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Thread: Neurochrome Modulus 686 Amplifier Review

  1. #1
    Bigman80 Guest

    Default Neurochrome Modulus 686 Amplifier Review

    Neurochrome 686

    I have had my 686 for about 6 weeks now and feel I have heard It enough to start putting into words, not only my perception of it’s performance but also the effect it’s had on my system.

    Being a staunch fan of my Pioneer speakers and regularly receiving nothing but praise for them (rightly so) from the folk who visit here, What I have to say here may come as something of a surprise. You see, what happens from time to time is you audition a piece of kit and you hear the improvement it makes in that particular area. If it’s significant enough, you may even be tempted to splash the cash and buy one. But what happens when you introduce something that improves everything you already have? What do you do when a piece of kit changes the game. I‘ll try and explain it.

    Rewind 6 months and I am the proud owner of one of the most respected amplifiers in the HiFi realm, the Krell KSA100MK2. I am relishing it in all it’s glory. Stunningly powerful, excellent clarity and tone and dynamic swing that would register on the Richter scale. However, my interest had already been piqued by an usurper, a younger model……

    Unfortunately, at the prices we are facing for these bits of kit meant I faced the horrible decision of whether to gamble. Sell the Krell to buy the 686 or stick with the Krell. I remained 50/50 for months only for the decision to be made for me. Knowing that one of our members was having issues with his Krell 50, I decided that now was the time to start the merry go round. He bought my Krell, I bought a 686.

    Talking to Tom Christiensen (One man band that is ‘Neurochrome’) was done via email. As he is based in Canada the time difference looked like it may be a slow affair but no, Tom replied very swiftly which left me wondering if he ever slept?

    I inquired about the 686 as a DIY project, which is how these products of his are sold. He also has the 86 & 286 which I also considered. Obviously, being me, I went with the biggest (in terms of watts)

    Quite by chance, it turned out that Tom had a fully built 686 that he had taken to the Burning amp festival for demo purposes and offered me the amplifier rather than having to build it. Price was pretty much what i’d have to spend on building my own, so I snapped it up.

    So here's the first thing to lay out for anyone considering buying one of these. Request DHL as the form of transport and pay the extra £30. Parcelfarce (oops) literally kept me waiting weeks after they couldn’t figure out the charges on the box. A friend of mine has bought one too, his came via DHL as Tom recommends, and it was here 3 days later. It’s worth paying the extra.

    I don’t know what I expected to see when I opened the box. I had seen pictures of the very amplifier I had ordered but somehow I was completely underwhelmed by the optics of it. It was a surreal moment in which I wondered if I had done the right thing, after all, the Krell may have looked industrial to some but the build quality couldn't be questioned!

    The first hurdle to using this amplifier was to get the Speakon connections changed on the back. I’d like to say I did this myself but I didn’t. Straight over to Firebottle’s abode for his expertise. Do it right, do it once. When we took the lid off, we were greeted with a nasty surprise. Parcelfarce had managed to treat the amplifier so badly that the cages in which the 2x SMPS sit, were contorted to the side and were leaning on the PCB. I am only guessing but if I had of switched the amp on before we found this, it may have shorted the board. So lucky that I didnt!


    Within an hour, Alan had used his skills to refit the SMPS’s and get the speakons changed to some very nice Gold plated copper EIZZ speaker terminals.




    Alan hooked up the amp to his little test system and we listened to the tuner he has............ He said “oh, that doesnt sound great”

    Alan's comment hit my guts…….what have I done!

    I laughed it off, “surely youre not judging it on this system with the speakers missing a tweeer” I replied.

    Off to his main rig. Bigboy Lenco 75, KIN preamp and Quad ESL57’s.

    I can’t remember what track Alan put on because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. For the first time ever, his 57’s made sense to me. They were cohesive and extremely transparent in the mids. It was a real ‘moment’ the kind that disolves any fear or concern you may have initially felt.

    I looked at Alan, he looked at me and no words were said. Not a single comment. We played “Nublado” and it was stunningly good. So much space and the precision of the soundstage was beyond anything I had heard before. I had to get this home and see how it sounded there.

    I knew at that moment that Alan would have to get one based on the few tracks we played and I was right. He now has a 286.

    Rather than talk about how things sound great and blah blah blah, now it’s been in place for a small period of time, I think the best thing is to talk about the effect its had overall.

    The first thing that hit me when I arrived home was how Macca had been quite right with his assessment of the Pioneer CS-77A speakers. In comparison to the 57’s I had heard at Alan’s house, they were guilty of a mid bass hump. Now, you may be wondering why I hadn’t noticed that before, especially as i’m over there all the time lol.

    Well, I hate to say this but I don’t believe the differences have been laid out as obviously as they were with the 686. With the 686 it was laid bare for all to hear. It was....undeniable.

    Next up, I noticed that actually, the speakers weren’t sounding perfectly central. Almost like i’d gone a little deaf in my right ear? I played about with the speaker positions and eventually set them up properly. Once in place, it was as though the end of my room grew in size and extended further back. Still concerned about the mid bass hump, I investigated the manual. Turns out that if I turned the super tweeter on, it should flatten the response. I did it and yes, it worked rather well. The mids now sound far better, to me anyway. Note to self, always find the manual and read it!

    A few days later Alan came round and we played Nublado again. It’s becoming a bit of a perfect track for assessing kit TBH. I can say with hand on heart honesty that I have never heard anything sound so good. I wont lie, I was absolutely buzzing.

    A few days passed and Phonomac was visiting, we installed the newly Plinthed SP10 (32mm Panzer) and he left me to put the arm back. Again, when I dialed the arm in, I heard every little change in tone & balance as I adjusted the azimuth and VTA. I have experienced this before but not to this degree. The vinyl sounds beyond anything i could ever have imagined I would hear in my own home.

    The 686 has allowed me to fine tune my system by ear to a higher degree of performance. I am pretty sure that in terms of compliments, they dont get much better than that.

    Truth is, the amplifier is of the highest standard. Its utterly transparent, incredibly well balanced and allows you to simply hear everything that your source can provide. I have literally made fine adjustments to my system that I just couldn’t hear before. It’s that good. Don't mistake my transparency comments as "analytical" because beneath all of the wonder of the amplifiers transparency, lies a musical being. fluid and organic. It also hits your gut too, dynamics are dramatic and then out of nowhere, the subtlety catches you out. It's quite superb and unlike anything I have had here.

    End game amplifiers are a thing worth chasing and this one shows exactly why.

    Forget Valves Vs Solid State and all that nonsense. This is simply amplification done right.

  2. #2
    Join Date: Oct 2012

    Location: The Black Country

    Posts: 5,796
    I'm Alan.

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    Everything above.

    As Oli said I now have the smaller brother at 65W per channel into 8 ohms which is more than enough to drive 57's.

    If you can DIY then you can buy the ready built amp modules and add a case and power supply as you wish, but the complete 286 kit is on offer so I though why not.

  3. #3
    Join Date: May 2016

    Location: Gloucestershire

    Posts: 794
    I'm Ian.

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    I'm not surprised with your findings Oliver. A few years ago when I retired and having rebuilt a few Lencos and built a few loudspeakers I thought I'd have a go at building an amplifier. With limited soldering skills and not knowing a capacitor from a diode I decided to have a go at the Modulus 86 and power supply after reading rave reviews on DIY Audio. Tom was extremely helpful to this total novice and after a few nervous hours I had a power amplifier ready to switch on. Nervously I wound up a Variac to full power, no smoke, no buzzing, phew! When I plugged it into my system I was amazed it worked and very impressed with the performance. Sadly a couple of years later I decided to convert the amp to monoblocks and managed to fry a board by attaching the power supply the wrong way round - not good for capacitors! To be honest I was always nervous with the amp as I had built it and not because it was a particularly difficult process so although I learnt a lot I decided to leave electronics to the experts. I still have Tom's differential pre-amp which is totally silent and transparent. I did have some help with the SMD mounting and Alan Firebottle added a couple of single ended inputs to go alongside the XLR's on board.
    Oliver, if you'd like to try it alongside your 686 you'd be welcome to do so.

  4. #4
    Bigman80 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by ianlenco View Post
    I'm not surprised with your findings Oliver. A few years ago when I retired and having rebuilt a few Lencos and built a few loudspeakers I thought I'd have a go at building an amplifier. With limited soldering skills and not knowing a capacitor from a diode I decided to have a go at the Modulus 86 and power supply after reading rave reviews on DIY Audio. Tom was extremely helpful to this total novice and after a few nervous hours I had a power amplifier ready to switch on. Nervously I wound up a Variac to full power, no smoke, no buzzing, phew! When I plugged it into my system I was amazed it worked and very impressed with the performance. Sadly a couple of years later I decided to convert the amp to monoblocks and managed to fry a board by attaching the power supply the wrong way round - not good for capacitors! To be honest I was always nervous with the amp as I had built it and not because it was a particularly difficult process so although I learnt a lot I decided to leave electronics to the experts. I still have Tom's differential pre-amp which is totally silent and transparent. I did have some help with the SMD mounting and Alan Firebottle added a couple of single ended inputs to go alongside the XLR's on board.
    Oliver, if you'd like to try it alongside your 686 you'd be welcome to do so.
    I would absolutely love to try the preamp as well.

    If it's as good as the amplifiers, it's gonna be superb

  5. #5
    Join Date: Jan 2013

    Location: Birmingham

    Posts: 5,223
    I'm James.

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    Nublado is a great track.
    Main system : VPI Scout 1.1 / JMW 9T / 2M Black / Croft 25R+ / Croft 7 / Heco Celan GT 702

    Second System : Goldring Lenco GL75 / AT95EX / Pioneer SX590 / Spendor SP2

  6. #6
    Bigman80 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
    Nublado is a great track.
    You're gonna have to hear it here Jim.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jan 2013

    Location: Birmingham

    Posts: 5,223
    I'm James.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigman80 View Post
    You're gonna have to hear it here Jim.
    I will try and get round as soon as I can Oli.
    Main system : VPI Scout 1.1 / JMW 9T / 2M Black / Croft 25R+ / Croft 7 / Heco Celan GT 702

    Second System : Goldring Lenco GL75 / AT95EX / Pioneer SX590 / Spendor SP2

  8. #8
    Join Date: Jun 2018

    Location: Mildenhall, Suffolk

    Posts: 382
    I'm John.

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    I have heard the 86 drive a few different Quad Models and each time it got my attention, the same 86 drove the large room 57's at Kegworth and this matching received lot of praise.
    I believe the 86 was built for less than £400, but I may stand to be corrected on that valuation.
    I also heard SS Monoblocks at another meeting in Huddersfield, and to say I was impressed is a understatement.
    I later learned these Monoblocks were a Neurochrome Design, I don't know the model, so don't know the Power Output from them, but I feel safe to assume it was not the 86.
    If I were asked to recommend a build, I would point the enquirer to a Neurochrome Product.

  9. #9
    Bigman80 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnG View Post
    I have heard the 86 drive a few different Quad Models and each time it got my attention, the same 86 drove the large room 57's at Kegworth and this matching received lot of praise.
    I believe the 86 was built for less than £400, but I may stand to be corrected on that valuation.
    I also heard SS Monoblocks at another meeting in Huddersfield, and to say I was impressed is a understatement.
    I later learned these Monoblocks were a Neurochrome Design, I don't know the model, so don't know the Power Output from them, but I feel safe to assume it was not the 86.
    If I were asked to recommend a build, I would point the enquirer to a Neurochrome Product.
    Not sure an 86 could be built for under £400 but then again, it won't be all that much more.

    Theres a set on DIY of boards and psu boards. I was going to buy them but that budget went Into speakers Instead lol

  10. #10
    Bigman80 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
    I will try and get round as soon as I can Oli.
    No worries mate.

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