed and are being developed from he and his overseas team and it looks like he is now much better able to support his cutting-edge products. Interestingly, the majority of any prior repair problems have not come from Alex's work/components, but failures of the underlying components - lasers, etc.

Hope this helps clarify a bit for you.
Lokie,

Besides the transport, what are the differences between the 4.0SE and tthe DAC S? After a quick look at your website, the output stage, w the Luhndall Transformers, look the same.

The VRDS-NEO transport has a companion called Digital Signal Processing). It is a PCB mounted at the bottom of the transport. It takes care of decoding the information that is on the disc. This board is highly upgraded. This includes new multi-clock generator, digital signal re-routing and passive components upgrade. The amount of work needed just for the DSP board upgrade is enormous (all hand-made), and results in much-better-than-stock performance, even when the NWO is used as a digital transport only. Other than that, the 4.0-SE has more DACs per channel, H-Attenuator and output stage built with the vintage E182CC tubes. The tube stage is output-transformer-coupled, using output transformers that are 5 times larger than the transformers in the DAC-S.

You mentioned for USB input, that you like PC best. What's your favorite MAC configuration.

I recommend Foobar with KS plug-in installed and 24 bit output mode because this is a very nice sounding combo with the M2Tech USB. I personally don’t have a MAC but many of my customers do. It was reported to me that AMARRA sounds very nice with MAC, although the M2Tech Hiface comes with MAC drivers as well.

What's your thoughts/recommendation/options on adding a transport at a later date (mainly for SACD playback)?

When based on Esoteric UX-1, the 4.0-SE is a universal player (CD, DVD, SACD). When based on X-01, it is CD and SACD only. Because of copyright issues, SACD digital output is not allowed, so it will be hard to just add SACD transport for the DAC-S.

One last thought- I have been skeptical in considering your products due to your disappearing acts in the past. Have you ever heard the saying, "it's easy to forgive but hard forget?", or," it takes a lifetime to earn a good reputation and a second to loose one." I'm not trying to lecture here, just trying to take you seriously as an option for my very hard earned money. Your products are impressive and I hope you continue with your focus on customer satisfaction.

You are absolutely right about that! Thank you for the nice suggestions and kind words about our products, I appreciate it! Things are now changed for the better, and we are doing our best keeping our customers happy.

Best,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
Alex/FPlanner,

Got it- Thanks.

Doug
Hi,

Greatly written review. I did however miss exactly what soundwise improvements you gained from upgrading from the APL NWO-3.0GO which was its real name (GO as in Game Over). Strange that you as an owner should not know the name.

I had the 3.0GO here and compared it directly connected balanced to my Krell MRAs with my Goldmund Eidos Reference RCA connected to a Krell Evolution II connected balanced to my Krell MRAs (no CAST connection). The differance was not small. The Goldmund/Krell combination was much more open and clean (like cleaning a window sensation). Dynamics were crisper and more explosive. Attack and decay were more natural compared to the APLs almost dynamicly shy presentation.

So I wonder what imorovments the the 4.0SE has brought over the 3.0GO. The transport is the same. The DAC construction is the same. The cabinet is the same. The transformers are the same.

Please enlighten me.

BTW, my GNSC statement modified Wadia 270SE and Wadia Series 9 Decoding Computer (upgrsded to 922) is even better than the Goldmund Eidos Reference/Krell Evolution II when the Wadia combination is connected balanced directly to my Krell MRAs.

Thanks,
Roysen

Thanks,
Roysen
Hi Roysen,

The 4.0-SE is a totally different machine compared to the 3.0-GO with the following differences:

1. New Master Clock
2. New wiring
3. New DAC chips
4. New DAC board assembly
5. New wiring
6. New tube output stage with the vintage E182CC tubes
7. New digital data re-routing PCB on the DSP board
8. New Digital Input Receiver (the digital input)
9. Improved power supplies

Mr. Lindvall who let you audition the 3.0-GO has the 4.0-SE already that was recently reviewed in the Fidelity Hi-Fi magazine. Since you are in Norway, I think it is easy to hear the 4.0-SE and find the best answer to your questions.

BTW, unlike all-solid-state gear you’re talking about, please don’t forget that the NWO is output-transformer-coupled, so, next time, please use low-capacitance interconnect cables.

BTW2, you have not heard the 3.0-SE which also featured most of the above upgrades except the new Master Clock and new second generation 32 bit DACs. The 3.0-SE was also a major improvement over the 3.0-GO so you have a lot to listen for. :-)

Best,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
Hello Roysen,
Greatly written review.
Thank you for your kind comment about my review.
I did however miss exactly what soundwise improvements you gained from upgrading from the APL NWO-3.0GO which was its real name (GO as in Game Over). Strange that you as an owner should not know the name.
Actually as the owner, I do know the correct name of the player I was comparing the NWO-4.0SE to in my review above. It is the NWO-3.0SE not the NWO-3.0GO. The 3.0GO was 3 generations ago. If you are interested in the huge sonic improvements of the 3.0SE over the 3.0GO, you can read the comments of several owners including myself at the following link: http://www.aplhifi.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=731 The owners who upgraded their 3.0GO to the 3.0SE thought the improvements were huge across the board. From those comments and my comparisons of the 4.0SE and the 3.0SE in my review you could extrapolate and compare the 4.0SE with the 3.0GO.

It would be best if you have an opportunity to audition the 4.0SE in your own system. Otherwise, if you own any of the CDs I referred to in my review, you can play those in your system and compare the level of resolution you hear with my description of what I heard in my system. That may provide some information about our systems, but not necessarily the CD player in particular.
So I wonder what imorovments the the 4.0SE has brought over the 3.0GO. The transport is the same. The DAC construction is the same. The cabinet is the same. The transformers are the same.
Among the major changes that you overlooked is the redesigned tubed output stage using new NOS tubes, the E182CC.
Please enlighten me.
I hope I have shed some light for you. For other technical changes, perhaps you could ask Alex.

Peace,
John
Roysen,

After submitting my last response, I now see that Alex posted a much more complete response to you.

Peace,
John
Alex. In capacitance speak, what would be considered low capacitance for interconnects?
Frank, I use cables that are rated at 3pF per meter. This is considered very low. Usually, heavily shielded cables have high capacitance.

Best,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
Thanks for the clarifications. I am sorry about my lack of knowledge and unawareness of the 3.0-SE version. Mr. Lindvall is also very pleased with his upgraded 4.0SE and the list of upgrades from the 3.0GO is very impressive.

At one point I thought about buying the 3.0GO but was not that convinced when I finally heard it. I now certainly need to hear the 4.0SE.

Alex, could you please tell us something about the differances in the DAC chips compared to the the previously used. Have you ever considered using the Sabre ESS chips?

Thanks again for the great review
Hello Roysen,

At one point I thought about buying the 3.0GO but was not that convinced when I finally heard it. I now certainly need to hear the 4.0SE.

Funny you should say that. I was under the impression that you were very impressed with the 3.0-GO considering the email you sent me after the audition with Mr. Lindvall in your own house. Here is a partial quote from your email that may possibly refresh your memory:

>>"Dear Alex,
I am a friend of S. A. Lindvall. He was visiting me on Saturday and had brought along his APL NWO-3.0GO. I own a Goldmund Eidos Reference and the Zanden 2000P/5000S combination myself which I use with either the Connoisseur Defintions 3.0 or Tube Research Labs Platinum Golden Triode Reference preamplifiers.

I was very impressed with the APL player and have the possibility to buy a used donor Esoteric UX-1 to send to you for rebuild to NWO-4.0SE. I do have a couple of questions regarding options and functionality"..........<<

Alex, could you please tell us something about the differances in the DAC chips compared to the the previously used.

The 3.0-GO and 3.0-SE used the same first-generation 32 bit AKM DAC chips - the AK4397. The 4.0-SE uses the second-generation 32 bit DACs - the AK4399. The latter is a completely re-designed DAC chip, starting with its front-end digital processing/filtering/volume control, unique Delta/Sigma modulator and SCF analog output stage featuring 32 levels D/A conversion, two per channel (balanced). The AK4399 works in Mono mode, resulting in up to 10db better channel separation. In audiophile language this translates to a huge 3D soundstage. But this is not everything! The 4.0-SE also features a completely re-designed Master Clock generator. AKM did it again with their unique modulators! I cannot describe the final result better than it has been already done by Puremusic’s brilliant review.

Have you ever considered using the Sabre ESS chips?

No, but I cannot elaborate any further, sorry! Let me just say that, in my opinion, AKM DAC and ADC technology is superior.

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
www.aplhifi.com
I was impressed with the 3.0GO performance but as you know I was looking for a DVD-A/DVD-V compatible player and it was in that context the comment was made. On CD playback it was also better than my Zanden 2000P/5000S combination but the Goldmund Eidos Reference was clearly better.

Thanks for your comments,
Alex,

To clarify even further. Its is not so that I was not impressed with the 3.0GO in general context. It certainly is a very good player.

However in context with this review it seems the APL 4.0SE is outstanding. I did not find the 3.0GO in that exhalted level when compared with the Goldmund Eidos Reference.

I did however still consider it as an option for me for DVD-A/DVD-V/DAD playback.

Thanks,
Roysen,

In your first post above, you characterized the 3.0GO's presentation as "almost dynamicly shy". I'm perplexed by that description because my experience with the 3.0GO was that it was very dynamic. You can read the 3.0GO thread on the APL forum and see that other 3.0GO owners agreed with my assessment (http://www.aplhifi.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=704).

What could account for this difference of perception? I'm assuming the 3.0GO that you heard in your system was sufficiently burnt-in. Since you were making a serious audition, I'm also assuming that you gave the 3.0GO a proper warm-up and stabilization period. I have found that when a component is unplugged for even a few hours, it could take a few days for it to stabilize and reach its peak potential after it's plugged back in. That is one reason why most rooms at high-end audio shows don't sound so good on the first day, and then improve on succeeding days. If the 3.0GO did not get a proper stabilization period, then your CD player (if it was plugged in and at its peak before the 3.0GO's arrival) would have had an unfair advantage. And that perhaps could account for the discrepancy in perception and invalidate the comparison. How many days did you have the 3.0GO plugged in before doing your critical comparison with your own CD player?

Peace,
John
It was not of course not "dynamicly shy" in a general sense. It was better in this aspect than my Zanden combination. The term was used to point out that the differance up to the Goldmund however was not small.

The 3.0GO was only here for one day, but it was plugged in for 4-5 hours before we started listening to it.

The same was also the case with the Krell Evolution II preamplifier used with the Goldmund. The Krell preamplifier arrived here at the same time and had the same warm up period as the 3.0GO before we started listening to it.

Thanks,
Roysen, Thank you for clarifying your comment about 3.0GO's dynamics. When you do get a chance to audition the NWO-4.0SE, try it connected directly to the amp. Just be sure to use a low capacitance interconnect. Let us know how it compares with your Goldmund Eidos Reference.
Peace,
John
Alex.
"I use cables that are rated at 3pF per meter. This is considered very low".

I can't seem to find any cables with capacitance that low or even close to that. Where did you get yours? I've been using Stage 3 Concepts Vacuum Ref. between my NWO 4.0SE and Lamm monos with excellent results but I'd like to try some low capacitance XLR's.

John.
Excellent review. I really enjoyed it. Sure would like to see a picture of your room.

Frank
Frank,

Thanks for the compliment!

The acoustics of my room, along with 2 other Rives' rooms, were reviewed in the October 2008 issue of Home Entertainment. There are photos of my room on pages 65 and 66. By the way, the reviewer's conclusion was complimentary: "This room is the audio equivalent of an F1 car--something designed purely for performance...."

With permission, those photos appear in this Rives link: http://rivesaudio.com/examples/john_led/finish.html The room is essentially the same but the equipment, except for the NWO, has change to the line up in the second paragraph of my review.

Peace,
John
John-
VERY NICE ROOM!! What speakers are those? Thanks
Hi Harve.
Those speakers look like the Talon Thunderhawks with a Talon sub in the middle. I'm using the Talon Firebirds with the diamond tweeter in my own system. Rives now owns Talon. According to John's review above he now has the Wilson Maxx II's.

Frank
Harve, Frank is right, those are the Talon speakers I had on loan for a while. And thanks for your compliment of my room.
Pete,

Thanks for your compliments and for sharing your observations about the 4.0SE. Please post your assessment when your 4.0SE breaks in completely. Mine took between 500 and 600 hours, so you are not far from that.
Yet there was something different about the 4.0 that that went beyond this and defied my traditional listening criteria.
In writing this review, I found myself in exactly the same predicament. The traditional parameters did not define the uniqueness and essence of what Alex accomplished in the 4.0SE design. My description was my best effort at explaining what I think is responsible for its superb level of sonic realism. Namely, the sense of the "projection" of the notes into a 3-dimensional space and their realistic trajectory: uncompressed and non-smeared rise, open and explosive but not piercing peaks, and decays with clear harmonic texture that linger and interact with other decays before fading softly into silence. There is a need for a new language that represents the topology of this trajectory more accurately.

You named 5 of the 13 criteria you use to evaluate audio components. If you don't mind sharing them, I would be interested in knowing the remaining 8 criteria you use.

Peace,
John