Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista DAC USB DAC

hfnoutstandingThe miniature nuvistor 'tube' continues its inexorable march through Musical Fidelity's latest separates, defining the flagship products in its range. Now it's the turn of the DAC

Since Heinz Lichtenegger acquired Musical Fidelity in 2018, the company has appeared truly revitalised, particularly at the upper end of its range. Working with the UK design team, the Pro-Ject boss has resurrected the nuvistor tube-based Nu-Vista line with a slew of new models. And Lichtenegger is a big believer in separates – just in case the many pocket-sized boxes Pro-Ject produces hadn't made that clear – so while on the one hand the EISA Award-winning Nu-Vista 800.2 integrated amplifier [HFN Aug '23] provides a one-stop solution, there's also Musical Fidelity's Nu-Vista PRE/PAS pairing [HFN Mar '23], the Nu-Vista Vinyl 2 phono stage [HFN Feb '24], and now the Nu-Vista DAC.

There's also a separate, outboard power supply slated for the Nu-Vista range, and it's hardly a secret that a Nu-Vista CD player is next up, considering the manual of this £9999 DAC explicitly mentions it, in relation to its I2S input. I also get the distinct impression there will be more, but whatever the future brings the Nu-Vista range has you covered now if you desire to 'go big' with your system building. The Nu-Vista DAC is a good match for the Nu-Vista 800.2 integrated too, adding flexible digital connectivity to Musical Fidelity's flagship analogue amplifier.


PSU transformer [top left] feeds HT supplies [main PCB and see p51] for the two pairs of nuvistor 'tubes' [right] per channel in addition to the XMOS USB/Altera DSP/ES9038Q2M DAC-based digital stages [far right]

A Family Affair
DACs can often be anonymous boxes dutifully converting streams without bothering anyone. The Nu-Vista DAC isn't one of those, though. Like its brethren, its size and design make it a 'presence' in the room. You won't slip this 21.5kg unit into a random hi-fi rack, as its footprint is large. Just to make it clear that this isn't your run-of-the-mill D/A converter, you can peek inside and see its eight nuvistor triode valves surrounded by a red glowing light while the unit is starting up (then yellow, followed by blue after ten minutes or so).

The Nu-Vista DAC's finely crafted chassis is shared with the series' other models. Available in brushed black or silver, it's a sizeable enclosure (483mm wide and 510mm deep), but with a front panel that angles away from the listener at the top and bottom. When installing the DAC, you can choose which feet to use – rubber ones are in place, but there are felt and spike options included.

A front-panel display on the Nu-Vista 800.2 integrated amp shows off a large VU meter; here a similar display indicates the nature of the audio stream you're listening to. 'PCM' or 'DSD' is shouted in a huge font, with bitrate and selected filter presented next to it. Various MQA-related labels are possible too, including (new for me) OFS – which stands for Original Frequency Spectrum, ie, a previously decoded MQA stream. Overall, this display is simple but effective, and you can choose whether it shows black text on a white background, or vice versa.


Also available in a matt black chassis with silver rotaries, the display can be inverted with dark text on a bright background to achieve a further aesthetic and operational contrast

Flanking the screen are large dials to change input or adjust the volume level, the DAC supporting both fixed and variable output over its unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs. The second of these controls, together with buttons below, is also used to access the device's settings menus. There's more to be found here than you might expect, including seven digital filters hardcoded into its ESS Hyperstream II DAC chip(s) for use with PCM audio, plus Musical Fidelity's own 'Optimal Transient' filter. Like the brand's more affordable M6x DAC [HFN Jul '22], and many more besides, the Nu-Vista DAC panders to audiophiles who desire to experiment.

Heroic Handset
I remember being irked by the remote control bundled with Musical Fidelity's M8xi integrated amplifier [HFN Jul '20], but critical words are not required here. The new Nu-Vista series gets a bulky, milled aluminium handset, making for an impressive piece of gadgetry which can also be used to exercise your arm muscles while listening to The Dark Side Of The Moon. More importantly, it's actually useful, even when the DAC is being used in fixed output. Flicking through filters and engaging reclocking and upsampling is all part of this model's attraction, and using the remote is faster than changing settings via the DAC's display, allowing you to more easily compare filter types, etc.

The core of the Nu-Vista DAC is formed by two ES9038Q2M DAC devices. Although strictly speaking these are meant for mobile products, there's nothing wrong with using them in high-end hi-fi, especially in the dual differential configuration here. ESS's Hyperstream II platform supports playback of virtually all hi-res material out there, including MQA and up to 768kHz PCM and DSD512. As usual, this is through the Nu-Vista DAC's USB-B port; the optical, coaxial and AES/EBU inputs are more limited, but do cater to DSD64 and 384kHz MQA.

The dual ESS DAC configuration – and Super Silent power transformer – is also present downrange in Musical Fidelity's M6x DAC, but is improved upon here with a proprietary clock, separate PSUs for the analogue and digital stages, and a custom oversampling bypass mode active when playing 705.6/768kHz PCM. Neither should we forget this model's nuvistor tube output stage, which is what the Nu-Vista family in general and this DAC specifically is all about.

Musical Fidelity (Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH)
Supplied by: Henley Audio Ltd, UK
01235 511166