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"As a long-time APL follower, a previous APL Denon 3910 owner and now the owner of a relatively young NWO-3 received on January 13th and now just into the 200-hour mark on Redbook only, you ain't heard nothing yet (and apparently according to others, neither have I). While I felt and heard all the things you have thus far in the first 50 hours of Redbook, I felt very much like the unit was a one-trick pony out of the box: relaxed (too) and a little dynamically restrained, lacking coherency with detail and resolution that was (just) comparable to my current X-03/G-U25 front end. As the odometer turns, the NWO-3.0 GO just keeps upping the ante and as Harry is wont to say, the gestalt and the continuousness of the music continues to improve in every respect.

"As it continues to offer more frequent and longer glimpses of its brilliance, it is starting to look like the NWO-3.0 GO will be my last source component and it may eventually also be my only source component. And considering what I've spent on source components and preamps over the last 10 years, it is a relative bargain. Can't wait to hit 500 hours." - Kerry Legeard B. A. Sc. P. Eng, Music First Distribution

Indeed. The machine does morph. And, there's the naming and associated propaganda of a new digital world order which sets up promises of exactly what? Few would argue that CD playback, in the winter of its life as a physical medium, has finally gained the maturity its launch 20+ years barely hinted at. How much breathing room is left to be first, there on the tip of that needle where the most wicked of the digital demons dance? How big should one expect the margin of superiority to be? How and where would it manifest down the audiophile laundry list?

The difference is there plain and audible, even during ping-pong switching -- between sources with identical discs spinning -- in which the attributes Kerry mentioned tend to get diminished or circumvented. For those, one needs to listen to an entire track beginning to end. What even trigger-happy switcheroo sessions proved when comparing the NWO to my Philips PRO2 top-loading Ancient Audio Lektor Prime with fully dual-diff circuit and 6H30 output stage was more tonal fullness or color. But this surely wasn't a night 'n' day diff. Far from it and quite subtle in fact. I used two original copies of Contrasts + Parallels [Kalman Olan Trio, m.a. 065A] with piano, double bass and percussion, both players into Alex Peychev's own UA-S1 with remote input switching.

While both sources seemed quantitatively equal in top-end energy, the NWO had more harmonic density below which weighted the perception of its treble downward and made the Lektor Prime overall seem a bit thinner. More silvery and nervous - a small thing which became bigger by letting track sections play longer before switching. Again, the 'declawed' treble of the NWO is not a lack of resolution, insufficient extension or depressed amplitude. It's an absence of HF noise that translates as gentleness or softness.

That quality isn't limited to the actual treble. Transients top to bottom are affected. They unsharpen too, not with any defocusing however. I assume that's superior treble phase accuracy which impacts the upper harmonic content of leading edges. Mechanically, it's a low-level effect. How it affects subjective perception is on a larger scale. Gestalt is a good word. It's particularly easy to spot on human voice such as the elegiac plaintive one that comes in on "Rubato" on the same album. The voice settles down within itself and as such, into the singer's body as opposed to seeming on edge, leaning forward and thus outward of the singer. While admittedly an unusual description, it's nonetheless the impression that telegraphed. One presentation feels more relaxed and centered, the other more nervous and less embodied - a low offset in percentage points, a larger one in feel and listener response.

Peculiar only at first was that when assessing 10-second comparison snippets, this difference was nearly impossible to spot. By the time those snippets became a minute, they were self-evident - as though my hearing mechanism took some time to stop compensatin' for the norm, stop obscuring the new element the NWO brought to the table. The simple upshot is, the 3.0-GO sounds more natural. It's thus easier on the ears also. But when all you say is "more natural", the audiophile who thinks in treble, midrange and bass quantity terms will be disappointed. "That's all?" Well, ahem - yes. The NWO 3.0-GO doesn't make more treble, midrange or bass. Some machines do. Whether that's honest and linear is for you decide. If the NWO is unusually honest to the signal -- the whole high fidelity concept -- it demonstrates how heightened resolution (a closer translation or copy of the encoded data) results in less sizzle and boom (the obvious impressive stuff). Less of that makes for greater relaxation, more flow, less subliminal choppiness. We're back to continuousness, gestalt and that type of amorphous, ill-defined descriptor that drives the objectivists into and up their trees.

The thing is, you can't measure love neither. That doesn't make it unreal. If we can't measure flow, relaxation and naturalness yet, it doesn't mean they don't matter. Nor that you can't hear these qualities even if you might chose other (equally short-falling) words to hint at them. I would then say that NWO 3.0-GO ownership isn't a razzle-dazzle, wowie-type proposition especially when you come off an already very good example of the digital art. I don't even believe that the mighty VRDS-NEO necessarily gets more data off the disc. Frederic Beudot, in his review of Esoteric's new P/D-05 combo, felt as well that the 32-bit AKM converter of that duo was responsible for the vast majority of its magic. Which, incidentally, also revolved around its treble to mirror my observations. How much does Peychev's paralleling of the same chip accomplish over and above Esoteric's new $7,500 converter if we subtracted the NWO's transformer-coupled tube output stage? It's a purely speculative question.

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My review of ModWright's modified Slim Devices Transporter and comparisons between its wirelessly streamed data vs. the NWO's traditionally spun ones also had me question the necessity for the mechanical engineering marvel that is Esoteric's massive sled. Esoteric's 2-years-in-the-making introduction of their smaller and cheaper VRDS-NEO 5 transport raises further curiosity. I personally suspect but cannot prove that the majority of the NWO's magic isn't in the transport but in its conversion scheme. (Incidentally, Alex Peychev has since discontinued his own Transporter modification in favor of Slim's new Duet whose network player he will strip off its black box and fit inside his NWO enclosure while adding the WiFi antennae to it for extreme integration). Add to my converter-centric suspicion that the NWO's reclocked digital input is phenomenally transparent (you can remotely compare its direct transport feed versus looping through its i/o ports). The real hammer -- at much reduced cost to become relevant to more than the very few -- could be an NWO 3.0-GO equivalent standalone digital to analog converter that is packaged with the newly announced WiFi capability. If APL Hifi reserves the full-blown conversion trickery to its players and gifts their forthcoming converter with a downscaled version only, we of course will never know just how the percentages of monster mechanical transport and subsequent 20 x 32-bit data manipulation in the D/A stage play out.

Direct or directer?
Peychev's hybrid attenuator invites direct-to-amp operation. If you have a preamp of the caliber of Mick Maloney's Supratek Cabernet Dual on hand, direct leaves stuff under the table. Direct is leaner and paler. Going through the preamp is - directer. Closer to the live vibe, with significantly more intense dynamics, stronger image density and color depth. The only amps that sounded as good without the preamp injection as the others did with it were the amazing Thorens TEM 3200 hybrid high-power circlotrons. A very good combination too was the high-gain Supratek into one zero voltage-gain FirstWatt F4 - fast, wide open, ultra transparent and with really good tone and drive [see above].

The wrap
Had I expected the big light show in the sky upon listening to the NWO after clocking 300 non-stop hours of endless repeat, I'da been disappointed. Both my Ancient Audio deck and Abbingdon Music Research's AM-77 -- two tubed machines as well -- perform at such a high plateau already as to simply not leave lots of room to climb much higher. The NWO does climb higher but what it gains is anything but showy, loud and fireworky. Quantitatively, with scale in hand to weigh treble, midrange, bass, dynamics et al, you'd have noticed subtle shifts at best. The NWO's mo betta operates qualitatively. It removes treble artifice that remains with even top-shelf machines. It has you respond differently - with less tension, long-term fatigue and subliminal annoyance. Most definitely, you'll practice no more avoidance of those beloved but overcooked hot-hot-hot albums which won't sound any better now but quit annoying you. Their digital stinger has been removed. Poof. You can finally enjoy those discs for their musical merit and no longer get prevented by inferior mastering.

Fixing the digital treble problem doesn't sound like such a big accomplishment. It's only when you measure the quantitative increase of enjoyment factor -- all 3000 CDs instead of just half or less of 'em -- that the true virtue and value of this fix weigh in. The more you listen and the more different CDs you listen to (and let's add DVD/A and SACD to today's picture), the more invaluable you might view the NWO 3.0-GO. It is horribly expensive yet does contain the universal transport and radically rebuilt everything else as far as Esoteric's UX-1 platform is concerned. The massive modification surcharge of that rebuild is due to the loup-enlarged hand labor involved, of parts so small and densely populated as to make removal of the stock bits and insertion of the replacements the kind of work only the most fiendish obsessives would even undertake. Regardless of what you pay 'em.

Wrap rap
In tantric terms, the advance the NWO 3.0-GO heralds over the players I had on hand isn't the I-nearly-fainted climax -- you know all the locker-room gab to season that image to taste -- but the inverted orgasm that goes about its ways far more quietly and longer lasting. Does that make this machine the world's best? Impossible to say regardless of owner endorsements, review opinion or the designer's own claims. There clearly is something special about that AKM 32-bit part. Frederic Beudot described very similar treble improvements with Esoteric's new stock D-05 converter. A more complete assessment of Alex's modification work would thus have to compare his NWO to the D-05. For now, I'm confident to say that his APL Hifi offering eclipses the $40,000+ Zanden separates in bass and treble extension yet offers a very similar flavor of organic ease, flow and innate softness that's not for lack of detail or because of euphonic coloration or focus blur but because it categorical lacks those very last remnants of artificial edginess. Considering the "why digital still sucks" whispers over in the pews of the vinyl church, that's major. It also calls for a new sermon from their resident pope. One can be a fully card-carrying member in the Platinum Club of audiophilia and not do vinyl...
Quality of packing: Original Esoteric issue plus additional outer box - first rate.
Reusability of packing: Absolutely.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Entirely unproblematic.
Condition of component received: Drive was misaligned because the player was shipped without Esoteric's protective insert. Reseating the drive realigned it perfectly save for a very minor clunk on every eject now.

Completeness of delivery: Contained original and secondary Sony remote for additional functions, ECC99 tubes, CD.
Quality of owner's manual: Esoteric's original manual is very extensive and professional.
Website comments: APL's sorely lacks in details and images. The associated forum doesn't appear very active.
Warranty: 1 year.
Global distribution: Direct.
Human interactions: Prompt.
Other: The 4 deactivated rear panel sockets should get plugged up to look more finished and the added nomenclature for the analog and digital inputs should become printed or embossed stickers rather than felt-tip pen hand script.
Pricing: If you have to ask, pass on.
Application conditions: Plays CD, SACD, DVD/A, DVD/V, no longer does multi-channel audio, adds digital input.
Final comments & suggestions: The real promise of the NWO 3.0-GO is as equivalent standalone D/A converter built from scratch rather than as rebuilt Esoteric platform. This would subtract the VRDS-NEO parts cost and PCB restuffing labor fees. The price savings should be significant to make this fantastic product more widely accessible.

In late October 2008, it was brought to my attention that as per lengthy threads on certain forums, many would-be owners of APL Hifi products were out considerable down payments, had waiting in some cases longer than a year and because of failed responses from Alex Peychev, were at a loss knowing status and whether the company had closed its doors. I promptly sent an e-mail to Alex and got the following response the same day:

"Thank you for your consideration and sorry about the trouble I may have caused with my problems. The truth is that I had some medical issues that required surgical intervention. This involved long trips (to the capital Sofia) and staying at places with no internet access. Brent's [the former sales manager who since has resigned - Ed.] health condition was also very unexpected since he communicated with everyone before that.

"I am feeling better now and will be making an announcement on my forum today. Since I have always been a "one man operation" my plan is to move APL to Bulgaria so I can use the help of people I can really trust. US forwarding address and US phone line will be intact. This may turn off some customers in USA but will be done for the future of APL. All of the products will be 100% supported, there are new and exciting products coming up as well."

The reader is encouraged to read between the lines. Regardless of your assessment, it's clear that Mr. Peychev's communications with non-press customers well prior to his illness were already poor. One hopes outstanding orders will be filled in a timely manner now and it appears that future dealings with APL Hifi will be routed through Bulgaria. - Ed
APL Hifi's website