Happiness conditions. Like other class D amplifiers, the Nords respond critically to power cords/conditioners. If you own different conditioners which you thought sounded quite similar, these amps will tell them apart. One of them will clearly sound best. Entering true balanced rather than via RCA adaptor also does. Ditto post break-in. Finally being wifi allergic, EMI/RFI traps from Verictum and Artesania right atop the SMPS removed a 'wifi-ish' ultrasonic drain on my brain. Given wifi's acceptance, most should be perfectly impervious to this. With ideal conditions set and met—proper powerline feeds, XLR signal, sufficient playtime for break-in, RF shielding—my Nords soon occupied the happy zone of ultra-power Bakoon type sonics.

Lingo limbo. Hifi lingo can confuse. A reader, of a power conditioner review published elsewhere, wrote to them that "it's great that the 'background silence was conspicuously darker and quieter'. That should be really easy to measure. Put a measuring mic in front of the speakers and play something with silence. Do this with and without the power conditioner. Post results." I understand his mocking tone. Silence is either silent or not. Where do degrees and gradations enter? Alas, such statements aren't about the silent no-signal state. They're first about hearing more very fine detail; then grappling with understanding why. If we don't increase dynamic range by getting louder, the expansion must happen at the other end. By lowering the noise floor, we hear tiny things we didn't hear before. The noise in that noise floor was never audible before. It's not like a ground loop or transformer hum. It's noise whose existence we infer by way of an explanation that borrows from eyesight. An increase in visual black levels on a screen punches up images and saturates colours. Hifi lingo applies that to sonics. We say our background grows blacker. Is that factual? Does it matter if, without fail, it points us all at the same effect?

That effect here is crystalline clarity. By contrast, warmer, denser, softer, heavier and massier amps will, to varying degrees, also sound thicker, fuzzier, blurrier, opaque, indistinct, vague and amorphous. It's intrinsic to crystalline clarity that, simultaneously, it couldn't be warm, soft and dense. The word transparent means being able to look through. A truly transparent sound that lets us hear through all of its layers as though from the inside out, can't be wall-of-sound massive. It's a different aesthetic. The Job 225 lives there. In a more refined manner, so does the Crayon CFA-1.2. In its ultimate incarnation in our hardware library, so does the 15wpc Bakoon AMP-12R. It's a sound I call 'lit up all over'. That distinguishes it from hifi's boogaboo of the isolated bright treble that stands out as an imbalance. If the entire bandwidth goes bright, voilĂ , it's of-a-piece balanced sound of crystalline clarity. Like a single drop of colour falling into a glass of water, anything you inject into it will be very obvious. Seasoning to taste, via tubes in a preceding preamp or DAC, diminishes that clarity by degrees whilst adding its own flavour. In trade for its enhanced textures, warmth and bass, already the Sparkos Labs opamp ate into it.

Colonel Nathan R. Jessep. In his famous speech from A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's character claimed that we can't handle the truth. He didn't know about alternate facts. Audiophilia splits along the same line. Our recordings are our starting truth. Much of it remains redacted because we weren't privy to the recording/mastering process to know what that truth really is. If we can't handle the subsequent truth of our playback, we cook the books with strategic hardware choices. With class D, early complaints included flat, lean, whitish, pixilated, nervy, hard, hyper detailed, edgy, wiry. As the breed matured and designers started their voicing, the pendulum swung. In some quarters, class D got warm, dense and soft. Think Gato Audio's take on Pascal, EJ Sarmento's rolling of ICEpower at Wyred4Sound. Straight out of the box, the Nords were lean and the rest of it. Jessep would have had a field fay. Clocking playtime, this settled down. The edges receded, the white evaporated, body fleshed out. Returning to the SI opamp's lucidity, the Nagra Jazz tube preamp with balancing transformers added attractively mild textures and transient softening but also obscured some of that crystalline purity. Returning to the fully balanced Wyred4Sound STP-SE II preamp resolved that. I next moved out the Aqua Hifi Formula DAC and in the tube-buffered Fore Audio DAISy1. With the Korean's colour intensity and tone density at the very start of the chain, I now had a personally ideal version of sonic reality. The Pass Labs XA-30.8 anchors an equally compelling though quite different one. It's darker, heavier, gentler, moodier and more relaxed. Better/worse factors no more than it does between a cloudless summer day and a moodily lit autumn afternoon. Like seasons, different sonic ideals have their own seasonal flavour. Calling out favourites is perfectly human. Calling one better is human too but also judgmental, hence limiting.

The Nords' exceptionally low noise floor stands in for the cloudless summer day with its perfectly even illumination. Linear low output impedance becomes the toning agent of extreme driver control. The resultant sonic physique is lean and buff, not loose and portly. What goes by aural romance—pick from the SET lexicon—lives elsewhere. Some of it can be injected already with the Sparkos, more with cable and component changes. But it's not intrinsic to the amps. Those seem quite bereft of colourations, making them unusually responsive to their deliberate addition. That becomes an educational tool. It's easy to track how ancillary changes nip and tug. The actions and effects of whatever hardware options we play with become very apparent. Extricating the Nords' 'self sound' by triangulating how various hardware configurations behaved, I'd add tautness and dryness. Neither were the tone textures glossy and wet nor did the progression through time feel elastic. If desired, those attributes must come from other components. At first one may embrace a generous injection of warmth from an upstream box. Soon one notices how those gains dearly cost that clarity. Having heard its benefits of noticing and hearing more, how much crystallized clarity one ultimately wants to trade becomes an interesting exercise. All of it is give 'n' take. Being able to administer dosages more precisely just means that henceforth we can cook our books with far sharper knives. Time to get chefy and mix up more metaphors?