The Navison Audio SE MK 1 Preamplifier

by admin on November 14, 2009 · 1 comment

in Preamplifiers


Roy Harris

The Navison Audio room was one of my favorite exhibits at the 2007 SHOW. A single ended amp, a tube preamp, the Ayre CD player and a pair of Tannoy speakers produced the classic tube sound. Since I was looking for a preamp, I decided to review the preamp I heard. In fact, the review sample was the very preamp I heard in the room. Navison products are designed in California and manufactured in Viet Nam.

The preamp is priced at $3900.00 and the chassis is constructed of barian kingwood, found in Viet Nam. Here are the salient technical details: 1) Design goal : warmth with a certain level of detail 2) Wiring: silver plated copper 3) Connectors: RCA females are rhodium coated copper 4) Op amps: none 5) Transformer: low noise toroidal 6) Caps : Jensen oil filled 7) Gain control: DACT 24 step attenuated-2 db per step 8) Tubes : 8 6H1-EB 9) Phase inverting.

Listening Sessions

My favorite instrument is the harpsichord. It provides a window on the frequency response in the upper midrange/treble region. My first selection was a Chandos release of Scarlatti’s Sonata XVII, K119, performed by Sophie Yates, Chandos 0635. The presentation was a touch forward. The attack and release of the keyboard was heard without exaggeration, warmth or softening. The timbre was very realistic but a bit closer in position than I experienced with other preamps. From a woman’s touch to a woman’s voice, I next selected the Holly Cole Trio, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, track 1, Alert Z2 81020. The resonance of the body of the acoustic bass and the plucking of the strings were rendered in proper proportion. The voice was close-miked and exhibited sibilance which would be expected from such a microphone placement technique. I did not observe an exaggeration or softening of the sibilance.

Steely Dan, AJA is, in my opinion, their best work. My favorite track on the CD is “Deacon Blues”, track 3, MCAD 37214. Donald Fagen’s voice was easy to recognize. One could hear his characteristic pronunciation of consonants. Voice and cymbals were spectrally balanced. However, the sound of the tenor seemed slightly deficient in lower midrange energy, with a bit more emphasis upon the upper midrange/lower treble. The resulting timbre was somewhat suggestive of an alto. Continuing in the jazz mode, an acoustic jazz ensemble is featured on the CD TEST RECORD1, Opus 3 7900, track 12, W.C. Handy, “Ole Miss”. This track provides a suitable test of timbre provided by a clarinet, trumpet and trombone. Of the three aforementioned instruments, the clarinet presented the most natural timbre. The trumpet lacked body as a result of an over emphasis of the upper midrange/lower treble frequencies. The trombone was fuller sounding than the trumpet but one could hear a slight imbalance between the lower midrange and upper frequencies. While it is impossible to reproduce the scale of an orchestra in a modest sized listening room, certain facets of stereo system performance are tested using such source material.

A classic recording in this repertory is “Gaite Parisienne”, conducted by Arthur Fiedler, JVC XRCD 0224, track 1. Immediately one is aware of the power of an orchestra with a crescendo at the beginning of the track. This preamp is capable of conveying the dynamic range of a crescendo. Two short solos from a wood block and a triangle ensue shortly thereafter. The triangle is in the foreground and the wood block was positioned slightly to the right and behind the triangle. A sense of space between the instruments was noted. One could observe the decay of the triangle even as the wood block was struck. The triangle possessed its typical sparkle without egregious frequency response errors.


While I expected the classic sound, I experienced the modern sound of tubes. I have mentioned the term “modern sound” in other reviews. The attributes implied by this term include the resolution associated with solid state, a lack of warmth and a presentation closer to truth than beauty. My personal exposure to modern tube components suggests that their imperfections are generally opposite those of older tube designs. Thus, designs in the ’70s and ’80s rolled off the treble and had a peak in the lower frequencies, while such products were replaced by components which have a peak in the “brightness” region and a dip in the upper bass/lower midrange. The differences between current designs are a matter of degree. Some have more annoying flaws, while others are slight, yet nevertheless, audible. With regard to the Navison preamp, deviations were slight, as previously indicated. I have heard other preamps and amplifiers whose errors have been more significant as to their effects upon the enjoyment of music. I expect that if one listens to a component long enough, it is possible to observe some level of coloration. Until perfection is achieved, one hopes that flaws can be overlooked and one does not dwell on them to the detriment of enjoying one’s recordings. I had no problem appreciating the musicianship and enjoying my favorite recordings in spite of the aforementioned shortcomings.

Associated Components

Preamps: Nobis Proteus, Maple Shade Ultra 4A SE, McIntosh C220

Amp : VTL Deluxe 120

CD Player: Audionote CD2

Interconnects: Aural Thrills Gold and Soundstring

Speaker Cables: DCCA Audio and Element Cable Matador

AC Cords: DCCA Audio, Soundstring, Sunny Cable Technology, Element 
Cable Titan

AC Treatment: PS Audio 300, PS Audio Noise Harvesters, PS Audio Ultimate 
Outlets, Promethean Line Conditioner, Tice Audio Enhancer, 
Nirvana Audio Isolation Transformer, Chang 6400, Chang 9600,
Sunny Cable Technology “The Box”

Room Treatment: Room Tunes, Echo Tunes, Egg Crate Mattresses

Manufactured by Navison Audio 

1551 Shaw Drive, San Jose CA 95118

Phone: 408-269-6800, Fax: 408-269-6801, Toll Free: 1-877-NAVIZON
Price: USD$3900.00



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

marvin fox 11.16.09 at 7:18 pm

Does not Roy Harris know the economy is so bad in the United States that who can really afford a $3900 preamp? Suffice to say a select hand can which I presume.This is sheer non essential to millions of unemployed out there in the states.His review is good that I conclude.I reside in a 3rd world country and see poverty all the time .

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