NIGHTINGALE ADM32 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER

PRICE: $5,850

 

30 watts RMS @1 KHz
4 high level inputs
1 phono (optional)
3 dB negative feedback


Life’s unfair. Rarely do two beautiful things happen simultaneously. Maybe it’s nature’s balance, maybe just luck, but usually, the bad comes along with the good. The ugly arrives alongside that which is gorgeous.

I’ve spent a month looking and listening to one of the, if not the very prettiest sounding amps I’ve ever heard, certainly equal to anything that previously enthralled me, O.K., I lied…I absolutely adore the sound of this made in Italy amp! It enveloped me, made me sit and listen and constantly interrupt my listening with exclamations like, “Holy moley,” “Oh my …,” “Incredible!” I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to listen to CDs or LPs. ME, ME!!! Everything I put onto my tables, every CD I played, unless it was horrible, it was beautiful. I really do believe that CD an LP playback are apples to oranges, but I really love LPs, I have an immense selection of LPs and therefore LP sound is important. Heck, so is CD sound, of course.

Let me explain. This is an amp that doesn’t hide things, it reveals more than anything I recall in recent times. “I have a whole new collection,” is such hogwash, but in this case, for me, with my equipment, I HAVE AN ENTIRELY NEW RECORD COLLECTION! I keep playing CDs I’ve played dozens of times, LPs I’ve played to the point of fearing I’ll begin to hate them. There is nothing, nothing I have played that I didn’t sit with my jaw dropped to the floor. I have to say I listened to a lot more CDs than I ever have when reviewing any equipment, I was really impressed with the line stage of this integrated amp.

An integrated amp? How can this be? Integrateds can’t sound as good as separates! But this thing is drop dead gorgeous looking, too! It is a beautiful work of electronic art. As beautiful as it is, it is UGLY compared to the music issuing forth through the unit and into my speakers. I have gone to bed at disgustingly late hours because I didn’t want to stop listening to music. I’m not the handsomest guy in the world, I need my beauty sleep!

Huge orchestrations, one guitar with one singer, Jazz Quartets, Classical Quartets, Big Band recordings, everything sounded so beautiful that it took my breath away. Vocals were as good or better than I’ve ever heard, delivering some micro-details that I’ve begun listening for in vocal reproduction. I believe in the past I’ve written about linguistics, how letters/sounds are formed. It’s quite interesting to find out that a particular piece of gear can illuminate or obscure those tiny details. The Nightingale does not obscure anything. The beautiful sound of Joni Mitchell’s voice rising as she sings, just ever so slightly turning a single syllable into two at the end of a stanza.

I was listening to a CD yesterday that I’d played when the Nightingale ADM-32 had first been hooked up. I thought it was fabulous sounding, less than an hour of break-in time and I was thrilled. Listening to Palmieri on Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri project’s Simpatico (Artist Share AS0057) again, I was dumfounded. “I thought this was a great sounding CD, but this is not CD sound! It’s not “analog-like” sound, it’s just beautiful, warm, involving, powerful!” This is the type of recording that makes you get up and boogie, or, if you’re lazy like me, do the butt-boogie. Beyond toe-tapping, the Nightingale…well, boogies! Bob and I agreed the Nightingale is lightning fast, getting pace and rhythm where you want it, into your soul.

 

Oscar Peterson on Telarc; a wonderful CD. Again, not great CD sound…great sound! Ellington’s Blues in Orbit on 180 gram vinyl? Not great vinyl sound, just great sound!
Every LP, every CD I played I was presented with beautiful music, beautiful sound.

 

Record after record I kept lolling back on my couch, mesmerized by what I heard. Simple stuff like Boz Scaggs’ putting syllables into a lyric, “Bloo-ooz” or “fee-ee-eels” becomes more real, more meaningful when he sings, Ask me ‘bout nothin’ (but the blues) on Come on Home (Virgin 7243 842984 2 5). I’ve probably listened to this CD a hundred times. I love it! That song tears me up and I thought I’d been torn up as much as I could with my Anthem and Monarchy pushing the sounds through my Infinity speakers. Nope, never! I bleed when I hear him sing that song through the Nightingale.

 

 

 

Dave Douglas’ songs for wandering souls Winter & Winter 910 042-2 is a new CD…I bought it 4 years ago! If you’d like to hear how good CDs can be, try the Winter&Winter releases.

I’m guessing I bought Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit Nonesuch 79478-2) at about the same time., a bit Earlier as soon thereafter, I bought Winter & Winter’s Notebooks of Havana, (Winter&Winter 910 030-2). Ry Cooder’s production of the Buena Vista is superb. I’m in a dusty café’, sun streaming through dirty windows, turning dust motes into tiny blinking stars wafting through the room. The musicians are up front, me with a rum concoction of somebody’s creativity sitting on the rickety table. Ruben Gonzales’ piano is about 8 feet from me. I hear his fingers and the keys; the hammers striking the strings.

As good as that recording is, the Nightingale illuminating it as well as it does, the Winter & Winter will blow your mind. The sound of children will get you out of your chair, looking out your window, wondering “where are those fool kids!” You aren’t taken to a café’, buddy; you’re taken to Cuba!

 

Valentina and her husband were kind enough to bring the Nightingale to my home, joining us for Ribfest '08. With the help of John Ellison, Brian Walsh, Professor John Richardson of Shippensburg University, Mike Sorbo, and other Audio Asylum inmates they were able to set the system up without anyone hurting their backs. All of the inmates who attended the Ribfest listened to the Nightingale and all agreed that straight out of the box, with no tweaks (pucks, cones, etc.) using my IC's, it was a beautiful sounding unit. I need to note that, unlike virtually all other audio publications, it is Stereomojo's written and published policy not to allow manufacturers to set up, position and tweak their review units in reviewer's homes unless they perform the same service for all their customers. We think allowing them do so gives them an unfair advantage. In this case, the distributors lived very close to Mike's home and delivered the amp to avoid shipping charges and potential shipping damage. They did not perform setup or any tweaks to enhance the amplifier's performance ~ publisher

Most of the people who had attended this year are vinyl nuts, so we tried to hook up my table, but since the VPI had a moving coil hanging on the JMW arm and the Nightingale had a moving magnet stage (solid state) installed rather than a moving coil (you can get either), we couldn’t resolve the hum. Even with a Cinemag step up transformer, we had hum (later I found we had never thought to ground BOTH the arm and the transformer). I thought of that AFTER I had hung an AudioNote IQ2 moving magnet on the JMW arm!

No problem, as the AudioNote is a wonderful sounding cartridge and matched up so with the Nightingale like Smilla and snow (Smilla’s sense of Snow, a movie you should all see). I played record after record (keep in mind, for ME, record and LP are interchangeable words). I even brought out my personal war horses, Classic’s Famous Blue Raincoat, which, interestingly, the CD has great sound, too. My benchmark is whether or not I find myself choking up (no, you silly puppy, not throwing up!) on the title cut of the recording. The CD rarely does it; the LP always. I’m impressed with any gear which makes me weep like a schoolgirl.

This is one of those pieces of equipment that does everything so well you can’t put your finger on what its strong point is. Female vocals? Male vocals? Large, orchestral music? Chamber music (both Jazz and Classical)? I enjoyed everything I played! While listening to CDs, I never had the thought, “I wish I could hear this through the Anthem pre/Monarchy amps. The sirens called out for me to listen to my tubed phono stage. As good as the phono stage in the Nightingale is, and it is very good, I missed a bit of magic my phono stage and other phono stages have given me.

 

Would I, if I could afford this piece, live with that phono stage? Of course! But I could not help wondering what a great stage such as the Eastern Electric Phono stage or the Dynavector stage would sound like through that marvelous sounding amp!

I fell in love with the Nightingale. Oh, and did I happen to mention the distributor, Valentina, is every bit as beautiful as the amplifier she sells? Her husband is a great looking guy, according to the women at Ribfest…I guess so. Beautiful distributor or amp, it makes little difference. If the amp was a dog, then I wouldn’t be gushing…and I would have gotten a lot more sleep.

The friend and fellow audiophile buddy who’s my second set of ears and muscle-man (poor guy, I get him to do all of the boring, changing out equipment stuff), thought it
was a real treat to listen to the Nightingale, his words echoing mine, “It sounds as beautiful as it looks!” Robert is my second set of ears, my corroborator, and as such he is superb. Never asking my own opinion of what something sounds like, he’s never shy about telling me when something he hears is wrong or out of whack; which is why he gets a by-line. Although these are my words, I wouldn’t write a single thing if Bob hadn’t heard and corroborated everything I did. Great ears, brutally honest with his opinions, what more could anyone ask when wanting a listening partner; what more could you want as someone whose opinions you need to trust as this review and others reveal his opinions as well as mine. He thinks I should scrap my gear and buy this. Would that I could!

I suppose I should tell you a bit about the why’s and what’s of this amp. The 6L6 (8 of them) have a good bit to do with that, as do the 2 preamp, E 88CC and the 2 E 82CC tubes. This means that for FAR less than $200 you can retube this baby! Of course, if you want to go whole hog, play with NOS, you could probably spend a grand…if that floats your boat, fine, but the stock tubes sounded great to me. The only thing I could swap out would have been with 12AU7 tubes, the E82CC. I didn’t bother to do so.

This is what equipment should look like; should sound like! The abundant real wood trim adds a distinct air of elegance. 30 powerful watts is far more than anyone needs to blow down the walls of your house (at least with normal recordings, I played an old Epic Brahms LP that was recorded at quite low levels and could not achieve realistic level with the Nightingale), but the beauty of the recording was intact, just not as loud as I would have likes it to be.The bias is electronically adjusted, so that (for me) scary equation is removed. I like things simple!

An unusual layout brings the RCA inputs in front, under a door. One leads his interconnects underneath the chassis and bends them over to insert into the female receptors. You’ll either need very short-barreled RCA ends or right angled ones (Cardas makes right angled RCA’s). Very strange, eh? Well, if you’re the manufacturer and wish to keep the signal path as short as possible, that’s what you’d do too. I have some very long barrels on my Silver Dragon IC’s, so I used a few others with shorter RCAs because I wanted the amp to look as beautiful as its creator wished it to be and NOT have the ICs hanging out of the front door. I used quite a few different IC’s with this amp, silver, copper, silver clad copper; you name it and I tried it. I, of course, heard differences, but the differences heard were not better or worse, they were just…different. A bit more shimmer on top, perhaps; a bit more bass perhaps, more pronounced, clear midrange, perhaps. The point I’m trying to make is the Nightingale doesn’t seem to be fussy in the least, not with tubes, not with ICs!

The knobs! The controls on this amp look like something out of a military communications system. Robust feel, robust look; switching inputs gives you a sure, definite feel…beefy, tactile knobs giving you the feeling that the parts are robust, ot just pretty. Heck I liked the knobs as much as the entire amp!

 

Music, sushi, and libraries

To me, my record collection is a library. I want to know a certain piece of music exactly like I wish to know a novel. Relish it in future days; even dream of the subtleties and the emotions wrought from the experience of listening. I didn't think of our cookbook collection as a library; of course, it is just that.

I had sushi last night and though I've "threatened" to learn which each fish is, to be able to identify it, I never have done so. Comfortable in the enjoyment of the textures and tastes, I knew little of what I ate. Octopus, salmon roe, and a couple others were easily identified. I did not know that the sweet hen's egg, Tamago, is seen as a "test" by educated sushi patrons, for instance. It was simply scrambled eggs, big deal.

But it is considered the high point of a sushi chef's skill. Sweetened egg batter, poured into the pan in a very thin sheet, it is flipped by the sushi chef with chopsticks, rolled to one side and the next layer is poured. Then the first is rolled out. The process continues until the omelet is an inch or so thick. Served on sushi rice and wrapped with Nori (seaweed), a sushi diner in Japan may order it to start off his sushi meal. If it is below expectations, he may leave the sushi bar at that point without paying!

And I took that damned scrambled egg for granted! I suppose, in many American sushi bars it may be just that!

I was rather sure my favorite, the red/white striped fish was, in fact, salmon. The tuna and varieties (albacore) I was not sure of or even knew what I was eating and they are as delightful in taste and texture as the salmon; more so if the catch was good and the sushi extremely fresh.

But my point was not sushi, per se, the point was that I was going to look for this information on the web while the book I garnered the information was on a shelf less than 10 feet away! There is a huge amount of knowledge available on the web, but a good , informative book surpasses the web because of the "perusal factor." We flash through pics and text on the web, whereas a book can be savored, just like the sushi I ate last night.

My music is on shelves not ten feet away. My books are on shelves not too much farther than the records. A good book teaches you; good playback equipment allows me to hear the nuances of every performance, teaches me. That should be expected. What was unexpected was that the Nightingale was essentially, that superbly trained sushi chef. He doesn’t make that egg, he delivers it with his expertise. The Nightingale delivers sound with the manufacturer’s expertise. Not superficial, “this is the way I do it,” but “this is the way it should always be done.” Great tasting fish stands on it’s own in the taste department, the sushi chef simply reveals it in all of its glory. Great music, recorded music stands on its own, the Nightingale simply reveals it.

 

 


Bob’s system:

Rotel RX-1050 pre-amp
Rotel RV1080 amp
Rotel RCD1070 CD player
VPI Scout turntable w/JMW9 arm, Dyna 20XH cartridge
Dynavector P-75 Mk. II phono pre-amp
Usher BE718 Tiny Dancer speakers
Grover Huffman wires

Female vocals are Bob’s cup o’ tea.

 

 

If you want beauty in your living room, looks and sound, the Nightingale does just that. Fewer wires, fewer boxes. Drop dead gorgeous looks and sound, what more could anyone ask to have?

 

 

 

 

 

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