APL NWO-2.5T A Review of a Classic CD Player

APL NWO-2.5T A Review of a Classic CD Player

I have now lived in musical nirvana for 7 months and I'm very confident that APL's NWO-2.5T CD player is destined to become a digital classic. It has broken new fertile ground in the digital landscape and brought us much closer to the sound of a live performance. Undoubtedly, improvements will follow. But for me the 2.5T will be known for breaking a major digital barrier that has kept us far from the absolute sound.

Shortly after receiving my NWO, I posted some brief euphoric first impressions and promised a more complete update. It was clear to me from the start that this player deserved a more thoughtful and comprehensive review, a more meaningful review based on long-term listening.

Its awe inspiring performance made it difficult to complete the review sooner because: 1) Experiencing sonic heaven is infinitely more satisfying for me than writing about it. The 2.5T's audio reproduction is extremely involving. It speaks to the heart. It captures your heart. I find it hard to get my mind involved when I'm in a state of awe. 2) The 2.5T uncovers new levels of musical information that is contained in the digital data. It took time to wrestle with metaphors and language that conveyed the spirit of this information while doing justice to the uniqueness of the NWO-2.5T. 3) The 2.5T's musical presentation evokes the feeling of rightness, balance, naturalness, effortlessness, and coherence. No aspect calls attention to itself. No obvious imperfections detract from my absorption in musical bliss. The usual digital culprits were not there to engage my analytic mind. 4) The 2.5T is outstanding in so many areas that a long review was unavoidable.

Of course I could have written a short, quick review based on some hyperbole and audiophile jargon: Amazing. State of the art. Absolutely incredible. Jaw dropping. Digital killer. Stunning. Involving. Exciting. Delicate or powerful as required. Such descriptions, while accurately reflecting my impressions, do not do justice to the 2.5T and do not provide much information that is useful for understanding its salient qualities and for making buying decisions.

Comments similar to the ones made in the previous two paragraphs have also been made in reviews of other excellent high-end CD players. However, what I hear and experience with the NWO-2.5T requires this personal account to go beyond those usual descriptions in order to capture the spirit, the magic, and the subtle nuances that the 2.5T unearths.

First, the listening set up: The Jadis JA80 tube mono blocks drive the modified Watt/Puppies, while the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 drives the Wilson WHOW sub woofer. The NWO-2.5T feeds the amps directly (no preamp). All interconnects and speaker cables are Kubala-Sosna Emotion series and all power cords are Elrod Statements. Three Sound Application RLS AC conditioners condition the AC juice on three dedicated 20-amp AC lines. The main vibration damping/isolation devices are the latest Critical Mass' (Black Label) Grand Master platforms. The fairly-isolated dedicated listening room (approximately 23.5'x21'x9') has a thick carpet/pad on concrete floor. I'm now in the process of implementing Rives' room treatment design. The electronic equipment is in a separate adjoining room. The speaker cables run through holes in the baseboard between the two rooms. Three small cabinet-style doors between the two rooms provide easy access to three equipment racks. Therefore, CDs could be changed and equipment turned on and off without leaving the listening room.

My musical tastes include mostly classical, traditional and some jazz. The CDs used in this review are too numerous to list. Their variety includes Redbook, SACD, DVD-A, several genres, vocal (solo and groups), solo and small ensembles, chamber and orchestral. As always, the quality of sonic recreation is influenced by the quality of the recording, its mastering and encoding.

Having attended more than 600 live concerts, I have a good idea how various unamplified instruments sound. I am extremely impressed how much closer the 2.5T has come to capturing the soul of so many instruments, including the piano. Accurate rendition of the frequency spectrum, of the harmonic texture, macro- and micro-dynamics, and of the macro- and micro-transients is very important for me. All of these elements are important for creating the illusion of realism. And all benefit from the new levels of information utilized by the NWO.

Lets start with something that heretofore has not been important for me. I am not a typical audiophile. In fact, I don't like the term. I prefer 'musicphile'. Anyway, I normally don't pay much attention to the sound stage and imaging. (That sounds like audiophile blasphemy.) Instead, my attention is more on the musical elements mentioned in the previous paragraph. Having lived with the Wilson speakers for so long, I took for granted excellent sound staging and imaging. I didn't pay much attention to them. But the NWO shook this up for me.

With the NWO-2.5T, 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. It's a startling experience. A wonderful illusion of a visual landscape.

The 2.5T is equally adept at creating a small setting for a soloist or a jazz group and drawing you into an intimate presentation. The real magic for the musicphile in me is not in the visual landscape, but in the sonic one; painted with a palate of rich harmonic textures, dynamic shadings, and nuanced transients. Unlike a mechanically produced sound, an artist imparts his or her humanity into the performance. That makes each performance unique. The subtle variations in the phrasings and articulation, the subtle shadings, nuanced changes, a quiver in the breath at whisper level, etc provide a window into the heart and soul of the performer. That helps us connect with the emotional state of the artist. With the 2.5T, the humanity of the performer comes through, loud and clear. The unique artistic expression of the artist comes through. This is realism at its fundamental level.

Of course such realism requires greater resolution. Lots of details. Information that is intrinsic to the music, to the art and the artist's interpretation. For me, this is important. I'm turned off by detailed reproductions that are analytic sounding. Such presentations are at the expense of music. Worst are the artificial and etchy "enhancements". They take us further from musical realism.

The NWO 2.5T delivers a treasure trove of new musical details. Not just some new detail here and there. I'm talking about continuous unfoldment of information never before heard in my system, which previously included the APL 3910 and the NWO-2.5 (without the T).

With the 2.5T, notes come alive in the room. They have presence and authority. Its easy to hear the note hang and linger in the air, and interact with other notes and the room. Its like when you drop a stone onto the silent surface of a small pond. The whole pond comes alive. There's the impact and the splash; the spreading waves and their interaction with the shore; the interaction of reflected waves with the original ones creates intricate dynamic patterns. That's a visual analogy of the sonic landscape created by the 2.5T. A landscape that is not homogeneous and static. But a kaleidoscope of changing, dancing sonic colors created by the interweavings between the different notes and their interaction with the room and its contents. The mirrored reflection of this sonic landscape creates a rich emotional tapestry in my heart. Flames of feeling flicker and flutter in synchrony with the sonic dance. The music and the listener are one.

In addition to the cymbal's shimmer, on the 2.5T you also hear the complex texture in the expanding shimmering plane that spreads across the room, and the subtle waves undulating within that shimmer. Cymbals, up close and personal.

If the recording faithfully captured the soul of the piano, the 2.5T will set it free in your listening room. In addition to the stricken tones on the piano, you can even hear the subtle sympathetic resonance of other strings. Thus enhancing the harmonic richness. It's as if the 2.5T placed you on the piano bench. ( e.g., The Chopin Ballades, DVD-A, AIX)

The startling transients of the plucked guitar strings make you sit up and take notice (e.g., Flamenco Passion, XRCD, FIM). The explosive bass notes on the drum reveal the shape and size of its body as well as the tautness and complex texture of its membrane (e.g., Super Sound, XRCD, FIM).

In addition to the warm tone of the cello, you also hear its throbbing. That excites a resonance in your heart strings. The special sonic qualities of Yo-Yo Ma's cello, as I remember them from his live performances, are sufficiently preserved by the 2.5T. Likewise the delicacy of Kathleen Battle's silvery, silky-smooth soprano voice, Renee Fleming's sensitivity and enchantment, as well as the artistry of many performers I heard in person in live concerts. Sweet sonic seductions.

The realism is greatly enhanced by the 2.5T's ability to retrieve new ambient information. On well recorded CDs, the ambiance is amazing. On one cut on Proprius' Cantate Domino SACD disc, I am sitting in a huge, tall cathedral with reverberations echoing from its caverns, creating continuousness of ambiance. The reflected words and sounds within the cathedral are clearly intelligible and are seamlessly integrated with the direct sounds of the singer, with stunning clarity. Natural. Realistic. You-are-there realism. You sense the real space of the cavernous cathedral, its rising dome, its nooks and crannies.

You not only hear the ambiance of the room, but of the instrument as well. On the above recording, you hear the architecture of the singer's mouth and throat, and the shifts between different parts of the vocal apparatus as the successive syllables are formed. I feel the muscles in my mouth and throat spontaneously move in synchrony with the singer's. This is palpable realism.

Hearing the singer take in breaths doesn't do anything for me. But listen to Jacintha (e.g., Five Songbirds, SACD or Redbook, FIM). Hearing the micro nuances and the minute fluctuations in the expiration of her breath as it traces out her words gives clues to the emotional impulses of the performer. It strengthens my emotional connection. With enhanced empathy, my heart floats like a feather on the breath of the performer. Magic. Instant musical nirvana.

Equally impressive is 2.5T's sonic resolution in the temporal domain and dynamics. It reasonably reproduces the power and dynamism of an orchestra as well as a quiver in a whisper. Transients are clean, crisp and quick. Sharp like in live presentations, without being piercing. All achieved with silky smoothness.

I'm cautious when a reviewer describes the sonics as being smooth because that usually means the micro-life of the music was smoothed out to produce a more homogeneous sound; the fine details in both the frequency and temporal domains was leveled to produce unnatural smoothness. The result is smoothness and hardness of chrome metal instead of the smoothness and delicate feel of silk velvet fabric.

To attain visual smoothness in a digital photo, you increase pixel density to get rid of the pixelated effect. And, to obtain smoothness of visual motion in a video, you increase the frame rate. Similarly, to achieve natural smoothness in the flow of the musical reproduction, you need more information. The PRAT and fluidic flow of music that so captivated me by the Jadis JA80's presentation is significantly enhanced by the NWO. The smoothness of that mellifluous flow is not accomplished by leveling off the details, but by reproducing them. Even minute shadings of dynamics and transients are not only discernible, but palpable. A life-like presentation of sonic refinement. Soothing to the Soul.

Given that the NWO-2.5T is outstanding in so many areas, it is difficult to summarize its accomplishments. The major ones would include the level of realism it achieved in its presentation of rich harmonic texture, wide ranges of dynamics and transients, and the phenomenal sound staging and imaging illusions. Equally important is its realism in recreating the venue, the art and the expression of the artist's creative act. That is the Holy Grail of musical reproduction.

No review is complete without addressing the shortcomings of the component and suggestions for improvements. With the 2.5T, that has proved to be a challenging task. Initially, I had two major criticisms. Out of the box, it was "shock and awe" experience. "Awe" because it's outrageously excellent elements were overwhelming. And "shock" because it had an aggressive, in your face, presentation. However, after 60 hours of burn-in for the Redbook DACs, its aggressive nature began to improve noticeably in stages, until about 250 hours. By then, there was an excellent and natural balance between a laid-back presentation and a forward one. Perfect for my tastes!

The second major initial criticism was the limited bloom in the harmonic envelope. It was like looking at an exquisite virgin rose bud with its petals tightly bound, hiding its inner essence and depriving me the experience of its alluring aroma. It took about 160 long hours of burn-in before the treble began to open up. It was a tough wait. Around 190 hours, the sweetness and delicacy began to evoke my memories of live performances. By 250 hours, I was enjoying a whole bouquet of sonic sensations. A similar long burn-in process for SACD produced an even sweeter bouquet. Finally, I repeated the process for DVD-A. Ahhh...yes. That is special!

After burn-in, two minor imperfections came to mind: I thought the bass region needed a bit more clarity and the treble was a touch too analytic for my taste. On a whim, I decided to change the 12AX7 tubes in the Jadis JA80. BINGO. Instant improvement in the clarity and cleanliness of bass textures. And, the clarity and palpability of the recording room improved. Being on a roll, I opted to also change the 12AU7 tubes on the Jadis. POOF. The touch of analytic sound vanished. Oh my...the venerable JA80 is capable of much more than I thought. I then proceeded to scour all major tube vendors and auctions, and stocked up on better tubes to ensure the magic will last my life time. My humble advice based on my personal experience: If you notice a problem with your 2.5T, first make sure its fully burnt-in and then try upgrading the rest of your system.

Then came the nit picking phase. Once I noticed the massed string section in an orchestral selection was a bit steely. I tried another CD with massed strings. No problem there: silky-smooth seductive strings with a bloom I would like to pollinate other recordings with. On another orchestral selection, I noticed some congestion. Again it was the recording/mastering/encoding problem, not the NWO. After a few months, I threw up my hands and thought: "I've done my due diligence for this review, now let's get back to just enjoying the music."

Does the 2.5T have meaningful imperfections? Possibly, but I haven't found any yet that offend my tastes. Can its sound be improved? Yes. Go to a real live concert. I suppose if it's possible to get more of the same without compromising the superb balance of the NWO-2.5T, then yes. (See the last paragraph below.) But please don't ask me for possible improvements while I'm in a trance of this (ahem.......or any other) great euphoric experience. I only want it to last!

OK, but is it worth the price of admission? (That's like asking is Nirvana worth it?)
For me, this was a serious decision. Being a university mathematics professor, my financial pockets are not deep. I didn't have discretionary 25K burning a hole in my pocket. At the time, my cash-flow could not cover the full amount. However, based on my satisfying experience with the APL 3910, NWO's excellent specs, and the many exuberant reports about the NWO, I was inspired with some help from a home equity loan to get the NWO. Was that foolish? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely!!!

Just as I'm putting the finishing touches on this review, the news came that Alex Peychev, the genius behind the NWO, has a prototype of an upgrade to the 2.5T. The NWO-3.0GO. Like the 2.5T, the 3.0 uses the chassis and the superb VRDS-NEO transport of the Esoteric UX-1 or X-01. Everything else has been replaced by Alex's original design including the master clock, boards, tube output stage and AKM DACs--20 per channel!! See aplhifi.com for further details. The 3.0 is based on the new 32-bit AKM DACs. Several lucky people who have heard both versions, report that the 3.0 is a major improvement on the 2.5T!! How? I can't imagine! But this I know. Mr. Peychev is on a relentless journey toward digital perfection. Each succeeding iteration I had in my system was a significant improvement over the previous (the original APL 3910, APL 3910 with AKM DACs, NWO-2.5, and the NWO-2.5T). It appears that THE MAN did it again. My 2.5T is in line for an upgrade.
Very nice review Puremusic,

Seems like digital has finally reached its musical goals ?

Can't imagine the NWO-3.0 GO !
Alex is a great designer, and his Denon 3910 was the best digital I've heard or owned, but the constant upgrades made me nuts. If I paid $25,000 for a state of the art digital player only to find out a month or two later that it was no longer state of the art, and required an upgrade of several thousand dollars more, I'd go crazy.

I appreciate Alex's quest for the state of the art, but it wasn't a path I was comfortable walking. With the APL player, I was plagued by upgraditis.

Now, I have a different digital source from a designer who designs an excellent circuit and stays with it, and I am quite satisfied and relaxed with my choice.
Nice review. This reconstituted Esoteric appears to be the one to beat. It's time for the major audio mags to recognize in print that there is important work going on at the periphery of mainstream manufacturing. Of course this would expose weaknesses in stock offerings that are currently celebrated as the best available.
Tvad, Alex has been driven like a mad genius to perfect his flagship player. With the 3.0 completed, he says his attention is turning to his other products. Undoubtedly, some of the technological advances from the NWO series will trickle down. That should be great news for the high-end digital community.

Rx8man and Dgarretson, Thank you for your nice comments. I'm supportive of competition. It increases the creative juices in the great designers like Alex Peychev, Ed Meitner, and others. With competition from stock players and high-end digital designers, we will all gain.

Best Regards,
Thank you Puremusic for this comprehensive and thought provoking think piece on the 2.5T.

Alex has been , as you put it , relentless in his pursuit of excellence since the beginning . His upgrades have been frustrating to a few but ask yourself, would you rather have a component that is a dead end investment and forces a sale to upgrade or would you rather have a designer that pushes the envelope and offers an inexpensive upgrade path that allows you the peace of mind that your investment is secure and your player will not fall into obsolescence.
That is our philosophy and until now has been the path we have taken . I say until now because the NWO 3.0GO based on 32 bit dac technology is set to be unleashed . Alex has stated that this is the culmination of his life's work and it is time to let the NWO series of universal digital playback machines and his "relentless pursuit of perfection" take a much needed rest . At this time , we see no significant advancements that will be added to the NWO 3.0GO . Our customers that have stayed faithful and loyal to APL HI FI are the beneficiaries of our work and we think of you as family. Our commitment and appreciation is immense.
Brent Rainwater APL HI FI
At this time , we see no significant advancements that will be added to the NWO 3.0GO.
Brainwater (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers)

For those who pay upwards of $30,000 hoping to own a state of the art digital player that with remain so for more than two or three months, I hope this is true. A five year (plus) history of tweaks, upgrades and improvements to APL digital players suggests a pattern to the contrary.

The upgrade path is wonderful. However, there is value in having a player remain in a system rather than in transit and on the APL workbench.

What is the price of the NWO 3.0GO?
Thank you Puremusic for your in depth and precise review.
I would love to listen to this player, as it sounds like it may one day potentially have what it takes to replace my LP's.

Hi Tvad,

Your support and friendship to APL HI FI over the years has been generous and welcome.
The cost to redesign an Esoteric UX 1 or XO 1 is 19k if you provide the machine. 30k gets you a new Esoteric Limited fully redesigned to the NWO 3.0 GO.
Brent Rainwater APL HI FI
John, Thank you for your compliments. It would be great to hear comments from those who actually have a 2.5T in their own system as well as a high-end vinyl set up.

Tvad, Many manufacturers implement improvements all along, without letting their clients know for a year or two before they finally change the model number. They keep track of which machine has what improvements by the serial numbers. Then the upgrade cost for any particular machine will depend on its serial number. Personally, I prefer not to be kept in the dark. I want to know when any upgrade is available. Then the choice for WHEN to upgrade my machine is mine, not the manufacturer's. An owner of an APL player who doesn't want to send in his player for upgrades frequently can simply wait a year or two. What's wrong with that? I'm for choice. That serves both types of clients, those who want the latest now as well as those who prefer to wait.

Best Regards,
An owner of an APL player who doesn't want to send in his player for upgrades frequently can simply wait a year or two. What's wrong with that?
Puremusic (Threads | Answers)

Nothing wrong with that as long as one is disciplined enough to resist following the crowd and chasing the Grail. My observations indicate the majority of audiophiles who have the luxury of spending $30,000 on a digital source will be unwilling to own anything less than the absolute best, and they will therefore not wait to upgrade. It's certainly their choice to do what they want with their APL machines, and it's nice APL offers the upgrade path. However, the Quest results in downtime, additional cost...and Audiophilia Nervosa.

Mine is not really a criticism of the APL policy. It's rather an observation made for those who have no experience with APL products. Better to know what to expect before writing the check.
Tvad, Thank you for your clarification. John
John, I said it over at the asylum.

This is the best review I have ever read. All paid reviewers should read it and learn what you have given me - the tools to become a better listener.
Doug, Thank you for your kind words. But the credit goes to Alex's creation, the NWO-2.5T. It made it easier for me to hear and experience the rich fabric of the music.
Very nice review!
Brent - I have several questions as I'm in the market for a new digital player and don't want to be without one for a significant period of time.
Is there a waiting list for work to be performed for either model? If so how long is it?
What is the typical completion time once an order is received?
Hi Peter , I sent you a PM , Thank you , Brent

I don't think that question can be answered in a way you would find meaningful. I have been waiting 5 months for a 2.5T and never thought I would be waiting this long having tried to preschedule the upgrade.

BTW, I have done business with 3 modders and none were accurate about time estimates.

When 2.5T came up, I was wondering, how long would it take APL to introduce a newer version. And there it is - just after 6 months !

This is unbeliveable ! Imagine that ARC is already critiseized for changing models every 3 years !
It's amusing that with this company your order could need upgrading before it's actually delivered.

'Amusing' is not a description I have considered...

Over the long haul of modifying my CDP I've found that as the unit approaches perfection, even minor modifications can make large differences. Small smudges are easily noticed on a very clean window.

I don't know whether APL's history has been to offer too many such ad hoc changes-- as compared to waiting longer and rolling them collectively into baseline product releases in the manner of mainstream manufacturers. Most modders are different from manufacturers in this regard. In any case, an upgrade to newly available 32-bit chipsets is a big step up in technological terms and deserves special consideration. If Alex can beat major manufacturers to market with this technology then that's certainly to his credit.
Thanks for your reply to my post. I appreciate APL's dedicationt to make outstanding leading-edge machines and realize it is something that is not easily done in a large corporate environment. However if APL is a "one-man" shop one could wait a very long time before their unit is shipped. Particularly if the comapany's models have gotten good reviews! One could speculate that you wait is partly a function of all the time spent on designing and building the 3.0 version---I don't know. My questions were meant to get at time/delivery issues.
Bottom line---unless I feel comfortable with the company's ability to deliver a unit to me in a reasonable timeframe (and that's a personal view) I have great reluctance in placing an order.
"If Alex can beat major manufacturers to market with this technology then that's certainly to his credit"

I thought Accustic Arts has already brought this technology out a few years ago in their DAC1 Mk3. Since then they have released two other Dacs. The newer Tube DAC II has the 32 bit chip. This is from there website

"Special and unique 2 x 32 Bit technology with simultaneous digital signal processing,
separately for left and right channel

Extremely elaborate digital signal processing supported by an unique 32 bit Microcomputer

The 32 bit Microcomputer contains e.g.:
- High precision crystal oscillator
- 32 bit digital filter (including „de-emphasis“ technology)
- 26 parallel working multiplier processors (32 bit)"

Also I thought that the Memory Player was going to have a 32 bit DAC in their transport at RMAF in Oct.
"However if APL is a "one-man" shop one could wait a very long time before their unit is shipped."

Yes Peter, I realize this. This is the third time I have had units modified by APL. The first two modifications did not take anywhere near as long. At this price level, I'd rather have the unit in my system than sitting in queue which is why I attempted to schedule the work.

Having said all this, Alex has a history of coming through and the perspective of customers enjoying their units in their systems tends to be much different than mine - I am basically foaming at the mouth waiting for the upgrade. And yes, Alex has to juggle R & D, mod work, business planning, family, etc.

Alex's products are top notch. His Phillips SACS 1000 mod sounded as good or better to me than the highly rated Ayre universal. I compared the two for several hours. This is what convinced me to shell out for the NWO-1. Recently I compared the APL Philips to a fully tweaked beta Squeezebox front end on an excellent system (owned by Audiogon member zybar) and the listeners present could not pick a winner. They both sounded real nice. This was a casual comparison. APL sound quality has advanced considerably since the Philips mods.

If ordering an NWO you just need to be prepared for things taking longer than you expect. This can be hard due to impatience - a daily struggle.

Irish65, let's not mistake 32 bit processing with 32 bit DACs. Even a little Denon 3910 has a 32 bit floating point processor by Analog Devices taking care of multichannel processing, HDCD decoding, digital filtration, etc. Of course, it outputs the digital data to 24 bit Burr-Brown DACs. Please visit the websites of all manufacturers in the world producing DACs and, if you find any, please let me know who offers 32 bit resolution other than the new AK4397 by AKM. To my knowledge, the AK4397 is the first DAC to accept 32 bit data.

As far as I know, the only two companies currently using the AK4397 in their products are Esoteric and APL Hi-Fi. I am sure there will be more in the future, but this is the situation for now.

And one more thing, there are currently no AK4397 DACs in USA available to purchase from the AKM parts distributor. What I am saying is that no one could have used these DACs for a year or more already.

Lastly, AK4397 contains many different stages inside so it is not just the 32 bit processing but also the unique Delta/Sigma modulator, actual D/A conversion and analog stage in the AK4397 which makes them so good.

So I agree with you that 32 bit digital signal processing is nothing new but, so far, there were no DACs accepting 32 bit information other than the brand new AK4397 by AKM.

The new Esoteric D-05 accepts 32 bit information.
to a true music-phile, i am happy that "puremusic" is enjoying the sounds that his equipment is capable of as much as he is.
to the rest of us however, i would humbly remind people that mark levinson was able to eventually produce their "reference-level" digital performance for less than half the original costs. IOW, a 360s/37 went for $11k (retail), while a 30.6/31.5 that originally pushed the envelope cost over $26,000, and this was several years ago! and now, you can get a used 390s for about $4k, which some say is as good as the separates! and if that's not enough of a conundrum, there's the incredible meridian 808, the cary, or the dcs players, not to mention EMM's CDSA. or you can get a turntable and really go nuts over a well recorded piece for under $5k; for $15k you can get something that looks like the starship enterprise. my point is this- i couldn't be happier for the reviewer- he has an excellent cdp and not too many people can say the same. but i'm also concerned that the product he is lucky enough to have acquired isn't made by APL- it's modded. will esoteric get a shot at the technology and then offer it down the road for half the cost (or hopefully less?) a long time ago, i personally confronted the madrigal rep when they did a demo in my home town about their "incredible #30"- my question was simply this- the people that would really enjoy having one the most- the music-philes- are unlikely to ever afford one. he responded that they could buy a proceed dac (at the time their "budget" line). but he knew it was a lousy answer, and everyone there kind of shrugged in agreement (except for the 1 or 2 guys who dropped by in ferraris). but not too much later levinson (as well as spectral, threshold, goldmund, etc.) started marketing premium digital for alot less money. of course, out of boredom or something, DCS came along (oh yeah, Zanden, Reimyo, MBL, and some other lunatic-fringe companies).
and what's going to happen if some new D/A device the size of an pea comes along in 2010 that, loaded into a $500 laptop, will store your entire music collection (or you simply download it from stereophile's music library), and play it with stunning life-like clarity over your Wilson Alexandrias- one of the few speakers capable of letting you hear what the new technology can deliver??
anyway, us music-philes need to form a UNION! we are being audio-nervosofied on all fronts, and prosac isn't the answer anymore! don't pacify me with "pictures" of state of the art components! if i can go look at an actual rembrandt in an art gallery, i should be able to listen to ANY piece of music i want WHEN i want with the BEST available sound, and still pay the rent and buy groceries! i say UNITE!
first we storm SONY, INC., THEN we picket in front of TEAC, and so on. NEVER GIVE UP THE FIGHT (for your RIGHTS).
P.S.- oh, and btw, let me know if a used APL 3.0 in mint condition becomes available...

Thank you for your kind comments and for your observations about the trickle-down technology from the cost-no-object digital to the more affordable range. Such trickle-down allows more musicphiles to enjoy better musical reproduction. Eventually, we all gain. I understand that APL is planning to incorporate some of the technology from its flagship NWO series into their more affordable products. However, due to their huge cost, the superb Esoteric VRDS-NEO transport and chassis will remain in the NWO series. Consequently, not all of the amazing sonics in the NWO series will trickle down.

my point is this- i couldn't be happier for the reviewer- he has an excellent cdp and not too many people can say the same. but i'm also concerned that the product he is lucky enough to have acquired isn't made by APL- it's modded.

A clarification: The NWO is not a mod. It's not based on just upgrading of some parts and some minor redesign. It's a completely original design by Alex Peychev that uses the VRDS-NEO transport and chassis from the Esoteric UX-1 or X-01. (For few more details see the last paragraph of the review above.)

P.S.- oh, and btw, let me know if a used APL 3.0 in mint condition becomes available...

That probably won't happen for some time. But in the meantime...Once in a while an APL 3910 CD player ($6,500 new, about two years ago) shows up on the used market. There is one on Audiogon today listed for $4,800. They have held their value well.

Best Regards,
Call me naive, but why do we need a 32 bit DAC when the source data is only 16 bits? You can't make the original data more accurate than 16 bits, right? May be more precise but not more accurate. Final product likely will sound different, but not more accurate (note I'm not using the word "better" 'cause that's matter of taste). It just seems all matherbation to me. There are plenty out there who still vouch the orginal 16 bit chips from the 80's and 90's sound better than these newer chips. Whenever I hear vinyl playback, I still feel the best CDPs out there are a magnitude behind. Please edumicate this village idiot.
Puremusic, in your first paragraph you say that you are "confident" that the NWO-2.5T is destined to become a "digital classic". In the last paragraph you are saying the (new) "digital classic" has been smurfed by something better and needs an upgrade. Are these two thoughts consistent?


There have been many classics in high-end audio. And when they were improved upon and were no longer the state of the art, we didn't stop calling them classics. 'A classic" is not synonymous with 'the state of the art'. If they were synonyms, then there would have been a contradiction in what I wrote. In the third sentence of the first paragraph of my review I anticipate that improvements will follow. One common description by some who heard the 3.0 is that it gives more of what the 2.5Toffers. I anticipate that future improvements will continue by APL and others. Some of these improvements will represent milestones. They will be the new classics.

Best Regards,
John, Great review, mucho better than what I can. Guys, I have owned over 60 sources, with Alex's I have been so commited for the MAJOR fact, he is voracious in his commitment to creating THE finest in digital reproduction, at any cost. But, with this in mind, he is the ONLY person I have ever done Biz, with who makes sure, beyond any doubt, that he takes care of UPGRADING EXISTING UNITS TO CURRENT PRODUCTION, this is DEFINATE value added, and keeps APL units current, with current prices. APL units, are the ONLY NEW units, I have paid retail for, which have not lost more than 20% of the RETAIL pricing from the Manufacturer.

Please show me ANY other product which has as much RETAINED value, as APL.

Bravo APL, and Alex...Thanks for being so damn persistent.
I believe causa_sui made an astute point. My Merriam Webster Dictionary defines "Classic":
1) Serving as a standard of excellence
2)A work of enduring excellence

IMHO the 2.5T was superseded to soon to be called a classic. This does not infer that the 2.5T couldn't be superior to another CDP which could be considered a classic.

My unabridged Webster's Third New International Dictionary has numerous nuanced definitions of 'classic', many of which do not explicitly imply duration or time element. For example: particularly effective, of the first class, particularly definitive, ideally illustrative, of the highest quality, etc. With such variety of available shades of meaning, it is the author who chooses which connotation to use as long as he informs the reader. I immediately did that in the first paragraph. I explained why I think of the 2.5T as a classic. Namely, it has broken new ground and broke a major digital barrier. Using descriptive and metaphorical language, a large portion of the review then attempted to communicate what I heard and experienced that was the result of this ground breaking. Based on my experience, I thought the 2.5T was, among other things, 'particularly effective' and 'of the first class'; hence my designation 'classic'. An instant classic.

Best Regards,

I appreciate your effort and mean no disrespect. However, in this era where everything seems to be "hyped" and "oversold" I, for one, want to express the caution that if everything we like becomes a "classic" simply because we choose to call it one then classics will no longer be. In other words, its overuse renders the term meaningless. "Classic", as Phaelon points out, gestures toward something altogether more substantive than subjective experience. Can you provide some objective reasoning as to why this player is or ought to be considered a "classic" i.e. is a "standard'; is "enduring"; is "excellent" other than the fact that you think it tres fabo and Alex to be God-like or as you say: "THE MAN".


I understand that some may prefer a more restrictive use of 'classic' than what is presented in Webster's unabridged dictionary. I can appreciate that semantic preference and we can agree to disagree. In my subjective review I provided the connotations I used and supported them with details relating to the frequency spectrum, dynamics, transients, and sound staging and imaging (based on seven months of listening). For me, those details, taken collectively, were reason enough to call the 2.5T a classic. Like most reviewers on Audiogon, other forums, online journals and print journals, I don't have a laboratory to run tests and take performance measurements. From my side, there is nothing more that I can do or say except: The excellence of the 2.5T is supported by many reports on Audiogon threads and other forums; and for what it's worth, is supported by results of all shoot-outs that I am aware of that have already been publicly reported.

Best Regards,
"My observations indicate the majority of audiophiles who have the luxury of spending $30,000 on a digital source will be unwilling to own anything less than the absolute best, and they will therefore not wait to upgrade"

I believe the rational of TVAD's statement speaks for itself. Hence, I wonder if, in a relatively short time, there will be any 2.5Ts in existence to be referred to as classic.
Phaelon, There is a lot truth in your quote of Tvad's post. In particular, all owners of the NW0-1 had their players upgraded to the series 2 NWO. (To my knowledge, none were sold on the used market.) And some of these, including mine, are already in line to be upgraded to the 3.0. With APL's commitment to upgrade any NWO to the latest version, I would not be surprised if eventually all the series 2 NWO players will be upgraded to the 3.0 as you suggest. If the 3.0 is an improvement on the 2.5T as several people have claimed, I wouldn't be surprised if the NWO series becomes a classic. That would not be unprecedented. There have been other series in the high-end audio where a classic was replaced by a series of improvements, and then the series, for one reason or another, was referred to as a classic.
Firstly - I was remiss in not first complimenting you on the quality of your review. Very nicely done.
Secondly- You win John
We all win, including Causa_sui. We aired our differences in a respectful, civil manner. We had a dialog, not a shouting match, which shed more light than heat. I appreciated that you were both fine gentlemen.
Best Regards,
1) About the upgrade cycle:
I have ordered an APL NWO2.5 beginning of January. I was planned to pick it up in April, and learned 1 week before that the NWO 2.5T has just been introduced. I decided therefore to convert my order in a 2.5T... and ended up waiting 3 more months to finally get it end of July. One month later, I read that the NWO3.0GO has been announced...

I can understand that people may have different feeling about the "upgraditis" of APL. I personally find it a great bonus to be able to update your player regularly... with a big minus: reliability of estimate for delivery of product. If I would have known that I need to wait 7 months for my player, I would probably have chosen a EMM Labs... even if the APL maybe superior.

Now my big fear is to send back my player for upgrade to 3.0, and wait 3 months to get it back. I don't buy a system to remain 3 months w/o a player...
The fundamental problem is that there is absolutely no visibility on backlog, and no clear communication of your position in the waiting list. I am even not convinced that there is really a waiting list based on timing of deposit. If APL wants to reassure all their customers that they are treated equally, they should publish on their forum the waiting list both for upgrade and new products. Customers upgrading from previous models should get a call or email when the product is ready to be upgraded (3 weeks in advance). Turnaround time should be less than a week. This is not difficult to implement. Question is the willingness to create transparency and to be perceived as a more professional company.

2) About the 3.0GO:
Brent/Alex, what is the price of upgrade? what is estimated date for components availability? what is the typical turnaround time?
I am sure I will line up.. but I would like to get insurance that turnaround will not take months

3) About the NWO2.5T player itself
I cannot make a definitive judgment, as both my speakers (MM3) and the NWO have only 130 hours. For the moment, the sounds keeps opening up, but the highs are still too harsh/bright to my taste (can be caused also by speaker, will test this weekend with direct connection of the Transporter to my Dart w/o using the NWO as DAC). Bass and medium are already sounding great. (Puremusic, do you have similar experience during burn in?). I am confident that sound will be GREAT at the end of burn in.

The volume control and digital-in are great feature. It allows me to have a minimalist system: 2 speakers, one media server, one CD, one amp. Better than with pre-amp and at a lower cost.
One suggestion would be to add in the shipping box one schematic with position of the different connectors (I don't expect my "digital in" to be on "clock sync"), as well as a copy of the non intuitive instructions which are on the website.

4) Customer Service
Brent is a great guy to deal with: very helpful and responsive. Alex, you are lucky to have found him

PS: I am still waiting for my invoice...

Puremusic, do you have similar experience during burn in?

As I mentioned in my review, the treble began to open up around 160 hours of burn-in; sweetness and delicacy started to come in at 190 hours; but it wasn't until about 250 hours on Redbook CDs that I felt the Redbook DACs were burnt-in. Then I had to go through the long burn-in process on SACD, followed by DVD-A. In the end, it was glorious. It was well worth the wait.

Best Regards,
Are the redbook DACs separate from the SACD and DVD-A ones? I thought Alex converts DSD to PCM and then everything goes through the same circuits.

A classic is not a classic if it needs to be upgraded so soon.
Every manufacture leaves room for upgrade to make money.
There's now a NWO-3.0. If I had the scratch I'd check it out just to hear what the "state of the art" sounds like.
Maybe the nomenclature should be month and year. For instance the 9.07 would indicate September 2007 and 10.07 for October 2007.

This would allow buyers to order the 3.08 now provided lead time is about 6 months as previously mentioned.
6 months... let's say it is the price to get the best!
My NWO2.5T is still burning in, but sounds has been improving dramatically over the last 40hrs of playing... and it is not the end yet
It is worth the wait!

I'm very curious about the APL NWO-DAC1 but sounds like it won't be available until sometime next summer if all goes well. Proposed price is much more in the realistic range.
I have 2.5T now which was upgraded from 2.5. I found a slight reduction of the speaker toe-in angle (about 3 degrees) and increase of speaker distance (1.5 cm) could improve treble (violin at highs) and soundstage. Of course enough breakin time is essential. It took about 230 hours in my case.

Please keep us updated on your APL 2.5T burning in.
I am now at around 270 hours burning time on the NWO2.5T. The sound has kept improving for the last 100 hours. Much more open, relaxed, while keeping its transparency and ability to dissociate sounds from different instruments. Everything is now perfect, and I am very happy of my purchase!

Now I still need to go through SACD burn-in...