Ahh tubes. They’re not going away. In fact they seem to be gaining a resurgence in popularity of late. Perhaps this is because so many people are moving to digital sources and components and everything sounds a bit too clean and controlled. Sometimes you might be craving some harmonic distortion to dirty things up a bit, or want to add some warmth to those analytical headphones. Maybe you just want some cool glowing lights on your desk or you simply need to make your music louder. Well, this little hybrid tube amplifier can do all that. The Nobsound NS-08E is one of the more popular tube amps on the market because of its small size, ease of use and ample power making it a good starting point for people who want to venture into tube sound.
About Nobsound (from their website):
“Shenzhen Cavins Technology Co., LTD has been established since 2014.. We are devoted to design and research of hi-end level of audio equipment under our own brand name Nobsound and Douk Audio with our intellectual property rights. We are striving to build classical extraordinary audio equipment with cultural connotation and propel national audio brands worldwide and pace up with the rest of the world.”
Disclaimer: This product was sent to me for the purpose of an honest review. All opinions and observations here are my own, based on my experience with the product. I’d like to thank Vivian and Nobsound for the opportunity to test the NS-08E.
Output power: ≥1100 mW (32 ohms)
Headphone Adapter Impedance: 18-600 ohm
Total harmonic distortion: <0.005%
SNR: ≥110 dB
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 30 kHz
Size: 111 * 69 * 32 mm (L * W * H) (Height: 73 mm with vacuum tube installed)
Net Weight: 185 g
Power supply: Input voltage: AC 100-240V 50/60 Hz; Output voltage: DC 6V 2000mA
Packaging and accessories
The NS-08E comes in a plain brown, no-frills cardboard box. The package includes:
- headphone amplifier
- 6J9 vacuum tubes (x2)
- power supply
Build and usage
This is a hybrid amplifier, meaning it uses the tubes for pre-amplification and transistors for the actual audio output. This allows you to get a taste of tube sound while keeping the costs lower for consumers and the benefits of solid state like better bass control.
Similar to the NS-01E, this amp is nicely machined and put together. On the gold coloured front are the 3.5 mm line in and headphone out jacks, along with the large volume knob. The knob moves in tactile steps, similar again to the NS-01E and the same as the one on the FX-Audio DAC-X6. Just like the case it’s made of machined aluminium and has a solid feel to it. These incremented movement dials feel great but they do make precise volume adjustments a little more difficult.
On the top of the black metal case are the two 6J9 tubes that simply plug into the provided sockets. They fit tightly into the sockets but are easy to install and remove with some care and gentle wiggling.
Around the back are the DC 6V power input and the power button.
There have been a few mentions on the internet about the tube ringing sound that sometimes occurs if you bump the amp or the desk. I have experienced this myself but only with sensitive headphones and IEMs. With the 250 ohms Beyerdynamic Amiron Home I was not able to reproduce the sound no matter how hard I tried and it was the same with the T1 Pro. With my Yenona Studio Pro, however, the ringing was easy to elicit so I’m guessing it’s related to the impedance of your headphones.
Equipment used for testing
PC > MusicBee > Arcam irDAC-II (via usb) > NS-08E > headphones
Headphones tested were Beyerdynamics Amiron Home + T5P 2nd gen and Yenona Studio Pro along with several IEMs.
This little guy adds some warmth and fullness to the midrange while retaining detail and separation from the source. Soundstage is slightly deeper with the Nobsound which I know will please many people also. Treble and bass remain well extended on both ends. With harder to drive headphones like the T1 Pro the NS-08E can add some extra punch to the bass and a more controlled sense at the low end. Pushing out 1100mW at 32 ohms the NS-08E had no problems driving the 600 Ohm T1 Pro with plenty of room left on the volume knob. With sensitive IEMs you can sometimes detect a little background noise but it’s not noticeable while music is playing and doesn’t detract from the experience.
The NS-08E is lively, energetic and agile and doesn’t display any slowness or lack of timing. It’s fast and detailed, capable of rumbling bass and extended treble and adds a rich meatiness to the mids for a very satisfying effect.
The unit gets a little warm while in use but its certainly not what I would call hot. You can comfortably touch the case without any discomfort but I wouldn’t recommend touching the actual tubes. The sound can also be customized by rolling different tubes. Replacement vacuum tubes include: E180F, 6ж9П, EF861, and 6688. For the purpose of this review I stuck with the original 6J9s.
The Nobsound NS-08E sounds better than it should given its budget price. It’s so simple and small, obviously not as small as the NS-01E but still, it takes up very little space on the desktop. The only drawback I can find (and this is just personal preference) is the input being located on the front panel.
This clutters things up a little and doesn’t look as tidy as it could because of the extra cable hanging out of its front end. It’s a pity the 3.5 mm input isn’t on the back so the space on the front panel could be left clean or perhaps have an additional 6.35 mm headphone jack in its place. Regardless of that, this is a neat product that’s cheap enough to be a viable option for most people to obtain. If you’re curious about tube sound this is a great place to start and won’t put too much of a dent in your wallet. Recommended.