Category Archives: Amplifier

NAD C 165BEE and C 275BEE

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NAD C 165BEE / C 275BEE – “If sonic muscularity and outright scale are important to you, buy this NAD pairing. We can’t think of another amplifier at this price level that delivers so much authority with such ease”.

FOR

Sonic muscle, authority and scale; [good] feature list; well-judged presentation.

VERDICT

A likeable brute of an amplifier. For those who want plenty of sonic muscle without having to sacrifice subtlety too much.

M2 Direct Digital Amplifier: Ruthless and stunning!

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In its special collector’s edition Yearbook 2010, Hi-Fi News magazine hails our M2 Direct Digital Amplifier as “A revelation in almost every audio respect… sets new standards at the price… it is as ruthless as it is stunning.” This roundup to the year’s most impressive products also bestows the M2 with a Hi-Fi News Editor’s Choice honour.

To download the Yearbook review, click here
To read the full M2 review from May 2010, click here

Hi-Fi News -The digital amplifier coming of age

M2 Direct Digital Amplifier

I find it very odd that the M2 is the most technically advanced and subjectively successful digital amplifier yet to grace my listening room. Until recently, right now in fact, NAD was not a company likely to spring to mind for its cutting edge technical innovation. The brand saw me through my penniless student days with a host of hi-fi products that majored on simplicity, great value and a remarkable immunity to spilt beer. But the M2 is very different. It is an end-to-end digital amplifier producing over 250W per channel and offering a technical performance that evidently sets it apart at the price.

MAKING WAVES

The story starts some four years ago with the creation of an innovative’wave-form’ amp by US company, Diodes Zetex Semiconductors. Talk ensued between Zetex and NAD, culminating in a collaborative architecture development at Zetex’s UK-based R&D facility in Lancashire’s very own silicon valley. Well, Oldham actually. From CD’s 44kHz/16-bit signals through to off-server 192kHz/24-bit high-resolution audio the signal remains in the digital domain with all controls happening in DSP. Even the final analogue output to speakers is a gain by-product of the PWM switch-mode output stage rather than a conventional DAC. The M2 is not an evolution of the classic 3010, it’s a revolution in amplifier design.

Understandably the M2 has more digital inputs than analogue ones. Consider the average CD-transport, DAC, preamp and power amp set-up. Along the signal path there are an incredible number of state and voltage changes, DACs, op-amps, filters and output transformers, each adding some sort of signature and a lot of noise to the mix. Conversely, feed the M2 a PCM signal via S/PDIF or an AES/EBU output from a transport or, arguably better still, a server and the signal remains in a single state until the output. The result is spectacular technical specs and a noise floor that is seriously and unnervingly low. Play digital silence from a test CD at the M2’s max volume setting and you’ll hear nothing from the speakers – even with your ear pressed close to the tweeter. It is surreal.

The build quality, fascia display and day-to-day operation is everything we have come to expect from a £5k integrated amplifier. It is weighty, solid and high-end looking with only the unusual selection of terminals along the back to mark its unique design. It even gets quite toasty warm in use. On the analogue side there is just one pair of RCA stereo connections and one balanced XLR pair, both of which are immediately converted to PCM.

On the digital connectivity side you get an XLR AES/EBU bus and five S/PDIF inputs, two electrical and three optical, and an S/PDIF output of each flavour. As S/PDIF is pure-play PCM, those hoping to feed the M2 with a DSD stream from an SACD player are out of luck.

The two sets of 4mm banana plug binding posts are gold-plated with their fashionable clear-plastic bodies offering wings to aid wrenching home onto spades or bare wire. In a world where custom install and multi-room commands a lot of the high-end business, the M2’s back panel is equipped with an RS232 control port, 12V triggers and an IR remote connection.

For party animals NAD’s soft clipping mode can be switched on from the back panel to reduce current as the amp approaches distortion.

OFF THE MENU

The front is no less well-appointed with an array of buttons along the fascia for direct source select and menu access, and a large blue two-line display that can be dimmed if not turned off completely. At it’s dimmest it is unobtrusive in a darkened room, which is more than can be said for the laser-like blue power LED that draws the eye like a super-nova. The display itself shows input source, volume level and input signal sampling frequency – although the latter frustratingly disappears a second or two after source selection.

The handset is very much old-skool NAD-dull with chunky and translucent rubberised buttons that look like they should be back-lit but aren’t. The brushed aluminium top trim does elevate it above the plastic OEM parts-bin stuff but considering Unison Research can create a remote of substance and beauty for the £1300 Unico II integrated, the NAD’s unit is far from special.

More annoyingly still, the handset’s ‘Menu’ button is actually one of the controls included for other Masters Series products and pointedly refuses to allow entry to the M2’s menus.

On the plus side, the remote volume is responsive and the gain is nicely paced (continuous speed, non accelerating) in 0.5dB steps taking about eight seconds from mute to max. This is mirrored on the main volume knob, offering a well-weighted three turns lock to lock.

Crawling over to the rack to access the menu button on the fascia is a pain. Once in the menus you can adjust for speaker impedance, input level trim on a source-by-source basis, polarity of the balanced XLR connection and upsampling rate from direct-input mode to 192kHz. The fascia buttons are suitably firm but each has its own ‘click’ noise, varying from solid and positive on the far left to alarmingly tinny and accompanied by an uninspiring metallic twang on the far right. This indicates something not particularly well secured or damped mechanically and I can’t help thinking that the same item will be vibrating in tune with some upper-mid frequencies in use.

As the overall build quality is top notch, the buttons and remote let the side down on a five grand amp. Perhaps you can take the brand out of the budget market but not completely take the budget market out of the brand?

SOUND OF SILENCE

Although these issues soon become a moot point, because the M2 is the most exciting integrated I have listened to by a country mile. Frighteningly dynamic, immensely detailed, astoundingly neutral and graced with a musical articulation that compares favourably with pre/power combos costing many times the asking price. Digital amplification has come of age.

The first quality you hear of the M2 is its silence. Simply getting your ears used to the lack of background hiss is quite an experience and one that will have you setting the volume way, way too high before the music starts. Shoot me now for ever writing that an amp offered ‘inky black silences’ – they were all rather grey and wishy-washy by comparison.

Suddenly the recorded noise floor becomes prevalent, all those re-mastered ’70s and ’80s CDs showing their analogue heritage as clear as day. Even with modern discs, little hiccups and artefacts of the recording process are laid bare to analyse and ropy pressings are given no quarter at all. Harsh recordings sound harsh, grainy recordings sound grainy and flat recordings sound flat. The M2 is as simple and as ruthless as that. Of course, this accuracy is not achieved by a low noise floor alone and is testament to the M2’s fabulous resolution of detail across the spectrum from its potent and expressive bass to its smoothly extended top end.

LET’S RIP…

After some convoluted high-tech shenanigans (and several calls to our resident audio server guru Keith Howard) I ripped Eleanor McEvoy’s Yola stereo SACD to a NAS Drive in 96/24 and outputted it via a quality PC-sound card as electrical S/PDIF to the M2… where the signal is upscaled to 192kHz. But this digital faffery really does not seem to affect performance as the results are spectacular, presenting an absolute showcase for all the M2’s abilities.

The first keyboard notes of track one, ‘I Got You To See Me Through’, emerge dramatically from the cavernous silence offering a immediate rush of hi-fi wow-factor dynamics. By track two, ‘Isn’t It Late’, the opening drum sequence shows the M2’s bass as incredibly tight and articulate with a depth that no integrated has the right to plumb. The bottom end has an addictive combination of dryness, textural detail and sheer scale that is so very rare in audio equipment without mortgage-size price tickets. It urges you to dial in volume to really feel the transient attack, whereupon the M2 rewards such behaviour with simply more of everything. The balance, scale and dynamics simply increase linearly without a hint of tonal-change – which is quite strange if you are used to listening to analogue transistor amps. Such is the cleanliness of the high-gain performance you will almost certainly find yourself listening at much higher levels than usual.

By ‘Did I Hurt You’ the M2 brings forth its analytical talents, ruthlessly exposing the over-saturated recording of the tracks’ harder hit piano notes. I know this track intimately but I suddenly felt my warm and cuddly feeling towards its emotional charms being diminished by an urge to shoot the recording engineer. In fact, by the time I had listened to the entire SACD I could tell that it was recorded at either two different times or even in two different studios. There are a number of subtle balance changes and differing levels of recorded hiss between tracks, something I had never noticed before despite playing this disc through probably 50 different amplifiers. Wow. No, really, wow.

TIME TO REFLECT

Playing the same disc through my Sony SCD1 affords direct A/B/C comparison between digital, single-ended RCA and balanced input, and the results proved interesting. Switching to either of the analogue sources immediately added a thickening in the upper bass that congested the mix, accompanied by a subtle reduction in imaging width.

This reflects on everything from the CD player’s DACs and type/length of analogue interconnect to the M2’s ADCs, and made no sense at all. This is a digital amp and the analogue inputs are pure legacy fitment, perhaps for an outboard RIAA stage. Otherwise, don’t go there, the M2 offers so much more with a digital input.

Which leaves me reflecting on the M2 as an overall product. There is no denying its stunning analytical abilities and ultra-flat balance but I do wonder if some might not prefer a more rose-tinted presentation. The very top of McEvoy’s voice has a level of natural sibilance that is quite prevalent if you hear her live, and the M2 doesn’t hold back in exposing that on her recordings. Likewise a romp through my AC/DC back catalogue on CD reveals the brightness and splashiness in every recording with merciless precision, somewhat detracting from this classic rock’s fun demeanour. Back In Black sounded great but I never found myself wanting to wind up the volume, drink Super Strength lager and stage dive off the sofa. Happens all the time usually.

Don’t get me wrong, this I not a bright or forward-sounding amp. Its lack of coloration and sheer resolution throughout the top end bring every note into stark relief – even the ones that might have been better left rolled off or swamped by other frequencies. For that reason I suspect the M2 will absolutely polarise opinion. If you are a fan of vinyl character and tube amplifier warmth then the M2 will hold all the appeal of root canal surgery. If you like your hi-fi dynamic, analytical and, above all, accurate, then start saving for an M2 as there is nothing else like it at the price.

VERDICT

The M2 is the first digital amplifier I have listened to, but the best integrated amplifier – period. A revelation in almost every audio respect, its accuracy, dynamics, instrumental separation and detail resolution set new standards at the price. Revealing epiphanal micro-detailing and recording rubbish in equal measure, it is as ruthless as it is stunning. NAD can be proud of this digital engineering triumph.

Source

C 390DD Paves Way for Digital Revolution By Janne Van Rompaey

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Audiovideo2day experienced the introduction of the Class D amp. It all started with Ice Power modules, developed by Bang&Olufsen. That caused a revolution. Not exactly on the consumer market, but rather the internal one. An amplifier, as big as a fat computer chip, that can deliver the power of a rough 500 Watts. Wow! Later on, names such as Tact Audio, NuForce, Lyngdorf Audio and other appeared… In the latter stages of development, the point was more to give the immense, rough amplifying power finesse, emotion and musicality. More and more manufacturers succeeded. This is the way to go, clearly. Compact, a huge amount of power and close to no heat development. Class D amplifiers led the market to proper, digital amps.

Not so long ago, NAD presented such an amplifier in the Master Series: the M2. With a moderate retail price of roughly €6.000, this amplifier produces a lot more music than its price suggests. That is why, when you read our review of the M2, you deal with a Buying Tip. You can surely understand why we were eager when Cas Oostvogel (Managing Director AND Benelux) asked us to be the first to review the newest digital amplifier, a direct successor of the M2. “Bring us that NAD C390DD” was yelled throughout the office!

 

Small M2 with Options

Compared to the innovating M2, the NAD C390DD Direct Digital Powered DAC Amplifier is not in a Master Series housing, but rather in the well-known, decent housing of the performance hifi- and home cinema productline of NAD. The housing of the Master Series offers more firmness and deals with interferences more ferociously (negative influences from outside, such as, e.g. from electromagnetic fields). With a price setting of less than half an M2 (an NAD C 390DD has a suggested retail price of €2.500), the manufacturer can obviously not deliver a direct copy of the M2. For instance, an M2 has 2 poweramps per channel in a BTL (bridge tied load) formaton, to reach the high amount of power. An NAD C 390DD creates music with a single poweramp per channel. That’s why the M2 gives that bit of extra power: 2 x 250 Watt vs. 2 x 150 Watt. Yet the NAD still manages to keep some genetic information in the C 390DD. And then some… In certain areas, the brand new C 390DD is even more revolutionary than the mighty M2. I’ll call it a small M2 with options.

 

Plug and Play

Which options? Players with discs (e.g. cd’s) are part of the past, thanks to the C 390DD. And why not? The present day consumer resolutely chooses for current technology and ultimate user comfort. That same present day consumer looks at the NAD C390 and sees both united. A modern music set up can, thanks to the newest of the NAD offspring, only exist out of two things anymore: the NAD C390 and a couple of speakers. Where does the music come from then, one might ask. What is the source? Just like a Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, this amplifier is just about completely plug and play. NAD has been working with modular designs for a while, all in function of the consumer and a technologically quickly evolving market. I’ll explain: on the front is a USB-port, which you can use easily for a USB stick or key. You can then easily browse your music, select your favourite tracks and play them, all on the highest quality possible! In the middle of the front is a display that is big and clear enough even from a decent distance, on which you can clearly follow every action and movement in the menu. An A-B compare between certain cd-tracks and their equal WAV-brother, played from a USB stick, are, at the very least equally good. And to think that in this test a high quality player was used, more expensive than the NAD C 390DD itself…

 

On the back is another USB-port, which is useful to connect a computer or a laptop. Luckily the NAD clock overrules the PC or laptop one. This is called an asynchronous connection. High quality sound guaranteed! Presenting HD audiotracks (24-bit/96 kHz)* becomes child’s play this way. The source materiel is digital, signal processing digital, amplification digital… that promises one hell of a listening experience! Lots of dynamics, very little distortion, lots of resolution and hardly any signal affection. These are a few of NAD’s core ideas made reality.

The NAD C 390DD is mainly a digital machine. Standard wise you’ll find a AES/EBU entrance, 2 optical ins and 1 out, 2 coaxial ins and 1 out. An extra asset is the dubbel subwoofer pre-out and double exectued speakerclamps for bi-wire options.

 

Modular Futureproof

Whoever thinks of passing their TV sound throughout the amp will not be disappointed with the NAD C 390DD. Or whoever wants to listen to his vinyl collection digitally, has modular options. NAD offers, for a democratically priced surcharge of €249/module, HDMI and analogue modules. These can be built in from the start, or later on. Using a difficult term, NAD calls this MDC design. Such a HDMI module adds 3 HDMI ins and one out. If you add an analogue module, you get a cinch, XLR and phono in. By the way, RIAA corrections happens completely in the DSP part. The option to have access to modules that have technological possibilities, adapted to the needs of the moment, now and tomorrow, give the consumer a clear guarantee for the future. This way you get everything out of your musical investment!

 

Listening Digitally

Listening digitally starts with a USB-key, with some popular songs of Trendmöller, Selah Sue and Youn Sun Nah. The digital NAD amp completely controls the pair of Bowers&Wilkins CM9. Music is made in a powerful and dynamic way. A very open and clear sound image is presented inbetween the speakers. The lows on the Trendmöller tracks sound very tight, with loads of pressure. Voices are placed nicely in the surrounding space. Because of this, Selah Sue sounds breathtakingly intimate, and later on even bitchy. Musical flavours on request. Youn Sun Nah is known for her close micing recordings. This is reflected perfectly with the display. I close my eyes and I can feel the outlines of her face. Despite the fact that on this level a decent amount of attention goes into musical details, I feel a hunger for more. The NAD C 390DD has more in stock, and can’t wait to show that off.

 

Literally and figuratively a level higher, there’s a pair of Bowers&Wilkins 800 Diamond, shining in wait. Curious, but without any high expectations, I connect the NAD C 390DD to these giants. I get the same sound levels as any other amplifiers, without problems. The amount of control in the lows baffles me. The fact that the NAD M2 matches with these top of the line speakers in itself is a miracle. Same goes for its little brother. It creates music vividly and with lots of certainty. The great fun begins when I switch to HD audiofiles. Yes, the better stuff, 24 bits / 96 kHz*, using USB through the laptop. It seems a whole new world has opened. This is what digital amplifiers were made for: maximal resolution, maximal information. Great listening! You just look in and through the music. The Bowers&Wilkins 800 diamond translate everything flawlessly to my pampered ears. An NAD M2 opens up the display just bit more, with that bit more calmness. Compare it to a spunky 6-cylinder versus a V8. Nothing but driving fun. Technically the NAD C 390DD is in perfect capability to control a pair of B&W 800, but they’re not the ultimate pair. You’d probably get the best out of a B&W 805 or 804 diamond with it, now that we are talking about Bowers&Wilkins. Myself, I’m most pleased about the high resolution and the experience that comes with it. Piano music, for instance, gets more body, more realness, better timingand more depth. Overall, it seems the display depth has doubled! The sound display seems to climb higher as well, and the timbres sound so very natural. Voices tend to get more air, shape and expression. I almost forgot a stronger amount of “layeredness”, which makes it easier to distinguish between different musical components, without the loss of homogenity. Whether we are talking about the big drums of Kodo, the virtual piano playing of Mari Kodama, the sweet-voiced voice of Sarah K, the NAD C 390DD brings nothing but musical pleasure.

Nice to know: the digital NAD amp is sensitive to power cables. Investing in a decent powercord almost certainly leads to an even better experience. Connect your amp to a battery, and the party’s on! You get, respectively, more rest and a pitch-black musical background. You should also experiment with different USB cables to connect your laptop. The best result is probably obtained with a Audioquest Diamond. These last thoughts are food for though, especially for audiophiles…

 

Nothing but Upsides

  • Available power/power reserve
  • Sound quality
  • Musical resolution (24 bit/96 kHz via USB)*
  • Tight design
  • Functional display
  • Plug and play/ease of use
  • Modular design (MDC)
  • Price

 

Conclusion

I, myself, find the NAD C 390DD even more revolutionary than the M2. The apparatus has, technically speaking, a lot of the M2-genes. Soundwise, this NAD offspring gets the best marks of its class, and even above that. I would call the high plug and play level at least contemporary. The device is ready for the future, thanks to its MDC design. Whoever wants to listen to music in a modern and very qualitative way nowadays, just can’t avoid the NAD C 390DD. The label ‘Product of the Year’ was created especially for exceptional devices such as this digital NAD amp. Buying Tip and a must have for every music lover! Honestly, I look forward to the next batch of derived M2 products (e.g. AV receivers)…