or Connect
AVS › AVS Forum › Audio › Receivers, Amps, and Processors › NuForce AVP-18 and MCH-300SEC7 personal review
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

NuForce AVP-18 and MCH-300SEC7 personal review

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
NuForce AVP-18 and MCH-300SEC7 personal review

Moving from integrated to separates can be a big deal. My first experience of this was back in 1999 switching from a Yamaha surround receiver to a processor by Lexicon (DC-1) and a multichannel power amplifier by Musical Fidelity (HT600). The resulting sound was no small leap in overall performance, but one that also yielded an upgrade in speakers to fully justify the investment. Times changed and integrated solutions started to sound more convincing so I eventually sold those units prior to the introduction of HD-audio and Blu-ray and bought myself a Denon receiver (the AVR-3808A). But over the last few years basically all integrated solutions have become so stuffed with excessive features that somewhere along the line the primary focus on performance have kind of gotten lost.

Wanting something simple and straight-forward of good quality I instantly fell for this NuForce combo. The amplifier series MCH have been a hot commodity in my country for a number of years among audiophiles and I've always been fascinated by their compact size, powerful delivery and efficiency. For a processor to mate with I was initially looking at the much praised Marantz AV8801, primarily because I wanted to continue to use Audyssey. But due to limited cabinet space for electronics and having no need for all those legacy inputs and excessive features the back-to-basic approach of the NuForce AVP-18 made more sense.

Processor AVP-18
If an amplifier is the “heart” of the system the processor is the “brain” that controls it all. It’s a daring and refreshing approach by NuForce to release a processor offering nothing more than digital inputs, HD decoders, DAC, input switching, volume control and EQ. That’s it. I admire simplicity over anything else and that’s exactly what you get with this little baby. If one has a somewhat limited (or shall we say ‘normal’) budget for a/v gear I think the smarter approach might be to go for a sensibly affordable processor and mate with capable high-end amplification, seeing as the former category of product so quickly becomes obsolete these days. NuForce themselves figure you are better off this way and cost-effectiveness of such a solution is more easily justified. I mean, why should I spend three times the price on a piece of equipment with features I’ll never use that will be passé in just a few years as soon as new codecs and specifications arise only to have to make the same investment again? So, in theory, when NuForce releases a new updated processor my wallet won’t suffer as much (hopefully). That said, higher-end processors could of course outperform the AVP-18, but still, in the multichannel arena I wouldn’t be surprised if it could hold it’s own against somewhat costlier alternatives. I say this because in terms of the AVP-18 you simply don’t pay for features, legacy inputs, ethernet connections and expensive licences etc - you pay for basics and only that, whereas with many other solutions you have to pay for everything included in the unit and many of those things may have nothing to do with actual performance.

Build quality of the AVP-18 is decent; the feel is nice and sturdy. It’s not the prettiest processor I’ve seen but it gets by with its unique “stealth design”. The chassis thankfully stays rather cool, luke-warm at the most after hours of use, which is good. In contrast, I demoed the Marantz AV8801 at a dealer and even though it was placed in open space the chassis got pretty hot. One would expect something like that from an integrated receiver but perhaps not a mere processor? I suspect it must have been due to the advanced video board within the Marantz and possibly all the other things stuffed into it. The dot-matrix display here is good and easily read from a distance, and it only shows you the bare necessities. Thankfully the AVP-18 will allow you to do most settings via the display without the need for the OSD, which in itself though is plain and basic enough and there’s little risk of getting lost in there. It isn’t flashy or filled with graphics - just simple easy-to-read text. I find the backside placement of the microphone and USB inputs rather unfortunate but I understand why they made that decision in order to keep the sleek design intact. True balanced XLR outputs to mate with the amplifier would have been a nice touch but seeing as the unit is so compact and affordable that too is understandable. Although placed a bit too close to each other the analogue RCA-outputs are at least of decent quality. One just need to make sure the RCA-connectors of the cables aren’t too wide in diameter or they’ll be difficult to fit. My Supra EFF-ISL cables have a locking feature which I was partially unable to utilize here, since I could not get my fingers to grip and twist all the connectors.

To utilize the AutoEQ calibration one naturally need a measuring microphone and the one supplied with the AVP-18 seems of good quality. It feels a tad more solid than the standard Audyssey equivalent, and the cable that connects it feels of better quality too. The microphone is certainly not comparable to Anthem’s ARC or Audyssey Pro equivalents though. There is rumor of NuForce releasing an after-market calibrated microphone to complement the processor for even more accurate measuring, so that'll be interesting to see. The supplied remote is simple and comfortable enough to use and the feel of the buttons is rather nice. I have however programmed my Harmony 900 which does a better job overall (at present the AVP-18 does not exist in Logitech’s database so I had to utilize the old fashioned method of manually transferring infra red signals). The user manual is embarrassingly lacklustre as it’s more like a quick-start guide. Seems that NuForce didn’t have time to finish a proper manual with all the required information on the unit and so they rushed this one out. There is far more in-depth detail surrounding the EQ (for example) that needs to be given a proper amount of description. As far as I understand it though Emotiva and their EMO-EQ Gen2 is similar (if not even identical) to NuForce equivalent EQ and they have done a brilliant job of detailing everything in their documentation. This aspect is rather poorly handled by NuForce, I must say, but I hope they will get a proper user manual completed and posted on their website soon. That’s not to say the AVP-18 is difficult to master without a manual, not at all, it’s intuitive in fact, but by sheer principal a thorough manual is mandatory as far as I am concerned.

Input switching is fair but not as remarkably fast as NuForce marketing texts may have you believe. In fact, to lock audio via HDMI and coaxial digital is a tad sluggish at times no matter what source I used. Also, the switching between different codec’s encoded on most blu-ray discs and TV transmissions these days can prove irritating as it can take 2-3 seconds for the unit to lock on, identify and decode the audio stream. This is quite common on many such electronics though, but surprisingly seldom on cheap receivers. Go figure. I’m not passing any video through my AVP-18 at all, audio only, as I believe in feeding video signals directly to the display. After the first firmware update was completed via USB I haven’t detected any specific bugs or issues at all, other than the aforementioned issue which I assume is firmware related. The unit has been working glitch-free in everyday use.

Multichannel amplifier MCH-300SEC7
This compact powerhouse is not a conventional class D-design, as far as I understand it, but an analogue switching design. Certainly nothing like anything I’ve encountered before. There is so much complicated tech surrounding these amplifiers but as I am no expert on such things I will leave that alone. My particular sample is the ‘installer version’ of the finer Special Edition of the MCH-range (no fancy top-plate, LED-display or remote). This amplifier is similar to NuForce highly regarded mono block Reference 9V3 SE. In essence you get 7 monoblocks in one chassis, each with their own dedicated power supply. One feature I believe is somewhat unique with these designs is that you can control which amplifier section to use at any given time, and switch off the others, and thereby feed the unused power to the active channels. In my case I use 5 speakers constantly (no longer listen in stereo) so I have simply not turned on the remaining 2 channels. This is a clever solution I must say. Where most amplifiers are constantly switched on, drawing current regardless of you using them or not, the MCH give the user a choice depending on requirements. The MCH also appear rather power-conservative, feeding necessary current when and where it is actually demanded to by the source. In essence this baby have power reserves of up to 1200 watts total. That ought to be enough to control most speakers, and make them sing.

Build quality is superb. The sturdy feel and fine finish is unmistakable. I just wish I could have gotten a black one though, but only silver was available. The plastic buttons that control the amplifier sections feel rather cheap however and lessen the otherwise excellent impression. The speaker binding posts are fairly standard ones I believe, which also lessen the impression a bit, although definitely not bad. I’ve seem better binding posts on lower priced amplifiers though so for a product of this price range I would have expected more.

I took for granted this amplifier would stay cool and not generate heat, but I was wrong. Even if I don’t have demanding speakers that present a difficult load the chassis gets pretty warm, but I wouldn’t categorise it as hot, in contrast to many other amplifiers out there (some of which you can fry en egg on - no joke!). This might simply be a result of the massive capacitance array in the power supply. One should make sure to allow proper airflow, which in my case is a bit tricky as it’s tucked away inside a cabinet with a closed front door. However, the cabinet is completely open in the back and with 20 cm free space above the unit I’m sure it’ll be fine. Something worth considering for spectators though. I also noticed this baby sounds best if always left switched on. In fact, talking to NuForce support and my dealer they both claim that MCH perform their best if left on, as oppose to coming out cold from stand-by mode. The difference isn’t huge by any means, but it’s there. The good news is these amplifiers apparently don’t draw more current idle than they do in stand-by mode, as they only draw actual current while feeding signals to the speakers during playback. Again – clever!

Setting up
After connecting the required cables and my 5.2 speaker system I let the units warm up for a few hours. As I turned them on for the first time I noticed how “silent” they were - there was nearly a hint of background noise transmitted through my speakers - I had to put my ear up close to the tweeters to detect a slight (normal) hissing noise. No hum or other issues either, which was nice. Since I have two subwoofers placed in opposite corners of my room and the AVP-18 only provides connection and calibration of one subwoofer I daisy-chained the second to the first. This is a bit of a trade-off since individual calibration of two separate subwoofers would be ideal. But, luckily, as it turned out I had little reason for concern. I connected the AVP-18 via HDMI to my display to run the AutoEQ and make other settings. NuForce FAQ recommends setting speaker size and cut-off frequency prior to running AutoEQ and so I did. As mentioned earlier the OSD is simplicity itself and I appreciate that. I placed the microphone on a tripod, made sure the room was dead-quiet and ran the calibration procedure which took about 10 minutes. I was actually quite relieved I didn’t have 7 more measuring points, as in the case with Audyssey’s total of 8 points. I was a tad worried about the result though since there was no way the processor could have collected much acoustic ‘information’ about my room at just one measuring point, but as it turned out it worked pretty well. When checking the automated settings the AVP-18 had set levels and distance to the speakers correctly but the cut-off frequencies were a bit ‘off’ (set too high) so I simply adjusted them later on while letting my ears guide me to what sounded best (I landed at the common reference point of 80Hz). After this first calibration I have re-run the procedure a few times and apart from cut-off frequencies everything else is basically spot-on.

For anyone interested in NuForce gear reading this now or down the pipe - make sure to keep this in mind - these units require a seriously long break-in period until they start to deliver the goods. I’m assuming this was especially true of the MCH-300SEC7 amplifier whose internal parts and wiring apparently needs a substantial amount of signal pumped through them before they settle and perform optimally. Thanks to feedback from other owners and NuForce support I was prepared for this. I have no technological explanation as to how or why this is but it seems a fact, nonetheless. Also, this phenomenon is nothing uniquely tied to NuForce gear, so don’t get me wrong - it’s not unheard of by any means. Mostly it seems common with speakers I believe. Right off the bat I could tell there was potential, but overall the sound out-of-the-box was stale and flat. It's not every day you bring home electronics costing this much then start listening with utter disappointment, contemplating whether or not you should return them to the dealer and plug your receiver back in because the performance didn't live up to the investment. But in the case of NuForce patience pays off!

As such, I set the units to run music and movies pretty much non-stop for about 14 days straight. During the first 200 hours or so the sound kept improving. What happens is it slowly starts to mellow out and become balanced - more smooth, open and vivid. As I’m writing this review the units have had more than 400 hours of constant playback and are now sounding optimal I believe. It’s fascinating to notice them change during break-in, and it’s very much real, hardly imaginary. I wish NuForce themselves would update the recommended break-in period in the user manual of the MCH-300SEC7 from approximately 75 hours to at least double that, as to not frighten new owners off who are unaware of this requirement. Who knows, some might even take their new kit for defective, given how uninspiring the units sound before break-in is complete. Maybe I would have done that myself had I not been warned prior to purchase, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Listening impressions (after break-in) - MOVIES
Playing some favourite and familiar Blu-ray discs I was instantly impressed by the unified way my speakers all performed together, including the subwoofers. What I thought was brilliantly seamless prior through Denon and Audyssey reached new heights with NuForce. Panning effects, image steering and voices travelling between channels were cohesive in a manner of which I had not quite experienced in my home theatre before. Everything simply hung together very convincingly. What struck me next was the dimension of the soundstage because apart from keeping everything together so nicely NuForce is rather expansive; both in terms of depth and width and at times even in height. I'm not gonna claim it sounded as if I had just installed height or width speakers, but on certain soundtracks the generous bubble of audio gave the impression of an expanded system. Everything just sounded bigger, more engrossing. I’m limited by where I can place my front trio of speakers (directly on top my a/v cabinet) and because of that the front soundstage is not as wide as it could be initially, but that limit now felt like less of an issue. With NuForce at the helm the generous expansion showed me how well my speakers were actually able to image. They just needed the 'right' set of electronics driving them. Multiple times during the first month of listening I was pretty bowled over by the level of detail and sheer size of the sound. This was promising! But everything wasn't smooth sailing... Though I could certainly sense the potential of excellent tonal balance there were occasional moments of sibilance with certain soundtracks. And although bass was kept solid and transition between satellite-subwoofer near seamless the low frequencies were kept in too tight of a grip, as if overly controlled and held back. There was no boominess to distract my enjoyment thanks to this however, which was a plus, but I did miss some of that ‘punch’ that add so much to the movie-watching experience. I re-ran a few calibrations with the supplied microphone but was unable to rid these minor quibbles.

During the first 5 weeks of listening I kept AutoEQ engaged in the processor and never thought of switching it off. Then something interesting happened - a bit of a revelation for me in fact. I decided to re-set the AVP-18 and ignore running another EQ measurement and simply set the processor to ‘direct’ mode (bypass, essentially). This meant feeding the amplifier a non-equalized and minimally processed signal. The only task for the AVP-18 became decoding, D/A-conversion, general speaker management and volume control. It’s been a long while since I’ve been convinced by the result of running in ‘direct’ mode, particularly with receivers. For many years I depended on equalizers to tame room modes and bring about the engrossing sound I was looking for, and with receivers it seemed almost a necessity. Perhaps that was a fact because those units relied on EQ in order to sound good? I therefor foolishly assumed bypassing wouldn’t impress me with NuForce either. But I was wrong. Everything that was good about the sound with EQ engaged was bettered in every sense when set to bypass. Minor reservations on sibilance and subdued low frequencies vanished. The sound broke free from the speakers more prominently than before, as if they were suddenly able to 'breathe’. Spatiality became unmistakably more palpable and life-like. The ease, smoothness and fluidity of everything projected throughout the soundstage simply enchanced with this pure unaltered signal. Vocals became a tad more realistic as well. The subwoofers, liberated from restraint, now offered that previously missing 'punch'. The dynamics of the entire system seemed to grow several notches, as if the EQ, as capable as it was, were holding back some of the fidelity of the signal. Apparently the acoustics of my room (though far from perfect) and placement of speakers within it weren't as much of a catastrophe as I assumed. Suddenly I felt no need for EQ-correction and that was as surprising as it was liberating.

By contrast, my previous Denon receiver sounded downright awful without Audyssey and Dynamic EQ engaged. To me the sound was unlistenable in bypass-mode. Interestingly I had the exact same experience testing two top-of-the-line Onkyo units (the TX-NR5009 and 5010). It’s almost as if they were constructed with Audyssey in mind and you weren’t supposed to switch it off. With NuForce it was the opposite to this experience. I guess the purity of an unaltered signal fed to the powerful amplifier made my speakers perform without restriction. With no filters and artificial loudness to hinder their natural characteristics they now sounded more like themselves. While Audyssey is great I've found it can alter the characteristics of your speakers. Sometimes that might be a good thing, other times not. Switching to NuForce with no EQ feels as though I've now heard my speaker system the way it was meant to sound. It must be said though that using no EQ in a multi channel set-up can present its own set of problems, particularly in the bass region. This was no exception in my case as the interaction of the subwoofers within the room occasionally produced slight boominess with the deepest frequencies. This was to be expected though with no EQ taming them. Like most rooms mine is obviously in need of bass-trap treatment.

The NuForce combo have a ‘quick’ and ‘immediate’ sound to them, without ever being aggressive. Power reserves and transient attack is stellar and they provide razor-sharp accuracy without being strenuous. Set to bypass, in particular, I find movie sound beautifully balanced where virtually nothing grates on the ear - there’s no overhang, distortion or muddiness of any kind. The sound doesn’t come off processed or artificial either. Resolution and detail retrieval is another strength - everything from whispered dialogue to ambient atmospherics exhibit a natural spatiality that is unmistakably pleasing. And when the going gets tough the duo handles hefty dynamic shifts in the soundtrack effortlessly. The wonderful sense of being served every ounce of high- and low-level detail that exists within the soundtrack (that my speakers are able to reproduce anyway) is quite staggering. You might even say eerie, because the feeling of not knowing whether certain audio cues are coming from the speakers or somewhere in or around my home is an odd yet exciting sensation that only quality equipment can accomplish. Worth a mention is also how wonderful instrumental scores of a movie now sweeps across my speakers with a level of clarity and musicality I’m frankly not use to hearing. All of this of course adds to the excitement. No integrated solution I've heard, with or without Audyssey, ever came close to this.

Interesting to note is I find no need to play at reference level with this combo - NuForce is good at maintaining a decent sense of impact and clarity at modest, apartment friendly, levels. The clean nature of the sound does beg for high volumes though which is not a problem either. Granted, it might have been nice to have a feature like Dolby Volume or Dynamic Volume on hand here but I honestly don’t miss that. One feature I was for certain I'd miss though was Audyssey's excellent Dynamic EQ loudness, but that too went out the window completely. This NuForce combo just doesn’t seem to need enhancements of this sort - the sound is just as clear, enveloping and rich in virtually all speakers at basically any volume level. Truly impressive!

In terms of utmost ‘weight’ and ‘fullness’ NuForce may appear a tad light-footed at first, as if that ultimate home cinema ‘grunt’ and explosive bass extension is lacking. Truth is they simply present a very honest, transparent, controlled sound that doesn’t seem to add or subtract anything. These may not be the kind of electronics that necessarily wow everybody right off the bat, and even though that instant impressiveness factor may not be evident at first they do grab hold of your attention and easily draw you into the movie. I think the more you listen the more you appreciate their virtues. Fact is, many solutions that give you that instantaneous bombastic impression can sometimes prove tedious in the long-run, or they sound ‘right’ on some material but ‘wrong’ on others. I think the best aspect is I experience virtually no listening fatigue enjoying high resolution soundtracks because just about everything simply sound ‘right’ through these units, which is very good praise. Granted, it needs to be said that due to the upfrontness and neutrality NuForce can be somewhat unforgiving of poor source material, which is exactly as it should be if you think about it - crap in, crap out. And also, even though my compact sub/sat system is a capable one (best of breed in its price range, I believe) there is more performance to discover from NuForce. Especially if one considers that the MCH-300SEC7 alone costs almost twice the price of my entire speaker system. I’m confident I’ll get to discover new virtues of NuForce with higher capability speakers.

Listening impressions (after break-in) - MUSIC
While enjoying music is certainly good over the NuForce (better than my previous Denon receiver) this is where my personal experience takes a slightly different turn. But I must make clear that there are several factors at play – first, plain 2-channel stereo bore me these days and as good as the Monitor Audio Apex speakers are they don’t manage to satisfy me completely during stereo reproduction (be it 2.0 or 2.1). Instead the entire speaker system needs to play together in unison to fully impress. And because I am so spoiled with multichannel content traditional 2-channel music must be played back through some kind of DSP, as far as I’m concerned, in order to fill my room with music. Basically it’s the same stereo signal front and back, plus subwoofer. And if one has identical speakers front and back (like I do) this can sound really awesome if done right. The AVP-18 does have an All Channel Stereo mode for this purpose but that’s where the problem lies, I think. It’s simply not as great of a DSP mode as other similar ones I’ve heard. It’s still enjoyable, no question, as music is reproduced with abundance of detail and voices have a nice ‘airy’ feel to them. There is however a slight sibilance every so often, particularly with female voices. The overall sound is a bit lacking in midrange warmth too for my taste and that beautiful balance I experience with movies on Blu-ray is not quite evident here. Also, I do believe due to the transparency and neutrality of the NuForce music isn’t quite as organic and rhythmic as I would prefer. Two years ago I tested the integrated a/v amplifier Primare SPA22 with music in All Channel Stereo and it had a fantastically engrossing sound that was very impressive in every aspect. No hint of sibilance as far as my hearing could reach. It made you wanna listen to cd after cd and not stop. A somewhat different animal compared to the same via the NuForce duo. In a way it became my point of reference for music through a/v gear. It was that good! The sad thing was it sounded rather lacklustre with movies so I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too, otherwise I probably would have kept it and been happy with it.

Still, I admit I have been discovering details in old favourite cd’s that I never noticed before. That expression is a cliché, I know, but it’s true. And the expansive nature is really nice here as well. And high resolution multichannel music (including live concert material on Blu-ray) do improve upon things so the potential is there. It’s simply the combination of my current speakers, the lacklustre All Channel Stereo mode of the AVP-18 and perhaps the neutrality of the NuForce that makes music less appealing that it could be to my ears. I think though that with ‘proper’ left and right speakers more capable with music I might be inclined to run the NuForce duo in 2-channel mode with traditionally recorded music and be completely satisfied. Again, I’m not disappointed – I simply expected different. Then again, I spend more time enjoying Blu-ray movies than I do music these days so until I have new speakers this won’t be an issue.

There is something to be said about installing high quality electronics in a home entertainment system – immediately they make you wanna rush out to audition new speakers, cables and all kinds of tweaks and whatnot. In a way that’s a good sign for the future and another reason to invest in separates as they are bound to get the most out of any surrounding upgrade you might make, particularly speakers. And in my case when technology changes I will simply get a new affordable processor while keeping the costly amplifier. Pretty smart.

In many ways NuForce have not only enhanced my enjoyment of multichannel content but also changed the way I look at a/v gear. They’ve made me realise what I'm in need of and what I can do without. The big surprise was how effective the seemingly simple AutoEQ calibration was and how well it seemed to work with my speakers in my room. I could happily have lived with it seeing how comparable the result was to Audyssey. However, the biggest surprise came the moment I bypassed the EQ processing - everything enchanced further. For me, as a former EQ-junkie, to be able to enjoy a system without any form of equalization to determine the overall outcome of the performance was a shock. It was as if the limitations of my room didn't have as much of a negative impact as I feared, and EQ-filtering did things that simply weren't needed. The already generous soundstage grew larger, the amount of detail heightened and dynamic contrast became considerably stronger. As it stands the AVP-18 processor is a joy to use, offers good value for money and great performance, with or without EQ. Due to it's asking price (five times that of the processor) the amplifier MCH-300SEC7 may not be considered a "bargain", but it is an excellent high-end solution which is a terrific match. Sure enough it’s got the kind of composed approach that easily grab hold of your attention without going too far. The way it effortlessly feeds current to my speakers and unify the soundstage is rather amazing. Refinement, dimensionality and iron-fist control are words I'd like to use to summarize it. Can’t imagine this amplifier running out of steam too easily and the neutral character is likely to suit many different speakers.

Enjoying movies and music through a good combo of separates is quite special. My previous Denon receiver was a damn good piece to be sure, it even triumphed more expensive units I demoed during its 5 year residence in my home. It couldn’t hold a candle to NuForce though, and at this price the NuForce combo should of course own the crown. So, is everything about these separates perfect? Of course not - there are shortcomings, there always are. Certain things could, and should, have been done better or differently, but those issues are mostly compensated for by the very thing I was looking for: a fully engaging listen that captivates me. In other words; NuForce is a keeper!

+ clean, transparent, musical sound with bags of resolution and detail
+ generous soundstage with impressive effects placement and steering
+ excellent smooth balance between high- and low-level information
+ adept at reproduction of both movies and music
+ compact, easy to install units with straightforward day-to-day use
+ energy efficient amplification

- could do with a touch more ‘warmth’ with plain music
- buttons and binding posts on the MCH-300SEC7 could have been of better quality
- the AVP-18 not quick enough to lock/decode digital audio signals
- the MCH-300SEC7 gets warm, adequate ventilation needed
- user manual of the AVP-18 leaves a lot to be desired
- seriously long break-in period

Associated audio equipment
Speakers: Monitor Audio Apex 5.2
Blu-ray player: Denon DBT-3313
Music server: Naim UnitiServe HDD
Cables: Supra
Powerdistribution/filter: Supra LoRad
Resonance isolation: Nordost Pulsar Points

This review is based on personal experience and opinions only, and should be judged accordingly. I am basing this on how the NuForce units perform in my specific circumstance; using my associated equipment, in my particular listening room. And with my ears. Anyone else’s experiences of these units could very well differ from my own.

Edited by RickyDeg - 10/24/13 at 4:32am
post #2 of 15

Hi Ricky


Thanks for the great and detailed review. It seems, that we have both similar taste for listening music, since I also like to listen in 5 channel stereo mode and use all of my speakers (Piega Coax Series) ;-)


I am currently using a Denon AVR 4308A Receiver and would love to jump some levels up. So I was thinking to start with a digital power amplifier and in a later stage maybe switch to a better processor. So I found NuForce and now your review.


Some questions: When visiting the website of NuForce, it seems that they are now pushing the new MCA-20 multi channel amp. Also, when looking in the actual product guide for 2013, you can only find the MCA-20 as multi channel amp. If I look for dealers, it is very hard to find the MCH series. So is the MCA-20 the replacement for the MCH series? What do you think? The MCA-20 has a MSP of only $1,995 and is much cheaper than the MCH series, is there a shift in strategy of NuForce?


Do you think the MCA-20 plays in the same league as the MCH-300SEC7?


I need two HDMI outs as I use TV and beamer, so the AVP-18 is a no go for me. So I will currently keep the Denon AVR 4308A, but I am looking to upgrade to the Marantz AV8801 in a later step. Do you think the combination NuForce/Marantz should work? As you seem not to be extremely satisfied with the AVP-18 for music, have you ever thought about such a combination? Maybe even tested it? The whole Marantz combo just takes too much space for me...


Thanks for your feedback.


post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hello Alex and thank you for reading my review! smile.gif Glad to hear someone else also utilize multi stereo for music playback! wink.gif

It's definitely a good idea to start off with dedicated power amplification first and simply use your Denon receiver as a processor to begin with. If you get a decent amplifier I think you might be taken with just how much of a difference a good amplifier can make. As far as I know the new MCA-20 is not any kind of replacement for the higher-end MCH-series, they will be sold in paralell to one another. They are still being marketed and can be found on NuForce website. If NuForce develop V4 modules the MCH-series have the advantage of being upgraded. Very few amplifiers out there offer that type of capability. In Sweden we luckily have several dealers that carry the MCH-series. Sorry you are having trouble finding one in your area as they truly are fascinating amplifiers! But so is the newer MCA... just in a different way.

I actually demoed the AVP-18 and Marantz AV8801 with both the MCA-20 and MCH-300SEC7 at my very enthusiastic dealer (connected to Monitor Audio Silver speakers). I knew going in that I'd be unable to host the larger Marantz AV8801 since I have to stuff everything into a cabinet and there'd be no room for it. But it was an interesting comparison. The AV8801 was the better unit with traditional 2-channel stereo music, offering a more vibrant and dimensional presentation, connected to either MCA-20 or MCH-300SEC7. On basically all forms of multichannel I was a bit shocked however to find very little to differentiate the AV8801 from the seemingly simpler AVP-18, even though it was demoed with Audyssey MultEQ XT32 engaged. I actually started to suspect during the demo that I'd no longer be in need of Audyssey as I found movie soundtracks via the AVP-18 just as unified and engrossing. This later turned out to be the case once I got the unit home to demo in my private setting. In terms of amplification in both senarios I prefered the MCH-300SEC7 to the MCH-20 because not only did it have the edge in overall dynamics, it made the sound resolve from the speakers more convincingly, while at the same time offering more smoothness and refinement with extended micro detailing and palpable spatiality. Granted, I did not test MCH-20 at home, but the more costly MCH-300SEC7 is built from finer components and a more robust power supply which I believe makes a world of difference and is exactly what I was looking for. That being said, the MCA-20 was not a let-down during the store demo, as it too was a capable unit. It just offered a little less of everything compared to MCH-300SEC7, which is to be expected given the asking price. You will no doubts prefer the power and control of the MCA-20 over the built-in amplification of your Denon receiver, I dare almost promise that! But again, I highly recommend you demo it.

My dealer have actually sold a handful of Marantz AV8801 with the MCH-300SEC7 as they make good partners to many peoples ears, apparently those who listen to a lot of 2-channel music. The musicality of the Marantz paired with the neutrality of the NuForce. The word 'neutrality' can perhaps be interpreted as boring but it's actually great because your speakers have a better chance of sounding the way they are intended too. Then again, complete and utter transparency would be a challenge to achieve since every link in the chain adds some form of "coloration" to the sound. But I'd much rather have a neutral amplifier feeding my speakers than anything else. And I have to say the detail, clarity and smoothness of the AVP-18/MCH-300SEC7 is staggering with movies. And the simplicity is so damn refreshing. You could opt for another MCH model instead of the Special Edition - consider the MCH-200C7?

Whichever amplifier and processor you choose I wish you good luck! Try demo if you can (preferably at home) and let me know how you get on!

PS! I ever heard of Piega Coax speakers so I had to look them up - they are gorgeous and seem quite unique!
post #4 of 15

Hello Ricky


Wow, that was fast and very detailed. Thank you very much!


Indeed, the Piega are magical. They are famous for their aluminium cabinets and the coaxial ribbon system which resolves at an unmatched level. You should really try to get a demo :-)


So, it's really great to hear that you basically tested all my feasible options. I want to build the base with a good amplifier, which I am sure I can keep for a while. But the processor part is changing so quickly nowadays with all the new features and options popping up (HDMI 2.0, 4K etc.). So in the future I might swap simply the processor now and then (only if there is a huge technology shift, which I need to have for whatever reason). Currently, the Marantz might be a good sparring partner (I need two HDMI outs). Hmmm... maybe I could simply use an HDMI splitter for this? I always listen in multi channel mode so the AVP-18 might still be a good alternative (and cheaper).


Can you tell me what is the difference between the special edition "MCH-3SE-C7" and the standard version "MCH-3-C7". I could not find anything on the net. Also, I am still struggling finding a local dealer. The only one listed on the Nuforce website in Switzerland is about 300km away in the french part of our country. So not really an option :-(

OK. I'll keep on searching.


Anyhow, you are right: I need to get a demo, at least at a dealer's store environment.


Keep you updated.


post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 
Just did some research on Piega and they do look interesting! These days I am keeping a close eye on Ken Kreisel Quattro speakers for a possible upgrade from Monitor Audio Apex though. We'll see what happens! So many options out there!

Please don't look at the old MCH-3SEC7 or the standard MCH-3C7 but rather the MCH-300SEC7 and MCH-300C7, as you'd want the latest versions! The difference between the standard and SE version is basically that the latter have finer components of even higher quality (including the all-important power supply) and is said to sound more refined than the former. I suspect you'd be able to tell the difference mostly with very revealing speakers. Apparently, the SE version is closer in performance to the NuForce mono block Reference 9V3 SE amplifier, one I did demo a few years ago and was very impressed. I have not compared the two multichannel options myself so I cannot personally comment on performance differences there, I can only provide feedback from what NuForce themselves say, and what my dealer claims (who I trust). But I've also read feedback from people in the past who have compared the units and prefer the SE version. With this one you also have the option of a nice LED-display, fancy top-plate and remote control. As you could read in my review I bought the "installer version" of the MCH-300SEC7 which excludes all those extras. I was in no particular need for them and thus I saved 15% on the investment. Please note that the "installer version" is not publically marketed, you have to ask the dealer to look it up via NuForce. Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong with either amplifier, or the simpler MCA for that matter. Question is how they will match with your current speakers and/or your choice of processor. Buying anything blind is a gamble, and I've learned that the hard way. So yes, demo if you can!

I too am of the same mind as you; wanted to build the base with a good amplifier, which I can keep for a long while, and then exchange processors whenever new techniques arise. You could absolutely check out the Marantz, many people love it and it has been highly praised in professional reviews as well. You do have to pay for a lot of gagets and excessive features though, many of which you might never use. This is why I love the AVP-18 as it's focus is on pure performance only. And yes, you could indeed consider a HDMI-splitter for your purposes. You also have other similarly simple processors as alternatives to the NuForce: Audiolab 8200AP, Emotiva UMC-200 and Outlaw 975. With those you won't have to pay for so much stuff (including licenses) but rather for the audio performance. You might be in need of Audyssey though, coming from a Denon (like me), but as I have found now I'm no longer in need of any EQ - I have infact disabled the AutoEQ in the AVP-18 and currently run in bypass mode with absolutely stunning results. I need to update my review accordingly, I think!

Happy weekend in Switzerland biggrin.gif (are you aware how many folks confuse Sweden with Switzerland... it's insane! haha)
post #6 of 15

Hehehe. Yes, the Sweden/Switzerland thing is hilarious. :D


About Piega: Where I have difficulties to find a local dealer for Nuforce, it is totally the opposite with Piega. They are basically in my neighborhood, just 10 minutes from where I live. About two weeks ago, they opened their doors, to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Very interesting to see the whole manufacturing process (mostly hand crafted).







Thanks for the explanation of the difference between the standard and SE version of the MCH-300 series. Good to know. I definitely need to find a dealer and get a demo in a Denon or Marantz combination. Well, basically I just need to find a dealer who has capabilities to host a Nuforce demo. I could organize the Denon or Marantz myself in worst case. Everything else would just be foolish, I agree with you.


Something interesting: I contacted Nuforce through their website and asked some questions about MCA/MCH series (on the bottom of this post). See below the answer I got yesterday. Seems that there are plans to discontinue the MCH series. So they say goodbye to the highend customers? Or will the mentioned MCA-20 PRO also get some SE like features? Hmmm... In case that not, do I need to hurry up to get the last available MCH-300?


Do you know more about this?


Have a nice weekend.



Sales Nuforce
12:49 PM (20 hours ago)
to Alex
Dear Mr.Reusch,

Thank you for your email. 
MCA-20 will replace our multichannel amplifiers. In November we will launch a new multichannel power amplifier retailing around 1000USD. In my personal opinion MCA-20 and MCH - amplifiers are quite different. Where MCA-20 uses latest amplifier techonology and power supplies with more sophisticated design, MCH may have been able to provide more power and with more complex design. It is really difficult to compare those in that sense. Other one costs 2000USD and other one can cost 5000USD. But for most of the customers with various speakers MCA-20 should satisfy needs. 
MCA-20 is paired with AVP-18 or MCP-18 and there thus there is really no need for XLRs. Also I believe this is totally different customer case. In future we might launch AVP-18 PRO and MCA-20 PRO with XLR-connectors. Of course as a way to transfer signal XLR can be better as the signal is protected i.e balanced.
I hope my answers were useful.

With Best Regards,

Jyri Jokirinta
Senior Sales Manager

NuForce Inc.

About NuForce:
NuForce Inc., a Fremont, California based company, delivers nothing less than great products to audio enthusiasts who appreciate superior sound through designs of simple elegance.  The company first gained acclaim for its audiophile-grade, patented Class-D power amplifiers, winning numerous awards from the world’s leading audio publications.  NuForce has grown to include a full line of Mobility, Home Theater and Home Stereo products – delivering on the promise to provide audiophile-quality sound at home or on the move by transporting the listener, via music, to another, more beautiful place.
On Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 9:01 AM, Alex Reusch wrote:
I have some questions about your multi channel amplifiers:
1.) Will the MCA-20 replace the MCH-300SE or will both lines be available in the near future?
2.) Do you see any similarities of the two product lines or is the MCH-300SE in a total different league?
3.) In your latest products, I see that you are moving away from balanced XLR outputs to RCA. Is there a technical reason for this (maybe you don't think there is a big quality difference) or was it just a price decision?
Thanks for your feedback.
Alex Reusch
post #7 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hello Alex! Thank you for the interesting peek at Piega! smile.gif I'm sure you must be a proud owner! wink.gif

I'm somewhat surprised at the reply you got from Mr Jyri Jokirinta at NuForce. But perhaps this is infact the case. As far as I understand it from everyone I've been talking to the MCH-series have been a good one for NuForce, aimed more at the higher-end market, and seeing as they updated the modules a couple of times so owners could upgrade their amplifiers I'd think it sad if they ditched MCH altogether. But seeing how much I like how the MCH-300SEC7 sounds an upgrade of modules is not really the first thing I think about this soon into the game. But there have been talk about an upgrade from V3 to V4. But the current V3's that are in the MCH are great! Smooth, detailed and musical. I heard that V2 was a little more clinical sounding.

Just for interests sake I e-mailed NuForce support on friday with similar questions but they just responded that the support department was unaware of these things. Can't always count on such departments to give you proper information rolleyes.gif Anyway, I kindly asked them to forward my questions to the appropriate sales manager. I'm not sure if you e-mailed the same spot that I did? Perhaps there are different ways to contact NuForce. I just used the regular contact e-mail on their US website. By the way, if they ever do release AVP-18 PRO and MCA-20 PRO with XLR-connectors that'll be interesting!
post #8 of 15

Hi Ricky, Thank you for your excellent report on the AVP-18 and MCH-300SEC7 combo. I am going to upgrade my system to MCH-300SE7 with either AVP-18 or MCP-18. My main concern is how good the AVP-18 as a DAC comparing to Oppo-105. As far as I know (a little research in the internet), AVP-18 is using Cirrus chip while Oppo-105 is using ESS Sabre32.  I believe Oppo 105 is having an edge. I wonder if you also have an Oppo 105. If yes, could you compare the performance of AVP-18 and Oppo 105 in the processing department? Thank you.

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hello RingoHung and thank you for checking my review out! I'm grateful for that! smile.gif

You are doing an excellent thing going for the MCH-300SEC7 as it's a terrific amplifier in so many respects. I watched "King Kong" and "Sunshine" on Blu-ray last night (stellar soundtracks!) and was mesmerized by what I was hearing, as is often the case now with NuForce at the helm. I've moved away from using EQ to 'bypass' and it's the cleanest most transparent and dynamic experience I've yet had in my home theater. I just forget the electronics while watching though and get sucked into the action. It's brilliant! May I ask what speakers you've got? I can't wait to upgrade mine at some point as I know for a fact that the amp have more to give with capable speakers. Not sure you are aware but NuForce are going to discontinue their MCH-line of amplifiers so you'd be smart in grabbing hold of one while you can. I believe they will develop their somewhat cheaper and simpler MCA-line instead.

Interesting you ask about Oppo BDP-105 because I've actually been keen to test and compare it to the AVP-18. Especially now that I'm in no need of EQ. There are lots of owners who use it connected directly to their power amps with great success (some have been skeptic though... I believe it depends on what pre/pro you compare it to). Currently I own the otherwise excellent Denon DBT-3313 player (my kit is in my signature) but it's only a digital transport so no DAC involved. As far as I know the ESS Sabre32 DAC's are of good quality, perhaps a tad better than the ones in the AVP-18. Although what sonic improvements or differences there actually are in practice I have no clue of yet. What really fascinates me is the purity of a straight signal path with one box of electronics out of the equation. And the simplicity, of course.

If I get my hands on one I will post my findings here! If you get to test this particular set-up yourself please let me know! I'd be very interested in your feedback!
post #10 of 15

Hey Ricky, Thank you for your prompt reply. I was actually looking at the lower grade MCH-20 at first coz I couldn't imagine that I could afford a MCH-300SE-C7 although I always want one.. Yesterday someone offered a year-old used MCH-300SE-C7, which is still under warranty, at 2/3 of the original price. I am going to pick it up on Sat, and I am really excited! I am gradually upgrading my system as they have with me for about 10 years now. Replacing my old Sonic Faber Grand Piano Home speakers would be the last step... Anyway, I have read your another thread about using "direct" mode with your AVP-18. The EQ was actually my main reason for considering an AVP-18 over the pure analogue preamp MCH-18. Now, I guess I know how to choose!


Thank you very much for your comment! Hopefully I could read your sharing about the Oppo 105 soon!

Edited by RingoHung - 10/18/13 at 2:38am
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
The MCH-300SEC7 is quite pricey. Although I got the X-version (installer version) which is a bit cheaper than the original model with remote and LED-display.
The money I saved there got me the AVP-18 tongue.gif

Have you demoed the unit so you've heard it yourself?
post #12 of 15

Agree! The SE version is very pricey! I consider myself very lucky that I could get my hands on one! I see this as a long term investment! 

I have demoed MCH-300SE-C7 at shop, and I like the open, transparent and airy sound quality of the amp. Now, I would have to save hard for a suitable pre-amp.......

post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 
Yes, you were lucky to get it at a bargain!

The open, transparent and airy sound you experienced at the demo is indeed what the MCH-300SEC7 will bring you. And massive amounts of details, micro-detailing on a grand level. If those speakers you own are revealing you will hear deeper into soundtracks than ever before I bet. The thing I love best is how terrific the balance is - it's not tame by any means, it's simply just smoothly balanced, which I love for movies. Lots of grunt, but polished and refined at the same time. It's pushed my little Apex speakers to their limit.
post #14 of 15
Originally Posted by RickyDeg View Post

Input switching is fair but not as remarkably fast as NuForce marketing texts may have you believe. In fact, to lock audio via HDMI and coaxial digital is a tad sluggish at times no matter what source I used. Also, the switching between different codec’s encoded on most blu-ray discs and TV transmissions these days can prove irritating as it can take 2-3 seconds for the unit to lock on, identify and decode the audio stream. This is quite common on many such electronics though, but surprisingly seldom on cheap receivers. Go figure. I’m not passing any video through my AVP-18 at all, audio only, as I believe in feeding video signals directly to the display. After the first firmware update was completed via USB I haven’t detected any specific bugs or issues at all, other than the aforementioned issue which I assume is firmware related. The unit has been working glitch-free in everyday use.

Thanks, Ricky, for such a detailed review. Greatly appreciated. Does the above glitch mean that AVP-18 would effectively mute the first second or two of the incoming digital audio signal until it can lock onto the signal properly? For example, when listening to CDs over HDMI or digital coaxial input, or when watching TV over HDMI and incoming signal changes in resolution, will AVP-18 chop off the first second or two?
post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thank you for checking my review out! smile.gif

Yes, in my case with my three digital sources (HD-satellite box, music server/cd, blu-ray player) the AVP-18 takes 1-2 sec's to lock. It's not as bad as other processors I've owned/tested but it can be irritating at times. I find I have gotten somewhat used to it, but I wish it wasn't an existing issue.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Receivers, Amps, and Processors
AVS › AVS Forum › Audio › Receivers, Amps, and Processors › NuForce AVP-18 and MCH-300SEC7 personal review