Electrocompaniet Nemo monoblock power amplifier Page 2

The Nemo's exterior is of black anodized aluminum. The wide, deep, U-shaped chassis is formed from 0.063" stock into panels to which are attached the frontplate and back panel, and which serves as a platform for the two MW180-based amplifier chassis inside. At 92 lbs, the Nemo is somewhat lighter than the Krell and Mark Levinson stereo amps used for comparison listening, and doesn't have those amps' sharp external heatsinks to complicate the job of handling and lifting it. Besides the common AC mains input, the Nemo's rear panel sports an XLR connector for signal input, and a second, balanced XLR link for bi-amplification purposes.

The Nemo's construction, assembly, fit'n'finish, and parts quality are all first-rate.

I concur with Michael Fremer, who recommended in the September 1999 issue (p.106) that one mate a balanced preamplifier only to a high-power, balanced power amplifier (in his case, the Ayre V-1). I drove the Electrocompaniet Nemos in balanced mode from a Krell KBL preamplifier using balanced PSC Pristine R30 Silver Alloy interconnects, The Nemo's huge, insulated loudspeaker terminals easily accommodated the spade-lug–tipped PSC Pristine R50 biwired speaker cables.

After plugging in the heavy-gauge 15A power cord, I flipped the power breaker switch on each Nemo's back panel. The blue power LEDs came on, indicating that the amplifiers were in standby mode. After a second had passed, I heard the faint click of the input relays engaging, suggesting that the Nemos' protection circuits had confirmed safe operating conditions.

The Nemos operated flawlessly during my review sessions. I used them to drive the B&W Nautilus 805 minimonitors, the Snell A Reference System's midrange/tweeter towers via its outboard 4-way crossovers or its 18" subwoofers, and the Dynaudio Contour 3.0s and Revel Salons. Driving these speakers in my large listening room required considerable power, which the Nemos delivered without fail. During peaks, I never heard clipping or signs of compression, though the Nemos' exteriors became slightly warm to the touch after driving the Revel Salons at high volume for two to three hours.

Following some recent listening sessions with some other bridged amplifiers, I had anticipated zippy, etched highs, speedier-than-live transients, and ponderous bass from the Nemo. But if anything, the Nemo's highs were somewhat reticent—relaxed, grain-free, and slightly dry. Vocal sibilants, such as I've heard in the beginning of Paul Simon's "Trailways Bus," from his Songs from The Capeman (Warner Bros. 46814-2), didn't hiss, poke, or scratch, but were natural without being too soft.

The very low bass was solid and massive, rich and expansive, without being taut to the bursting point. The deep pedal tones on Jean Guillou's pipe-organ transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117) shook my room. The notes from Glen Moore's double bass on "The Silence of a Candle," from Oregon's Beyond Words (Chesky JD130), were all taut and well damped, with distinct tonal steps. Bass lines were instantly resolvable when the Nemo drove the Revel Salon, with precise pitch definition and articulation.

Best of all was the Nemos' headroom. Driving the Revel Salons, I could increase the volume until the soundstage filled the room and stretched from wall to wall. I heard this best listening to the drum solo in "The Maker," the final track of Emmylou Harris's Spyboy (Eminent EM-25001-2). Rimshots, tom-tom beats, and kick-drum strokes were huge, and reproduced with such effortless ease that I felt I could have advanced the volume control forever. Only the Revel Salon could keep up, with neither amplifier nor speaker showing any sign of stress, strain, or distortion. No other combination of loudspeaker and amplifier involved me in this musical selection as did the Nemo/Revel Salon.

The Nemos gave Richard Thompson's "I Misunderstood" (from Rumor and Sigh, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2) the most convincing and involving performance of this music's rhythmic pace, drive, and dynamic range that I had ever heard. The soundstage was very deep, wide, and rich. Playing the same music through a less powerful amplifier filled me with disappointment.

However, the very revealing Revel Salon exposed sonic differences between the Nemo monoblocks and the Mark Levinson No.334 stereo amplifier. While the Nemo sounded more forward in the midrange, the Levinson was sweeter. Choral pieces had greater dimensionality, with a wider and deeper soundstage. In contrast, the Nemo monoblocks sounded more recessed and two-dimensional.

Take the intimate acoustics on Diana Krall's Love Scenes (Impulse! IMPD-233), particularly her version of the Carroll Gibbons–James Dyrenforth standard, "Garden in the Rain." With the Nemos, the effortless openness and spaciousness I was accustomed to through the ProAc Response 3.8 loudspeakers changed to a more subdued presentation with a smaller central image. With the less powerful Mark Levinson No.334, Krall piano was spread from speaker to speaker; with the gain-matched Nemos, it was focused and more central. Krall's voice—soft, sweet, and full of a whiskey raspiness—had less timbral color with the Nemo. While the drum work was faster and much more dynamic with the Nemo, the silvery sheen of cymbals on "Behind the Veil," from Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (Epic EK 44313), was more prominent through the Levinson.

What about other bridged amplifiers? The Nemo had a richer, more textured midrange than did the Bryston 7B-ST, another outstanding bridged design. The Nemos' sonics were smoother, more three-dimensional, and better integrated throughout the range than were the Levinson No.334's in bridged mode. But at $14,995/pair, the Nemo should outperform less expensive amplifiers.

My listening sessions and notes revealed the Nemo to be a very powerful amplifier with strong dynamics, and equal to any other expensive solid-state amplifier I auditioned in its ability to deliver powerful bass and wide dynamic contrasts. Only in the area of midrange richness did the much less powerful Mark Levinson No.334 pull ahead of the Nemo.

Per Abrahamsen's careful design—completely symmetrical inputs, symmetrical power supply, and two separate bridged amplifiers networked to make a larger, much more powerful monoblock—has produced a solid-state amplifier of impressive headroom, speed, and pace. On the top, the Electrocompaniet Nemo has a crystalline, translucent quality, and its bottom-end extension has ample focus and detail without being overly pronounced or tightfisted.

It's in the midrange that listeners may have divergent viewpoints. While no one will complain about the Nemo's clarity, pace, headroom, or resolution of detail, some might find its midrange reticent and cool. Its clear but less colorful sonics could mean that instruments' textural and timbral midrange qualities will be less evident. Be that as it may, no one listening to the Nemo should be less than excited by its effortless dynamic range and exceptional headroom.

The amplifier's deep bass and treble qualities at very high power are not cheap. At $14,995/pair, the Nemo competes with the $19,950/pair Mark Levinson No.33H Reference monoblocks (reviewed by WP in the January 1998 issue) and the $26,000/pair Krell FPB 600 monoblocks. I have not heard these amplifiers in my system, and so can't compare their sounds. But I can say that buying a monoblock amplifier of this level of quality is a serious investment, and that the Nemo is well worth your consideration.

The Nemo's clarity, effortlessness, boundless headroom, and unobtrusive but astonishingly accurate deep bass became evident only with prolonged listening. Just as Professor Aronnax came to appreciate the full extent of Captain Nemo's brilliance, power, and mystery only after 10 full months and 20,000 leagues under the sea, the Electrocompaniet Nemo needs a long audition before the prospective owner can fully appreciate the subtle but ultimately awesome sonic qualities of this powerful amplifier.

US Distributor:World HiFi Group
14641 South 800 West Suite A
Bluffdale, Utah 84065
(801) 208-8295