Originally Posted by pwnesto
Sorry, folks. I really like my Nova, but I think anyone looking to use it with headphones extensively should look elsewhere.
Here's how I tested:
A. PC -- (TOS) -- Nova -- Headphones
B. PC -- (TOS) -- Nova -- (Line Out) -- Denon Receiver -- Headphones
PC: Linux/Songbird(no EQ)/EVGA motherboard TOS out
Nova: Tube disengaged, Digital filter: sharp, plenty of break in time.
Denon: DRA-545R stereo reciever from 1995. ~$700 new (adjusted for inflation). All settings flat.
Headphones: Sennheiser HD570, Creative Fatal1ty (cheap gaming headset), Sony mid-range ear buds.
Music: All kinds of stuff. Alt/New Wave/Indie rock, Hardcore Metal, Electoclash, Drum'nBass, Acoustic Guitar/Singer, Old School Hip-hop, Classic Jazz, Classical, etc. (I really like it all.)
This test was, of course, not exactly double blind, but I found the differences very noticeable. I'm certain I could differentiate the two units blind. Similar results were observed with every headphone, and music genre didn't seem to matter much either.
Here's what I found:
In the Nova, dynamics were limited leaving a serious lack of depth. Music no longer existed in a space, but on two flat planes. Reverb was less audible. The difference was apparent and disheartening, and removed a lot of life from the recordings.
The frequency response was also a bit odd. There's a wide EQ boost centered somewhere around 8K. Vocals are less realistic despite there not being much "mud" (~250hz). Low frequencies are attenuated a bit. Through the Denon, the low frequencies are a bit too hyped.
There was, however, less of a "stereo gear" sound and a certain signal clarity in the Nova. I would attribute this to a lower harmonic distortion than the Denon. Overall though, the lower harmonic distortion of the Nova doesn't make up for its headphone amp shortcomings. Sorry, guys.
On the plus side, my Denon has never sounded better. Using the Nova as a DAC/Pre really brought new life into this old mid-90s model. The Nova also, of course, beat the pants off of the Denon when driving my floor-standing speakers.