Turning up the volume only altered the music's volume without adding noise. When the first album ended, we ramped up the volume well beyond what we'd ever listen to—past 13:00 on the dial—and still had no hiss, hum or tube rush whatsoever. This was a very well-behaved circuit. We cued up a long Qobuz playlist while cooking, having dinner, doing the dishes and other domestic chores. We took our time to have the amplifier and more specifically its tubes settle in. The next day we got serious looking for strengths and weaknesses: tonal balance, soundstage width and depth, PRaT, bass, air and all that Jazz. We tried to listen for those isolated qualities but couldn't persist for very long. We simply wanted more music.

A really lovely live recording of Holland's most famous Metropole Orkest with Snarky Puppy is Sylva. This is a must-hear effort. With the ISA-2, the Alpha F3 loudspeakers portrayed a perfectly nice if not spectacular rendition of the recording where Jazz and Funk combine with many Miles Davis/Marcus Miller quotes. Next came Kalle Kalima's High Noon where the guitarist and his trio blend rawness and great timing with a rich variety of colors and textures. Then Renaud Garcia-Fons in collaboration with Spanish pianist Dorantes streamed by to have Flamenco meander through various rhythmic landscapes while subtle melodies glisten like a river in the setting sun's light. Especially this album had us decide to reshuffle our hardware sooner than expected. It was time to bring our big horns into the picture. We expected a great match. After letting the tubes cool down before being moved about, we shifted things around and in the progress arranged for a complete tube fest. The ISA-2 was joined by the Meishu at left and Trafomatic Kaivalya monos on either side. Now we could quickly switch from one tube amp to another using the same speakers.
Once warmed up, the NVO proved once more to be as quiet as a dead church mouse or door nail. The power-on transient was of course louder now but still very benign and of a low pitch. We played the same albums again via the streaming input and their sound quality was well improved over the previous showing. The operative word here was coherence. Depending on the recording's fidelity (lack of we-correct-it-in-the-mix trickery), the musicians behaved more like humans and less like sounds that had been spliced together to act like music. This came with great driver control which persuaded the AER widebanders to produce enough slam to make the audio illusion real. Once we had acclimated to this success, we warmed up our Meishu and played the Sylva tracks again. The sound was still great but the Metropole Orkest now huddled closer together, exhibiting clearly less breathing space. Compared to the NVO presentation, the Orkest performed in too small a room. Yikes!

Back to the NVO it was, now with the Nicolas Parent Trio's Tori, a very poetic album by the French guitarist. Beautiful melodies build up with rich tonalities spiked by elaborate rhythms. Classical guitar blends with an upright bass that goes very deep in this nicely crafted recording; or when needed, an electrical guitar screams out its player's emotions. Another recommended recording which we only recently chanced upon is Encore (live) by Pierre Bensusan. This 3-disc set covers Bensusan's 40-year carrier as a master guitarist. His traditionals, bluegrass, folk, new acoustic music and improvisations all are subject to wonderful guitar player technique while his dedication to tonal fidelity guarantees a great production. Through the NVO we had a very serious sense of being at a live concert and not just playing at playing a recording.

Vinyl is another one of our weaknesses. With the same setup, we could easily connect the output of the Trafomatic phono stage to the ISA-2. This also offered a sound comparison between a streamed and vinyl version of the same recording. Of course that's apples and oranges but still, it can be indicative. The victim became Avishai Cohen's From Darkness (the bassist Cohen and not the trumpeter). Rock, classical music, Arabian and African influences all commingle around the bass as centre. No matter how good performances of streamed or spinning sources were with the NVO ISA-2, none of them beat the musical qualities of vinyl sources. Less convenient because one must flip a record every 20 minutes or so and not always as quiet as a digital source, music from vinyl exhibits an intrinsically deeper layer. This has to do with involvement. Vinyl—and maybe it's partly due to all the rituals one is forced through to get sound from it, let alone good sound—creates more synergy with the listener. That's like a good poem. The endless whittling and shaving away to get a poem just right, with just the correct amount of words of just the right connotation, is what leads to bliss with reader or listener alike. That same culmination of shaving away, selecting and adjusting top quality parts is what Andreas managed with his NVO ISA-2. This is not just another integrated tube amplifier. This is a musical poem recitalist. Feed it with the most beautiful poem from the best-suited medium and you will be rewarded with the greatest feeling which music can give you. NVO do not have an official website but there is some information here...

Company contacts: andreas @ nvoaudio.com and for inquiries/sales: audio-p @ cytanet.com.cy