The Vista Spark is exactly what the audiophile world needs: a small, no-frills, no-nonsense, high quality and affordable integrated amplifier. Spark is super basic in functionality, you get two stereo analog inputs, but no digital inputs or even a remote control. Spark's prime directive is all about maximizing sound quality, and it does that very well.
Build quality is decent enough for a $349, £251 or AU$437 component, but you'll get no bragging rights when your audiophile pals drop by and spot the Spark parked in your audio system. Ah, but when they listen their ears will perk up as the Spark proves once again you should never judge a component with your eyes. The most amazing thing about the Spark's design is that it uses Class AB, not Class D circuitry, and most of my favorite amps are Class AB designs. Catch is, AB amps usually sell for a lot more than the Spark, it's something of a bargain.
I just happened to have my Magnepan .7 speakers set up when I unboxed the Spark, and frankly I didn't expect the amp to sound all that great with the .7s. They're rather power hungry beasts, and the Spark squeezes out just 20 watts per channel for 4-ohm and 8-ohm speakers, but the sound was "relaxed," there was no hardness or edge, and that's a good thing. Spark's chassis runs cool to the touch, even when I cranked the volume over the .7s. Before I forget to mention it, the Spark is made in Serbia, and it comes with a two-year warranty.
Getting down to business I mostly used a set ofspeakers for my listening sessions. That pairing made more sense than the .7s, the B1's sound was agreeably transparent, with clear nicely defined bass, and dynamics were lively.
For comparisons I brought out my 40 watt per channel Swiss Army Man" film soundtrack that features massed and heavily layered vocals: they soar, chant and swoop with abandon. The C 316BEE was no slacker, but it was a little more mechanical/uptight sounding than the freewheeling Spark. The B1 was a great match, but I wish I had a set of speakers on hand, I'm guessing they would really sing with the Spark.($380, £279, AU$529) stereo integrated amp, and it sounded more powerful, punchy while including more bass. The Spark's sweeter, more transparent midrange was the star attraction with the "
The C 316BEE's low-end was more filled out with the B1, but the Spark's bass was clearer and better defined. So was everything else, the Spark is a higher resolution amp. More than that the Spark has something harder to pin down, something that had me coming back to listen long after I finished writing this review. The C 316BEE has more inputs, and a remote control! Still, neither amp has digital inputs, thewould be a fine match with either amp.
As for the C 316BEE, it's also a Class AB design, but all of NAD's newer amps are Class D, which I like less. I have a feeling the C 316BEE will eventually be phased out, so get 'em while you can. It's a great amp and a terrific value.
The Vista Spark is petite, just 11 by 5.3 by 2.6 inches (280 by 135 by 65 mm), so it's ideal for desktop system use, or maybe a small bedroom or kitchen music system. I'm really smitten by this little guy, but I'm attracted to simple, easy-to-use products. If that strikes your fancy, the Spark might be good for you too.