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Avondale NCC220 vs Witch Hat Phoenix

Discussion in 'audio' started by gidders, Apr 13, 2022.

  1. gidders

    gidders hifi enthusiast, golfer & photographer

    My starting point is when my system was Linn Akurate System Hub / Linn Akurate Exaktbox with Katalyst DAC & digital crossover into a pair of Naim Olive 250s driving Naim SBLs with exakt filters created by Neil Hallworth of I have to say that it sounded really good, & much better than when I’d been using the analogue Naim SNAOX crossover powered by a supercap. If you are running an aktiv setup with a SNAXO, you owe it to yourself to hear what Linn’s exakt technology can do - amazing.

    Then about two years ago, I swapped out the standard Naim amplifier boards in my pair Olive 250s for Avondale NCC220 boards. This brought improvements all round in the areas you’d expect. Better grip on the bass lines, more detail, more separation etc while retaining all the characteristics that Naim amps are renowned for.

    Fast forward & I changed the SBLs for a pair of SL2s. I described the upgrade as if SBLs are like your young mate who is larger than life & great fun to be around, the SL2s are the person they've matured into. Something a more rounded, not quite so in your face, having bags of authority & still great fun to hang out with.


    Then I had the opportunity to compare Avondale boards to the Witch Hat Phoenix boards (see above). To be able to do a fair comparison and switch between the two, I fitted the Phoenix boards in one of my 250s, and put my system back to passive, using the Exaktbox in pass-through mode. To burn in the new boards, I left the system on 24/7 playing the radio for about a week before doing any serious listening comparison.

    I started off with the amp with the Avondale boards so I could get a feel for how the system sounded passive & then switched to the Phoenix equipped amp. The improvement was immediately apparent. It just felt as though the music had come to life and made the NCC220s, which I’d though a good improvement over the Naim standards, seem a bit pedestrian & lacklustre by comparison. Bass lines were tauter, hi-hats & cymbals shimmered & sparkled, female vocals like Eva Cassidy took on a more breathy naturalness while male vocals like Pete Alderton & John Campbell sounded more gravelly. There was greater separation between individual instruments & performers, but they still sounded like they were performing together, rather than the hifi like dissection you get with some amps. The Phoenix boards are a stunning upgrade while leaving your amps still sounding like Naim amps… only much better. Needless to say, I immediately converted my second 250 over & restored my system to Aktiv Exakt operation… OMG!

    If you’ve got standard Naim boards, or Avondale boards, you owe it to yourself to try the Witch Hat Phoenix boards – you will not be disappointed.
    Linus, Salamander, Weekender and 2 others like this.
  2. say it as it is

    say it as it is pfm Member

    How much are the phoenix boards then and would they suit a DIY build like the Avondale boards do?
  3. JezmondTutu

    JezmondTutu pfm Member

    Les has improved boards too though in the form of Qudos and NCC300.
    vicdiaz likes this.
  4. gidders

    gidders hifi enthusiast, golfer & photographer

    They are normally £400 for DIY fit but they've got a launch/Easter sale on atm

    I don't know but as they are a direct replacement for the Naim boards like the Avondales, I guess so
  5. gidders

    gidders hifi enthusiast, golfer & photographer

    The NCC220 boards are Qudos boards so the Phoenix is comfortably better than those IMHO.

    I've not heard NCC300 but I don't think they are available ready built for home fitting?
    JezmondTutu likes this.
  6. Seochris

    Seochris Well-Known Member

    Great review. Very thorough and well thought out. Well done. So nice to have a detailed and very positive review about something you’ve just bought…
    gidders likes this.
  7. say it as it is

    say it as it is pfm Member

    Thanks got the email today as well, hard to justify the cost when I have new unused ncc220 sitting here
  8. gidders

    gidders hifi enthusiast, golfer & photographer

    You could sell your NCC220 for probably £250 plus so the Phoenix would effectively cost you just £90... And they are at least £90 better IMHO
  9. vicdiaz

    vicdiaz Just another analog freak...

    Hmmm, never thought of using Naim amps in my Exakt system. Need two Olive 250s though, already got one in my office system.
    gidders likes this.
  10. iainsteele

    iainsteele Member

    Is the price 340/400 for one or two boards? It’s hard to tell from the website.
  11. say it as it is

    say it as it is pfm Member

    I think it's for a pair
    gidders likes this.
  12. gidders

    gidders hifi enthusiast, golfer & photographer

    A pair
  13. gidders

    gidders hifi enthusiast, golfer & photographer

    What power amps are you using at the moment? And what's the rest of your system?
  14. MJS

    MJS Technical Tinkerer

    Nice write up Clive.
    It echoes my experience of the change from NCCs and Phoenixes. At first you really lose the immersive 3d 'Hi-Fi' experience the NCCs give you - they're very good at this and it's definitely one of the strengths of the Avondale sound. The Phoenixes, I find, compare to the best of the old Naim BD amps. Very fluid and tidy presentation with everything in its place.
    tonyw1, martin dawson and gidders like this.
  15. vicdiaz

    vicdiaz Just another analog freak...

    I was using a loaned Linn Majik Exaktbox-I but had to return it. Pre is a Akurate Exakt DSM with a pair of AV5140s. Also have a Linn AV5125 and some LK140s laying around. The NAP 250 is installed in my home office system with a NAC102/Avondale TPX and Linn Keilidhs.
  16. OzBrit Audio

    OzBrit Audio Active Member

    Hi there

    Thanks for much for the review

    I have some Avondale NCC220's and was really interested in what you had to say comparing the two boards.

    There are many on this forum who would not think that original NAP circuit could be pushed to the level you described (I'm not doubting your review here) having gone through the NCC200 and then NCC220, the later being considered better than NCC200 which is based on the original NAP design.

    From a technical perspective I can see with the Witchhat boards that they have been through a revision. The front end power supply looks like it has improved filtering with some form of inductor before the capacitor multiplier circuit. This is probably a better solution than Avondale simple diode resistor cap filter on the 200's and 220's. I also like the the output transistors which are 40A devices as opposed the 20A ones used in the 200's and 220's. Of course the latter has fully complementary outputs which many consider better than the quasi simple of the NAP design (although the late Julian Vereker would strongly disagree). I also like the choice of capacitor in the feedback loop which should be better the Wet Tantalums used in the Avondale boards.

    Anyway, apart from the technical breakdown of the two approaches, I am very interested in purchasing a pair of the Witchhats so I'm hoping you might just provide a little more detail on how you you think they are better.

    The 220's in my experience are excellent in providing a very wide sound stage and on illuminating the top end detail. The Witchhats from what I can gather don't provide quite such a wide enveloping sound stage but the stage presentation is more defined. So I'm guessing that each intrument/vocalist is better placed, easier to follow, better overall cohesion? Would you say the sound stage more 3 dimensional with the Witchhats?

    Bass is also better defined from what I can gather?

    This is what I can gather from what I've read on here and other forums. Is that the gist of it?

  17. S-Man

    S-Man Kinkless Tetrode Admirer

    Looks lika another variation on a theme, as you say. However I can't see a cap mulitplier on the board.

    Maybe somebody with NCC2x0s can try substituting the RCs with inductors for the front end rails? I expect it provides a lower impedance supply at audio frequencies.
    It would be interesting to see what sort of difference this makes to the sound.

    I only have the NCC300s so this option is not in play.
  18. OzBrit Audio

    OzBrit Audio Active Member

    I can see a transistor, resistor, 2 caps ion each side of the front end power supply rails so I'm assuming a cap multiplier in effect. In front I see a small choke. My deductions are all from the online pictures not a schema.

    But apart from the power supply filtering the Witchhat seems exactly as per the original NAP scheme. 470pf caps, 22K resistor on TR2 not the 22pf or 1k tweaks as found on the avondale boards.

    The output transistors are 40A BDY21 not the 20A MJ15003. I would guess the former would provide a lift. Apparently the BDY20's now obsolete were considered the best for the NAPA boards.

    Am tempted to buy a couple as I have two amplifier builds on the go at the moment. They are not badly priced and discounted until the end of today. Currently I'm running NCC220's but am tempted to retrofit these to NCC300 standards and make my second build using the Witchhats.
  19. say it as it is

    say it as it is pfm Member

    stupid question these suitable for a diy build it was going to be ncc220 but these seem very well reviewed only difference be the smaller spades?
  20. tpetsch

    tpetsch pfm Member

    All these posts talking about the sound or about specific components used and how they are arranged is very interesting information but amount to a hill of beans if the end result negatively effects the tune.
    Avon and Seochris like this.

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