It must be tough to introduce audio electronics into such a crowded market, especially in the circa £2,000 DAC sector where there are a lot of strong contenders. Nuprime emerged from Nuforce in 2014 and have been making an impression on audio critics ever since, but the brand only gained serious distribution in the UK last year so its profile is still relatively low. The company hopes that its slickly finished AMG components will help to change this.
Quite how they have got away with using a name synonymous with high end Mercedes cars is a mystery but I guess there’s little danger of the two product types being confused, or possibly Nuprime co-founder Jason Lim has a particularly good relationship with the German company. Either way it’s a cool name for a range of relatively compact components that includes a preamplifier, headphone amp and power amp alongside the AMG DAC considered here.
Standing just 55mm high on rubber cone feet the AMG DAC is well equipped on the connectivity front with coax, optical, USB and HDMI for digital and a pair of RCA phonos for a single analogue input. The HDMI is not the ARC type for a TV (which might be more useful) but an I2S input for compatible sources that can also receive DSD, apparently there are streamers in the Nuprime range that have a matching output. There also is a USB A port that can be used with a dongle to receive Bluetooth or wi-fi but you have to supply the dongle.
Outputs consist of balanced and single ended analogue sockets and a trigger connection for ease of operation with other Nuprime components. There are the usual controls on the front albeit the left hand knob operates as both the on/off switch and the input selector, the other knob is for volume control. The two rather nice chrome toggle switches have subtle legends on the top of the front panel which indicate that the left one changes gain and the right defeats the volume control to provide maximum output. This latter seems a little dangerously easy to change given the effect it has if the DAC is connected directly to a power amp.
Both front panel and remote handset have machined lettering in bas relief, that is they stand proud of the flat panel, which is a nice touch. The remote has on/off, volume and a display button that reveals the sample rate, the next and previous buttons change input. It’s a chunky, machined from solid handset that enhances the quality feel of the product but requires screws to be removed and replaced when inserting batteries.
The displayed input names are slightly unconventional and combine a number with a letter to indicate type, thus C1 is coaxial, U3 is USB and A5 is analogue. HE is the least obvious and accesses the I2S input but if you are using this connection this won’t be a barrier. Sample rate can be briefly displayed instead of input/volume level and this too is quite basic, DSD64 for instance being shown as d.64. With the majority of compact DACs the power is provided by a separate box or plug-top supply, on this Nuprime the power supply is within the casework and thus, one can assume, a switching type. Which keeps things neat and means lower energy usage than linear types but does eliminate the upgrade potential that external supplies allow.
The AMG DAC has a sound that reflects its appearance in some respects, it’s slick and smooth, refined even. It achieves this best when the onboard volume control is bypassed and the toggle switch in the up position, the volume control doesn’t get in the way too much however, it’s better than many in fact and for those with active speakers it makes for a very neat solution with the minimum of boxes. That you can have balanced or single ended connections to the amp or speaker is an added bonus, balanced being preferable with the active speaker arrangement as cables tend to be longer in such situations.
I found that melodic music was perhaps better served than more percussive sounds, it works really well with classical for instance and I got a great result with a string octet piece by Mendelssohn. The DAC delivering a lot of the room ambiance from the recording venue and focussing on the playing of the lead violinist. It is clear that this Nuprime is good at presenting music in a clear and coherent manner, separating out the various elements within a piece in fairly effortless fashion. I found this to be the case with electronic and jazz material, Vossabrygg is a jazz rock album by Terje Rypdal that contains a variation on Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way. It gets quite busy in places yet this DAC presented each instrument clearly and without fuss. It’s a smooth operator but not a dull one, Japanese components of the past often had a very smooth, finessed character but were somewhat lacking when it came to dynamics and engagement. This Nuprime may have a bit of this in its DNA albeit it’s not Japanese and is of the now, but it also provides an engaging and cohesive sound that draws you into the music.
It’s very sensitive to dynamics in fact, tracking the level of different instruments and voices within a piece with ease and letting you hear the decay of notes by minimising background noise. That is electronic rather than acoustic noise, the noise that forms the noise floor and, when high, obscures the quieter notes that form the decay of fundamentals. It’s also calm under fire, it doesn’t sound hard when the music gets more intense or aggressive. I like music that builds up into a ball of barely contained energy but don’t like a component that starts to join in with the distortion when that happens, this Nuprime is well controlled and has a a degree of restraint that means it never loses composure.
I like the bass on the AMG, it goes all the way down and has real weight on a speaker capable of letting you hear as much, it’s tuneful with it as was clear when playing Uptown Top Ranking (Althea & Donna) which has a great rhythm line and some properly deep notes. Although the mid seemed a little recessed on this tune the quality of vocals is particularly good, this is true with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Thom Yorke; the way they articulate the words being as clear as the words themselves. Which in Yorke’s case is not very but he gets the message across. In many ways this DAC is balanced to suit more forward and lively amp/speaker combinations, of which there are many. Its smoothness balances such front ends well which is not something you find with many modern DACs in this price range, many strive for maximum transparency but end up sounding a little forward as a result.
I tried using a coaxial connection to the Auralic Aries streamer in place of USB, this resulted in a fulsome sound that was more generous but also cruder, so quite a lot of fun but nowhere near as revealing as the admittedly much pricier USB connection. So I stuck with the latter for the rest of the listening and enjoyed good pace and drive from the Grateful Dead’s Cumberland Blues, which sounded its age but also sounded like a great band at the height of its powers. Bob Dylan’s Man in the long black coat was a little drier than it can be but the vocal was more prominent than usual, which made his words easier to follow.
The Nuprime AMG DAC is a nicely executed piece of kit with a good range of features and connectivity, the need for an external dongle for BT might put some off but if you are serious about sound quality, wireless connections are best avoided. It would be interesting to try the I2S input with one of Nuprime’s streamers because this input has the potential for greater sound quality but the result with USB is pretty sweet and that is no bad thing.