Tube Amps give me that warm fuzzy feeling. For the past year, I have had my Sennheiser HD800 hooked up to the WooAudio WA7 and nothing else I have comes close to enhancing the audio experience like the glow of a tube.
What if you are on a budget though? Could a cheap Chinese tube amp like the Nobsound NS-08E really sound good? we find out in this review.
What is the Nobsound NS-08E
The Nobsound NS-08E is a cheap and cheerful tube amplifier coming out of the wave of budget audio gear from China. It is actually what is known as a hybrid amp because it uses a standard digital amp in combination with the tube unit to create its sound.
Build quality is acceptable, there is nothing fancy going on but the build materials feel very strong. Jack points are front facing and quite robust and the dedicated volume knob has a smooth and clean function.
The only issue that I could find was that if you give it a tap the tubes ring out something fierce. Not the biggest gripe and it certainly doesn't affect it in use when left alone.
Designed to be used as a budget desktop amplifier with headphones it looks pretty good and doesn't take up a lot of space.
So sound is where I think it all comes apart for the Nobsound. Not because it is a bad product but because it doesn't really add much to the majority of modern source units.
It definitely adds some loudness and it was able to drive all my test headphones. It also didn't add anything in the way of background noise which was good.
The sound was flat and neutral, and maybe added just the faintest hint of warmth to the overall presentation but really there was little advantage to be gained by using the NS-08E over the simple headphone out on most phones or DAP's.
An alternative - Bravo Audio Ocean V2
Ok so it's almost double the price but the V2 is around the area where these sort of cheap tube amps start to make sense. You get more of that warm analog sound from the V2 and everything else just feels a lot more refined.
Power is good, noise is low and it just feels like there is more of a noticeable effect on the sound when compared directly with the Nobsound.
Going traditional instead of tube?
For a little bit more and for incredible transparent sound just skip the whole budget tube amp thing and grab a 02 Amp unit, this of course will be a personal choice but it's where I would put my money on a circa $100 headphone amp.
A Little Bear?
Another option you all might be looking at in this price range is the Little Bear Portable Amplifier. I would warn you to stay well away from that one. The concept is a nice idea and the price is tempting but it is pure junk. The background hiss was quite unbelievable and it seemed to distort the sound source as well.
The Final Verdict: Nobsound NS08E Review
The NS08E is not necessarily a bad product but it really doesn't add much to the sound over the standard headphone out on most of my sources. You may be able to get a bit of extra volume and power out them but again most of my sources drive all my low and mid priced headphones just fine.
People wanting to get in at the ground level of tube amplifiers are better off spending a little extra and picking up a Bravo Audio V2 or skipping the tube amp thing entirely and picking up a JDS Labs 02 or similar.