Audio Nemesis experience



The way of the kaikaku
MONO AND STEREO HIGH-END AUDIO MAGAZINE

I've received quite few request and recommendation for Audio Nemesis products. My good friend Kenneth specially recommended their DAC's. He's among few people I trust on sound and performance. I emailed Audio Nemesis and Fabio responded quickly. We set for the dates and in few weeks I received Audio Nemesis DC-1 VLE, DC-1 UE, PM-1 and two PA-1m's.

As usually I gave all the components a 300 + hours "burn in" time. It's a fair time of settling into any system and so the fun began...

DESIGN


Audio Nemesis components come in very nice understated designed boxes. With acrylic front plates and "shoe box" size, they don't take too much space. As with Kondo, Robert Koda and few others I prefer this sizing if there is no need to use larger chassis. I think high-end audio came a long way to the point where for a real connoisseurs who care for music first, the size and bling doesn't matter. There is no need for large size boxes if ones strives for a true enjoyment of music. The size compensation is usually needed for many other reasons, but rarely for something to be connected to music :). 

ENTER THE AUDIO NEMESIS


"AudioNemesis mission is to offer high quality audio appliances for listening to your favourite Music at a reasonable price."

I never approach listening with the price of equipment in mind. It's always about music and performance first. True my twenty + years in high-end audio I've learned, that the price sticker hold nothing or little when it comes to the actual performance. It's true, that I love and use some gear, that are not exactly budget priced, but those deserved their given prices for good reasons. There are still few companies that "justify" the performance, built in materials and the way of how they are being made. But, there are also so many friendly priced gear out there that push the performance very high and make a life of many high-end companies harder each year. I see this as a healthy market competition a positive wind blowing. There was never a better time to be an audiophile as of present and high-end audio society changed quite a bit in past few years. With the rise of globalisation and modern communication the power of information brought out to the surface great amount of small companies, that were quickly recognised beyond their domestic borders. As Fabio told me this is the same for Audio Nemesis. He's more known outside of Italy then in his home country. 

I asked Fabio to write a few words to understand his philosophy better. 

The way I do things is not the way mass is doing them. This is not because I want to do things in a different way, but because I apply a different way of life, I think. For everything I do I love to apply some famous Lean Principles, such as “challenge all the fixed ideas” and “use your wisdom, not your money”. After many years I see that for doing this is a true open mind is required.

And I found some Einstein’s famous sentences are enlightening me. For example: “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”. This is very important, because it reveals that “less is more” is not 100% true. Simplifying more than the “limit” will mean problems. We need to simplify but never going to simplification.

Or: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction”. Again: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking used when we created them”.

I consider them enlightening. And I always keep them in my mind. Not only when I design audio gears, of course. And I try to do what Japanese call Hansei, a self reflection.

When I started my audio business I sold clocks for CD and DVD players, together with other interesting accessories. I always thought that the upgrade of an audio gear is a delicate matter: it must be well balanced compared to the cost of the unit we are going to upgrade. That’s why I never consider “smart” an upgrade of old units with very expensive parts... Anyway, after a while I’ve seen that I could do much more adding a new external small d/a converter, instead of spending money in a universal output stage of those old players. That’s why I designed the first DC-1: it was in 2004.

The balance is the most important aspect I consider when I design an audio gear. No special aspect must keep the attention of the listener but Music. This is because Music is the PURPOSE, not the unit. And I think that the more a gear can show differences among different discs, the more it’s well done and transparent. I spent hundreds of hours listening to the prototype of the DC-1, changing some values of passive components to balance the sound. I also spent a huge amount of time on the bass frequency balance. My speakers are very well balanced and I never liked the usual un-damped bass we can easily listen to from very high cost speaker systems. I tuned the bass response for a rich and fast sound: instead of quantity I always preferred quality.

So the final result was a different d/a converter with a very low output level. Supposedly a standard Kusunoki...

Soon after the test published on a famous online magazine, I read several comments on Italian forums about the fact it’s a Kusunoki schema. I never wrote back. But it has been very interesting the main critic: why to spend so much for a circuit if we can buy it for much less in China (with even better passive parts)? Yes, it’s a Kusunoki schema. But if you look inside, we can find a lot of differences. I use shunt regulation, lots of regulators, I chose the input receiver after hours of listening tests. I also chose the passive parts after listening tests. Well, if you think it’s the same, please buy a Chinese dac. Otherwise, just compare... and let me know.

Another interesting critic: it cannot be made in Italy. For sure they made most of the work in Asia. Is it too cheap?? In the web site I describe several details about where parts and work are done. I’ll put more about the work (assembly etc.) very soon in the web site, in agreement with the good guy who is assembling them. The reason why we reach this level of final retail price is our way of working: we don’t do big investments in stock. We buy parts, we assemble and we have them ready in small batches. That’s the way Lean Production works. We try to be Lean thinkers all the time.

Back to dac, after a short time, despite my point of view, I discovered that eliminating the output buffer the circuit sounds better. I worked on it a bit. Meanwhile I was starting to push the concept to an upper limit, working on the VLE version. I changed the shunt regulators, improving them a lot, I added more dacs in parallel, I improved the parts quality... It was enough for the Upgrade Edition (UE), that is really a huge step ahead. But after the creation of VLE, the VLE is my dac in my personal system.

Honestly speaking, I was the most surprised guy on earth after comparing the VLE to other well quoted dacs. I don’t think I understood all whys, but I’m sure I captured some lost aspects. One day I double checked it against e dCS player with dac. For a very lucky situation, both outputs were almost identical in level, so we could connect each of them to 2 different inputs of a preamplifier. Just playing a CD we could change the input in real time and listen to the differences. Well, bass was identical. Mid was very similar with more magic from VLE, high could be improvable for VLE, as I already knew. But VLE did cost 1/10... A customer wrote me that VLE was 99% of a 10 times more expensive (Orpheus) dac.

Can I improved it? Yes... I did it. More in the future.

The PM-1 (Phono preamp) was my second design. It’s very simple, of course, with shunt regulation and passive splitted RIAA. The basic design is not original and very similar to famous projects. The upgraded version is my usual phono preamp at home. But I think there is no other similar design out there, but again also with the schematic we cannot understand many whys... John Curl did let me understand many things about hidden aspects with his writings.

Then it came the line preamp LT-1. Now mk2 (sorry Matej), because I did not like it that much in the original version (for my purposes). But the true third project was the LT-3 line preamp. What is it? A very unusual single stage preamplifier, with a transformer output, that I design as a reference. It uses a very unusual FET per channel and I am thinking on a very small batch of them, since I have enough FETs to do it (with or without the transformer). Stay tuned.

When I had to design the obvious following product (power amp), it was a bit easier: I already had many reasons to find my right way quickly. The result is a 2 stage design, pure Class A, hybrid schematic, with 7 components on the signal path (passive + active). My schematic is nothing really original, I found similar schemas on the web, just like for Kusunoki, the phono preamps etc. Again, we don’t need to do something completely original for improving a good concept or for reaching a target. We need to have the purpose very clear and to work for it. And I work this way. I like the result and I use these amps with my Goto drivers! A friend of mine suggested to push the concept (like I did for the VLE over the DC-1). And I designed the RS version (soon on the web site, now in my system). Then, I created the brand new Echidna S, a stereo power amp I’m worked on for almost 3 years and that we will presented in early 2014. More later next year.

I like to improve my products step by step. It’s a Kaizen practice I like so much, because I learn a lot from it. If we improve step by step for years we can reach very good results and we can understand why. After that we can do what Japanese call Kaikaku: a “revolutionary” step forward.

FIRST CONTACT


Above elaboration from Fabio reveals a lot so I won't go into technical side of things. Fabio text came after my initial listening and it matched my feelings and listening notes. Among rights and wrongs in high-end audio Audio Nemesis components reawaken certain well known emotions. You can quickly have a feeling on "right" performance even from so called glimpse listening. Basic qualities will always present themselves more or less instantly. Yes, Audio Nemesis felt like mature sounding products and not as start ups with first hours of listenings. 

Whole Audio Nemesis components revealed the things I've read so far in my readers reports and discuss in my correspondence with few fellow high-enders. Natural sound and surprisingly musicality in their price range. As you'll see there are many reasons for the performance of such.

AUDIO NEMESIS TAKE ON DIGITAL CONVERSION


Audio Nemesis's Fabio Camorani sent me two version of DC-1 DAC; DC-1 VLE and DC-1 UE. Below are few words from Fabio explaining the difference:

"DC-1 VLE is a very special and unique design: it¡¯s an extreme version of the concept born with the DC-1. Everything has been improved and everything is extreme, despite the cost. Starting from the original DC-1, we made lots of modifications, with continuous improvements (Kaizen). Along the way, the DC-1 Upgrade Edition took form, implementing a few ideas born developing the VLE. This design has been presented with a delay caused by further important improvements. DC-1 VLE has been produced in 40 numbered pieces only."

To get a feeling of dedication regarding the DC-1 VLE concept here are the few highlights:
  • Custom mains filter
  • Two power transformers ¨C one is R-Core type
  • Fast-soft recovery Diodes in TO-220 (<25ns i="">
  • 16 separated power supplies
  • 11 out of 15 power supplies are shunt regulated
  • Special shunt regulated discrete power supply dedicated to each d/a chip (8 supplies) with an outstanding rejection of -120dB @ 20kHz each
  • 75ohm SPDIF, Toslink and 1.1 USB inputs
  • Canare special gold plated 75ohm input RCA connector
  • 16bit, 32-44.1-48kHz USB input
  • Gold plated USB input connector
  • top quality Scientific Conversion input digital transformer, with only 0,5pF (!)
  • Asyncronous reclocking circuit
  • Eight (8) 16bit (multibit) d/a chip in parallel
  • Zero-oversampling
  • Direct output from dacs without any output stage (zero-feedback...)
  • Dale 1% resistors
  • Vishay (naked) very special resistor
  • AudioNautes special output capacitors
  • Pure silver special wires (digital and analogue
  • HDG (High Density Graphite) to damp vibrations
  • Professional gold-plated high quality standards PCB
  • 40 individually numbered pcs only
Once you've open the box everything becomes clear and revealed. Fabio is not joking at all with his views. As his primary goal was the directness of signal passing through the fewest elements possible the selection of material is refined and well thought. There are 8 converters in parallel. For those with a bit of deeper knowledge of topic this means a big thumb up when implemented right. With DC-1 VLE there is no output analog circuit like with DC-1 UE that uses zero-feedback discrete circuit. I can fully agree with Fabio in resulting sound that greatly mimic the analog. Coming from me this is quite a bold statement as I always take and analog as my ultimate reference. 

Non oversampling devices offers a certain stressless presentation, that many contemporary DAC's fail to bring. VLE is for sure among few DAC's that revive a close feelings of analog easiness. Music comes in a way, that is much freer of digitits and this shows clearly with the prolonged listening.

Where does DC-1 UE stands along the VLE? I would say, that everything goes in the same footsteps of VLE, but with a bit recessed nature. They are close in ability to move the bits into the music, but with VLE one more curtain is removed from the music being closer to the listener. 

AUDIO NEMESIS TAKE ON VINYL REPRODUCTION


From what I understand Audio Nemesis PM-1 is a longest standing product. As with other products PM-1 brings hands full of wit implementations of technology.

This phono is quiet as Tom Evans Microgroove X plus. I thought I never come across the phono preamplifier with the such low level of noise and blackness, but I've always stand to be surprised. And here we go.

The openness and drive of PM-1 phono brought the music on front. Perhaps not as fast as Tom Evans, but darn close. With Tom Evans the speed could be problematic with the certain types of cartridges. Audio Nemesis PM-1 was less picky on them making the compatibility more on hand.

I'm picky as anything when it comes to vinyl reproduction as it's my preferable medium of enjoyment.  Along with i-Fi iPhono and Tom Evans Audio Nemesis PM-1 rocked my little analog world greatly.

My phono preamplifier recommendations choice just broaden with PM-1. Moving my inner world with anything from Spandau Ballet to Beethoven puts Audio Nemesis along my few trusted RIAA preamps. 

AUDIO NEMESIS TAKE ON AMPLIFICATION


So far you've already get an idea, that Fabio really take his time with everything. He's in not rushing anything that won't move him. Let us look what's special about PA-1m's.

"Echidnas (sometimes also Ekidna) are unusual animals living in Australia and New Zealand: they are small egg-laying (primitive) mammals that are covered with coarse hair and spines. So, it¡¯s a very ¡°strange¡± animal, it¡¯s a ¡°hybrid¡±. And it¡¯s very ¡°nice¡± and ¡°sweet¡±.
We at AudioNemesis called ECHIDNA our original topology for a hybrid power amplifier, developed and used for the first time in this model PA-1m.

Echidna puts together, in an original form, a few known circuits and ideas, creating a very unique simple topology.

Echidna idea is simple: a triode voltage gain stage plus a bipolar current gain stage, without loop feedback. 

ECHIDNA - Exclusive Circuit for Hybrid Improved Design by Nemesis Audio 
PA-1m is a very special amplifier with only 3 active devices in series to the signal.

All other devices are passive. So there are only 7 components (passive and active) in series to the signal!

The output stage is made by bipolar transistors only. It¡¯s a complementary configuration composed by the output devices and the driver devices. As output devices we chose the best available audio power transistors: they are made by Sanken and they are ring emitter type. These devices are able to supply 17A DC, and up to 35A peak for 10ms. This out performs any requirement in real applications."

Getting into few features that matters:
  • Mono amplifiers
  • Class A up to 15Watt @ 8ohms
  • Hybrid design with Echidna Topology
  • Zero feedback (and feedforward) loop
  • 3 actice devices in series to the signal (7 total)
  • Pure triode input/driver stage
  • Bipolar output stage, with Sanken ring emitter devices
  • High current capability
  • Low distortion and great neutrality
  • Reactive load driver capability
  • Very high stability
  • No output choke ¡ª no Zobel network
  • High damping factor
  • Very short signal path
  • High quality active and passive parts
  • Fast and soft-recovery diodes
  • Servo controlled output stage for 0 VDC offset
  • No protection system
  • Family chassis used for all other products
So how al these specs accolades translate into the amplification of the sound? From my listening notes one remarks came along frequently. Stressless! Music amplified with the PA-1m monoblocks behaved as amplifier of far more complexity and price sticker, but without that trickle down feeling on endless pressure. With the rise of modern music production everything become compressed and almost unlistenable. Many contemporary amplifier behaves in a similar fashion. Not in the analogy of compression, but with the feeling of trying to squeeze 1000 litters of water through the straw. Uneven distribution of gain and power brings the feeling of exploding while listening to the music. Like a constant stress being on the watch to squeeze music flat along the wall. Rather like being roughly inspected by the police then by the music loving crowd. 

Audio Nemesis PA-1m monoblocks worked quite contrary. The easiness and natural impact of the music was their first strong impression and lasting leit-motive. In this price range you normally expect completely different safe takes on technology and circuits being implemented. It seems how Fabio by default cannot settle for this and result is mesmerising and musical.

THE MUSIC MACHINES


One things is for sure. When things seen right, understood right and implemented right, then the stand out result is in promise land.

Audio designers often managed to create one component, that brings out the music in favourable way,   but fail with their next devices. It take the substantial understanding and trained ears to make things right with whole product line. In high-end audio this become even more complex as the devices and logic behind them differ a lot.

Emotional, unrestrained, on many occasion feather like presentation across the whole Audio Nemesis line not only ensured, but convinced me about the Fabio passion and determination. He must be a man of music and as mentioned above the right choices. There are so many wrongs and rights in high-end audio designing, that complexity is not only absurd but inconceivable to the most. 

Audio Nemesis products are not on the full scale of upper echelon high-end audio gear, but they behold so many of their attributes thats its not even funny. And the most importantly music is flowing through them with not east to match fluidity.

CONCLUSION


It's always needed to wrap up the thoughts and listening notes into a logical ending. With Audio Nemesis it was easy. If you can forget about big names, bling boxes and settle for the balanced, musical and natural sounding gear that is packed into a understated chassis and with the performance unheard in this price range, then you need to focus your attention toward Italy and Audio Nemesis. 

Fabio took his world philosophical views and implemented them emotionally into his products. There is something timeless by heading on the path of zen like endeavours and his creations reflects the power of certainty and the path of the music. 

Audio Nemesis will find homes with audiophiles and music lovers, that are searching for that special something. Not special for the name sake, but performance and connection to the music.


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS:

Audio Nemesis DC-1 
  • Power Supply: 230/240 Vac 50 Hz +/- 10%
  • Power consumption: 18 Watts
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20 kHz + 0dB/ -1dB
  • Output level @ 0 dB: 1,7 Vrms @ 1kHz digital full scale
  • Output: Inverting
  • Converter: 8 multibit converters, 16 bit each
  • Oversampling: 0 times
  • THD: <0 .1="" 1="" 1khz="" i="" vrms="">
  • Output impedance: <200 i="" ohm="">
  • Input: Gold plated RCA, Teflon - S/PDIF 75 Ohm - 24 bit/96 kHz Gold plated USB Series B connector 16 bit/48 kHz ¡ª USB 1.1 Specifications
  • Toshiba Toslink optical digital
  • Output: Gold plated RCA, Teflon - unbalanced
  • Dimension (WxHxD): 23 x 8,5 x 34 cm.
  • Weight: 4 Kg
  • Shipping weight: 4,5 Kg
  • Shipping material: paper box and polystirene - 0,5 Kg
Audio Nemesis PM-1 
  • Power Supply: 110/120 Vac or 230/240 Vac 50/60 Hz +/- 10%
  • Power consumption: 10 Watts
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20 kHz + 0dB/ -1dB
  • Output: Non-Inverting
  • Riaa Precision: 20Hz - 20kHz ¡À0.2dB
  • THD: <0 .3="" 1khz="" 5="" i="" vrms="">
  • Output impedance: <200 i="" ohm="">
  • Input: Gold plated RCA, Teflon insulated, unbalanced
  • Output: Gold plated RCA, Teflon insulated, unbalanced
  • Dimension (WxHxD): 23 x 8,5 x 34 cm.
  • Weight: 3,6 kg
  • Shipping weight: 4,0 kg
  • Shipping material: paper box and polystirene - 0,4 kg

Audio Nemesis PA-1M
  • Mono amplifiers
  • Class A up to 15Watt @ 8ohms
  • Hybrid design with Echidna Topology
  • Zero feedback (and feedforward) loop
  • 3 actice devices in series to the signal (7 total)
  • Pure triode input/driver stage
  • Bipolar output stage, with Sanken ring emitter devices
  • High current capability
  • Low distortion and great neutrality
  • Reactive load driver capability
  • Very high stability
  • No output choke ¡ª no Zobel network
  • High damping factor
  • Very short signal path
  • High quality active and passive parts
  • Fast and soft-recovery diodes
  • Servo controlled output stage for 0 VDC offset
  • No protection system
  • Family chassis used for all other products



Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2013. www.monoandstereo.com. ..:: None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..