|Digital||EMM Labs NS1|
|Amplifier / DAC||Aesthetix Mimas with Integrated DAC|
|Speakers||Wilson Benesch P1.0|
|Interconnects||Audience Studio ONE interconnects at the required lengths|
|Speaker Cables||Audience Studio ONE speaker cables at the required lengths|
|Power Cables||Audience Studio ONE MP power cables at the required lengths|
How does it sound?
So you want a compact system with a minimum amount of boxes and a small footprint. You only listen to digital and you really want to spend the minimum amount of money possible. But you don’t want to compromise sonically. You’ve been to the local hi-fi stores and heard their offerings and despite the hype, if you were honest the sound was a bit… meh.
What? You want a system with just a couple of boxes and compact speakers to sound dynamic, have realism, musicality, accurate tone, energy and throw a huge soundstage like your previous 2m high floor standers?
Well, you’re in luck!
We have secretly wanted to recommend compact systems that have minimal sonic compromises but in truth, we haven’t been able because moving from separates to an integrated amplifier and from large complex floor standing speakers to smaller compact speakers almost always pays a sonic price. Well… hang on a minute, maybe not!
It has taken some *VERY* special products to change our paradigm. Each of the products that makes up this system has that rare extraordinary ‘giant killing’ attribute where we simply can’t believe how good they are in absolute terms. Then we consider the price and it makes us want to shout it from the rooftops. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to hear the magic this magician can conjure. Meet our ‘Hobart’ system.
The sound has a clarity and resolution that immediately identifies it as having serious pedigree. There’s an immediacy which feels like some invisible barriers between you and the system have been removed and you now have a multi-sensory connection to the music, like you would feel at a live event. This feeling of being alive is very prevalent with this system. It’s like your awareness has been activated and you are fully present. Then against this canvas, the artist paints the musical picture with beauty and flow. Not a romantic beauty but a beauty that arises from simply experiencing the essence of the artist’s message.
Once you hear this and compare it to similarly priced systems, you may be excused for concluding that we have been conditioned to expect a certain type of sound that sounds ‘generic’ and ‘hi-fi’. This system is like the antidote to that boring, uninspired feeling some people have where their system sounds ‘OK’ but for some reason they really don’t listen to much music anymore. How can you lose interest in one of the most beautiful & diverse artforms? How can you become bored of it over time? Perhaps because your system is sounding flat and not emotionally connecting you to the music? This system will snap you out of that stupor and re-energise your passion.
So what can you expect? Due to the quality of the streamer, the music has a refined quality, missing the glare, compression and slightly bright characteristic that often plagues digital streamed formats. The amplifier is a hybrid design which ensures a touch of warmth & natural tonality from the tube-based preamplifier stage and plenty of drive and control from the solid-state power amplification stage. The music has an organic, effortless quality.
The Wilson Benesch P1.0 speakers serve the system in the best sense, using their technology & advanced design to project a wide soundstage and create a palpable illusion of a live event in front of you.
The most interesting observation which has in some ways become the greatest compliment to this system is what many listeners have expressed after their first listen – “I was so invested in the music, I totally forgot I was listening to a hi-fi system”.
Why does it work so well?
The EMM Labs NS1 streamer is a small box that has one simple function – to enable you to access the vast libraries of music available via the many internet streaming services. It also provides playback of audio files attached via USB stick and network attached storage. It is a reliable, no frills, high quality device. When you hear what other streamers at this price level sound like, you will realise what a revelation this device is.
And it shouldn’t come as a surprise. When one of the world’s most pioneering and accomplished digital audio technology manufacturers makes a streamer, don’t expect it to sound like the crowd… The NS1 gives the incoming signal an analogue quality, refined & sophisticated. Everything is there in correct proportions with no aggression or brightness.
Along with UPnP/DLNA support, the NS1 is also ROON READY and is a ROON ENDPOINT. The NS1 can connect to many high resolution streaming services like TIDAL and QOBUZ. It also supports popular streaming services like SPOTIFY, DEEZER, vTUNER and many more. The NS1 supports network and USB file playback including AAC, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, WAV and WMA, along with MQA® and DSD (DFF, DSF) files.
The Aesthetix Mimas has become one of our favourite integrated amplifiers EVER. Hand made in California by the famous industry luminary Jim White, this amplifier embarrasses amplifiers costing twice as much. You expect an integrated amplifier at this price range to have a good sound but in truth, we have heard dozens which produce music but they sound like a ‘typical’ amp. You always feel that you are listening to a piece of electronic equipment… to a bit of kit that’s powering some speakers, making some sound. They always sound like they are producing a facsimile of the recorded event, like hi-fi. You get used to that mediocre sound and then you hear the Mimas and it’s like you just woke up and your senses are alert and enjoying life.
The integrated DAC module within the Mimas also punches above its weight. It has fully balanced differential analog circuitry utilizing Wima film capacitors from Germany and the USB utilises Wavelength Technologies’ asynchronous implementation. Here’s some quick specs:
- 2x RCA (coax), 2x TosLink (optical), 1x USB.
- 32KHz, 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 88.2KHz, 96KHz, 176.4KHz, 192KHz, 352.8KHz (USB only), 384KHz (USB only); 16, 20, 24 bit depths; DSD64 (SPDIF and USB) and DSD128 (USB only).
It is resolving enough with plenty of detail and all of the information is presented with ease and space around the notes. The Mimas sounds live and energised. Its personality is like “wake up, get ready because I’m about to take you to the first row of the venue”. It’s so convincing, you surrender and want to be taken on a musical journey. It has rhythm, timing, melody, tone, real ‘heft’ and a rawness about it that we love. An authenticity like its not trying to be something, it just wants to play music without a care in the world.
The Wilson Benesch P1.0 loudspeakers are a great match for this system for many reasons. To begin with, despite the fact that they are the entry level speakers in the Wilson Benesch range, we are talking about one of the best loudspeaker brands in the world with a pedigree of success rivalled by very few. For example, their flagship Eminence model won the Absolute Sound Golden Ear and Product of the Year award recently and many other models in the range are critically acclaimed and awarded. So the P1.0 is designed and manufactured by people who really know what they are doing and they have incorporated many technological features and innovations from their more expensive models into the P1.0. Compare the P1.0 with other speakers in this price range and their technology is leagues ahead.
Given their lineage, expectations should be high. But what surprised us was that the P1.0’s just played music in a way that really complemented and synergized beautifully with the other components. Getting individually accomplished parts to sing well together is more difficult than it seems as each part has a specific design philosophy that has shaped it and not all approaches & philosophies work well together. The P1.0 is forgiving. Unlike the Wilson Benesch Geometry series which is extremely transparent and super-revealing of upstream electronics, the Precision series does not try to be a scalpel that’s slicing away at all the levels of the architecture of the sound. Instead, it brings enough technology to the party so that it removes some veils and reveals the music in a truthful, honest way yet in a way that says ‘relax with all this audiophile intellectualisation and just enjoy the music’.
The technologies developed by Wilson Benesch have encompassed over 30 years of investing in research, composite materials science and collaboration with teams of scientists and audio engineers who have pushed the envelope of loudspeaker design. You can tell when you listen to the P1.0. This is not yet another boring box with a couple of generic speaker drivers inserted in it. Unlike 99.9% of speaker manufacturers that buy their speaker drivers from companies such as Dynaudio, Focal, Seas, Scanspeak, etc…Wilson Benesch manufacture their own drivers. This has given them the advantage of perfectly matching their driver to the enclosure and tuning it without any compromise, resulting in a very cohesive sound.
This cohesiveness is what makes this system shine. The P1.0’s communicate the signal coming from the high quality streamer (pure & liquid) and the wonderful DAC & amplifier (dynamic & fun) in a way that produces an astonishingly emotionally engaging, enjoyable sound.
The Audience cables do a great job of connecting the dots and allowing the sound to breath like a living organism. There’s a sense of motion and flow, naturalness and ease that the Audience Studio ONE cables bring to the table, acting as ‘enablers’, unshackling the potential of this system.
Finally! We can now recommend a system that only has two boxes and a pair of speakers and be very proud of the sound. To us, this system has become one of our favourites regardless of the budget and we call it the ‘passion-starter’ because everyone who experiences it gets that *look* in their eye…
What changes could you make to the system?
If you wanted to save money, but maintain the sonic qualities and synergy of this system, you can try:
- You can use the Audience Studio TWO range of cables which will maintain a similar tonal character at the expense of some resolution and energy.
If your budget extended a bit further and you wanted to upscale this system, you can try:
- Replace the P1.0 with the P2.0 or P3.0 speakers which are the next step up in the Wilson Benesch Precision range. This produces more mid & lower bass and greater depth to the soundstage.
- You can upgrade the cables to the Audience Au24SX series which are a significant sonic upgrade. The sound will become more relaxed, more natural & there will be a slight hint of this aural inner glow within the music, yet it will increase the dynamics.
- Owners of the Aesthetix Mimas amplifiers have experimented with different tube choices with great results. Contact Nirvana Sound so we can share some tube-rolling advice with you.
When we set up our showroom, we wanted to offer our clients some quality single malt whisky, preferably of Australian origin. We soon discovered that Sullivans Cove Distillery in Hobart, Tasmania has won international awards for producing the best single malt whisky in the world. Just in case you didn’t comprehend those words, here they are again…’in the world’.
We soon discovered that there are many other Tasmanian whisky manufacturers that are competing for that title, as well as many wineries, dairies and farms that are winning world’s best awards for cheese, wine, gin, seafood… pretty much the best of everything good in the world.
We love Tasmania and some of us visit for a holiday that is guaranteed to rest your soul, stimulate the senses and connect you to a primal, untouched, earthy energy. However, as close as we are to the 26th largest island in the world, none of us had any idea that Tasmania was so accomplished and respected on a global scale for its beautiful produce. Unexpected.
One of the reasons why Tasmanian people are able to create such desirable produce is that the waters that flow in the rivers are so pure. The air is clean, the population is small and man’s impact on the eco-system is much more minimal than most other parts of the world. Everything appears to be well grown, nurtured, healthy and unspoilt. Purity.
If you have the good fortune to visit Hobart, you can experience a thriving food culture, a progressive art community, a funky music scene and a general immersion in markets, restaurants, history & culture. All while being a stone’s throw away from some of the most beautiful natural forests, mountains and coastlines in the world. The overwhelming sense that one feels when in Tasmania is a connection with the raw beauty of nature. Beauty.
By combining some individually admirable components, this system brings them together with a bewitching synergy.
It brings joy to both the audiophile and music fanatic in you. When you first encounter it, it is easy to think ‘so we have a streamer, an amp, a couple of cables and a pair of compact speakers. I know what this is going to sound like.’ Set aside all expectations. Sit down, relax, select a song and… Wow!
Beauty. Pure. Unexpected.