M2Tech Nash Phono Pre & Van Der Graaf MkII Power Supply
Capable of producing the sound of both subtle and very dense recordings.
M2Tech’s Nash phono stage, a component that is part of their Rockstar series, seemed to me to be the not only a perfect match for the Pro-Ject Esprit SB turntable that I set up in my second system not long ago, but also for the moving magnet Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge that is mounted on the turntable’s integral tonearm. This is probably the least expensive cartridge I would ever consider using, and conversely, at about $100 my experience leads me to believe that it is also the most expensive cartridge a non-audiophile might consider purchasing. Thankfully, it has a relatively neutral sound, and its rather open, dynamic sound make it more than “good enough” to use in a high-end system, and especially one that is as good as the system in which I’m auditioning this M2Tech Nash phono stage.
I originally set this system up in a common space of our home mainly to test more affordable equipment. Although, over time, gear has been creeping into this system that is much more than a cut above “affordable”. This has made it easier to hear the “sound” of the affordable components I’ve been sent for review, including M2Tech’s Nash phono stage preamplifier with Van Der Graaf MkII power supply.
Marco Manunta, the designer of the Nash phono stage, told me that in the past he has designed many phono stages, but this is the first he designed for M2Tech, and is also the first phono preamplifier that M2Tech has ever offered. When designing the Nash, one of Marco’s main goals was to make this phono preamp have vanishing low noise, which in his mind also meant that it would have a very high-resolution. But he also wanted to this phono stage to have a high enough output voltage to match the outputs of the digital sources in most audiophile’s systems.
This was challenging, because in most cases the higher the output of a component, the higher the level of noise. Normally, phono stages have a rather low output voltage (usually between 0.5 and 1.5Vrms), in order to keep the noise as low as possible. Digital sources usually have between 2 and 2.5Vms of output. And so, Marco’s design matches the output of most digital sources, avoiding the annoying jump in about 8dB in volume when switching from analog to digital sources.
This high output level of the Nash phono stage is obtained because it offers the option to select between some very high gain settings in both its moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) stages – up to 65dB for MM and up to 30dB more for the MC input, leading to a total 95dB for MC. M2Tech’s Nash phono is a FET-input, fully discrete component with very low noise, yet it has a very high output of 2.5 Vms. To keep the noise level as low as possible, M2Tech uses several low-noise FETs in parallel in each of its discrete component stages inputs: 8+8 in the MC and the first MM stage, 2+2 in the second MM stage. They also use low noise voltage regulators for the two MM gain stages, plus a proprietary, discrete components in the ultra-low noise dual regulator for the MC stage.
Its passive RIAA is built with “high-precision” polypropylene capacitors. Designer Marco Manunta told me that he has previously used passive RIAA circuits in his designs, and he is very happy with the one used in the Nash, too, “contributing to a very lively and rich sound with a lot of detail and superior dynamics”.
The Nash’s rear panel DIP switches and pots allow one to set its MM and MC input impedance and gain settings to match with just about any phono cartridge on the market. This phono preamplifier has a Bluetooth BLE interface for control and configuration, in other words, this phono stage has a remote, which is a rarity for a phono preamp at this price point. M2Tech also offers an Android app to control its parameters, and in the near future will release an iOS app. As I am an iPhone user, I was not able to enjoy their app, but the remote worked fine, and because I rarely changed any of its settings, it really didn’t matter that much after its initial set up. But I agree that this is a very nice option.
On the rear panel of the Nash phono preamplifier is a round, four-pin input labeled “external supply”, which is meant for the optional Van Der Graaf MkII power supply, which I was told would enable the Nash to perform even better than promised by its manufacturer and the literature that was sent along with it.
M2tech’s Nash phono stage’s OLED display on its front panel is easy to read, although, again, since I rarely changed the Nash’s settings, it didn’t matter very much. But this Italian phono stage does not disappoint in the looks department, as the majority of components from this country seem to have a high aptitude for outward appearance. The Nash also has two auxiliary line-level inputs, which converts it into a hub or switching box for analog sources, which is a brilliant design choice. This makes the Nash not only a phono stage, but it can mimic a passive linestage.
These days, many audiophiles use their DAC as a volume control in their all-digital systems, and so the Nash phono stage will allow them to use the Nash’s rear panel inputs to add additional analog sources to their systems without the need to add a preamplifier. Or, at the very least, this will hold them over until they do add a preamplifier to their systems, which in my opinion will enable them to enjoy the sonic benefits that a preamplifier will offer.
In my reviews I’ve often touted the benefits of a good power supply. I doubt that M2Tech skimped on the Nash’s internal power supply, yet there should be no doubt that there will be sonic advantages to using the optional outboard Van Der Graaf MkII power supply. It is housed in a cabinet with the same dimensions as the Nash, allowing them to be stacked one atop the other. According to Marco, the Van Der Graaf MkII is based on a “high-quality, medical-grade AC/DC”, which is able to deliver a “hum-free 24 Volt bulk voltage”. It has a number of switching regulators to provide all the necessary voltages for other M2Tech components, which are fed from discrete components, low-noise regulators to obtain these voltages.
In the interior of the Van Der Graaf MkII power supply, M2Tech chose to use AC/DC as an input stage instead of the usual transformer because they felt that a good AC/DC delivers “virtually no 50Hz or 100Hz hum”, which according to M2Tech, “is a very difficult anomaly to eliminate”. They go on to say that the Van Der Graaf MKII offers a group of voltages which are “as silent as those delivered by batteries”.
So that this power supply could match well with other M2Tech components, they added an IR receiver. This enables the power supply to better integrate with other M2Tech products because it can sense and decode the on/off command from the Nash remote and activate/disable its outputs accordingly. With this, one remote one can control all the M2Tech components.
Information And Connection
That’s it for the technical information regarding the M2Tech Nash phono stage and the matching Van Der Graaf MkII power supply. I am aware that there are readers who are interested in this technical information. I also like to cite it as proof that the component under review has been well designed. But, personally, I’m not nearly as interested in technical details as I am in the performance of a component. I often joke about this saying that I don’t care if a piece of gear was made with discarded parts held together with Krazy Glue and duct tape. As long as a component sounds great, matches with other components in my system, is worth the asking price, and comes with a decent warranty, I’m okay with that. It’s the sound that matters. It’s all about the music.
At first, I connected the Nash phono preamplifier to a Nagra Classic Preamp, and later into the review used a Mark Levinson No 523 full function preamplifier. Both of these preamplifiers have plenty of unbalanced RCA inputs, as the Nash only has RCA outputs. The power amplifiers were either a pair of AURALiC Merak solid-state monoblocks, or two PrimaLuna DiaLogue Six tube monoblocks. At first the speakers were the JBL L100 Classic, and later into the review period a pair of Kharma Elegance dB7 (review forthcoming). All the gear’s power cables were connected to a Panamax Max5510 power conditioner. Again, I realize that other than the turntable this equipment is not likely to be paired with the Nash phono stage. And again, I think this set up is perfectly fine when used in the context of a review, as it will reveal the true sonic nature of the more affordable M2Tech equipment.
Finally, I get to discuss the sound of the M2Tech phono stage. But one more thing: I’ve reviewed M2Tech components in the past, and because of this I had no doubt that I’d hear more than competent sound coming from the Nash phono stage. Even when stacked with the matching Van Der Graaf MkII power supply, this was a very compact sized component. Lots call this half-size rack sized, but with a width of about 7.75″ that would be more than a bit less than half the size of a full-sized component. And so, points for just being able to fit all the technological advancements within the small cabinet.
To my ears, what I heard from the Nash phono stage was the sound of the Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge mounted on the integral tonearm of a Pro-Ject Debut Esprit SB. This is an affordable turntable set up that takes full advantage of the advantages of analog playback, and offers it up to those who don’t want to drop a wad of cash on an analog front end. Pro-Ject makes this possible by carefully engineering a turntable set up that can extract as much information from the grooves of a record without introducing any nasties into the mix. It also is a quite performer, letting all those vinyl skeptics know that this is not a turntable set up from the 1970s or 1980s where so much noise got mixed with the music that it’s the noise that a vintage turntable makes that is remembered more than the sound of the music that it reproduced.
The Nash is an accomplice in delivering a silent background through one’s speakers, not only that it keeps the promise of a quite background as far as electrical noise is concerned, but also surface noise from coming from the grooves of the record. How the Nash was able to “know” which was electronic noise and which was record noise. This I cannot explain, nor fathom.
Since I can’t seem to be able to stop spinning the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs releases of the electric period of Miles Davis; On The Corner LP lately, I might as well talk about my experience playing it numerous times during the Nash’s audition period. There is no question that those from my generation think that this album is a work of genius, almost as much as those from the older generation of jazz aficionados think that this LP is nothing but noise, garbage. It is obvious to me that the reason they are not happy with this album is that they are listening to this LP as a jazz album. It is not a jazz album. This is Miles Davis’ interpretation of rock music.
I don’t believe everything that he says in his autobiography Miles published in 1989, but I do believe what he said about wanting to increase his popularity by writing and releasing this material during his “electric” period. And though albums that he released during this period were influenced by what he heard at concerts and on record during this period, but he also couldn’t help being influenced by his lifetime of being a leader in jazz. And just like that, he invented what we now call jazz/rock fusion.
The 1972 album On The Corner album is a breakthrough, with a throng of musicians both from his past and what was to become his present, on an album made after he had already been playing this type of music for about three years. Musicians young and older, many with recognizable in a huge band made this album of meditative funk, including three electric guitarists one being John McLaughlin, Jack DeJohnette is one of four drummers, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, both on electric piano, and to top it off there are also two electric sitars and a tabla player, pretty much guaranteeing that people will think “new music” when they hear this album. It all comes across as an album full of a unique type of jazz-rock-funk mantras, that only Miles Davis could have cooked up.
The Nash phono stage was able to unwind the sound of this very dense recording. There’s lots going on, many instruments playing simultaneously with a host of percussion instruments laid over it all. The Nash proved itself to be a very transparent component, also proving that the statement from M2Tech designer Marco Manunta that the Nash’s circuit would contribute to “a very lively and rich sound with a lot of detail and a superior dynamic”. The Nash was also able to demonstrate that it was able to place a dynamic distance between instruments and groups of instruments that were playing simultaneously and at the same volume. The Nash was able to shine in this system that was made up of components that are much more expensive.
The Nash’s frequency response was very impressive. No frequency called attention to itself unless that was the intension of the recording. The sound quality of On The Corner is not one that I would normally use to demo my system. Yet, the Nash was able to reproduce exactly what it heard coming from the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge mounted on the Pro-Ject turntable’s tonearm. Its treble is extended, but certainly not first class, as I’m used to using in my main system a phono cartridge that is much, much more expensive. But still, coming through the speakers of my second system was a sound that replicated what was on the album in a very natural way, without much in the way of sibilance, added resonance or any other errors of addition that I would distract from the music.
Sure, the system would have sounded better with a more advanced turntable and phono cartridge, and a more upscale phono stage. But this was easy to forget when the sound coming through my speakers was so lifelike sounding. Adding the Van Der Graaf MKII power supply was more than simply icing on the cake. This power supply was as if injecting a shot of semi-legal vitamins to the sound of the phono stage. All I liked about the Nash without the external power supply, including a level of transparency that belied its asking price, was there, but with an addition of fortitude that made its sound much more intense, much more muscular sounding.
Don’t get me wrong, I could easily recommend the M2Tech Nash without its external power supply, but with the Van Der Graaf MKII the Nash became on the edge of being a first-class phono stage, able to raise the performance of the entry-level phono cartridge that it was amplifying one that could hang with the rest of this very, very nice system.
Would I recommend the $1599 M2Tech Nash to an audiophile who is beginning to build an analog front-end? Yes and no, because I don’t consider the Nash an entry-level phono stage, at least not when judging it on its performance. The sound quality of this very good-looking phono stage places it within a class of phono stages that are far more than simply an “entry-level” unit; that’s for sure. And when one adds the $1299 Van Der Graaf MkII power supply it may not just about double the level of its performance. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. But it sure raises the sonic bar, and I doubt one will find a better sounding phono stage anywhere near what one spends on the pair.
|Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)|
|Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)|
|Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)|
|High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)|
|Soundscape Width Front|
|Soundscape Width Rear|
|Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers|
|Soundscape Extension Into Room|
|Fit And Finish|