darTZeel NHB-108 Model 2 - The Best Stereo Amplifier In The World Just Got Way Better!

jtinn

[Industry Expert]/Member Sponsor
Apr 21, 2010
458
3
18
#1
The King is dead, long live the King.

Originally introduced near the turn of the century, the darTZeel NHB-108 had long been considered by many as the finest sounding amplifier ever made. I know I did. The caveat had always been that you have to play by darTZeel's rules. One of the reasons the amplifier sounds so amazing is the extremely low number of output devices in the amplifier as well as the lack of fuses, switches or relays in the signal path. The downside is just like owning a tube amplifier your speaker cannot have a severe impedance drop. Anything near 2 ohms or lower, don't bother.

In the time since it's original release there have been a few changes, but none that warranted a model name change. During this era most manufacturers, who shall go unnamed, have changed their models countless times. The darTZeel NHB-108 for the most part had remained unsurpassed. About seven years ago Hervé Deletraz, the owner and mad genius behind darTZeel, created his newest masterpiece, the NHB-458 monoblocks. The NHB-108 stereo amplifier had finally been bettered. However, the NHB-108 was still considered the finest sounding stereo amplifier. :)

It has been about 18 years or so since most of you started hearing about the darTZeel NHB-108 and it is finally being replaced by a Model 2 version. Taking circuit improvements which were developed for the NHB-458 Monoblocks, Hervé has implemented major changes in the NHB-108 Model 2. Without going into extreme detail about the mechanical and technical differences, I will share the sonic improvements. Hervé told me to expect many of the sonic virtues of the NHB-458 monos in the new NHB-108 Model 2 stereo amp. He wasn't kidding. This new marvel has greater transparency, speed and dynamics while retaining the incredible delicacy, naturalness and ability to present musical nuances that the darTZeel NHB-108 has always been known for. It has a bit more power as well, but a noticeably better control over the bass. For the most part, the NHB-108 Model 2 is a miniature pair of NHB-468 monoblocks in one box. This thing is amazing! The cost of near perfection is about $44k.

Consider this a tease. Go hear it for yourself.

For you darTZeel NHB-108 Model One owners, the good news is there is an upgrade path directly with the factory. If you already have the SCNP upgrade the cost to upgrade is 12k CHF. If you do not have the SCNP network there will be an additional 1.5k CHF cost. The faceplate will not be changed but the "eyes" will be yellow instead of orange.
 
#4
Sounds great Jonathan,...did not know you could improve on perfection!
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
7,487
510
113
#6
on Saturday I visited my friend Andrew, who has the Evolution Acoustics MM3 with the EXACT crossovers, the NHB-108 stereo amp (I owned for 7 years) and same NHB-18NS 'version 2' pre I have. he has the new 108 Model 2 in his system right now, and we did some head to head comparisons with his original 108.

first off, I love Andrew's system with the original 108. it's one of the better overall systems I've heard and I know it well. I hear all the amazing things from his 108 that I've always enjoyed in my system. that said, the Model 2 version of the 108 is a clear step up in a few ways, and a more satisfying amplifier to listen to. it is more full bodied; more meat on the bones and weighty sounding, and has more authority and punch.....greater ease. it has the same transparency and refinement, and is also very extended in the highs and that extremely smooth top end that the 108 is known for. i'd give the original 108 just a hair more top end air in direct comparison.

we were using vinyl, plus 1/2" 30ips and 15ips tape on an Ampex ATR-102 with Aria output electronics, as sources. both sounding amazing. Andrew is an ATR-102 expert.

when I heard the Model 2 on Saturday, Andrew had only had it for a couple of days and only put 3-4 hours on it at that point, and it is quite new. I know from my experiences that the 108 is an amplifier that takes some serious time to fully break in. yesterday I talked to Andrew and he said it was sounding even better than Saturday. I would not be surprised if it opened up a bit more and matched that top end air for the original 108.

the original darTZeel NHB-108 has always been my second favorite amplifier to my 458's. now that rank on my favorite's list goes to the Model 2. and it's going to be an option for more systems with it's greater ability to control more speakers in bigger rooms. and I think now an even more attractive alternative to a tube amplifier lover wanting solid state advantages.

Best Stereo Amplifier? i'll leave that label to my friend Jonathan. the darTZeel NHB-108 Model 2 is my favorite sounding stereo amplifier that I have heard.

Bravo Herve' for these improvements!
 
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bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
707
149
43
California
#7
Thanks for the comparison, Mike. I don't consider the Model One to be lean; I consider it to be well balanced. Thus, the description of "more meat on the bones" could be interpreted (at least by me) as meaning fat (you said "weighty"). Where I personally feel the Model One is sort of lacking is in mid bass (and on down) resolution. It's not bad there, but it's not the best I've heard. I have found the NHB-108 to be in another league compared to the likes of Pass, Plinius, and select higher wattage tube amps in pretty much every other way. But, I did find Pass and even the First Watt F5 to be more revealing of texture in the mid bass region. This is a matter of subtlety. It is not a matter of slam, "meat", grunt, etc. as I don't want that sort of imbalance. Everything else you've described, however, sounds fantastic. Increased ease, dynamics, etc without any loss of the incredible naturalness of the Model One? Sign me up. I hope the air returns after some break-in as well... It's another strength of the Model One that we don't want to lose!
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
7,487
510
113
#9
Thanks for the comparison, Mike. I don't consider the Model One to be lean; I consider it to be well balanced. Thus, the description of "more meat on the bones" could be interpreted (at least by me) as meaning fat (you said "weighty"). Where I personally feel the Model One is sort of lacking is in mid bass (and on down) resolution. It's not bad there, but it's not the best I've heard. I have found the NHB-108 to be in another league compared to the likes of Pass, Plinius, and select higher wattage tube amps in pretty much every other way. But, I did find Pass and even the First Watt F5 to be more revealing of texture in the mid bass region. This is a matter of subtlety. It is not a matter of slam, "meat", grunt, etc. as I don't want that sort of imbalance. Everything else you've described, however, sounds fantastic. Increased ease, dynamics, etc without any loss of the incredible naturalness of the Model One? Sign me up. I hope the air returns after some break-in as well... It's another strength of the Model One that we don't want to lose!
the new Model 2 'balance' is anything but 'fat' or 'warm'. as I wrote, it retains all the transparency and refinement, but just sounds more substantial. I'd say my 458 sounds even more substantial, but in no way 'fat'. there is simply more organic weight in the mid bass, without any less texture or nuanced delicacy in the mid range. I'd need to live with the Model 2 for a time to really get too much deeper than that.

on the bottom there is more drive and authority. this is simply more degrees of a good thing the original already has.

we played some 1/2" 30ips master tapes (not dubs) of solo piano; both amps were excellent. just more forward lean and more a sense of scale and weight with the model 2. we were a bit more 'there'.

like I said, a more satisfying amp to listen to.
 

asiufy

Member Sponsor
Jul 8, 2011
3,157
247
63
San Diego, CA
almaaudio.com
#10
Thanks for the comparison, Mike. I don't consider the Model One to be lean; I consider it to be well balanced. Thus, the description of "more meat on the bones" could be interpreted (at least by me) as meaning fat (you said "weighty"). Where I personally feel the Model One is sort of lacking is in mid bass (and on down) resolution. It's not bad there, but it's not the best I've heard. I have found the NHB-108 to be in another league compared to the likes of Pass, Plinius, and select higher wattage tube amps in pretty much every other way. But, I did find Pass and even the First Watt F5 to be more revealing of texture in the mid bass region. This is a matter of subtlety. It is not a matter of slam, "meat", grunt, etc. as I don't want that sort of imbalance. Everything else you've described, however, sounds fantastic. Increased ease, dynamics, etc without any loss of the incredible naturalness of the Model One? Sign me up. I hope the air returns after some break-in as well... It's another strength of the Model One that we don't want to lose!
Hmm... That seems strange to me. I was always impressed with the 108's ability to portrait the true texture of the instruments, no matter where their fundamentals where. Tympani, drums, bass plucks, everything was portrayed in a way that was truly lifelike.

Perhaps this is a matter than can be worked with cables, or better AC. Something must be obscuring those details and not letting the amp do its thing...

cheers,
alex
 

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
707
149
43
California
#11
Hmm... That seems strange to me. I was always impressed with the 108's ability to portrait the true texture of the instruments, no matter where their fundamentals where. Tympani, drums, bass plucks, everything was portrayed in a way that was truly lifelike.

Perhaps this is a matter than can be worked with cables, or better AC. Something must be obscuring those details and not letting the amp do its thing...

cheers,
alex

Well I don't know, Alex. The cables used in these cases were identical, with the amp itself being the only variable. I tried a few amps in back-to-back succession. I think the Dart 108 is a fantastic amp and I have no desire to replace it ..... except maybe with a Model Two upgrade. My hesitation to upgrade mainly comes from the fact that I like the Model One as much as I do! But even so, I'm still willing to point out what I see as minor shortcomings.
 
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bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
707
149
43
California
#12
the new Model 2 'balance' is anything but 'fat' or 'warm'. as I wrote, it retains all the transparency and refinement, but just sounds more substantial. I'd say my 458 sounds even more substantial, but in no way 'fat'. there is simply more organic weight in the mid bass, without any less texture or nuanced delicacy in the mid range. I'd need to live with the Model 2 for a time to really get too much deeper than that.

on the bottom there is more drive and authority. this is simply more degrees of a good thing the original already has.

we played some 1/2" 30ips master tapes (not dubs) of solo piano; both amps were excellent. just more forward lean and more a sense of scale and weight with the model 2. we were a bit more 'there'.

like I said, a more satisfying amp to listen to.
I'm guessing this might be due to the Model Two having more Class A power than the Model One. (I've not seen numbers though) For smaller listening rooms like mine - where the Model One just seems ideal to me - I wonder if the Model Two is still going to retain the naturalness and transparency you describe. I.e. I'm fairly certain my amp operates in Class AB other than during quiet passages in the music, and I'm not sure that will still be the case in smaller environments with the Two. Then again, I'm not sure if Herve' intends that to be the case, either. Clearly I need to just get up North for a listen of my own!
 
Apr 15, 2013
47
0
6
#13
I'm guessing this might be due to the Model Two having more Class A power than the Model One. (I've not seen numbers though) For smaller listening rooms like mine - where the Model One just seems ideal to me - I wonder if the Model Two is still going to retain the naturalness and transparency you describe. I.e. I'm fairly certain my amp operates in Class AB other than during quiet passages in the music, and I'm not sure that will still be the case in smaller environments with the Two. Then again, I'm not sure if Herve' intends that to be the case, either. Clearly I need to just get up North for a listen of my own!
Idle consumption 50 w for model two vs 150w for model One, so the class A power looks lower?
 

asiufy

Member Sponsor
Jul 8, 2011
3,157
247
63
San Diego, CA
almaaudio.com
#15
Well I don't know, Alex. The cables used in these cases were identical, with the amp itself being the only variable. I tried a few amps in back-to-back succession. I think the Dart 108 is a fantastic amp and I have no desire to replace it ..... except maybe with a Model Two upgrade. My hesitation to upgrade mainly comes from the fact that I like the Model One as much as I do! But even so, I'm still willing to point out what I see as minor shortcomings.
That's fine and all. I was just pointing out that, to me, the shortcomings lie elsewhere, not in that particular are you pointed out. Cables react to different amps/speakers in a different ways... I like the way Jonathan puts it, "you have to play by darTZeel's rules", and this seems to be the case right here :)

Enjoy your 108, still one of the very best out there!

cheers,
Alex
 

Thieliste

Active Member
Aug 31, 2014
281
25
28
France
#16
I should be visiting Hervé on the 24th to finally listen to this famous 108 model 2:p
I still want to know if this amp could drive my Thiel CS 3.7 otherwise the CH M1 stereo might be more appropriate in terms of power.
 

bazelio

Active Member
Sep 27, 2016
707
149
43
California
#17
I should be visiting Hervé on the 24th to finally listen to this famous 108 model 2:p
I still want to know if this amp could drive my Thiel CS 3.7 otherwise the CH M1 stereo might be more appropriate in terms of power.
It would be great to hear more about the differences in sound between Model One and Model Two, if Herve is able to accommodate while you're there! Otherwise, enjoy!
 

MadFloyd

Member Sponsor
May 31, 2010
2,421
16
38
Mass
#18
It does seem strangely difficult to get info on what the differences are between the two models.
 
May 30, 2010
15,090
480
83
Portugal
#19
It does seem strangely difficult to get info on what the differences are between the two models.
DartZeel is one of those brands meant to be listened, not to be understood! :)
 

MadFloyd

Member Sponsor
May 31, 2010
2,421
16
38
Mass
#20
DartZeel is one of those brands meant to be listened, not to be understood! :)
Well it would be nice to know what speakers it could drive given how the first version had a reputation of running out of steam on many speakers.
 

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