GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published January 15, 2002

 

Sharp SD-NX10 Minisystem

The Sharp SD-NX10 minisystem is a versatile unit with innovative high-tech flourishes that may just make the product and its performance definitive in its category. As a standalone stereo system, the SD-NX10 includes features that are unusual in today’s marketplace. To the consumer with an ear for good sound reproduction through cutting-edge engineering, the Sharp is a great alternative to the stacks of black boxes offered by most retailers. Add  ergonomics and functionality based on consumer needs and desires, rather than bells and whistles, and you have something unique.

The profile

The SD-NX10 consists of two chassis and a pair of speakers. The main unit is a clean aluminum-clad box wider than it is deep. On the top third of its front panel is a large fluorescent display that offers a choice of seven colors. I chose dark blue because it was easy on the eyes and a nice break visually from everything else in my room. Information can be displayed in several different text-based modes, which allows the owner to configure the unit in a manner suited to the way the product will be used. Want track time? No problem. Want a peak-level meter to see how much juice you’re using? I'll pass, but it's there if you want it. Sharp obviously wants to make the SD-NX10 work for you.

Groupings of silver-colored buttons appear on the top of the unit, which control all pertinent functions. Although small, they are clearly labeled. However, they are slightly hard to read from a sitting position across the room due to their upward orientation. Fortunately, these functions are replicated on the well-designed remote control, which will seem intuitive within about an hour.

The second box, about half the width of the first but almost as heavy, houses the unit's amplifier, which we will examine shortly because it is way special. Completing the system is a pair of trapezoidal two-way speakers large enough to be taken seriously, but still small enough to be placed on a desk or bookcase. Each speaker sports two 4" mid-woofers and a 1" soft-dome tweeter. The speakers are finished in silver to match the main stereo unit, though without the brushed aluminum, they do not look quite as top-shelf. Wiring and interconnects are included in the package and appear to be a cut above the basic cords supplied with many systems. For example, the RCA connectors are metal throughout and link the power amp to the control unit with a tight grip.

The Sharp SD-NX10 is a workhorse, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at it. The unit looks super clean. It’s only when you press the Open button that the true slickness of design makes itself known. The entire top face slides back to reveal a CD slot and a mini-disc player, which can record up to 320 minutes of music. There's also an AM/FM tuner capable of storing 40 presets, if you are lucky enough to need that many. The CD is slot-fed, not unlike most mobile units.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The amplifier module uses Sharp’s 1-Bit technology, which converts analog signals into a digital signal stream generated by a seventh-order Delta-Sigma modulation A/D converter. This serves two purposes, Sharp claims. First, by processing the audio signals in the digital domain, Sharp "eliminates the sound deterioration that plagues analog amplifiers...thanks to [the SD-NX10's] ultra-high-speed sampling of 2.8MHz, which is 64-times faster than the sampling rate of a CD." Additionally, Sharp claims that digital processing of the audio signal "takes background noise out to frequencies that surpass the range of the human ear." The amp is rated at 25Wpc (into 6 ohms).

Now, I’m not going to presume to know exactly what all this means in terms of sound quality -- digital amplification is cutting-edge technology, and I had no real way to compare the SD-NX10 to a similar, but non-digital, amp. But if digital amplification is responsible for the sound quality I heard through the SD-NX10 over the last couple of months, it is a remarkable development.

1-Bit sound

The Sharp SD-NX10 sounds way smoother than I expected. Vocals were silky and free of grain. Listening to the opening seconds of Holly Cole’s "Everything I’ve Got" from the Don’t Smoke in Bed CD [Manhattan 81198] illustrates the Sharp’s ability to project a voice that has body and soulful charm. Art Avalos’ backing percussion has good texture too. The Sharp system doesn't have the visceral impact you could get with floorstanding speakers, but it delivers a sense of weight beyond what you might expect from the unit's power rating and speaker size. The drums do not lag or get boomy, which is a testament to the Sharp designers' ability to trade off quantity for quality -- always a good thing.

The treble is neither harsh nor spitty, and it lends enough detail to give cymbals and horns life and vibrancy. This was true for jazz as well as popular music. Enya’s Watermark [Reprise 9 26774], from start to finish, displayed good soundstaging and clear images, especially considering the nearfield position of my listening seat. Although close placement does necessitate a fairly small sweet spot, it’s truly remarkable that it works at all. What’s apparent is that the system is not particularly sensitive to placement, which may help it find a home in unlikely places or cramped quarters.

When I backed up from several feet to around the ten-foot mark, it became apparent that the Sharp system could fill a fairly large expanse. For a system that takes up just a little more space than a clock radio, this is good performance indeed. I say bring on the boomboxes so popular today and see whether they can pull the same rabbit out of the hat. If I'm right, "Orinoco Flow" just won't have the same magic as it does with the Sharp SD-NX10.

Upgrade path

Given the apparent quality of the Sharp 1-Bit amplification, I was extremely curious to see if the SD-NX10’s limiting factor was the speakers, and whether the Sharp system could rise to the occasion to drive a bigger system. I happened to have a pair of Axiom M3Ti bookshelf speakers on hand, so I hooked 'em up. First observation: The Sharp SD-NX10 definitely has enough power make the Axioms swing. I was shocked to hear how much power was available from the 25Wpc amplifier. It was a revelation.

The bass instantly had more weight and impact, and the treble extended farther into the outer reaches, making all the recordings I listened to sound more detailed and precise. Surprisingly, the imaging and smoothness of the midrange were not that much different than that I was able to obtain from the Sharp speakers, but the frequency extremes seemed an order of magnitude better. It wasn't subtle. The bottom line is this: The Axiom M3Ti did not reveal weaknesses in the Sharp 1-Bit digital amplifier. It showcased its strengths, making me aware that this high-quality system can be improved even further. I’m now anxious to hear the SD-SG11, a similar system with even better specs and parts, but without speakers.

The SD-NX10's strong point -- its midrange smoothness -- was ever-present with the Axioms. Listening to Andrea Bocelli’s Sacred Arias [Philips 289 462 600-2], I was able to confirm that the Sharp could sustain an incredible voice over an inspiringly broad range. "Ave Maria" was presented with the important aspects intact, which elicits an emotional response every time I listen to it.

1-Bit for a few bits

Sharp makes a series of statement-level products based on their 1-Bit digital technology. What we have here in the SD-NX10 is trickle-down magic in a system that sings. If you break down the price per component (tuner, amplifier, preamplifier, mini-disc, CD, and speakers), you have a system priced at less than $300 per component. That’s prime GoodSound! territory, folks. When you factor in that this system not only employs a bold new technological twist, but also allows for a future upgrade, how can you go wrong?

Price of equipment reviewed


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