Prior to our meet, I'd also reflected on how nCore had originally launched in a two-prong strategy from parent company Hypex. Their circular NC400 module was reserved exclusively for DIY, the NC1200 exclusively for commercial OEM. One was priced low, the other very high. It didn't help that designer Bruno Putzeys claimed very similar sonics. Besides taking wind out of the OEM sail and 1200 types having to demand at least $10K/pr, this soon spawned grey marketeers who packaged DIY modules in basic or fancy cases. They sold for ~1/5th of the commercial variants to blatantly circumvent the DIY rule. Later, end users might order NC400 boards under DIY pretense, then forward them to assembly operators who'd gotten shut down the other way. Time to revise the Hypex strategy?

The first commercial non-1200 nCore amp was probably the $2'999 NAD M22 at right. It used an NC500 board which NAD ordered from Hypex customized to their specs. As a high-volume not boutique brand, it put next-gen nCore tech into more households than the ultrafi efforts. Today, Nord present a bevy of related options; with a wrinkle. Like B&O, the NC500 modules allow sellers to add their own input buffer. It's no longer about packaging identical modules and SMPS into different cases with various badges. Now strategic front-end tuning can add sonic distinction just as we saw all along with ICEpower kit from April Music, Peachtree Audio, Wyred4Sound & Co. In Nord's case below, discrete socketed op-amps from Sparkos Labs and Sonic Imagery even allow the owner to roll flavours whilst the firm upgrades the Hypex regulators with costlier discrete jobs.

I'd read plenty of NC1200 reviews whose rebranders reaped the lion's share of the credit even though all they added were flash cases, fancy footers, special power cords and their choice of minimal hookup wiring. Does bolting a new exhaust and some racy tyres to a car make you its designer? Still, those writers downplayed or outright obscured the fact that 95% of the product they wrote up was the creation of one Bruno Putzeys; and could be had in very similar guise from a number of competitors. Which segues into a related two-prong observation: between nCore tech vs. marketing. Widespread applause for the tech already has it a winner. The marketing seems less so. There's positioning of NC1200 as state-of-the-art high end by using artificially high pricing. This plays to the psychology that to get respect, you must demand and act it. Here we remember that class D began in subwoofer plate amps; the lowliest of the low. Fit for high end? Certainly not then. To be seen today in acknowledged hi-end brands like Audio Research, Jeff Rowland, mbl, Theta Digital, Wadia and many others shows that its cred no longer is in the red. Just so, most upscale biz lives on the implied presumption of uniqueness. Whilst many of our traditional hifi circuits may in fact be far more alike than not, neither buying public nor reviewers would ever know. Yet the mere mention of B&O, Hypex, nCore, Pascal or TI modules conjures up sameness. That's antithetical to top pricing where buyers expect something they can't get anywhere else.

This isn't about performance. It's about belief and perception. If you buy a €60'000 d'Agostino amp, you expect and get Dan d'Agostino's circuit. If you buy a €25'000 Pass Labs, you get a Nelson Pass circuit. With nCore and competing OEM class D, you can find the same stock Pascal module in a €30'000 Aarvik integrated amp and in a €3'500 Gato. Exclusivity takes a major hit. Doesn't this undermine justification for posh stickers? The exception could be a radically superior form of class D; one that remained tightly confined to an exclusive club. It'd be only available there. And that exactly has been the case all along for the top nCore tier. Perhaps, ignorance over how much or little it trumps later NC500 types, already factors amongst those who pay attention. Plus, at least two of the few brands who promote it are quite marginal. Where would Mike Bell price himself? By using the NC502MP module, the nCore 1200 club remains as exclusive as ever. Plus, his British competitors at Nord just set their price for a stereo NC500MP at £849. Twice that for monos would net roughly 2'000 in current US and EU currency.

After our meet, I'd learnt a few things. Kiwi-born Mike Bell lived and worked in the US for a spell. He presently makes his home in Singapore. There his day job is in a ship yard that builds steel-hull commercial vessels under government contracts. As a diehard DIYer, his current four-way speaker weighs 850kg. From that we infer that with his hobby, Mike plays it as one of the lads. Some lads race hopped-up bikes on a drag strip to burn rubber. Mike does laddie hifi (his word). It's where kilowatt power meets the Gorilla name. With top Furutech binding posts, quality XLR (no RCA!) and a rugged black case with engraved logo, he initially thought to position his otherwise stock Hypex mono package at half the price of the closest NC1200 monos. In hard currency, that'd have meant $5'495/pr for the monos; and $2'995 for a stereo amp. For a shopper of NC1200 type power, the primate monos would already have meant a massive savings. It's once one looks Nord that the Gorillas would have been between 2½ to 3 times pricier whilst offering identical innards. Forget exclusivity. Would case envy alone be sufficient to get King Kong's kin off the endangered species list? After our meet, Mike was still convinced—he didn't fancy Nord's lighter enclosures—but also did "hope to still make this more aggressively priced. I’ll keep you posted as I reduce this before going to market." He also felt that whilst Bruno's very best board of NC1200 still has sonic advantages and superior low-impedance behaviour, the new MP range's next-gen status positions it very close to the NC500. So his first litter of gorillas is expected for mid to late February by which time I'll be shipped a stereo version.
Stay tuned...

Gorilla Amplifiers website