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JVC AX-Z1010TN - Review

Discussion in 'classic' started by flatpopely, Feb 8, 2015.

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  1. flatpopely

    flatpopely Prog Rock/Moderator

    JVC AX-Z1010TN Digital Reference Integrated Amplifier SuperDIGIFINE – A Review

    Let me state that for those who think long reviews are just self-gratification, you better stop now.
    Also it may make uncomfortable reading for those wedded to their NAIM amplifiers!

    A bit of history:-
    I have been a lover of NAIM amplification for as long as I can remember and I always aspired to own some. My amplifier path took me from a NAD3020 to an Onix OA21 (preferred a NAIT1 in a demo but could not afford it) and then to a NAC92/FlatCAP/NAP90.3; my first rung on the NAIM ladder.

    I will be honest that I had not really ever considered other amps even though ironically my friend back in the day had a new JVC AX-1 which I always liked although he replaced it with a NAC45.5/NAP110. I never though other amps were bad it’s just that NAIM seemed to tick all the boxes for me every time I heard their equipment, I do like PRaT and let’s face it NAIM do that in spades.

    Later on I got a NAIM NAC72 and changed the internal cards ending up with the RSL transform kit which moved the sound into a different place than standard NAIM boards. The NAP90.3 was replaced by a ZAP250, the original and ‘naimed’ (sic) by me! This was replaced by some mint NAP135s and that’s how my system has been for a few years. The rest of the system is an LP12 with ARO and Linn ASAKA and a short lived but wonderful RubiKon sub chassis, moving the air is a pair of mint Linn SARAs.

    Almost a year ago I saw a JVC AX-3 on eBay and ever since seeing my mates AX-1 and liking what it did sound wise I have had a soft spot for them, I bid and won it for £16 and forgot I had won it!
    I was looking through my eBay account a few weeks back and noticed I had not been to pick up the amp so about 4 weeks ago I went to pick it up…………and so it began!

    JVC AX-3 tatty version:-
    So I got it back home and plugged it in, it was a bit tired but worked, although some of the pots could do with cleaning.


    I was genuinely shocked by the SQ though! It had the same kind of dynamics as the NAIM but with a sweetness to the treble and a lack of upper mid hardness that allowed more detail to be heard. Digital, CD (ARCAM Delta 70.3) and streaming from my PC was very much better with the aforementioned improvements writ large; I stared to listen to CDs again after 10+ years ignoring them in deference to vinyl. I was really enjoying what it did and it even drove the SARAs without tripping out. There was only one problem, it looked like crap and there was no way I could live with it so I did a HiFi Shark search and found a minter on Gumtree for sale in London, which luck would have it I was visiting in a couple of days. I contacted the seller and arranged to pick it up for £70.
    After a very painful journey from Kingston to Crystal Palace, almost 2 hours, I arrived at the sellers’ house and pick up the amp.

    JVC AX-3 ‘mint’ version:-
    So the seller turned out to be a charming chap who collects vintage hi-fi. It’s obvious he loves it as his living room and a collection of big old school amps and cassette decks, lovely!
    He showed me the amp and I packed it up and arrived home a couple of days later and plugged it in:-


    One can’t have to many AX-3s……….


    Great condition with just a few marks on the top:-



    Even clean inside:-

    I checked the bias and all was good, I settled down to some serious listening. I was yet again struck by the lack of upper mid hardness and the level of detail revealed. Vinyl needed one notch of treble to add a bit of sparkle (tone controls, yes really!) and the ASAKA sounded great. I put on my reference* records and they both sounded superb, as good if not slightly better than the NAIM.
    I could not quite believe it myself but there was no denying what I heard in my system, the AX-3 had bettered a pretty serious contemporary NAIM setup for £70.
    There was one flaw though, my SARAs pushed it too hard at high volumes. As I turned it loud the sound started to compress a bit and gained some hardness to it, a sure sign it was struggling although it never once tripped out. Hmm, what has more power than an AX-3 from the range? A search on the net suggested an AX-7 or 9 but these seemed to be rarer than hen’s teeth! I turned to Hi-Fi Shark again and bingo…………………………………!!!!!!!!!

    JVC AX-Z1010TN (TN is for ‘titanium’):-
    For sale on Gumtree, again, was an AX-Z1010 located in Manchester and in ‘as new’ condition. This was Saturday night so I spent some time researching it and it ticked every box! 100W of Super-A power specifically designed to drive loads a slow as 2ohms! A few emails later and I agreed to come over with cash on the Sunday. I drove over a very cold and snowy M62 and arrived at the house to pick up the amp from a Chinese guy who hardly spoke any English but his son translated for us and his mum came down to see what was going on and smiled at my daughter Abigail. That’s two sets of lovely people I have met in recent hi-fi journey times.
    The amp was a near new as it’s possible to be for something that’s been out of the box, I was very, very excited. I drove home and plugged it in………………OMG!


    It was awesome, better in every way then the AX-3!
    I have run it for a week and given it a good clean (subject of another thread) but for now just look at the pics showing the quality of the build:-




    Doing some research suggested this was JVC top of the line Amp at the time of its release in 1989 at the sum of £820, about £2k today. It contains a number of clever design touches including the Super-A circuit that tries to make it operate in Class-A for much of the time and the K2 digital interface.

    Some info about the technology is here:-
    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/master/mbrs/r...nuals/JVC Super Digifine Hi-Fi Components.pdf

    It is also built with a proper power supply employing a large transformer and two high spec 18000uf reservoir caps. The whole thing seems designed with SQ in mind not price as you can see from the pictures.

    So how does it sound? Well I will say it here now, it is better than the NAIM in every single way, so much so I will be selling the NAIM gear soon. Its ability to drive the SARAs loud, in fact beyond what is comfortable, is in itself a great asset but that fact it does so with such detail and sweetness is just so convincing. IT has analogue and digital inputs and I will describe them individually.

    The AX-Z1010TN has optical and coax digital inputs. I connected the output of my SoundBlaster Xi-Fi HD to input 1 using and optical cable (£10 from Maplin). This is to get sound from my PC into the amp. I connected my CD player into input 2 using a coax cable.
    There is the ability to select ‘DA CONVERTOR DIRECT’ when listening to a digital input this bypasses much processing and sends the input to the power amp by the shortest path. I uses this al the time because it does genuinely improve the sound, most noticeably in soundstage, the instruments sound more defined with this selected.


    Listening to CDs is a whole revelation to me know. The lack of hardness to the sound is amazing in comparison to what I was used to. Cymbals have a dainty shimmer to them and a note structure whereas before they were just steely crash! Mid-range allows fine detail through on DCD ‘Oman’ the handclaps are easy to hear and well defined. The tympani drums at the beginning have more impact and are more of a note than a low rumble as they were before. As things get busy it’s still easy to hear the hand shaker and the inflection in the bongos……..wonderful!
    Moving onto a SBM version of Pink Floyds ‘Wish You Were Here’ was a revelation, I have never hear some much detail ever on it! When Dave Gilmour is getting ready for the acoustic guitar section I could always hear him breathing and clearing his throat but now you could hear him moving on his chair and other small details – better than listening to it on vinyl I have to say!

    Using my PC to reply some downloads I have (Suzanne Vega and Fiona McKenzie) showed the same thing. A wonderful timbre to all notes where before there was attack and no noise but not much in the way of tonal quality. I tried at 44 KHz and 48 KHz and I could here zero difference. I have left it on 48 KHz as it’s nice to see it in the display!

    The amp has in inbuilt MM/MC phono amplifier and looking at the circuit it’s quite posh using some components that were designed for a high and phono stage! It is very much quieter than the NAIM. In fact you have to turn the volume high before you can actually hear any hiss through the speakers.

    Playing my default Tom Robinson ‘The Wedding’ I was struck by the different presentation the JVC gives. His voice is less projected but actually has more detail in it. The breathing at the beginning was easier to hear and the bass guitar had note shape all the way through the track!
    Half way through there is a slid and a slap on the bass guitar and this was portrayed as two individual items.
    The presentation is very different to the NAIM on vinyl though as it appears to have less attack but I think it’s actually the lack of upper mid boost that makes it appear so. There is no lack of PRaT and it really slams out drums with no compression even at really, really loud levels.

    Until you have remote control you don’t know you need it, that’s all I’ll say. It’s also nice to have an inbuilt headphone amp, it sounds pretty good too; better than my Project HeadBoxII.

    For me now in m y system and room the AX-Z1010TN does a better job at digital and vinyl replay than my NAIM gear. It may not have the cache of my NAIM gear but in all honesty there is nothing the NAIM gear does as well as the the JVC.
    For £230 it was an absolute steal!



  2. Arkless Electronics

    Arkless Electronics Trade: Amp design and repairs.

    It doesn't surprise me one bit. The JVC is light years ahead of Naim in terms of electronic engineering integrity and sophistication!
  3. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

    Very nice write-up Andrew. I'm still in a state of shock reading this stuff but good on you!

    From the pictures it looks like the digital bored is completely screened off from the rest of the amp which is a nice touch.

    I think one key factor with older Japanese kit is the access to parts these manufacturers had not usually available to smaller companies without massive investment.
    Therefore a specific amplifier is conceived from the ground up with great potential for bespoke design.

    Didn't realise the 1010TN had a MC stage so another bonus.

    I wouldn't rush to sell the Naim though Andrew. If you feel the same way in 2-3 months then fine.

    WRT the AX models, you'll struggle to pay more than £100 for these (up to AX-5) in good condition and with a loudspeaker less demanding than a Sara (i.e. most) they are a serious bargain at the moment. Glad I nabbed one before the prices increase.
  4. Gaius

    Gaius Trade: Stiletto by Tangerine

    Can't wait to get mine, should be this week, will it drive Briks I wonder?

    Andrew, you may have set started a trend!
  5. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

    If it drives Saras it should be a stroll with Briks :)
  6. flatpopely

    flatpopely Prog Rock/Moderator

    Indeed, I suspect the AX-3 would still be in place had I not have SARAs.

    Glad I do though as the AX-3 is superb but the AX-Z1010 is better!
  7. flatpopely

    flatpopely Prog Rock/Moderator

    The thing is there are loads of posh jap amps out there! I've just tried one and its stunning.........I bet some of the SONY amps are pretty special too, and then there is Pioneer, Trio, Technics etc.

    The JVC just does it for me though as I love its SQ, especially on digital, and clean looks, plus it's mint!
  8. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

  9. flatpopely

    flatpopely Prog Rock/Moderator

  10. Gromit

    Gromit Plasticine Dog

    Naaah...they're rubbish ;)

    <hopes ES amps don't go up in price too much>

    To throw something else in - I had an Inca Tech Claymore a few years ago, in itself a very fine amp of the typical British mimimalist integrated ilk. Mine was a virtually spotless example of the breed too. Sounded great, and I had no real desire to change it for a while. A friend of mine started harping on about Sony's ES gear though so I took a punt on a nice 670ES (with matching tuner which I still have) which cost me just over 100 quid.

    I put it into the system and from stone cold it was a proper 'er...hang on this can't be right' moment. Years of anti-Jap-amp prejudice wiped out in an instant. The Claymore was up for sale the following day, and once it was gone I didn't miss it, not one tiny bit. The 770ES is even better. :)
  11. flatpopely

    flatpopely Prog Rock/Moderator

    700 and 770 look nice!

    A massive strength of the 1010 is the K2 digital interface, it makes 1s and 0s sound like real music! In many ways I prefer it to vinyl.
  12. jackbarron

    jackbarron Chelsea, London

    Hi Andrew,

    Great write-up. I went to Rob's yesterday to pick up my Quad 405-2, which he has serviced and updated. I certainly recommend him to people with Quad gear.

    While I was there, Rob kindly did a demo for me of his ESL 63s, using a JVC A-X4. The amp powered the speakers quite easily, although it did get near its peak on a reggae tune with the volume turned up loud.

    Funnily enough the bass, as well as general sound reproduction and separation, on the ESL 63s was great with the JVC A-X4, so I can understand why you have gone down the this route.

    Rob mentioned that you had bought the 1010TN and were now thinking about getting rid of your Naim gear. I went through a similar thing when I bought an EAR V20 integrated valve amp a few years ago.

    At the moment I am building a Quad based system, but in future I can see room for a JVC or Pioneer unit.

  13. PaulMB

    PaulMB pfm Member

    I too, having had Naim stuff for about 20 years, have recently strated picking up old Jap amps in flea markets. Average price 10 Euro, in the 25 - 40 watt range. Some sound a bit muffled, some a bit metallic, but many are amazing! Or rather, not amazing, but quite comparable to the Naims.
    So, 30 years down the line, we all suddenly realise that all the "Jap crap" we loathed in 1988, that we would have preferred to ritaully disembowel ourselves rather than having on our shelf, was often quite as good, sometimes better, than those grim, dark boxes made by little groups of gnomes in forest clearings in the UK.
  14. istari_knight

    istari_knight pfm Member

    Sony equivalent [with DAC] would be TA-F630ESD, Technics had the SU-V90D & SU-MA10, Kenwood had the DA-9010, Denon the PMA-890D, Sansui the AU-α999DG, Marantz the PM-95, Onkyo the A-817XD, Yamaha the AX-700D & Pioneer the A-90D.

    All dating from between 87-92... Suffice to say, the Japanese were 20 years ahead of the competition ! ... Just a shame many are limited to 16bit/48KHz though some argue hi-res is pointless anyway.
  15. Gaius

    Gaius Trade: Stiletto by Tangerine

    This is very good news indeed!

    I will now take them out of their boxes and get some cables from Mark Grant.

    An interesting week lies ahead.

    I'll be back with my findings. :)

    Maybe a powerhouse of an amp is what we all need.

    I do also like the flexibility, A+B speakers, RC etc.
  16. Nick_G

    Nick_G pfm Member

    Well if tuners are anything to go by that's why I like Japanese hifi. They tend to be pretty reliable and the good ones can sound fantastic. They are often good value for money on the used market too.

    I'm not surprised that JVC AX-Z1010TN is a good amp as the matching tuner gets a very good write-up on the Tuner Information Center. On that basis I would expect the Sansui AU-X911DG to be a killer amp too. The Denon PMA-1500 might be worth a look too.

  17. ff1d1l

    ff1d1l pfm Member

    Many thanks for an interesting and informative appraisal. Read with interest, then filed away as one to keep an eye open for;)

    Is K" some proprietary data transfer method, and if so, were you able to try it? Or does it require a K2 enabled cd?


    Just read the technical sheet you linked to. So you'll be on the lookout for the matching cd too now....
  18. Hottuna

    Hottuna pfm Member

    This is a very interesting article and great to hear such open mindedness.
    I had for a long time a Denon PMA850 and then decided to sell it and go for Naim and after much research ended up with the Naim bolt together setup.

    A bolt together Nac32 pre-amp with the Naim preamp power supply housed in a naim 12 sized case (never seen one like it) and Nap160 power amp. Comparing the Denon to the Naim setup there was little to choose from in sound quality. A different sound the mid upfront sound from the Naim and over a longer period a little disappointing. By chance or luck I replaced the Naim 321 cards with Avondale Audio 321 cards, what an amazing transformation, the Naim system became much more like the old Denon PMA850 in presentation with so much more detail, depth.

    Some may say that its not the classic Naim sound with the new Avondale 321 cards but, I much prefer it, and I can go back to the original Naim sound by inserting the original cards. I did this last night. The original Naim 321 cards were inserted, stayed in the pre amp for a few minutes and removed, the sound was to my ears a massive retrograde step. It was PANTS!

    The Avondale 321 cards have gone back in and I am happy again but this article has got me thinking, do I sell the Naim setup and get a Technics SU8600 or SU8080? Will this just be a change for change sake?
  19. istari_knight

    istari_knight pfm Member

    Don't get a SU-8600 whatever you do… They look cool but are a bit naff ! SU-8080 is good though, as are SU-V8 & SU-V9.

    The much later SU-A900II is quite underrated too IMO.
  20. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

    The V6 - V9 are excellent and nicely made with good phono stages.
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