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Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Esoteric X03SE
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood with RB300, Grado Reference Sonata 1, Clearaudio Nano
Preamplifiers: Esoteric C03 [on loan], Accustic Arts Preamp I Mk3 [on loan]
Amplifier: McIntosh MA2275, Genesis GR360 & MDHR
Speakers: FJ OMs, Zu Essence, Genesis G7.1f
Headphone: Musical Fidelity Xcanv3, AKG K701
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Libtec, Slinkylinks RCA copper, Esoteric Mexcel balanced interconnects [on loan], Accustic Arts Silverline balanced [on loan]
Power Cords: Zu Mother, NAT AC coupler black [on loan], NAT AC coupler gray [on loan], Accustic Arts Ferrite 2 [on loan]
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII, Isotek Titan [on loan], Isotek Nova [in for review]
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics and good ol' wooden chest
Room size: 12' x 13.5' x 8'
Review component retail: $7600

How much would you expect to pay for a fully balanced preamplifier, using tubes from its power-supply regulation all the way to the output stages and with Russian NOS tubes to boot? How much should it cost if not made in China but using custom-wound transformers in a fully dual-mono configuration? How much would you pay if it had a relay-activated volume control using tightly matched discreet resistors to provide the exact same level of attenuation in the left and right channels but even more importantly, in the normal and inverted legs of each dual-differential path?

If said preamplifier bore a name like Conrad-Johnson, McIntosh or Audio Research, far more than $7600 I can assure you. Yet because the Symmetrical is made in Serbia, many audiophiles won't consider it worthy their attention. Their loss. Since you are reading this, it won't be yours. I'll state upfront that the NAT Symmetrical is one tremendously enjoyable musical machine. If you have followed developments in Casa Beudot over the past few months, you already know that the competing preamplifier references included the SMc VRE-1, Esoteric C03 and Accustic Arts Preamp I Mk3, none of them chopped liver and two actually earning Blue Moon awards for their absolute transparency to and respect for the recorded even (SMc and Esoteric). During that same period, a friend's McIntosh C500T and an Audio Research Ref 3 also made brief appearances. The NAT Symmetrical proved superior to most and equal to the Esoteric C03 in enjoyment delivered (albeit not in the same systems).

The NAT has small operational challenges but if you care for music over ultimate convenience, the NAT Symmetrical is one of the hottest deals in town. As you may already know, I am not particularly technically inclined yet the NAT Symmetrical seems to offer a convergence of many design traits desirable in a preamplifier. The true dual-mono circuit starts with two custom-made transformers (and a third transformer to power components outside of the signal path) and continues with a fully balanced design using six NOS tubes per side which are hand selected and matched by designer Dejan Nikic (my review sample came with each tube individually labeled to be set in one and only one of the twelve receptacles for best performance and balance). This is how all NAT Audio preamps ship. After burn-in and testing, the accompanying tube set gets labeled valve by valve so that the user places them back exactly where intended.
Speaking of the company and its founder for a minute, NAT (Nikic Audio Team) was established in 1993 with a mission to produce high-end audio components, primarily amplifiers based on vacuum tubes. Dejan Nikic produced his first power amplifier in 1988 while still in the army and retained his love for certain NOS Russian triodes that can be found throughout his designs today. At the beginning NAT produced power amplifiers based on the VT-4-C direct-heated triode (still found in the Se3se monoblocks) and line stages with zero feedback. Since then they have diversified into very interesting electronics like a battery powered phono stage I should review later this year; and the Magma amplifier, still the most powerful single-ended tube amplifier in the world using a single TH450 to produce 160 watts in pure class A [below].

More conventional in theory only is the Se1, a 211-based single-ended mono but you'll probably be surprised by its claim of 35 watt into 8 ohms thanks to the 6N30P-DR driver. NAT also offers a push-pull amplifier utilizing two G811 triodes per side for 170 watts into 8 ohms. When NAT talks triodes, they don't think puny single-digit power. They think big and bold. Hopefully I'll have a chance to give some of those unorthodox designs a listen one day. If they sing as well as the Symmetrical, I could be in for a treat.