Anyone upgrade from the NPC?

I have an excellent digital system and a real good analog system (see details in my signature below), but have been somewhat unimpressed with the analog. I presented this to the folks on the VPI forum and got three quick replies to dump the NPC. While I would like to think it is a nice piece of kit, I am open to trying something better. Anyone here upgrade from the NPC to ? Looking for impressions on the degree of improvement, mainly because I have neglected my analog rig and am not sure an upgrade will necessarily change that.

I know PS Audio is working on a BHK Phono pre, but progress has been slow, plus I would suspect it will be priced in the $5k -$7k range which makes me cringe (not so much the amount, but that much investment and it just sitting idle if I still neglected my analog rig). More exciting is I just read that Darren Meyer is working on a Stellar Phono Pre, certainly will be cheaper than BHK and may even give the BHK a good run!

I should add that I have never used the NPC to record analog, I used it since I was not using a preamp for several years (I now have a BHK pre) and the NPC was the easiest solution to adding analog to a digital system. In other words, the loss of the A/D converter is not an issue.

I don’t have a large experience with good phono preamps. . . . I used a nice Hafler one for a long time, then upgraded to the PS Audio GCPH then finally invested in the one that stopped my search, the Decware ZP3. This is an excellent phono preamp that can handle MM cartridges with aplomb and showed me more than I ever heard from an LP before. Recommended!

Thanks Lonson! I saw you were browsing the page so I knew what was coming. 4_gif I had an Audio Research PH2 for years and the NPC replaced it, so my expereince is limited too. It’s a big, bad (phono stage) world out there, not looking forward to making that decision.

I guess I’m predictable. :slight_smile: It’s probably gotten worse now that I am the administrator of the Decware Facebook page, unpaid as that honor is so far. LOL. But. … I really do recommend the ZP3. Unless I can one day afford a turntable only millionaires can afford I’ll not be lusting after any other phono preamp.


Are you still running the NPC off the digital connection or are you using the analog outs? Also, have you experimented with changing the loading and gain settings? I ask because because I also have an NPC, the BHK Pre and a VPI Aries II Extended with the 12.5 arm. We have different cables and I’m using a Lyra Titan, but otherwise our rigs are very similar. With LPs and CDs that share the same mastering, the CD through the DS typically sounds somewhat better than the LP though the analog connection (and much better than the LP though the DSD connection), but still very close. I feel the difference is more attributable to the limitations of the media than to the hardware.

Initially I setup the NPC using Lyra’s recommended loading but found the results disappointing. Since then I’ve adjusted the gain and loading by ear and am much happier with the sound.

In any case, good luck with your quest and let us know how it turns out.


Pb, I was using the I2S connection for several years, but I got the BHK pre about a month ago so opportunities abound! The issue is the BHK pre took the spot in my rack occupied by the NPC and the VPI SDS. The turntable is on top of the rack, not really where I want it since I can’t use the Single Motor Flywheel, but it worked. Recently my P500 died, so at least temporarily there is space available in the rack. Haven’t put the NPC/SDS in that spot yet since I do plan on replacing the P500, but I’m waiting to see what the new P5 looks like so that spot could be there for several months. Anyway, I am thinking about moving the turntable just outside the room (maybe six to eight feet away) to allow for a larger shelf and get the turntable out of the soundfield. So I should do a short term test to verify the analog out of the NPC is better than the I2S while I work the details of moving the turntable. Isn’t this hobby fun!pulling-hair_gif

Yes, it is. And expensive. My Aries II also lives on the top shelf of the rack. The motor and SDS reside on a shelf of their own bolted to the wall alongside the main component rack. The drive wheel on the motor is connected to the platter with a long loop of heavy upholstery thread. Fortunately, with the SDS it is easy to re-calibrate the platter speed to accommodate the thread.

Not sure if I’m missing something, but - The analog out tends to sound better, as it maintains analog-icity (just working as a phono pre, not going through a DAC) and so not going A/D and D/A again. Have you not sent it directly XLR out of the NPC to the BHK?

Badbeef, I don’t think you missed anything, I expect the analog out of the NPC to sound better. I haven’t tried it though, since I removed the NPC and SDS from the rack to make space for the BHK preamp I got about five weeks ago (for reference: five shelf rack - turntable on top shelf, BHK pre, DMP, DS, and P500 on the four other shelves). My P500 regenerator died a couple of weeks ago, so I removed it from the rack to check it out. Prognosis was it needs either repair or replacement which isn’t happening any time soon. So I have a spare shelf now, as such I moved the NPC and SDS onto that shelf tonight. Still have to work out power issues (I’m using a four outlet PS Audio Duet in the interim but I need five outlets with the NPC and SDS added in) and I need to rewire the turntable motor (I put a short power cable on which is now too short). Hopefully I will get to this in the next few days.

OK, cool. Just curious. Not saying that if you were to spend the same amount of money (or more) on a phono pre that was solely a phono pre you wouldn’t be able to get better performance. The NPC has a lot of other stuff in there, which can be useful if you’re ripping, etc.

Badbeef, I got the NPC when it was first released at $1895 which seemed like a fairly high price (to me at least) for a phono stage. Well now I’ve done the BHK thing so that price seems, well, less affluent. Lots of good phono preamps in the $2k range, but are they much better? The on-line chatter is yes, but me? I’m not so sure. I bet the BHK Phono Preamp will be wonderful, but at a much higher price. For things like a DAC, amplifier, even disc player the high price is justified to me since I use them daily. For a Phono Preamp though, not so sure. Last time I spun a record was months ago. I’ve got a lot of records but they are, shall we say, a pain in the ass to listen to properly. I need one of those life altering moments to get my lazy butt back into vinyl!

Besides the NPC, the thing that got me into using my TT more was switching from years of Benz Micro carts with my Scout to a Soundsmith. Really wonderful carts that set up easily, have massive channel separation, and that work with and track on VPI arms really well (by design).

After I’d had it for a bit, I spoke with the maker and actually complained (so to speak, if you can believe it) that it had fooled me into forgetting I was not listening to digital, when the side would suddenly end. He wasn’t sure why that was a problem ; )

I tried one he thought might be “more romantic”, but LSS, I went back to the MIMC. I would get the Star at this point, which wasn’t out yet, and with your rig and arm, there may be some better match.

Agree with Beef on the Soundsmith MIMC cart being an absolute joy. Wonderful detail, tone, and frequency response. As luck would have it, I have found another cart that is it’s mirror image (audio image?) in the Gold Note Donatello Gold MC. It measures the exact same in channel separation at 41 dB, which are crazy good numbers, according to the Feickert Adjust+ disc and software. Plus it has the same flat frequency response curve across the spectrum. It tracks extremely well and very quiet with minimal clicks and pops. When I got my Gold Note Mediterraneo turntable unexpectedly recently, the cart was included and I intended on selling it but it is every bit as good as the MIMC Star at half of the price at around $1000. At least to my ear.

Whaddaya want for the Star?

When you have nothing better to do, put the Donatello on your old TT and let me know how it sounds ; )

Oh man. The thought of switching carts gives me the hives, honestly. I have them both dialed in perfectly and switching would be so much work! I must say I’ve wondered about how the Star would sound on the Mediterraneo. Like I said, probably very very close. I do wonder how much of the similarly I perceive between the carts is related to the tonearm and table of the Mediterraneo. It would be interesting, for sure. And no, I’m not ready to part with the Star quite yet!