To be fair, both units where volume matched and I used the SE out put of each.
And let's go ahead and discuss price, the Schiit Vali is $119 new, the NFB 10ES2 is a balanced Dac and Balanced Amp, that said it is $600 new. In all fairness, I suppose we can assume the NFB 10ES2's headphone amp might be comparable to a $300 stand alone solid state. Either way the Vali has it's work cut out for it!
Audio GD NFB 10ES 2 Rear Input Out Put Section [Left and Right channels have same set of Outputs]
Schiit Vali, with only one Input.
Schiit Audio - Vali )[$119 New] VS Audio GD NFB10 ES2 Balanced Amp (SE Out) [$600 New (Unit is a Dac/Amp Combo)
I’ve enjoyed both Tube and solid state amplifiers over the years, although I prefer solid states. That said, there’s still something magical about tubes for me, thus I owned two before the Vali, both where attempts to find that perfect tube sound, the right mix of warm mids and taught bass and airy treble. That said, I got the Vali, with hopes it would bring the balanced I was looking for. That said, though I’m still undecided about wheather I like a solid state amp or a tube… so it’s time for a comparison!
Notes on the NFB10ES2 Dac
The NFB10ES2 balanced dac uses a ESS 9018 chipset, that said the unit has a very clean sound. Ton’s of detail and virtually no audible noise in both the internal headphone amp and Fixed Line Out. Micro Details are phenomenal and the ability to opt for a low or high gain Line out makes feeding the Dac into multiple amps very easy, not to mention the incredibly clean sound from the dac. Sound stage is also phenomenal as well, and to reiterate this for the third time, this unit has very clean sound!
Pros: Airy sound, smooth mids, taught heavy bass, scales well
Cons : noisy, needs high end Pre Amp for optimal performance
Schiit… well the know their schiit! The Vali is built very nicely, sporting a metal case with a silver coat. The RCA jacks, and volume knob are both very sturdy. Each has a nice solid feel to it, though I will admit the Power Switch feels a little flimsy. Thankfully I’m only touching it once every few hours! Still it’s a very attractive unit, and thus far I’ve had no mechanical issues, and frankly I’m not too concerned that I will!
Sub-Miniature Hybrid Headphone Amplifier
Frequency Response 20-20k, -0.2db, 5-100kHz -3db
Maximum Power 32Ohms: 650 mW RMS per Channel
Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 115mW RMS per Channel
OutPut Impedance 6.5ohms
Power Consumption 8W
Size 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
The Vali doesn’t have any extra features, it simply does exactly what you paid for it to do! Meaning, it’s an amp with only one input and one output. That said, for the price it’s easy to understand the lack of Extra’s.
Excellent! Performs far beyond many similarly priced competitors such as the Indeed G3 and Millet Hybrid Tubes.
Pros; Clean sounding, EXTRAS, Powerful
Cons; Heavy, Large, Headphones Need Re-termination
The unit is built rock solid and weighs around 15 or so pounds! While I do not recommend you drop it… chances are it could take the hit. No flaws to the build what so ever in my opinion.
The Audio GD NFB 10ES2 offers 2 headphone outs, a SE and balanced. On the negative side how ever, the Balanced out is much cleaner and more dynamic than the SE out. While this review was done with the SE, everything that applies to the SE can be said for the Balanced as well. Think of the balanced out as a complete upgrade over the already excellent SE out.
For the price there is not a better balanced Solid State amp, however if you only need a SE Amp there may be better options, again the Audio GD NFB 10ES2 is a Dac/Amp combo unit and the amp cannot be purchased separately. Additionally, to get the most out of your headphones you will need a recable to 4pin Balanced XLR.
Maximum Power 50 Ohms: 5950MW [Balanced Out] 1650MW [SE Out]
Maximum Power 600 Ohms: 590MW[Balanced Out] 150Mw [SE Out]
OutPut Impedance 2
Power Consumption 22W
Size W240 X L360 X H80 (MM, Fully aluminium )
Sonic Test Process
Source Win 7[Foobar2000 WASAPI] -> NFB 10ES 2 SE Fixed Line Out [Low Gain] -> Schiit Vali -> w1000x
Source Win 7[Foobar2000 WASAPI] -> NFB 10ES 2 SE Headphone Out -> w1000x
Bold Italic is final preference
Italic Text is NFB10ES2
Standard Text is Vali
Sound Signature- Very clean, a slight bump on the mids and a small dip from upper mids to highs. Maintains a touch of sparkle, with lush mids. I’d call it the reference sound signature for a hybrid tube, tubey mids and bass with the details of a solid state. The Heart and Soul of a tube, with the detail of a solid state!
Dynamics- quick and effortless
Timbre- Very Natural
Speed- Sufficiently quick, yet has very minimal smoothness.
Sound Stage: A wide sound stage, great instrument separation, and good 3D and 2D placement of instruments.
It should be noted as well, that the Vali does have a slight hum of noise in the background, as well as being prone to micro-phonics or ringing in response to external vibrations acting on the internal PCB.
Sound Signature- Very clean, flawless neutral sounding. No color or noise to be found! Perfectly Pure Sound
Dynamics- Well extended and fast and natural.
Speed- Lighting fast
Sound Stage: Very accurate sound stage, depth is wonderful and 2D sound stage is top notch! Sonically, the sound stage presents instruments realistically enough to differentiate the space between each in inches! The NFB 10ES2 is a very neutral sounding amp! It is lacking completely in any color what so ever! Crystal and uncompressed clarity with a JET BLACK presentation, no noise what so ever.