SBS Designs S1
The hardest thing about having NS-10M Studios, aside from an exhausting listening experience, is picking the right power amp. I had a chance to demo an SBS Designs S1 for a few weeks and found it interesting how big of a difference a power amplifier can make on your speakers.
SBS Designs operates out of New Jersey and was founded by Craig Bernabeu in 2001. They do HiFi installations and have their own amps, isolators, and a unique tube processor. Their line of amplification includes the Series M mono block amplifiers and the Series S stereo amplifiers. For the last few years SBS Designs Series S have been making replacing the power for studio main monitors like Augspurgers. The S1, as recommended by SBS, is for tweeters, compression drivers, and bookshelf type speakers. Performance specs are 65 watts per channel @ 8 ohms, Class AB output with a 10 Hz-100 kHz frequency response. I decided to give this one a try over the 125watt S2 and the 275watt S3 because my current amp is a Bryston 2B.
The front of the panel has to steel hands (presumably to protect the power switch or to help carry in out of racks), a nice big power switch, and 3 pairs of LEDs to indicate output level: Ready, Active, Max Out(clipping). The rear is surprisingly clean and simple: a really big heat sink, two XLR line inputs, knob-less gain pots, recessed banana connectors for speaker out, AC input, and a reset button for the thermal/current sensing circuit breaker. The circuit breaker is a good idea since, to have amp be suited for a recording studio environment, it is without a cooling fan or a built limiter.
Getting it out of the box and racked was easy enough. The unit itself weighs just a bit over 15lbs and the handles on the front help keep it steady while I screwed it in. Turned it on and started listening to music. The highs on the NS-10s opened up quite a bit and the bump on the 2kHz crossover smoothed out. With earlier NS-10s this would probably prompt a user to do the tissue trick but since my pair are the studio version its not a problem. I turned on a few go to tracks that I am most familiar with and noticed things like distortions, reverbs, and noise that I hadn’t noticed before. The response from mid to high revealed detail that I was previously missing. This would probably be due the 10 Hz-100 kHz frequency response and 100v/us slew rate giving it greater definition and transients. The lows were much tighter than the Bryston. The NS10M Studios, being a closed-cabinet, need high wattage and damping to get more out of the lows. Engineers will go with an amp that is 100watts or more per channel to get the lows to come out more and make sure the signal is above distortion. An SBS Designs S2, which is 125watts per channel @8ohms, would better drive the low end. Hooking the S1 up to a less stubborn speaker like the ProAc Studio 100s or Alesis Monitor1 MKII that have a ported design will give a complete sound from low to high. For my personal use the S1 worked just fine since I listen to the NS-10s at a strictly whisper quiet level and with these high end amps you don’t have to worry as much about low level distortion burning your voice coils.
At the end of the three weeks of using the SBS Designs S1 I came to listen more to my NS-10s. Mixes were translating and I could work long hours without fatigue. The S1 gave me more detail and a comfortable listening experience than my current amp, which by comparison sounded like it had holes in the upper-mids and sluggish overall. I would recommend an S2 for NS-10 users to get the detail on top and the wattage for the low end.