Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amplifier Wes Phillips, June 2006
While I enjoyed the Moscode 401HR during its solo audition, I was freaking out a tad trying to imagine what I could compare it to when it came time to evaluate it against another amplifier of similar aspirations and/or price—one that had been reviewed in Stereophile and thus was a "known" quantity. Finally, the penny dropped and I realized that my own reference amp, the one I actually own and listen to when I don't have any deadlines, was a hybrid tube/solid-state device with a monster power supply and a retail price slightly over $5000 when it was last available: the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300, reviewed by Michael Fremer in December 1999. Actually using my reference as a reference—what a concept!
Despite their surface similarities, the Musical Fidelity and Moscode amps were quite different in performance. Both delivered big, beefy sound, as you'd expect from 200Wpc and 300Wpc amplifiers. Neither ran out of juice with either the Dynaudio Special Twenty-Five or Thiel CS2.4 speakers, nor would I imagine them doing so with nearly any speaker I could have paired them with, short of the original Thiel CS5s played at Larry Archibald New Year's Eve Party Levels. (Long story short: big room, power-hungry speakers, and John Atkinson and yours truly making a run to Stereophile HQ for some seriously heavy metal just before midnight.)
However, that said, the 401HR, which is rated at 100Wpc less than the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300, actually sounded bigger. Not louder, exactly, just more present, especially on Manu Katché's Neighborhood (CD, ECM 1896), where the dynamic range—the swings between loud and soft—seemed more extreme. A point in the Moscode's favor, I think.
The Nu-Vista 300, however, sounded sweeter and more "civilized" at the higher frequencies—in the cymbal overtones and saxophone harmonics, for example. The Moscode had a bit more of a "burr" at the leading edges of the notes. Was this a sign of greater accuracy—did the 401HR have a lower noise floor that allowed me to hear details that the Nu-Vista obscured? I went back and forth on this one. On the one hand, the Moscode seemed very slightly rougher, but sometimes smoothness is simply a loss of detail. (That "burr" can be tempered somewhat by trying other types of voltage-gain tubes, but I confined my comparison audition to the stock set. Perhaps a Follow-Up on tube differences is in order.)
Here's why I went back and forth on whether the Moscode's sound was a bug or a feature: While some listeners (perhaps even I, every other day) might prefer the smoother presentation of the Musical Fidelity, I felt the Moscode had more life and snap. It was more exciting to listen to. That doesn't mean it lacked nuance, as Biber's Mystery Sonatas (CD, Basic Edition 910 029-2) clearly showed. The textures of horsehair on string, of wind sliding through stops, of theorbo theorboing, were vivid and warm. Here, I actually felt that the Nu-Vista was limiting the information flow. The presentation was flatter and less involving—very slightly less involving, but still.—Wes Phillips